Formatting and editing By:
- Cirdan Lunae
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My Fair Bad Lady
Emilia: [Hey, Subaru, did you hear? A “Wandering Genius Chef” is coming.]
In response to Emilia’s statement, her eyes sparkling, Subaru tilted his head greatly, and he asked another question.
They were at the Roswaal mansion’s garden, and it was still early morning before breakfast. What jumped at him in this clear, morning atmosphere was Emilia’s look of anticipation and her statement, forgetting to say her greetings.
Her silver hair shimmered in the morning sun, and her round amethyst eyes were like jewels, and she did give off a brave innocence at a glance, but her gestures full of charm and cuteness changed the feeling she gave off noticeably.
Frankly, even though she had a beautiful face, she was cute. She was an angel.
Emilia: [Subaru, did you listen to me properly?]
Subaru: [Of course, EMT. So, uhhh, what was it again?]
Emilia: [Jeez, you didn’t listen to me after all! Like I said, a “Wandering Genius Chef” is coming. Doesn’t that sound reaaally exciting? Doesn’t it?]
The silver bell-like tone was also colored with her joy, not hiding her cheerful and lively mood.
It was a cheerful mood that he’d always watch, but he got interested when he heard Emilia say “Wandering Genius Chef,” so it couldn’t be helped.
Subaru: [A wandering…genius chef? Who is that again? That person with a dimwit sounding title.]
Emilia: [Ah, you shouldn’t say that. Well, I don’t know that much about them either.]
Emilia put her finger to her lips as Subaru frowned at her suspicious expression.
Emilia: [Anyway, it kinda seems like it’s a person who’s reaaally skilled with cooking, and so apparently their cooking is known to be so good that “Eat a bite, and your body will be captured. Eat two, and your heart will be captivated. Eat three, and your soul will be trapped.”]
Subaru: [Is that slogan not a curse?]
The sung-about reputation was so out there that it was unlikely to be very useful, so he couldn’t accept it easily.
Anyhow, disregarding the exaggerated reputation, it seemed to be an event where the so-called rumored chef would display their skills, so it sounded good. The news not getting to a servant of the mansion, Subaru, was a mystery, but he said
Subaru: [Well, it is Ros-chi, so it’s very likely that it’ll be a surprise show. Emilia-tan, when did you hear about this?]
Emilia: [A little while ago.]
Subaru: [Ah, then there’s no doubt about it.]
Roswaal, the head of the mansion, was a strange one that always had his eccentric outfit and his clown makeup on him. Him saying things like wild statements and suggestions was an everyday thing, so Subaru easily understood how he was the link to this time’s matter too.
Subaru: [Either way, I wanna hope that the person doesn’t fail to live up to their name.]
Emilia: [Yeah! I’m reaaally looking forward to it. I don’t really get it, but even in a sense of foreseeing my future, it’s something necessary, so I’ll look forward to it.]
Subaru: [Emilia-tan’s future?]
Emilia was in high spirits with Subaru, as he expressed his agreement, but her phrasing somewhat bothered him. However, even he didn’t know what exactly was bothering him. Without finding out what was the cause of his discomfort in the end, he said
Subaru: [――. Well, oh well. Alright, then let’s start doing radio calisthenics. Doing them energetically, carefreely, and enjoyably, that is.]
Emilia: [Okay, got it. Then let’s do the stretching exercise and stretch our arms outward~!]
Emilia, someone who got completely accustomed to a different world’s custom, let out the customary yell, and the radio calisthenics commenced. Subaru also focused on his own calisthenics while listening to that comforting voice.
Rem: [Subaru-kun, did you hear? Apparently, the “Chef That Can Make the Dragon Howl” Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI-sama is coming tomorrow.]
Rem started talking to Subaru like that, her eyes sparkling, as he returned from his duties after his morning radio calisthenics. She was a girl that would usually keep in mind having a stiff expression, but her unhideable excitement turned into passion, and it all poured out from her body.
Rem: [Yes, it is, the “Chef That Can Make the Dragon Howl” Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI-sama is coming! Isn’t that amazing!?]
Subaru: [Ahh, sounds kinda amazing in various ways. Is it really okay to call the person a chef? Not something like an adventurer?]
Rem: [What are you saying, Subaru-kun? Isn’t it obvious? Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI-sama is a world-famous chef.]
Subaru: [So that’s how it is…]
Subaru was overwhelmed by Rem, who leaned in closer, breathing heavily.
Usually, Rem would have completely positive opinions in regard to Subaru, but for some reason, she acted displeased and rebuked him, perhaps having to do with her heavy infatuation with the chef.
Subaru: [Uhhh, so it’s the cook that’s coming tomorrow. I heard about it from Emilia just now, but is it a famous person?]
Rem: [Of course! It’s a “Chef That Can Make the Dragon Howl,” seeking for unknown supremacy, blessed by the food goddess, and the person has mastered all the styles of tastes in the world. They’re famous for their “Eat a bite, and your body will be captured. Eat two, and your heart will be captivated. Eat three, and your soul will be trapped.”]
Subaru: [That slogan sounds dangerous no matter how many times I hear it…Rem seems to be very knowledgeable.]
Rem: [As unworthy as Rem is, but as being in charge of the cooking, after all, Rem respects and aspires to be like those who are at the top of that road. That’s why Rem is really looking forward to this.]
Rem would show him her rare smiles carefreely. Just looking at it would make him have such a fine smile that his cheeks would loosen, but when he thought about how an unknown person had made her bring it out, he wasn’t very amused because of his male instincts.
It was Rem’s surprising fangirl tastes that came to light during the visit from the bard Liliana.
Rem: [What’s wrong? You seem to look a little angry.]
Subaru: […Noo? Rem and Emilia-tan seem to be obsessed with that Dias person, so don’t mind me. I’m meant to just lick plates at the corner, anyways.]
Rem: [Haha. Subaru-kun, don’t just say weird things please. Ah, but…]
Rem smileed at Subaru, who pouted and fell into servility, and in the middle of it, she made a face that indicated she had remembered something.
Rem: [Even though you licking plates was a joke, it is said that Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI-sama is very strict with manners and demands certain decency, so…]
Subaru: [Any world’s workers will have an abundance of people that are hard to please. I’ll ask just in case, but are they the type of people who take away the cooking when you have bad manners?]
Rem: [No, it’s said that they turn you into the cooking.]
Subaru: [A type of restaurateur with many orders!?]
He asked about the type of person of a busy restaurant, and Subaru had chills run down his back when he was told that he was going to be cooked instead of food. However, he immediately saw Rem bursting into laughter, and he understood that it was one of her jokes.
Subaru: [Jeez, for a moment, I thought that might be a thing.]
Rem: [Sorry. Subaru-kun believes me too easily, so it just couldn’t be helped. However, manners truly are important. Although, Rem doesn’t think there’s anything that strict. Especially for Subaru and Rem, people of lower positions.]
Subaru: [Well, if you expect me to have courtly manners, I won’t be able to appreciate the taste of the food.]
He couldn’t stand being judged the same way regardless of if he’d been receiving an education or not. Subaru felt relief that this world didn’t have comparable table manners ――he tried to feel relieved, but once again, something bothered him. Well, what could it possibly be?
Rem: [Since it’s a special occasion, I also want to learn something from tomorrow’s cooking. Subaru-kun, remember Rem’s flavor today, because tomorrow, you will definitely enjoy the elevated flavor.]
Subaru: [Something about the way you said that makes it sound like I’m going to eat you, Rem…]
Rem: [It’s embarrassing that such a… lovely thing would eat Rem up.]
Subaru: [No, I didn’t say that, though!]
The earlier feeling of discomfort rapidly faded away as he got into it with the now-blushing Rem. He patted Rem’s head even with the situation being like that, and he resumed the servant work with her as she purred.
At any rate, he was looking forward to the meal tomorrow.
Ram: [Barusu, do you know? The “Lustful and Womanizing but Legendary Chef” Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI has been invited to the mansion tomorrow. Make sure to behave yourself.]
After the usual morning meeting for work assignments, Subaru was just about to start cleaning the mansion with Ram when he heard her, making him tilt his head to the side deeply.
When Subaru turned around, who had already tilted his head three times today, he met the eyes of Ram as she had her arms folded, snorting her nose very pompously.
Ram: [Like was said, tomorrow the “Lustful and Womanizing But Legendary Chef” Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI will be displaying their abilities at the mansion. Ram does feel pity for Barusu, you not being able to participate, but behave in a way so that you don’t hurt Roswaal-sama’s honor.]
Subaru: [Wait Wait Wait Wait, hold up with all that. Who’s coming again? Dias-san?]
Ram: [Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI. Apparently it’s a person who gets grouchy when you don’t go through the trouble of calling them by their full name. Barusu, you make sure that you absolutely do not make a mistake in their name, too. Also…]
Subaru: [Wait a second, seriously wait.]
Subaru interrupted Ram’s words midway, pressed for an answer, and new pages for the “Chef Information” that started with Emilia began to add one after another. What exactly did it all mean?
Subaru: [That Dias Lepunzo, is that the same person Rem was talking about?]
Ram: [Ram doesn’t know what Rem told you, but Ram heard about it along with our talk this morning with Roswaal-sama, so maybe it’s concerning the same person. So?]
Subaru: [But there are some unresolved differences between that and the personality Rem told me about.]
According to what Rem happily said, the visiting chef had a reputation of being the type of worker that can be hard to please, but even if she was as wrong as possible, the person shouldn’t have been a lecher.
Subaru: [What’s more is that, just like that, I’ve become unable to participate in eating, but what is the meaning of this?]
Ram: [I told you it was a lustful womanizer, didn’t I? The person mastered any and every delicious food. That Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI chooses their customers, displaying their abilities, which are obviously limited to women only. Disgusting.]
Subaru: [If that were the case, then Roswaal wouldn’t be able to eat, either. Isn’t that odd?]
At Subaru’s complaining, Ram snorted in an attitude that did not hide her contempt for him.
Ram: [Roswaal-sama has a certain position. He won his seat after proper negotiations. There’s no seat for Barusu. Deal with it by licking someone’s leftover plate. Roswaal-sama’s is a no-go, and forget about Emilia-sama’s. Rem is an absolute no, and if you lick mine, you can die. …Licking Beatrice-sama’s leftover plate would be fine.]
Subaru: [Licking plates seems like it could happen, but what kind of punishment game is this!?]
Once he was even set up to lick Beatrice’s used plate on top of not being able to eat, he couldn’t help but raise his voice.
Subaru: [No matter how you look at it, this is too much. Where is Ros-chi? I’ma have a talk with him!]
Ram: [Unfortunately, Roswaal-sama went out to see Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI right now. He’ll be back during dinner tomorrow…in other words, just before the cooking starts. There’s nothing you can do about it. Sorry for your loss.]
Subaru: [This is hopeless――!]
Collapsing to his knees on the spot, Subaru looked up toward the ceiling lamenting his misfortune.
Eri Eri lema Sabachthani? ――Oh God, Oh God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Subaru?
It was the flow of a conversation that made it seem like it was prepared only to set up Subaru.
Subaru: [Besides, why is it that even you guys are being notified the day before and not just me? I sense a conspiracy!]
Ram: [It’s a traveling chef. The person is very hard to get a hold of, and it was also hard to get them to agree this time, too. But, they got interested when they were told that there would be four beautiful-looking girls.]
Subaru: [It’s a lustful chef!]
The reasoning that satisfied the demand was so agreeable that it was unexpectedly convincing.
Emilia was, of course, beautiful, and Rem and Ram were the incarnations of beautiful girls too. Beatrice also had the cuteness of a doll or fairy if she stayed quiet and still.
Subaru: [Can I…can I really forgive such oppression…!?]
Ram: [Bear with it. Besides, having expectations as a servant would be a presumptuous honor. Also, the food this time is more than just a meal. Rather, Ram and the others are the exceptions. It’s all thanks to Roswaal-sama. Isn’t it wonderful?]
Subaru: [How can I agree with you when I’m being left out!]
Ram: [Every single time, so annoying… and besides, this time, there is more to it than just a meal.]
Ram kicked Subaru’s corpse in frustration, the end of her words too faint to be heard, and Subaru, pounding the floor in exasperation, was unaware of it.
In the end, Ram’s consolations were cut short, and she returned to her work quickly. Subaru, remaining behind, after a moment of frustration, said
Subaru: [At least, I could have a taste from Emilia-tan’s plate… No, I can’t do such a bold thing…]
And so, suffering from a conflict of such low aspirations, he set about his morning’s work.
Beatrice: [Come to think of it, have you heard, I suppose? Apparently, the successor Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI the “Decapitating Cook” is coming, in fact.]
Subaru: [Wait wait wait wait!]
It was an interaction that happened four times today, but the impactful way she started the conversation caused Subaru to forget the standard reaction he had up to this point, and so he raised his voice as much as possible.
The person who frowned unhappily at Subaru’s state was this girl who tried to bring up a topic with a rarely seen smug face, Beatrice. Sitting on her stepladder, she snorted her nicely shaped nose with a “Hum” as she glared at Subaru.
Beatrice: [You must have some nerve to interrupt Betty, I suppose. Besides, you shouldn’t be so noisy in the library, in fact. You’ll stir up dust, and you’ll hurt the books’ feelings, I suppose.]
Subaru: [Ignoring that airhead-like insistence of you understanding the books’ feelings, what did you say just now? Can you repeat it?]
Beatrice: [Right. The successor Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI the “Decapitating Cook” is coming tomorrow, in fact.]
Subaru: [Yes that! That’s it! What is that super dangerous nickname!? Decapitating!? I never heard of this!]
It was a chef whose alias would always change whenever he asked about it, but all of them should’ve been barely out of the chef category so far. However, if a bizarre image was added after coming here, then of course Subaru couldn’t be obedient like a willow swaying in the wind.
Subaru: [First of all, the person just needs one cool name! In fact, having so many feels threatening, or rather, that so-called important something is faint! What does “Wandering Genius Cook,” “Chef That Can Make the Dragon Howl,” “Lustful and Womanizing but Legendary Chef,” and “Decapitating Cook” all mean!? There’s too much mess displayed! Is there really someone with so many aliases!? If there are more like that, tell me! I’ll give them a scolding!]
Beatrice: [Roswaal seems to be called stuff like “Demi-human Lover,” “Clown Noble,” “Top Royal Magician,” and the “Court Jester,” I suppose.]
Subaru: [When he gets back, I’m gonna give him a scolding!]
Subaru scratched his head recklessly at all the names he was told while he resented how it was one of his friends.
Beatrice let out a clear sigh at Subaru, and she said
Beatrice: [What’s irritating you is a mystery… besides, it seems to be such a trivial thing, I suppose.]
Subaru: [There’s no way it isn’t so trivial. Decapitating sounds beyond scary. The person had to have cut off two or three heads to get that nickname, and they still continue to be a chef.]
Beatrice: […Ah, Betty understands. You’re misunderstanding things, I suppose. They’re said to be a “Decapitating Cook,” but the reason they’re called that isn’t that they actually cut off heads, in fact.]
Beatrice’s shocked way of shrugging her shoulders didn’t match her appearance. However, Subaru felt relief from the behavior of the girl who had a mismatched impression for now.
Subaru: [Oh, is that so? Well, that’s right. That is right. There’s no way a person that decapitates the heads of people they don’t like should be able to continue carefreely as a chef; what a bluff of a name.]
Beatrice: [Of course. However, it’s said that when Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI is at a dining table, the people they end up not liking somehow lose things like their positions and jobs, and there are a lot of times when they get ruined, in fact.]
Subaru: [A “Decapitating Cook” in a sense of human resources!?]
He clearly understood the truth of the nickname that didn’t pop up until now, and Beatrice’s explanation had credibility.
The more colorful the alias was, the more frightening the evidence was, but Subaru tried to convince himself that there was surely no reason for them to behave badly in the current situation.
Subaru: [No, wait…]
Subaru was going to think that, and then he pulled back his heart that seemed like it was going to be relieved.
Something, yes, something bothered him.
It was the kind of discomfort that had been on his face every time he had talked about the chef, starting with the part this morning with Emilia. The discomforting thing that made him worry several times, now combined with the information he had gathered up to this point, revealed a new fact.
Subaru: [The foreseeing of Emilia’s future. Annoying manners. Lustful and womanizing. And then, decapitating cook.]
The worrisome words piled up, and Subaru’s brain fired and finally arrived at a single answer.
――it was nothing but a cruel plan that was too villainous.
Subaru: [No way…no, if it’s Roswaal, then it might be done.]
Roswaal L Mathers was Emilia’s biggest and only supporter; however, he was also a member of the kingdom’s nobility, and his position as a Margrave ――a position that naturally required him to make serious decisions.
Therefore, surely Roswaal also demanded that severe lifestyle from the royal candidate Emilia, too.
――It was also a sort of method he couldn’t imagine Emilia doing, as she was kind and pure.
Subaru: […I have to do something.]
Emilia’s smile, lively voice, and her fingertips he touched shined inside his memory.
That smile, voice, and touch, he had to protect all of it.
Subaru: [I’ll do it. I will be on your side, I swear.]
Subaru wanted to continue to be strong and supportive so that he could continue to brighten the future in Emilia’s eyes.
He was already receiving his reward everyday. Just that was enough.
Beatrice: [O~i, I suppose. …You aren’t listening at all, in fact. Whatever, I suppose.]
Subaru got completely lost in his thoughts, clenched his fists, and forgot about Beatrice being there.
Beatrice raised one knee and looked away to pout, as she was being ignored.
Here, though, the failure to properly communicate each other’s thoughts on the matter twisted this situation into a more confusing and complicated one.
――Neither Subaru nor Beatrice had any way of knowing that at this time.
Subaru: [Puck, did you know? The “Wandering, Womanizing, Legendary Decapitating Chef That Can Make the Dragon Howl” is coming to the mansion tomorrow.]
Puck: […Was it really like that?]
The fifth interaction was something that had seemingly similar form, but it was definitely different than all of the ones he had up to this point.
Subaru, someone who had been the listener until now, ――became the speaker.
Subaru called out to someone at the mansion’s rear garden, having a secret talk, and he sharpened all of his senses to take caution.
Then, the one who tilted his head at Subaru’s topic was a gray-haired kitten spirit floating in the air.
It was Puck, who was Emilia’s contracted spirit as well as someone who was called her self-proclaimed guardian.
In response to Subaru’s words, he lifted his tail as high as his body, and while playing with the tip of his paws he said
Puck: [Lia told me about it happily, so I do know a chef is coming. However, I feel like they didn’t have such a strange name. I feel like it was a more simple and shady one…]
Subaru: [For sure! It sure was a bit off. There are actually a lot more names, but it’s all a mess. But it’s fine. That’s not important right now.]
Puck: [Hm~, if Subaru says it’s fine, then okay, but I don’t understand what you’re getting at. What do you need?]
Subaru: [It’s a request for you to come with me alone. Of course, Emilia-tan can’t hear about it, since it’s something that involves her.]
Subaru lowered his voice, and he spoke to Puck while looking at the situation around him.
Afterwards, the round eye-balled kitten stiffened his expression, and he came down slowly to match Subaru’s eye level.
Puck: [If it’s about Lia, then I’ll listen to anything. I’m all ears.]
Subaru: [Right. But, make sure you don’t reveal this to Emilia-tan. I don’t want to cause any unnecessary worry for her…besides, if Emilia-tan finds out and notices, it probably won’t work.]
Despite expressing his lack of understanding, Puck was willing to hear Subaru’s statement to the end. Thankful for this, Subaru told him about tomorrow’s events ――and revealed the other side of the conspiracy.
Subaru: [About tomorrow’s chef…the dinner is a trap set up by Roswaal.]
Puck: [What do you mean?]
Subaru: [I’m not talking about him poisoning anything. It’s just that there’s a poisonous scheme.]
Puck: [It’s so confusing.]
Subaru: [Confusing! Uh, what I mean is, that Roswaal guy is going to confirm it at the dinner tomorrow. ――It’s Emilia-tan’s table manners!]
Puck, puzzled over the whole details of the scheme, wondered, “Manners?”. Subaru, annoyed at the kitten’s delay in understanding, asked, “Don’t you get it?”.
Subaru: [You don’t get it? Think about Emilia-tan’s future position. She’s a candidate to be king, and from here, she’ll be invited to a lot of parties and dinings. In those times, there will be many occasions when she’ll be tested for appropriate behavior.]
Puck: [――! In other words, tomorrow’s dinner is for testing out Lia’s manners.]
Subaru: [Yes, it’s a trap. The “Decapitating Chef” curses the future of those with unacceptable manners. People who get judged negatively by that chef will never be able to hope for success. Up to this point, there seems to be no end to the number of people that lost their future in exchange for temporary happiness from getting involved with the chef, despairing as they ended themselves. This is what Roswaal’s trying to do.]
Subaru listened to Beatrice, and in the forbidden library, he realized that plan.
But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. In other words, this is a demonstration and a touchstone for the Royal Selection that Roswaal has placed before Emilia.
Emilia’s intention to participate in the Royal Selection would depend on the outcome of this.
Puck: [But, for Roswaal to do such a thing…no, if it’s him, then it’s possible…!]
Subaru: [Could it be? No, absolutely it is! Emilia will be tested! But what will happen if I tell her this and she avoids the test this time? She’ll just be tested another way.]
Puck: [Then what should we do? Lia believes in Roswaal, but I feel bad for her.]
Puck’s ears folded weakly, and his eyes were clouded with sadness in his depressed look. Subaru understood his feelings so well that it hurt, and he hit his chest. He did it strongly, and it was as if blue veins stood out on his forehead.
Subaru: [That’s why I called you. Emilia will be saved by you and me.]
Puck: [Me and Subaru? How?]
Subaru: [Easy to explain. Tomorrow, Roswaal and the others will try to test Emilia’s table manners. Emilia having her meal without knowing about it…that’s what we should help out with!]
Subaru nodded deeply to Puck, who stiffened as if hit by a direct bolt of lightning.
Emilia didn’t have to know about the cruel reality. If Roswaal became aware of how Emilia noticed it, then that devil-like man would surely come up with a different plan again.
However, this time Subaru and Puck recognized that devilish trick beforehand. They were also on Emilia’s side, no matter what. They could struggle secretly and openly for her sake.
Subaru: [Let’s do this, Puck. You and I will save Emilia.]
Puck: [――Yeah, I’m up for it. Got it. I’ll put a bet on your feelings.]
When Subaru held out his hand, Puck landed on his palm, having only thought about it for a second.
It looked different than a handshake, but both of their intentions were able to be united.
Puck: [So, what do we do tomorrow?]
Subaru: [There can be some interferences. That’s why first we need countermeasures for that. After that, let’s meet up to follow up according to the situation. In other words, we won’t be getting sleep tonight.]
They both had the same goal and were acting to protect the girl that was important to both of them.
Subaru and Puck prepared for tomorrow as they watched for an opportunity to destroy the evil scheme, polishing the nails and fangs while they had smiles on their faces that would look exactly the same to an outsider.
That day, Ram was in a bad mood since morning.
Of course, she wasn’t so crude to show that displeasure on her face. That’s why her behavior was as mannered as usual, and on the surface, she appeared to be dignified. However, her heart wasn’t at peace.
Ram: [So damn unsightly, Barusu.]
If she slipped up, she would let out the irritation she had towards the servant that had a frivolous look on his face.
Normally, as a servant of a mansion, similar to Ram and Rem, Natsuki Subaru would be responsible for doing all the chores ――today visitors had also arrived, and he was in the position of dealing with that also.
On this crucial day, he fell ill since this morning and stayed in his room and did not come out.
Rem: [Nee-sama. Subaru-kun is tired from doing all this work he’s not used to. I’ll do my best to work too, so let him get some good rest, please.]
Only Rem, Ram’s younger sister that was equal to her with half her body, noticed her irritation that wasn’t shown on her face and followed up.
However, Rem spoiled Subaru, the target of Ram’s anger, and the burden being put on her only caused Ram’s impression of Subaru inside her to worsen even more.
Ram: [Barusu doesn’t deserve to be alive tomorrow.]
Ram decided on how she would let out her accumulated anger, as she suppressed her discontent and devoted herself to her work. ――And then the mansion welcomed its long-awaited visitor.
Like that, it was in the afternoon when the master Roswaal brought home the guest the Lustful and Womanizing but Legendary Chef Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI.
Dias: [I’m honored to be invited, I say.]
Ram’s expression hardened as she received the man who appeared in the entrance hall of the mansion with dignity.
He had a fat belly, an oily face, and he looked at them with a belittling look while having a really vulgar smile.
He had gray hair, and he was a large fatso, big both vertically and horizontally. They guessed he was around 50 since he had somewhat thin hair and a mean look. To the side, he brought along petite luggage holders who had cloaks that completely covered the body up to their heads. It seemed like the servants were there so that the luggage would be minimal, allowing him to travel.
Roswaal: [Meeting up took sooooome time. Sorry for returning late. However, he is more pleasant than rumors suggest. Be as respectful as poooossible.]
Having returned, Roswaal expressed his warm, smiling welcome at the side of the legendary chef with two people. Ram and Rem respond to those words by bowing with dignity as they said
Rem and Ram: [Welcome, thanks for coming.]
Dias: [Ohoo, I can’t get enough of this.]
In response to the unison greeting, the fat man responded in an obese voice, breathing heavily and trembling his whole fatty body.
Dias: [The fact that they are beautiful and lovely is made even more attractive by the fact that they are twins. Gehehee.]
Roswaal: [Thaaank you very much. I am honored by your compliments.]
The somewhat aroused man said that, and Roswaal gave a vague reply.
It was a sociable reply to the over-excited man’s words, which Roswaal would have taken no matter what. While listening to this, Ram’s internal indignation was relieved by stretching the obese man’s cheeks in her imagination, kicking him in the stomach, and bouncing him all over the entrance hall like a game of kickball. ――Don’t look at Rem in such a disgusting way, she thought.
Dias: [Woops, can’t do that. Sorry for being so sudden, I say, but would you mind guiding me to the kitchen, I say? I want to fulfill my wish, I say.]
The luggage holders sighed as they nudged the back of the man, who seemed like he would continue chatting vulgarly from beginning to end. His expression changed, having noticed it, and he asked about the kitchen with a serious face.
Rem: [Understood. Rem shall guide you.]
Rem took the initiative and offered to guide him, and she walked with the two of them towards the kitchen. That was when Ram noticed the man looking at Rem’s butt as she walked in front. However, the man’s follower bowed their head repeatedly for his master’s impoliteness, so she held back on saying anything.
Ram indured by resuming the imagined ball kicking.
Roswaal: [Soooorry sorry. Did he offend youuuu?]
Ram: […No. No way. I would never harbor ill feelings towards an invited guest of Roswaal-sama.]
Roswaal: [And your real feelings?]
Ram: [By any means possible, crush those eyes that look at my adorable Rem indecently.]
Even now, remembering that low-life look horrified her. If it was that bad, then Subaru’s was better. Even if his looks were suspicious at times, she believed in his incompetent point of being self-restrained.
Ram: [Rem doesn’t worry about it, and Emilia-sama and Beatrice-sama wouldn’t even notice. So Ram believes it will not be a problem.]
Roswaal: [Sorry for such a hard time. By the way, I haven’t seen Subaru-kun. Where is he?]
Ram: [My apologies. Ram was informed Barusu’s been ill since this morning, so he’s sleeping in his room. Ram actually wanted to throw Barusu at… I wanted to leave dealing with the guest entirely to Barusu.]
Roswaal: [Oh, that’s unfortunate. Tonight’s dinner was going to have a flavor that would make you see things differently.]
Roswaal really said it regretfully, so Ram looked down quietly and said
Ram: [Shall we talk to Barusu so that he can show up tonight?]
Roswaal: [We shouldn’t be forceful. If it seems like he can come, then he’s welcome to do so no matter how sick he looooks. There’s no point in just worrying about Subaru-kun all the time.]
Ram touched his shoulder gently, and she felt heat. Roswaal smiled at Ram, her having slightly blushed cheeks. He closed one eye, and he teasingly said
Roswaal: [Ram should enjoy herself, too. It’ll definitely turn out to be a night that has that beneeeefit.]
――His black eyes caught the visitor’s arrival through the gap in the curtains.
Subaru: [Target spotted. No doubt about it. It’s the real deal.]
Puck: […So it seems safe to assume that our theory is correct.]
Puck foldded his arms, and he gave an acknowledging gesture with his chin at the boy who looked back at the darkness. The boy agreed by shrugging his shoulders, and he squinted with his sanpaku eyes that tended to slant.
The atmosphere was different. The kitten sensed it, and he let out a sigh.
Puck: [We’re really doing this, right?]
Subaru: [Yeah. Whether we do it or not, I’ll definitely still have regrets. If that’s the case, then it’s much better to regret after doing it. ――That’s what I feel right now.]
Puck: [I might’ve misunderstood you. Got it. If you’re that determined, then I’ll help out as much as I can. I’ll do it all for my cute, beloved daughter.]
Subaru: [Yeah, all for her sake.]
The two quietly exchanged words in the quiet atmosphere.
They settled on a target, and their intentions united. They no longer had any hesitation or doubt.
The boy adjusted the position of the chair he sat on. He held onto his breath, and he looked down on the tool in front of him. He was never familiar with it, but it wasn’t his first time touching it, either.
Never had he imagined that the skills he had acquired in his past would come in handy again in such a way. In life, you never know what will help you.
With the little strong emotions and the readiness to go further in his chest, the boy tackled the battle.
A few hours after the arrival of Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI, the dinner preparations were set up, and Ram went to call Emilia and Beatrice.
It was a person that was said to be a supreme chef. Rem was sent to observe the chef, and although she didn’t show it on her face, she had clear expectation and excitement coming from her body. Meanwhile, Ram had to handle the majority of the afternoon chores.
Once Rem indulged Ram, it was impossible for Ram not to be inspired. So all the remaining work was completed more perfectly than usual by Ram.
Ram: [Damn you Barusu.]
Of course, that didn’t eliminate her hardship, so her anger was directed toward Subaru, who was resting.
In the end, however, Subaru’s health did not improve even by dinner time――
Emilia: [He was looking forward to it so much too. Subaru is reaaally unlucky. …Wonder if we can leave something for him. Can I ask?]
Ram: [Ram believes Roswaal-sama has taken that into consideration. Emilia-sama, you’re probably fine to enjoy the dinner without thinking too hard about something petty.]
Emilia: [Yeah, got it. Will do. Thank you.]
Emilia appeared to be disappointed with Subaru’s absence. However, she was better off worrying about herself, rather than another person. There was a “reasonable significance” behind inviting Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI and having dinner, although Emilia didn’t realize it.
Emilia: [Speaking of disappointing, Puck also hasn’t shown up. He should be somewhere in the mansion, but he’s not in the crystal stone. Ram, have you seen him?]
Ram: [Nope, I haven’t seen him. Besides, with him having the form of a Great Spirit, being at the dining table during dinner with the chef would be a little complicated.]
Emilia: [I guess there’s a problem with that. Even though he’s always kept clean…]
Even though, as a spirit, he just looked like a cat, a being like that having dinner with them would not be a desirable situation.
In case he was a beastman, there would be many other complications to deal with due to being in the Kingdom of Lugunica. However, at this point, let’s be honest and agree that his cat-like appearance caused a lot of problems.
In response to Ram’s indirect wording, Emilia also accepted the situation reluctantly, and she sat at the dining table.
Beatrice: [Hmm. Even so, he’s also a very disappointing man, I suppose. It showed clearly in his behavior, in fact.]
The next person she called, Beatrice, also mentioned that, in regards to Subaru’s absence.
Unlike Emilia, she didn’t say sympathizing words, but it was completely clear that she was acting worried, so from Ram’s perspective, it looked more pleasant.
Ram: [Yes, definitely. Although, Beatrice-sama may be lonely.]
Beatrice: […Wait a second, I suppose. How did you come up with Betty being lonely out of that, in fact? How about you answer, I suppose. Elder Twin. Hey, Big Sister!]
Ram: [Yes, yes, Beatrice-sama. The food will be served, so please be quiet.]
She soothed Beatrice, her getting angry with a red face, and she also arrived at the dining table.
Just when she did, Roswaal and Rem also arrived at the dining table. When Rem noticed her, she ran up to her with short steps and said
Rem: [Nee-sama, sorry for leaving you with the afternoon work. Did it work out?]
Ram: [It’s just extending normal work, so of course, it wasn’t a problem. How about you, Rem, did you enjoy it?]
Rem: [Yes! Nee-sama. Look forward to Rem after tomorrow.]
From Ram’s perspective, Rem being prideful and appearing to have learned a lot was lovely, as she would usually be reserved. When she patted her head unconsciously, the younger sister squinted her eyes while feeling ticklish.
Ram: [Does Rem having returned from the kitchen mean it’s about time for the meals to be brought out?]
Rem: [Yes. There wasn’t any more help needed for setting the table, so Rem was told to go to the dining room. Nee-sama, let’s sit down, too.]
Ram: [Hehe. No need to be in that much of a hurry. It’s improper.]
She got her hand pulled by Rem, frolicking like a child, and Ram also sat down at the dining table.
Rem: [It’s just too bad Subaru-kun won’t be able to enjoy this.]
Ram: […For that, Rem can give him all the details you can later on.]
Rem: [――! Yes, As expected of Nee-sama. Subaru-kun will certainly be pleased.]
Ram: [He will surely weep.]
Whether they were tears of joy or tears of regret, Ram did not say.
The sisters’ conversation came to an end at the same time that the dining room door opened, and the supreme chef, who had a major role in tonight’s feast, made his appearance, as if having chosen to show up at the same time the five of them sat at that place.
Dias: [Sorry to keep you waiting, I say. Is everyone here, I say?]
The man shook his fat body, and looked around the dining room. When he did, he checked on the beautiful girls with lovely looks gathered at the dining table, and he breathed heavily as he nodded approvingly.
Dias: [Certainly, certainly, I say. It’s just like you said, Margrave-sama, I say. Well then, since the preparations and confirmations have been done, let’s bring in the cooking.]
Emilia: [Yes. Please treat me well.]
He stared particularly at Emilia with his lustful eyes. Emilia waved at the chef carefully with a smile without knowing how exactly he was looking at her.
She looked forward to the delicious food with an innocent attitude of anticipation. With that in mind, Ram was anxious to see how this dinner party would turn out.
???: [――May I join in as well?]
The change of situation came from a direction that even Ram did not anticipate.
It was a beautiful voice that somehow sounded unconcerned and hoarse. Everyone was surprised by the unfamiliar voice and the sign of a new person, and they turned toward the dining room entrance. To the side of the fat man, what showed from the crack of the door was a person in a brilliant, black dress.
She had long, glossy brunette hair, and a jet-black dress that wrapped around her tall body for a woman. Her pulled-back lips had somewhat thick lipstick, and her eyeliner and long eyelashes increased the charm of her eye power. She had a thin scarf on her shoulders, and it looked like she had a terrible way of walking gracefully with her heels tapping.
Everybody was absorbed by that person’s sudden entry, and they lost their breath, doubting their eyes.
The person in front of them proudly tilted her head and smiled.
Natsumi: [Is something wrong? It’s me. ――Natsumi Schwarz.]
The woman, under the silent gaze of the others, unabashedly named herself as she did a curtsey that was so perfect that it surprised everyone.
Ram recovered from the initial shock, and she was unsure of what to do next. Ram, someone who tended to have snap judgment, showed rare hesitation, as this type of situation was beyond her imagination.
She felt an alluring power in the intruder that made it hard for her to look away, but she frantically looked toward Roswaal. Just what kind of decision would her master make as the person in charge of this occasion――?
Roswaal: [――. ――――. ――――――――. I aaaaam sorry for this, Miss Natsumi. Go ahead, take a seat. I’m sorry, but adding one more guest can’t hurt, perhaaaaps?]
――The dinner continued!!
Roswaal’s reply that guaranteed hospitality was completely and clearly talking about that reality.
When the young woman that gave off a weird vibe smiled, the fat man with an overwhelmed-looking face stroked his fat chin excitedly. It was bewitchingly devilish.
Cackling, the man nodded his head up and down, and like that, he left the dining room to bring in the cooking.
This meant that in an instant, the leading role was transferred pitifully from the chef to the young woman. After the young woman sent off the man, she naturally took a seat next to Emilia with a graceful stride.
Natsumi: [Do you mind if I sit here?]
Emilia: [Wow, you’re reaaally pretty… Um, oh, please come sit. I’m sorry. Geez, Roswaal, you never tell me when you have guests like this…]
Emilia chatted with the young woman nonchalantly without hiding her surprise.
When Ram looked at people other than her, she saw that Rem and Beatrice had varied reactions ――Beatrice had a frown with curved lips, while Rem cheeks were slightly flushed and one could sense that she was struggling with an unbearable and mysterious urge. And above all, there was Roswaal bending his body, and while shaking his shoulder, acting on an unbearable impulse, she said
Ram: [Ra… Ram did not th―think it w―would come to this…]
Ram fought desperately against her laughter, and she decided to abandon questioning in this situation for now.
Ram: [Whatever you’re up to, Barusu… it’s incredible.]
The young lady Natsumi Schwarz ――Natsuki Subaru’s cross-dressing, while retaining some semblance of her face, was so perfect that it deceived Emilia almost completely in its female form, to the point of frightening perfection.
He accomplished his perfect cross-dressing successfully, and having acquired the seat next to Emilia, Natsumi Schwarz ――Natsuki Subaru, who became a fictional woman, secretly made a firm fist, as he got the response he had hoped for.
Puck: [But, this is just the beginning, be careful Subaru.]
――I know, I won’t let anything get out.
While smiling with his make-up clad face, Subaru whispered back to Puck who was pouring his voice directly into Subaru’s mind and gave an acknowledging gesture with his chin at the hidden Puck.
The sharing of thoughts and feelings with the mind, telepathy, or in short, ESP. This allowed Subaru to communicate with Puck at close range, creating a false image of Natsumi Schwartz.
When they recognized Roswaal’s objective, they shared the information on the chef they obtained beforehand, and Subaru boldly decided that he had no choice but to cross-dress to protect Emilia.
Fortunately, this also wasn’t the first time he crossdressed, so he knew how to do it.
――After all, I did it perfectly for my high school entrance ceremony and fooled them all the way until the third day!
One of the deciding factors was that he was unexpectedly suited for makeup and that his name was “Subaru,” which could be used for both men and women. Having joined the group of girls in his class, he almost enjoyed his school life as a girl.
Puck: [For some reason, I don’t think I really want to hear about all the details.]
――Oh, I’m just digging up old wounds, so please don’t worry about it.
Being reminded by the use of ESP, Subaru once again confirmed that his cross-dressing had not fallen apart.
Eyeliner and eyeshadow to disguise his sanpaku eyes and nasty look. He temporarily acquired double-edged eyelids through the use of fake eyelashes and tools, and his skin color was vividly brought out through the contrast between his lips and his makeup. The long brunette wig was borrowed from the clothing room, and the dress that concealed his body’s form also was found in the same place, presumably belonging to a large maid who had previously worked in the mansion.
One day, when he would actually meet them in person, he would have to apologize to them for this day’s events.
But now, thanks to them, Natsumi Schwartz was complete.
So he was right with his idea that there would be her outfit left behind. And then if he could disguise his appearance, acting as a woman with gestures and behavior would be easy for Subaru, being the clever one that he was.
The one thing Subaru couldn’t cover up by himself was his natural voice. His previous attempt at cross-dressing was ultimately a failure, because he messed up his voice spectacularly on the third day.
However, reflecting upon such a failure, Subaru overcame it with the help of his accomplice.
Natsumi: [You sure are looking forward to the food, Emilia-sama. Are you confident in your manners?]
Emilia: [What, me? Well, I have been studying. But I have to do my best not to embarrass myself.]
Natsumi: [Oh-ho-ho, yes. Mustn’t get too caught up in the food.]
Miss Natsumi held her hand over her mouth, smiled, and spoke to Emilia in a dignified manner. Her voice was not a masculine voice, but a husky voice that somehow gave a neutral impression. And that was the part that was not due to Subaru’s own skill, but to the help of his accomplice ――in other words, Puck’s voice.
Puck, now nestled within Miss Natsumi’s chest, hidden by her feathered stole, was there, stealthily talking on Subaru’s behalf.
If you had to describe it, this would be a two-person haori ――together, Subaru and Puck were a single Natsumi Schwarz.
Ram and Beatrice: [――――]
He felt strong looks coming from Ram and Beatrice. Based off their reactions while having clear frowns on their faces, they probably knew that Miss Natsumi was truly Subaru. However, it was not a problem with the quality of his cross-dressing; it was definitely a different factor.
Rem was looking at Natsumi for the same reason, but her look was no different from the gentle one she usually had. He didn’t know what they thought of him, but for the moment, if they didn’t intend to blow his cover, they were allies.
And speaking of Roswaal, the enemy that they needed to be most wary of in this operation――
Roswaal: [Pu, kuku…]
Roswaal seemed to be genuinely amused, enjoying Subaru’s idea, being in female clothing. Subaru hit the bullseye with his assumption that Roswaal would reveal him as Miss Natsumi.
Incidentally, Emilia, the person in question, did not really seem to have noticed Miss Natsumi’s true identity.
I hope that momentum will push her all the way to the end. E.M.T.
Dias: [――Thank you for waiting, I say.]
The returning cook, Dias, and his staff, carefully served the food, one dish at a time.
The silver lid on top of the white plate ――when the cloche was removed, they saw that it was cooking that was probably prepared whitefish.
The fragrant smell was captivating.
Dias: [It is Lauté Roy’s poiison, radsh sauce.]
Quite simply, he had no familiarity with any of the words in the name of the dish he was describing.
It was white fish with its exterior broiled lightly, and sauce that was a vivid yellow and green. The smell rising from it arrested his senses immediately, casually grabbing onto his stomach, and he drooled heavily.
Puck: [Hey, Subaru!]
――Ha! Wow, that was close!
Just before he was about to pig out, Subaru was brought back to his senses by Puck’s voice.
He just narrowly avoided losing his social status and having all these cross-dressing efforts go to waste. After he suddenly looked to the side, Emilia also widened her eyes as she looked at the food, and everyone else had the same sort of reaction, more or less.
It was too evil to combine the temperament of forced table manners with this violent type of delicious feeling.
The shell called humanity came off, and the power that uncovered his wildness was included in the scent. Subaru, or rather ――Miss Natsumi, swallowed her saliva that was coming up, and she reached for the fork and knife before anyone else.
Puck: [Are you sure? Subaru.]
Puck’s telepathic words of caution questioned his resolve, to which Subaru contorted his cheeks, smiled viciously, and nodded his head.
――When you eat poison, you should eat it faster than anyone else.
Natsumi: [Well, it looks quite delicious. It’s almost too good to eat.]
Puck matched Subaru’s lips as he let out those thoughts at this time. While focusing on that voice, Subaru paid close attention so that his plan wouldn’t backfire, and he challenged the cooking in a way that wouldn’t be grabbing the cutlery rudely.
He held down the whitefish with a fork, broke it down with a knife, and ate it. It was cooked beyond perfection, as the cooking broke down just from the fork touching it. Combined with the sauce, the visual taste violated his brain. He held his breath while looking like he was going to get knocked out, keeping his sense of smell away from the delicious food’s premonition.
If he got overwhelmed now, he wouldn’t be able to come back. He was far from being able to show a path for Emilia; rather, Subaru himself was most likely to be the first one to be captivated by the cooking.
――Steeled self-control, and his feelings towards Emilia. He’d use those as weapons, and he’d challenge the cooking.
He opened his eyes upon renewing his determination, and he slowly brought a mouthful towards his mouth with a fork.
The flow of the processes, appearance, conduct, all of those various things polished to beauty ――the instant the food entered his mouth, the result of his hard work and will crumbled. He felt like he was going to faint.
He thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.
The violence of the overwhelming taste hit him through his lips and tongue, and his working brain, the blood flowing throughout his body, the muscles that supported his body, his bones, his cells, Subaru’s poor determination, and readiness were destroyed.
He got stepped on, violated, and knocked down, and when Subaru realized it, he collapsed.
Dias: [――What’s wrong, I say?]
Before she knew it Miss Natsumi left her seat, tapped her heels, and she walked up to Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI. In front of the puzzled man, she inhaled, breathed out quietly, and slowly knelt as she said――
Natsumi: [I completely underestimated you. Sorry!]
He rubbed his forehead against the floor, and he declared a complete surrender.
It was Subaru’s natural voice, in other words, a man’s voice.
Puck: [Total defeat.]
Puck, hidden in his chest, muttered in telepathy. But he was right. It was a total defeat.
Subaru’s shock was felt by Puck, with whom he was connected through a mental connection, sharing the same sense of defeat.
That’s why Subaru bowed his head to Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI while being moved and completely defeated as he said
Natsumi: [The cooking is ridiculously delicious. I thought to eat it elegantly. However, that was impossible. Anyone would definitely think the same. It’s a given to eat food with good manners, and it makes sense. But, I thought to myself, why not comment on the cooking and eat while saying, “It’s delicious, it’s delicious!”]
Miss Natsumi, or rather ――Subaru, piled up his words frantically while not being able to see the person’s face. It was an excuse, and him being a poor loser after having their plan foiled. However, it was also unstinted praise that came from the heart.
Dias’ eyes widened at that jumbled praise and excuses, and he kept silent. And then
He thought the silence would continue, but the sound of laughter suddenly echoed throughout the room. After Subaru lifted his head at once, at that voice from the dining room entrance, and he realized that it came from the mouth of a short person that showed up there――
???: [My, my, I am surprised. I did not think there would be a clever person, who, despite having heard the rumors about me, would try to use such excuses like that in the middle of eating a meal.]
The person revealed her face that was hidden with a hood. The one who said that with an archaic way of speaking was this girl with childish looks. Subaru could not respond to the girl’s intrusion, who appeared to be Dias’ assistant. However the girl looked at Subaru’s goofy face and pleasantly bared her teeth.
???: [Although you’ve been completely defeated by my cooking, it’s rare to see a diner that responds so cheerfully. I see, the Margrave is a mischievous person, too. I guess this is the type of stuff you like.]
Roswaal: [I thought it was the best, in terms of hoooonest impressions. Personally, …I was mooore interested in the other ooone.]
The girl laughed hysterically, and Roswaal chuckled and agreed with her. Subaru, not understanding the meaning of the exchange, turned around and asked, “What’s going on?”. Then
Dias: [There’s a lot of rumors about my Master that go around, but they’re all nonsense. Master has this bad taste for messing with people where she doesn’t deny the exaggerated rumors that are at her destination, toying with the people that believe in them like gems.]
The one who came into the conversation and answered Subaru’s doubt was Dias. ――No, based on what the man had just said, it seemed like he wasn’t Dias.
Natsumi: [So, the real Dias is…]
???: [It is I. Incidentally, the rumor is true that I get unhappy if I don’t hear my name called properly. Therefore, do not forget and do not overdo it.]
Puffing out her chest, the girl stomped the floor with gusto.
Dias: [My name is Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI! The challenge of the rumors and the conflict of tastes, the struggle, and the agony were really interesting! It was brilliant!]
The girl ――the real Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI laughed cheerfully, and Subaru became dumbfounded automatically.
When he did, the real Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI held out her hand towards him, and when she helped him up, she slowly sat him on his original seat, the perfect escort.
Dias: [What a masterful disguise. This is also splendid! This means we too should respond by showing what we can do, not wanting to be outdone! Rodriguez, help me!]
Rodriguez: [Yes I say, Master!]
Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI left behind handsome words, and she rushed out of the dining room with her disciple Rodriguez.
The next course would probably be brought in like that ――but it was a tempestuous event.
Roswaal: [Weeell then, the legendary chef’s initiation has ended safely, so let’s resume diiiinner. Suba… thank you for your valuable sacrifice, Miss Natsumi.]
This prompted Roswaal to raise his glass and give a salute to Subaru’s defeat.
Ram: [Well done, Barusu… sorry no, Natsumi Schwartz-sama.]
Beatrice: [It was splendidly unsightly, in fact. Nii-cha is always so wonderful, I suppose.]
Rem: [Natsumi-sama, you are lovely. Rem thinks it’s wonderful. Next time, by all means, let Rem help you with your make-up and clothes.]
Ram, Beatrice, and Rem grade the event in order. If there was an open hole, then Subaru would seriously want to be buried in it. Emilia tapped Subaru’s shoulder while he had that type of mental state.
Emilia: [I don’t really get it, but can I ask one thing?]
Subaru: […Go ahead.]
He waited for what Emilia would say, trembling from her reaction. That was when Emilia tapped his cheek with her stood up finger, and while tilting her head in a lovely way, she said
Emilia: [Your voice sounds reaaally similar to Subaru’s. Who are you?]
That was how he was hit mercilessly with what was the biggest sense of defeat of them all.
Subaru ――no, it was Puck in Miss Natsumi’s chest, with a soft smile on his face, who gave the punchline with his telepathic speech.
Dias: [That turned out to be a pretty rewarding dinner, don’t you think?]
She had completely put away her cooking utensils, and she smiled while carrying a large bag. Roswaal smiled wryly at her words, having escorted her up to the entrance lobby, and he said
Roswaal: [I’m soooorry we all couldn’t come out to see you off. It was niiiice seeing everyone caving in and being captivated. To tell you the truth, they are all sooo tired… Thanks for letting Rem study with you and help out in so many waaays.]
Dias: [Whoever desires to pursue the way of flavor is welcome. That is a good thing. Take good care of her.]
Dias was in a good mood at the mention of Rem, the girl who had been observing her cooking to the point of being able to fill the gap in staff. Then she looked up next to her and gave her grim-faced apprentice, Rodriguez, a poke on the shoulder.
Roswaal shrugged his shoulders, and Dias looked to her side, laughing heartily. She saw Rodriguez cowering. Dias sighed at her irritating disciple and said
Dias: [What’s the matter, Rodriguez? You shouldn’t have a dull look when setting off. Make it a majestic one.]
Rodriguez: [Master is fine with it, but I have some thoughts. Even though we didn’t do any ridiculous pranks, if we showed our skills normally… I wouldn’t have had to behave in a way that promotes weird rumors of me being lustful.]
Dias: [Wrong! Making them swallow the rumors and pulverizing composed-looking people through flavor is the funnest! Besides, as long as you keep using that sort of ending with your sentences, the rumor of you being lustful won’t go away. No matter how many times I point it out, you don’t fix it!]
Rodriguez: [Ending of my sentences, what do you mean, I say?]
Dias looked away from her disciple that said that phrase unconsciously, and she raised her hand at Roswaal.
Dias: [Well then, it’s about the time to go. There are still many places we must visit. Being very popular is problematic, too! There’s too many people I want to tease.]
Roswaal: [You really seem to enjoy your wooork.]
Dias: [This is a hobby. It’s my life-long hobby. ――Besides.]
She did not finish her sentence, and Dias reached for her head with her hand, and she removed the hood that covered it. Underneath it, she had beautiful, golden hair, and slightly long ears.
Dias: [You wanted to show that Half-elf girl to me, as someone who is an elf, right?]
Roswaal: […There’s definitely a possibility that she will change discrimination against elves. If she did, then you wouldn’t have to hide the fact that you’re Dias, and you wouldn’t have to hide behind your disciple.]
Dias: [Don’t do too much stupid analysis, Court Jester. I do this because I want to. I won’t give any special services to spread that girl’s reputation.]
Winking, Dias thrust her finger at him, and after smiling with her teeth showing, she put her hood back on. Afterwards, she valiantly turned her back on Roswaal, and she walked outside majestically.
Dias: [However, as bad as the cross-dressing boy was, the girl’s honesty was not. Therefore, if you need anything else, call me again. If she asks me to show my skills, I will not refuse.]
Roswaal: [Can I believe that to be a good connectioooon?]
Dias: [Do whatever you want. Jeez. Ah, right.]
Roswaal displayed shamelessness by focusing on the future until the end, and so Dias looked back with a beaten look on her face, and she pointed at the mansion as she said
Dias: [I want to hear honest impressions next time, too. Until then, I would appreciate it if you don’t let go of that elf girl and that cross-dressing boy. How you interpret that is up to you. Also, have that boy dress up as a woman for the next time I see him.]
Roswaal: [If that’s what you want, I’m happy to do it.]
Accepting this as a sign of willingness, Roswaal accepted the condition of cross-dressing as a woman without the target’s consent.
And so, Dias took Rodriguez with her, this time embarking on the next leg of their journey.
Roswaal: [I wasn’t sure what would happen this time, but with this, I’ve created a connection with Dias Lepunzo Elemanso Oplane Fatsbalm VI.]
Although there were some irregularities, it should probably be said that he fulfilled his initial goal.
There were a lot of matters that made him have stiff shoulders. However, he didn’t just have stiff shoulders today.
Roswaal: [Nevertheless…ahh, that was a masterpiece.]
What popped up in his mind, was a completely clear figure of Subaru crossdressing as ――Natsumi Schwartz.
For the time being, he would have no trouble finding an excuse to make fun of them. It was a very worthwhile dinner.
That was because it was a time when his eyes, tongue, and memories enjoyed themselves.
Roswaal: [Pfft, ahahaha.]
With a face that he wouldn’t show to anybody, at a place that couldn’t be seen, he raised his voice without any hesitation at all.
――Having those thoughts, Roswaal laughed alone, unable to handle it.
The World Petra Saw
This is an edited Machine Translation, This is expected to have a quality dip in accuracy, therefore, if you read this story you must take it into consideration.
Original Translation by Goldkills ― Link
――For Petra Leyte, the world seemed very small and complete.
Petra was born into the Leyte family in the small village of Arlam, in the territory of Margrave Mathers.
Petra was neither blessed nor born into a wealthy family. She grew up healthy in a very ordinary village, to a very ordinary family, as one of the very ordinary village girls.
The village of Arlam was a typical ordinary and rural village in the world, with nothing to write home about.
Aside from the fact that the mansion of the Margrave, the lord of the territory, was located near the village, there was nothing remarkable about it. Compared to other places in the territory, there might have been more chances to see their lord in person.
It was a terrible thing to ask a young girl to understand such a unique opportunity.
The first thing to note is that this lord, Roswaal L. Mathers, was a strange man. His appearance did not match that of a typical nobleman.
As rumor had it, he liked to wear makeup like the clowns in fairy tales, and his outlandish and strange costumes were more bewildering than awe-inspiring.
――If the lord didn’t do his job properly, the people under him would have a hard time.
It was an idea that Petra had vaguely kept in her mind from stories and conversations with adults. And even as a child, Petra knew that her lord was not a normal person.
In fact, the attitude of the lord, who occasionally wandered into the village for a visit, was strange.
He did not act like a lord, but he messed with the adults, annoyed the golden-haired maid with him by saying things she did not understand, and left nothing but confusion in his wake.
Petra couldn’t understand how adults such as Muraosa laughed and forgave such behavior, and Petra once complained directly to the lord. But――,
Roswaal: [Oh, weeell, that’s harsh. But you are a very brave girl to tell me that. I hope you will remember that courage and take good care of yourseeelf.]
For some reason, Roswaal patted Petra on the head happily, Ignoring her indignant feelings.
Since then, Petra had given up on his eccentricities, thinking that it was useless to try and talk to the lord.
Having said that, the focus of the story returns from the village and the lord back to Petra.
As mentioned before, Petra had lived her life as an ordinary village girl in a village with no distinctive features. In the words of her lord, she could add the crown of a “very brave girl” to that.
As Petra grew up as a village girl, she became aware of something at the same time as she became older.
It was apparently a budding sense of self-consciousness that she was “a little cuter” compared to the other children in the village.
In fact, Petra’s appearance was more than gorgeous enough, even taking into account her young age.
She had large round eyes, light pink lips, long, slender arms and legs, and white skin. Her reddish brown hair was very fine and flowed softly and gently in the wind. Petra’s young but lovely appearance was so that the whole village was convinced that she would become a great beauty in the future.
Such self-awareness for a child is not easily trivialized by this.
In addition, Petra was not only good-looking, but she was also more intelligent than the other children. However, it was the kind of intelligence that could be called “cunning.”
Petra thought that being born with good looks was the same as being blessed with a Divine Protection or talent.
So it was only natural that she should use her good looks and utilize them to her advantage.
――When Petra broke something just for fun.
――When Petra stole a sweet Orage from the field.
――When Petra skipped taking care of the livestock and went out with friends.
In the face of angry adults, Petra used her cuteness in a powerful way.
If Petra got teary-eyed, looked down, and spoke words of remorse, it would be enough to prevent the adults from strongly scolding her, and they would leave it at that. It was only natural that they would not be able to scold the other children with her.
Her parents, who were the only ones in a position to scold Petra without such ties, were completely fooled by their beloved daughter, who acted like a good girl in front of them, and she grew up to be a little devil.
――With Petra, you could see the good in her eyes.
Even as a child, or perhaps because she was a child, she had no hesitation to jump on such advantages. Naturally, the children of the village would often gather around Petra, and as a result, Petra would grow more and more cheeky.
Doited on by the village boys, relied on by the village girls, and adored by the adults, Petra watered the flower of self-consciousness, and it blossomed.
It was around this time that Petra began to mistakenly believe that she was the center of the world.
Anyway, children, despite their misunderstandings, are a lovely thing.
Petra’s growth did not go beyond the realm of being a mischievous child, and her actions with her friends were only minor incidents in a small village.
The center of the world, Petra Leyte ――did not realize her misunderstandings and only learned a little bit about the size of the world until she turned ten, a few years after becoming self-aware.
It was a rare occasion when a peddler stopped by the village of Arlam to sell silk fabrics and miscellaneous goods.
It seemed that the merchant was on his way back from selling a variety of rare textiles to the lord, who liked to wear eccentric costumes. On his way back, he unpacked his goods in the village of Arlam along the way.
Merchant: [Kararagi to the west, Vollachia to the south. And it’s all the rage in the Royal Capital of Lugunica.]
Petra’s world changed when she saw the items the merchant had laid out with his sales pitch.
The girl’s eyes were drawn to the colorful, brightly woven fabrics, and she was instantly captivated by the fantasy.
With her natural charm, she was able to win over the merchant and her parents, acquire some textiles, and sat on her bed in her room and stared at them endlessly.
They became her irreplaceable treasures and made her dream of one thing.
――As the months passed by, Petra turned twelve years old, still keeping her dream alive.
At this age, changes come not only to the mind, but also to the body.
Gradually, she prepared to blossom not as a childish girl, but into a woman.
Petra, who was still just a budding flower, her prized cuteness still healthy and strong ――If anything, it had become polished with self-awareness and poised to become more sophisticated and glamorous.
The twelve-year-old Petra was still the center of the children in the village and had a reputation among the adults for being cute and smart, but in her room, she puffed out her cheeks in frustration.
The reason for this lay in the dream that Petra had.
The repercussions of that chance event had grown in Petra’s mind with the passage of time. Two years have passed since then, but her treasure remained carefully stored away, its color unfaded.
Her dim longing became concrete, and Petra had a dream in her hands.
――In the future, I want to go to the Royal Capital and work as a tailor.
She wanted to make pretty and fashionable clothing, decorated with beautiful fabrics as she desired. The admiration for the many textiles that had captured her eyes that day had made Petra dream of such a future.
Looking back, maybe the reason Petra did not like the lord very much was that she did not like the way he dressed. It was terrible. It was blasphemy against clothing, she thought.
Aside from her anger at the lord, Petra’s frustration ran even deeper.
This was because the people around her were not very supportive of Petra, who was working hard to realize her dream by practicing her sewing.
The reaction of the children, especially the ones around her, was really depressing. Sometimes when Petra asked them about the future, she never got the answer she wanted.
Lucas would sniff and say he’s going to take over his father’s job as a lumberjack, and Mild’s stomach would growl while thinking about something complicated. The brothers Dine and Cain would never stop fighting over who would marry Petra; when she would say she would be leaving the village, her younger friend, Meina, was adorable, but she would always start crying when Petra would tell her that she would be leaving for the Royal Capital.
Here, Petra was feeling completely alone.
The kids around her depended on her, but she had no friends to turn to. Even if she told the adults, they would just laugh as if her dreams were just a fantasy.
What a surprise. Being cute was so lonely.
This was an unbelievable reality for Petra, who had always been able to get by on cuteness alone. This was the first time Petra had experienced the frustration of a situation that could not be managed with cuteness.
As a result, Petra spent her days in agony, with dreams and worries in her heart.
In the future, when I grow up a little more and become prettier, it will all be solved.
For the time being, I’m pinning all my hopes on my future self.
At such a troubled age, the twelve-year-old Petra once again experienced a strange encounter one day.
She was on her way to a nearby riverbank to go krafish fishing with all her friends. Petra, who didn’t want to get her clothes dirty, could only watch the fishing, but it was still fun to hang out with her friends. She was worried about her future ――but that was a different matter.
???: [Hey, hey! Hey there, kids! You know where the person in charge of the village is!?]
Then, in a very familiar manner, a black-haired boy spoke to her.
He had mean-looking eyes and an incongruous face. He was a man who wore very formal clothes that did not suit him at all. His face was overshadowed by his clothes.
However, thanks to his ill-fitting appearance, Petra was soon able to surmise the identity of the person she was dealing with.
Petra: [Oh, are you the new servant in the lord’s mansion?]
Servant: [Oh, you’re right! As expected of Petra! So smart! So cute! The best in the village!]
Petra: […Did I mention my name?]
The boy clapped his hands excitedly and groaned at the staring Petra.
Petra’s guard went up when she suddenly heard someone call her by name, even though the person was a stranger. There was also the feeling of resentment at being startled by his words. How in the world did he know her name?
Servant: [Oh, look, there she is, there she is! The most beautiful girl in the village! Speaking of Petra of the village of Arlam, her brave name is echoing high and low, even in Roswaal-sama’s mansion! See?]
Petra: [Oh… In the lord’s mansion? Oh no, I’m so embarrassed…]
Servant: [It’s true, it’s true! Rather, it’s inevitable! Oh no, the real thing is a hundred times cuter than the stories, haha!]
The boy, who was in a panic, was frankly relieved to see Petra looking down with her hands on her cheeks. Petra ――pretended to be embarrassed by the boy, and was looking carefully for his reaction.
One should not trust someone easily just because their clothes look like they are related to the mansion. There was a man who used to come in and out of the lord’s mansion and who used to stare at Petra and the others. He had a handsome face, and his clothes suited him, but his stare was unsettling.
And if one looked closely, one could see that that person and this boy were wearing the same clothes. Petra was surprised to see how different they looked depending on who was wearing the clothes, but one could never be too careful. Being cute could also be dangerous.
Servant: [My name is Natsuki Subaru! Long story short, I’m an apprentice butler! I’m a hard worker who’s been taking care of Roswaal-sama’s mansion since yesterday. I hope we can all get along!]
Unaware of Petra’s suspicions, the boy ――Subaru, boisterously introduced himself.
His greetings lacked the composure of an adult, and his behavior was not polite. There was a sense that he was looking down on the children; also, the way he closed the distance between them irritated Petra.
To put it simply, Petra had the worst impression of Subaru when she first met him.
However, Lucas and Mild, who were confused at first, quickly became friends with him, perhaps because they liked his attitude, which was neither adult-like nor childlike.
If that happened, Petra, who represented the children, would have to accept him.
Petra: […So, you’re looking for the person in charge of the village? What do you want with them?]
Subaru: [Well, I’ve been asked by my Maid-senpai to deliver something to them. So, I guess I’m running an errand!]
Petra: [Hmm. All right, I’ll take you to Muraosa.]
With Lucas on his back and Mild and Dine hooked around his waist, Petra guided Subaru with a forced smile. Petra thought that it was also a bit of a ploy, that he was not angered by the mischief.
Incidentally, the one in charge of the village was actually Mayor Milde, but she was deliberately avoided, with Subaru taken to her younger brother, Rathhum-san (Muraosa), who looked more like a village chief.
Petra was sure the people at the mansion would scold her later for this. It would be interesting.
The next day, the village was abuzz with rumors about the new servant who had joined the mansion.
It was a small village. Although there were no major incidents, even the slightest thing could easily become known. In particular, people from the lord’s mansion would frequently come to the village to buy groceries. It was only natural that rumors would start to circulate about the kind of person that one would be meeting many times in the future.
Petra: [Um, I’m not sure. But, he doesn’t seem like a bad person.]
When asked by her parents, Petra casually replied with a safe answer.
After the incident with the escort yesterday, there were quite a few people who came to Petra, who had met with Subaru, to find out the truth about the rumors. The other children were also asked, but Petra was still the one that the adults relied on.
Petra didn’t have a very good impression of Subaru, but it was not good to say anything different from the other kids. It was hard to keep the cute and cuddly wheels on track. Petra breathed deeply, having gotten through the barrage of questions.
Petra: […Huh? Who is that girl?]
After escaping from the circle of adults to the outskirts of the village, Petra’s eyes widened. There, she discovered a girl with light brown braided hair ――for two days in a row, she had seen this unfamiliar girl.
Petra: [What are you doing out here all alone?]
Unlike the previous days, Petra had no hesitation in calling out to the girl. The girl who turned around at her call was quite cute ――even from Petra’s point of view.
Her clothes were simple, and her hair was unadorned, but the quality of her face was quite outstanding. Petra was filled with an overwhelming desire to do something about her appearance.
Having worked tirelessly to improve her own cuteness, Petra was also keenly attuned to the cuteness of others. She especially disliked seeing cuteness go to waste, and she took care of her mother and Meina in many ways in that regard.
She had a tremendous desire to pour her own cute spirit onto this little girl.
???: [I’m Meili. Because of some circumstances, my family is sending me to this village for a little while.]
The girl who said her name and smiled ――Meili was a quiet girl.
She was quick to answer questions, but did not often talk to people on her own. She had a personality similar to Meina’s, which made Petra feel like she had to lead the way like an older sister.
Petra: [Come on! Let me introduce you to everyone. I’m Petra! I’ll be your friend!]
As soon as Petra took the shy Meili with her, Lucas and her friends immediately welcomed her.
As children, once they got to know each other, it was easy for them to talk. She quickly became one of the friends of Petra and the others, and that day they ran around the village to deepen their friendship.
Lucas: [Hey, come look. …This animal looks like it’s a girl.]
Meina: [Oh, wow, that’s amazing! Meili, it feels like you can talk to animals!]
In the midst of all this playfulness, Petra and her friends were especially pleased with the puppy that Meili had taken in. The dark brown-haired puppy seemed to have been brought by Meili and was very friendly. The children were completely enticed by the way it performed tricks, as if it could understand Meili’s words.
Petra: [Meili! We’ll definitely play again tomorrow!]
At dusk, as they parted, Petra grabbed Meili’s hand and promised to see her tomorrow. She nodded shyly, and Petra went home, satisfied.
Petra: [Today, I made a new friend. She was all alone, so I invited her to play.]
When Petra reflected on her day at the dinner table, her parents looked at her with admiration and praised her. This also helped to boost Petra’s self-esteem.
It was true that Meili was a good girl, but it was Petra who had reached out to her. Not only was she cute, but she was also kind. This felt like it would bring the Royal Capital closer.
Petra went to sleep feeling good, with a little bit of selfishness swelling her heart.
The next day, Petra woke up as usual, and went out to play as usual; an ordinary day ――unaware that fate always masquerades as such.
Petra: [Sorry to keep you waiting. What are you going to do today?]
At the height of the Fire time, Petra met up with Lucas and his friends at noon, and then met up with Meili at the edge of town. As they were all talking about what they were going to do today――
Lucas and friends: [Oh! It’s Subaru!] [Huh? Subaru!] [Yay! Subaru is here!]
Lucas’s face lit up, and he and the others started running at once. Then, standing in their path was Subaru, whose uniform did not suit him. He was surprised by their momentum.
Subaru: [Whoa! Hey! Bring it… Aaah!]
He opened his arms and tried to catch them, but he couldn’t stop them at all. Lucas and Mild, and the brothers Dine and Cain, collided with them, and Subaru and the kids fell to the ground without a moment’s hesitation.
Petra: [Geez! Guys, don’t do anything dumb! Subaru, are you okay?]
Subaru: [Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine. I was overconfident in my abilities. How embarrassing.]
When Petra called out to Subaru, who had fallen on his butt, he laughed and scratched his head. Petra tilted her head at Subaru’s appearance and asked, “Huh?”. It was the first time she had seen him in two days, but the impression she got from him was quite different compared to that time. At that time, he looked like a fool who had no time to spare.
Petra: [Subaru, did something happen yesterday?]
Subaru: [What? No, no, no, n-nothing at all! It’s not like I borrowed the lap of the girl I have feelings for, cried my eyes out, and then went to sleep with a runny nose. Nothing like that happened at all!]
Petra was told to deny what she had not asked about. At any rate, it seemed that he did not fall asleep in someone’s lap, crying and sniffling. Though, there might have been something similar to that had happened.
Petra: [Well, okay.]
Compared to the Subaru of the day before yesterday, the Subaru of today was more likable to Petra. She did not know how Lucas and the others felt, but Petra felt like she should try to be a little more friendly with him.
Petra: [So, are you running errands today?]
Subaru: [That’s part of it, but right now I have free time. Why don’t we take a little tour of the village? …Hey, don’t get on my back! Don’t get snot on my back! Even if it’s not snot, that still wouldn’t be okay!]
Petra: […Uh, do you need help?]
Petra felt a little bit sorry for Subaru, who was dragging the clinging Lucas and the others along with him. While accompanying him on his tour of the village, Petra somehow managed to introduce him to the adults in the village.
Rathhum-san, who was called Muraosa. Milde-san, the real village chief. Makizi-san, who organized the young people of the village and sometimes wore a mask.
And so, while Petra was helping Subaru introduce himself around,
Subaru: [Well… In this case, I guess It’s a good idea to gather the people of the village and have a chat with them so that I can get a better idea of things.]
Petra: [All at once?]
Subaru: [I’m going to give them a big old hello and say, “Let’s be friends from now on.”]
Then Subaru laughed with the face of a mischievous little boy. Seeing that innocent smile, Petra took a liking to Subaru for the first time.
The good impression Petra had of Subaru was almost overshadowed by an unfamiliar dance.
The radio calisthenics drew in many people in the village. However, it greatly embarrassed the adolescent Petra. And yet, once again, Lucas and his friends loved it, and it spread to the adults as well. The offsetting favoritism worsened, and Petra began to dislike Subaru more and more.
Dislike may be an overstatement. But, Petra hated it as she was not good at it, and her clothes did not match the situation.
Petra: [You’re the only one who understands how I feel…]
Petting the head of the puppy that Meili was holding to her chest, Petra tried to understand with a fleeting smile.
On the way home after the “dance,” she caught Subaru and brought him to see the puppy, and to her surprise, the puppy gobbled up Subaru’s hand. Petra, who had been disappointed by everyone’s acceptance of Subaru, felt that she had finally found a friend.
Petra wanted to ask Meili to sleep over with her tonight. ――This was because Petra was having feelings for the puppy that she would bring.
It was Cain or Meina who exclaimed in surprise. It might even have been Petra herself.
Suddenly, the puppy twisted around, slipped through Meili’s arms, and ran off. Everyone rushed after it, but it was impossible to catch up with the puppy. The puppy dove through the white fence on the outskirts of the village and ran into the forest.
Kids: [What should we do…?]
The puppy entered a forest on the opposite side of the road from where they usually played ――into the forest that the adults had warned them not to enter. This was a place where the power of magic stones was used to create a barrier to keep dangerous creatures away. In other words, it was a dangerous forest.
If a small puppy were to enter such a place――,
The anxious children’s eyes focused on the confused Petra.
Petra was the center of the children. Whenever something happened, they turned to her first. And when they did, it was Petra’s duty to live up to their trust.
Petra: [Mei-, Meili…!?]
Petra was asked to do something, but she couldn’t say anything. In place of Petra, it was Meili who tried to go under the white fence. Meili stiffened her cheeks in nervousness, but she looked straight at the forest.
Meili: [I’ve got to go get her…]
Petra was shocked as if struck by lightning at the sound of Meili’s voice, which Petra felt responsible for, and she felt ashamed of herself for trying to stop her when Meili was so desperate.
Magic stones for the barrier were hung on trees at equal intervals to separate the forest from the village.
After confirming the location of the magic stones, Petra drew a map in her mind and wrote down evenly spaced boundaries on it, deriving an area where she could safely search for the puppy.
If one entered a dangerous forest and was attacked by something, one could escape to a ward. ――Following this route, they could look for the puppy safely.
Petra: [I’m going into the woods with Meili. You guys…]
Kids: [Not so fast!] [Petra’s going, right?] [I’m going to die out there!]
Petra linked her hands together with Meili’s, then Meina’s, then Lucas’s, and so on. No one was scared to turn back.
Petra: […Yeah. Thanks.]
Petra had always been relied upon by everyone. But at this moment, for the first time, Petra felt like she could be the one to rely on everyone. She might not have had the courage to do it alone with Meili.
Petra: [――Let’s not lock our hands together; it makes it hard to walk, okay?]
Following the map she had drawn in her mind, Petra led everyone through the forest.
Stepping on branches and leaves, Petra’s heart was beating noisily in her chest as she made her way through the forest. Dusk was approaching, and the visibility in the forest was getting worse. “What if I take a wrong turn, or miss something?” Anxiety and tension made Petra’s forehead sweat.
An hour had passed since they had entered the forest. Even now, Petra regretted her lack of preparation.
Food to attract the puppy ――no, dangerous animals might come. Calling out loud ――that was also dangerous. Notifying the adults ――they should have done that, even if they were afraid that they would have gotten angry. Bringing a crystal light ――would it have been enough to turn back before it got dark?
In order not to lose their way, they scratched the trees with rocks that they had picked up, but it was only a small comfort.
Little by little, the expressions on Petra’s friends’ faces became more and more anxious. If one person broke down, it would spread all at once. The first person to do so might have been Petra.
Petra remembered the location of the barrier. But would she really be able to escape in time after they found the puppy? Maybe she was doing something terrible right now.
Her anxiety was growing bigger and bigger, and tears were beginning to form in Petra’s eyes. After two or three more deep breaths, she would tell the others to go back. She would tell them to leave it to the adults.
Petra: [Everyone… We should go…]
Meili: [――I agree. It seems that the time is riiight.]
Closing her eyes tightly, she was about to tell everyone to go back when she heard a voice.
It was a voice that she had heard before, but it was filled with a tone of voice that she had never heard. When Petra opened her eyes to see what was going on, she saw Meili’s face right in front of her.
The frightened and unsure girl ――her expression was different, with a mature gleam.
It was no longer cute, and it had a creepy beauty to it that sent shivers down Petra’s spine.
Meili: [I’m sooorry, everyone. But this is my taaask.]
Just as she thought she saw a smile and heard a voice, Petra’s consciousness was snatched away by a presence behind her. She hurriedly turned around. There was a huge, black dog. Petra heard it growl. She tried to scream, “Run!”, but she couldn’t speak. ――Petra’s consciousness was cut off there.
――Petra’s consciousness did not return until the evening of the following day.
???: [Petra! …All she does is worry me!]
Slowly, Petra opened her eyes while lying in bed, and the first thing she saw was her mother holding her with a bright red face.
Recognizing the sound of her mother’s voice, her father immediately rushed into the room as well. Then he hugged Petra and her mother at the same time and started to cry loudly.
Father: [The people of the mansion rescued you guys when you went into the forest. Subaru-sama, in particular, had a tough time, but he brought everyone back.]
This was what her parents told Petra, whose eyes were blank as she tried to figure out what had happened.
It seemed that the puppy was a dangerous animal that lived in the forest ――a Witchbeast, and Petra and her friends had been in real danger. Surprisingly, it was Subaru and a maid from the mansion who had saved Petra and the others from danger.
Petra: [Come to think of it… That might have happened…]
Listening to the story, Petra traced a vague memory.
It was a very painful memory. It was hard to breathe, and her body was hot. Petra was lying on the grass, surrounded by Lucas and Meina. Then, Subaru and someone else arrived. And, when Subaru talked to her, she asked about Meili, who was not there――.
Petra: [Yeah, that’s right. Where’s Meili? What happened to her?]
Father: […The girl was brought back by Subaru-sama. Soon after, her worried family came to pick her up. So everything is alright, Petra.]
Petra: […I see.]
Petra’s parents told her that Meili and her family had left the village of Arlam after saying goodbye. Petra somehow knew that this was a lie.
Petra remembered that just before it all had happened, Meili turned into a completely different person. If that puppy was a Witchbeast, then there must have been something wrong with Meili when she had first brought it here.
Even so, Petra wanted to exchange words with Meili once more if possible, but――,
Kids: [Petra, you’re up!] [Petra, you’re awake!] [Wake up, Petra!]
Without allowing Petra to get any sentimentality, her friends came noisily stomping into the house.
Lucas and his friends woke up earlier than Petra, and it seemed that they received the same explanation as Petra. Moreover, they honestly believed the story and were sorry to hear that Meili had left.
Meina: [Why don’t we go to the mansion to visit Subaru?]
It was Meina, who was usually not very assertive, who suggested this. Lucas and the others agreed to her proposal with all hands on deck. Petra agreed with the idea, but she thought it was unusual.
Petra: [It’s unusual for you to say something like that.]
Meina: [Because if it weren’t for Subaru, I might never have met my brother or sister…]
Petra knew that Meina’s mother was pregnant. As an only child, Petra was a little envious, and when she learned that she was going to have a younger sibling, Meina would become an older sister.
Petra understood Meina, and that certainly made Petra want to thank Subaru.
Petra: [Well, let’s all go ask the lord of the mansion!]
Even Petra, as expected, was grateful to Subaru for saving her life. The strange dancing had taken a toll on his likability, but that could be made up for.
From now on, I’ll be a little kinder to him. I’m very understanding.
???: [A visit for Barusu? He is surely still asleep… Oh well. The only person who would be embarrassed to be seen with a dumb sleeping face would be Barusu, so that’s fine. Come, follow.]
Petra was nervous about visiting the mansion, but the pink-haired maid who answered her call was surprisingly kind. Her expression and voice were cold, but Petra could somehow see that it was not because she was distant, but because she was like that to everyone.
Petra: [Don’t you have to tell the lord first?]
Maid: [The mansion’s miscellaneous affairs are left to us. Unless, of course, you are an assassin who has come to take the life of Barusu… Are you assassins?]
Petra: [There’s never been a cuter assassin.]
Maid: [Right? So then, it’s okay.]
The maid did not deny that she was cute, and she guided Petra and the others with a prim face. The six of them were brought to a room with a magnificent door. They were nervous about going up to the mansion for the very first time.
Subaru must have been lying in that room. It was already evening, but he must have been a sleepyhead.
Maid: [We’re coming in.]
After knocking and making sure there was no answer, the maid opened the door.
There was a spacious room with a very large bed in the back. When she found a young man with black hair lying there, Petra entered the room with a sense of relief――,
Petra: [Subaru, isn’t it already evening? You shouldn’t be sleeping this late…]
――Petra’s face and throat froze as she tried to smile and speak to him.
With a peaceful face, Subaru was sleeping, breathing gently. If one excluded his face, he might have just been a sleepyhead.
But, Subaru’s sleeping body was covered in scars and bandages, with white scars here and there.
――Petra understood that all of them were the marks of the beast’s fangs and claws.
Maid: [Keep quiet, so as not to wake him. Call out when you are finished.]
After saying this, the maid went out into the hallway. After the maid’s words, Lucas and the others anxiously walked up to Subaru’s side, but Petra was unable to move.
Petra couldn’t move an inch, and at the same time, everything that had happened to her came flooding back.
While she was suffering in the forest, Petra had asked Subaru to do something for her. It was not just something. She had asked him to bring back the missing Meili. Her father told her that Subaru had brought back Meili. He said he brought all the children back, and was a little injured and had had a hard time. ――How was this a little bit of an injury?
Petra: [Ah, ah…]
It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.
Petra brought Meili into the fold. She also loved the puppy that Meili had brought with her and let it run away into the forest. Petra took everyone into the forest where they weren’t supposed to go. They should have turned back, but she couldn’t bring herself to make that decision. Even in a daze, she asked Subaru to do something so reckless. As a result of his recklessness, she also inflicted indelible scars on Subaru.
Everything, everything, had been brought about by Petra’s hubris.
Kids: [Let’s write something on Subaru’s bandages…] [Write, write…] [A token of sympathy…]
Petra stiffened, and Lucas and the others turned the covers over and looedk at the bandages on Subaru’s leg. They wrote their own words on the bandages, showing some consideration and keeping their voices low.
And then, Meina shyly wrote a note of thanks.
The last in line was Petra, and Meina, holding the quill, tilted her head. Finally, everyone else noticed Petra’s condition, and she could not accept the pen.
Her knees were shaking, and Petra could not look directly at Subaru.
Kids: [Petra?] [What’s wrong?] [Are you ok?]
Lucas and the others tilted their heads at Petra’s strange behavior. As they looked at her, it reminded Petra of the forest. When they had entered the forest, Lucas and the others had looked to Petra. At that time, Petra had summoned up what little courage she had left, but――,
――Today, I can’t do it.
Stifling a sob in the back of her throat, Petra covered her face and ran out of the room. The maid in the hallway narrowed her eyes at Petra as she ran, but she didn’t follow her, as if she knew straight away that Petra would head for the front door and run back to the village.
In fact, that was what happened. Petra ran away. She ran home, barged into her room, winced at the sound of her startled parents’ voices, and just continued to shake with fear.
For the first time, Petra became aware of her responsibility for her own actions.
Petra: [It’s all my fault… I did an awful thing…!]
It was late that night when Petra tearfully told her parents about it.
Petra knew that Lucas and his friends had come to visit her because they were worried about her running away from the mansion. Petra’s parents were worried about their beloved daughter and kept calling out to her in her room.
She despised it all, pretended not to hear it, and locked herself away. But she couldn’t bear the ever-growing guilt, so she stumbled into her parents’ bedroom in tears.
Petra’s parents were very surprised at first when they heard Petra’s story.
She told them about Meili, the puppy, her request to Subaru, and the serious injuries he received. Petra told them that everything was her fault. Petra sobbed, wondering what she should do.
Mother: [It’s okay. …Sure, you did some bad things, Petra.]
Petra’s mother put her daughter in the same bed and stroked her head as she spoke. Her father crawled in next to her, and Petra sniffled as she was sandwiched between them.
Mother: [If you do something wrong, you need to apologize. Put your heart into it, and do your best.]
Petra: […But even if I apologize, there’s no way they will forgive me.]
Mother: [Do you apologize because you want forgiveness? Or do you apologize because you want to? Which is it, Petra?]
Petra felt like she was being told something very important, and she fell silent.
Isn’t the purpose of an apology to ask for forgiveness? At least, up until now, Petra had used an apology as a tool for that purpose. Even though she felt bad and said she was sorry, she used an apology as a means to ultimately be forgiven.
Was there meaning in an apology for something that could not be forgiven?
Father: [Make sure you go tell Subaru-sama that you’re good and sorry. If you’re afraid to go alone, your mother and I will go with you. But, you are the one who has to apologize, Petra.]
Petra’s body was hugged tightly, and she rubbed her forehead against her father’s chest. Thinking about it, it was probably the first time since she could remember that she had truly indulged her mother and father in this way.
Even in front of her parents, Petra had always hidden her true feelings. So now, when she apologized to Subaru, she really wanted them to be there for her, but――,
Petra: [――No, I can apologize properly, all by myself.]
――Petra said, thinking that she did not deserve to be pampered.
It was two days later that Subaru, who had woken up safely, came to the village to greet everyone.
Subaru: [Well, it was dangerous, very dangerous. But, I’m glad everyone’s okay!]
Subaru gave a thumbs up, although he was not dressed in his usual mansion uniform; it was a funny-looking black and white outfit that Petra had never seen before.
However, Petra judged objectively that he was dressed much better than he would have been if he had been in more formal clothes.
Kids: [Subaruu!] [Feeling better!] [Subaru is standing!] [Subaru is standing on the ground!]
Subaru: [Oh, oh, you little brats. I’m glad you’re all doing well. You should show me some gratitude.]
With an embarrassed look on his face to the grateful adults, but with his usual attitude to the children, Subaru proudly talked about his achievements. Both Petra and the adults somehow knew that this was a way to keep the people around him from worrying.
It was frustrating for Petra to notice that he was like that. What Subaru had done for the village and for Petra and the others was huge, but why?
Kids: [Subaru, let’s play!] [Let’s play, let’s play!] [Let’s catch some krafish!] [A big one!]
On the other hand, Lucas and the others were oblivious to Subaru’s condition and tried to pull him along in the same manner as they did before. When Petra saw Lucas reaching out to climb up――,
Petra: [Lucas! What are you thinking! Subaru’s only just recovered!]
Without thinking, in a loud voice, Petra scolded him, and a startled Lucas landed on his buttocks on the spot. The loud voice caused everyone to turn around at once and notice Petra, who was far from the circle.
Subaru, too, raised his hand to Petra,
Subaru: [Oh, Petra. Why are you over there…]
Subaru: [What is it!?]
The moment he spoke to her in a friendly manner, Petra turned away and ran. There was Subaru’s surprised voice, but Petra couldn’t stop herself.
Although she had decided that she would apologize, she did not. This was just like at the mansion.
Petra: [huff, huff…]
In the end, Petra ran straight to the other side of the village. Bending her knees and taking several deep breaths, she looked around and saw that she was on the outskirts of the village ――the same place where she had met Meili and the puppy.
???: [――This is where things got a little messy.]
This time, without exaggeration, Petra was so surprised that she thought her heart would stop beating.
When she turned around, Petra saw Subaru standing slightly behind her. Subaru exaggeratedly raised and lowered his shoulders as he staggered and leaned against the tree trunk where a magic stone hung.
Subaru: [B-but I am too injured… To run as fast as I can… Huff, I don’t know if it’s okay to be out sick… If you’re injured… But not sick…]
Subaru: [As I thought, I can’t catch my breath fast enough,… Or, maybe I just have too little stamina.]
Chuckling, he sat down there. Petra was simply bewildered, not knowing the true meaning of this. Gesturing to Petra, Subaru tapped his hand on the ground next to him.
Subaru: [Well, sit down, Petra. Let’s have a little talk.]
When asked, Petra didn’t have the courage to refuse.
Petra sat down next to Subaru. Petra looked over and glanced at him, stealing looks at his profile. He did not look angry. But, he had every right to be.
Subaru: [Uh, I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, but everyone told me to go after you, Petra. Is there something you want to tell me?]
Petra: [――! Oh… Well, that’s, that’s true.]
Apparently, this situation was orchestrated by those around her in order to make Petra apologize. In other words, the whole village was helping Petra to redeem herself. Lucas, Mild, Cain, Dine, and even Meina were all trying to get Petra to apologize.
If Subaru was set up like this, he would be able to blame Petra without hesitation――,
Subaru: [I wonder what about. Ah, maybe, did you get hurt before I brought you out of the forest!? You might have gotten mercilessly bitten into by those dogs, and if that left a scar… then, I’m sorry!]
Petra: [Oh, what?]
Subaru: [The worst thing that can happen to a girl is getting a scar. Well if I recall, to prevent scars, you gotta keep it moist or something like that…]
Subaru, whose face had turned pale, became blatantly anxious that he might have hurt Petra. Petra was often taken aback by his wisdom, and wondered if it was a ploy to stir up Petra’s guilt ――she soon realized that it was not intended to do so at all.
The boy in front of Petra really didn’t think that she had done anything wrong. Rather, he felt bad about what he had done to Petra, and that was all he could think about.
That misconception, that misunderstanding, on the contrary, angered Petra.
Subaru: [That’s right! Petra, show me where you got hurt… Oh, no, I don’t want to see it if it’s in a weird place…]
Subaru: [Yes, yes, yes, yes, what’s wrong?]
Turning around, Subaru finally looked up and made eye contact with Petra, who had shouted loudly. Petra’s eyes were moist with large tears, and his unusual black eyes widened as he looked at Petra.
Petra’s emotions were racing, and she wanted to scream. But, anger was not what she should have been voicing right now.
Petra: [I’m sorry…!]
As soon as Petra finished, tears began to flow down her cheeks. Subaru became more and more panicked at the sight, but Petra left her emotional breakdown to herself and just kept on going.
Subaru: [P-Petra! What’s wrong? Why are you apologizing?]
Petra: [I’m sorry. I’m sorry…! I’m so sorry…]
In front of the panicked Subaru, Petra just continued to cry and apologize.
Petra: [――Like I said, everything is my fault.]
Confessing her sins, Petra kept her gaze down to the ground and clenched her hand tightly.
The tears were still running down her cheeks, but Petra managed to calm down enough to talk. As it was, Petra faltered and confided in Subaru about her sins, just as she had told to her parents.
She felt that everything was her fault: Meili, the puppy, the request to Subaru, and the serious injuries.
After listening to the confession of her sins, Subaru quieted down with a difficult look on his face.
When she closed her eyes, the image of Subaru lying on the bed came back to her mind behind Petra’s eyelids. The way he was gasping for air after following her this far was also fresh in her mind.
The real Subaru, right next to her, with his sleeves rolled up, had many white scars on his arms. They were scars that would never go away. Just as Subaru was worried about Petra earlier――.
Subaru: [――You know, Petra.]
When Subaru called her name, Petra gnashed her back teeth, knowing that the time had finally come.
What would he say? How would she be rebuked? Petra, who had always been forgiven for every problem, had no idea how scary it was to not be forgiven.
So, when she looked up and saw Subaru’s troubled grimace, Petra forgot to breathe.
It was not the kind of face one would give to someone that they would never forgive.
Subaru: [Not that it’s your fault, Petra… You’re wrong. If you have apologized… It’s not.]
Subaru: [Hmm, maybe this is it.]
Petra was upset as Subaru tilted his head and chose his words. Noticing Petra’s turmoil, Subaru nodded to Petra, his expression becoming one of understanding.
Subaru: [――I forgive you.]
Subaru: [Well, it’s true that you made a lot of mistakes, Petra. I felt it would be different if I irresponsibly just said “There’s nothing to be sorry for.” And so, when I think about what the best thing to say to this tearful, remorseful Petra would be…]
Subaru: [I forgive you, Petra. Don’t worry. I’m not angry. I’m just glad that you and Meina don’t have any scars. But not me and Lucas. A man’s scars are his badge of honor.]
Subaru then laughed with a face that was completely devoid of any sense of anger.
The look on Subaru’s face was the same as when Petra had first taken a liking to him.
Petra cried out, experiencing another breakdown, a shock quite different from the one she had experienced before.
That night, Petra was in bed in her room, alone with just her thoughts.
Why was Subaru not angry? Why was I forgiven?
Petra: [I am…]
Not because she was cute. Petra had already learned more than enough to know that there were some things that could not be helped by that. So, that was not the reason for why Subaru forgave her.
Sweet. Gullible. Simplistic ――such was Petra’s assessment of the adults and children she had used her cuteness as a weapon to toy with them in the past.
It was none of those things. If cuteness was not a weapon, then Petra shouldn’t be allowed to use it.
Petra: [Be kind, because…]
Kind, as soon as that word came to mind, a sudden understanding dawned on Petra.
The reason for why Subaru forgave Petra was probably because Subaru was kind. The reason for why Subaru went into the forest to save Petra and the others, worked hard, did not complain when he was injured, came to show his face to the worried villagers, and patted the head of the crying Petra was all because he was kind.
Immediately, Petra realized that she had been living her life in a very misguided way.
Petra thought it was because of her cuteness that the adults allowed her to play pranks, to take food, and to skip work. That was wrong.
What a misunderstanding. What a stupid misunderstanding. Those things were allowed to happen because everyone had been kind.
The reason for why Petra was overlooked was because she was spoiled by the kindness of the people who let Petra off with no proper self-reflection, no awareness of her own wrongdoings, or no vow to not do the same thing again.
Petra’s life had always consisted of indulging in someone else’s kindness.
At last, Petra realized this.
It was thanks to the greatest act of kindness ever that she finally realized it.
???: [Oh, Petra. You’re all dressed up today.]
The next day, Subaru met her in the village square and smiled at Petra’s appearance.
He never mentioned anything about yesterday’s tears. Petra thought that this was also Subaru’s kindness. She wanted to indulge in his kindness. That’s why Petra didn’t mention yesterday’s tears, either.
Instead, she picked up the hem of her skirt and twirled around adorably on the spot.
Petra: [Heh, heh. Right? Isn’t it cute? Isn’t it cute?]
Subaru: [Oh, you look super cute. Where did you get that outfit?]
Petra: [Umm, you know. This is. I didn’t actually buy it! I made it!]
Subaru: [You made it? Oh, I see! Oh, right, right, right. Petra, that’s awesome!]
Tilting her head slightly at Subaru’s reaction, which alternated between understanding, surprise, and satisfaction, Petra felt better about his honest response and puffed out her chest, her cheeks reddening.
Petra’s outfit today was a lovely and gorgeous dress ――as she had told Subaru, Petra finished it from scratch herself. Two years ago, Petra dreamed of a treasure, and she worked hard to create it using that woven fabric. And, on this day, she showed it to the world for the very first time.
Subaru: [Petra, as expected, you have good taste. I’m sure you could open a store in the future.]
Petra: […Really, you think so?]
The high spirits that Petra had been feeling up to that point suddenly faded away at Subaru’s words.
Petra’s voice was not cheerful, and Subaru looked a little confused. However, Petra was afraid of what he just said. It wasn’t the first time Petra had told people that she wanted to work as a tailor in the future.
But the responses were always in jest, and no one took her seriously.
The adults laughed at her, and her friends didn’t believe in her ――Petra’s dream.
What would Subaru think about that? Such feelings swelled up rapidly in Petra.
Petra: [You know, in the future, I want to go to the Royal Capital to work as a tailor.]
Petra: [This dress is practice for that… It’s only one dress, but I’ll practice more, and then.]
Stuttering and speaking a little too fast, Petra spoke of her dream.
Not in the usual joking way, but in a wishful one, to someone who needed to hear it.
Upon hearing Petra’s dream, Subaru――,
Subaru: [That’s a nice dream. I bet you will become the best tailor in the Royal Capital.]
Subaru, who usually would answer with a laugh, did not laugh at Petra’s dream.
With a serious face and voice, Subaru patted the anxious Petra on the head and supported her dream.
――Subaru did not laugh at the dream that everyone else laughed at.
Why is this person so kind?
With that thought, Petra’s cheeks unconsciously reddened as she looked at Subaru with her big round eyes.
――That face that only Subaru saw was the cutest Petra had ever shown.
At twelve years old, Petra Leyte had a dream.
――No, It’s not necessarily about being a top-notch tailor and opening the best store in the Royal Capital.
Petra: [I love to make clothes. That’s never going to change, but…]
As she gazed at the finished treasured dress, Petra thought back to the day when she first had her dream.
That day, Petra had been dazzled by the colorful woven fabric and dreamed of going to the Royal Capital. But now, Petra knew the true meaning of that inspiration.
At that time, Petra was not moved by the beautiful textiles. She was fascinated by something that did not exist in her own little world, by the impact of the totally new and unknown.
Petra mistakenly believed that she was the center of the world, based on the reasoning that she was cute and such.
Petra had been protected until now by so much great kindness. Learning this, Petra’s world was once again knocked out by a shock that was as great as the colors she had seen back then.
That was why――,
Petra: [Lucas is the heir to his lumberjack father. Mild is going to be a cook and revive the village tavern. Dine and Cain are… Yeah, there’s no point in asking. Yes, yes.]
While Petra was gathering with her friends and talking about the future in their usual way, the brothers Dine and Cain started fighting again. The topic of discussion was, of course, Petra’s future husband.
Meina: [So, Petra? Do you still want to go to the Royal Capital?]
Perhaps it was because Meina had recently come to realize that she was going to be a big sister, but she no longer seemed as lonely as before. In response to this question, Petra’s cheeks turned red.
Petra: [Let’s see… It might be a little different now.]
Meina: [Is that so? Then, what do you want to be in the future?]
When Meyna asked this, Petra stuck her tongue out at her. With a smile so cute that one could not help but admire it,
Petra: [――In the future, I want to be the wife of a kind husband.]
Rem’s Very Ordinary Happy Day
Original Translation by Remonwater ― Link
Rem, the Roswaal mansion head servant and foremost maid, woke up early in the morning.
A private room at the mansion’s east wing ――Rem woke up on her bed, and what she woke up to was a dawn with a sky still left with traces of the night.
Signs of the morning appeared towards the east with a faint glimmer of light mixed with the dark night sky. The girl lying down on the bed opened her eyes quietly as if she had heard the footsteps of dawn.
She had a petite body with thin arms and legs. Her short-cropped hair was a bright sky-blue, and her round, light-blue eyes, which had a color similar to her hair, were charming. Her youthful features were indicative of one word: cute.
However, she herself was completely unaware of how much she excelled in her looks.
She woke her body up with a small yawn. Rem stepped onto the floor from her bed while wearing her blue nightgown.
She was very good at waking up. When she stood up without being pulled back by drowsiness, Rem stretched in the middle of the room. She wiped off the tears in the corner of her eyes, bidding farewell to the traces of her dreams.
Rem: [Need to wash my face and change…]
Speaking of the things that she had to do was a secret habit Rem had before she started her work.
Putting things in order and organizing her actions was an essential ritual for Rem, a person who was aware of how she wasn’t very good at dealing with things. She was barely satisfying her duties as the mansion’s head maid by doing this ritual in secret; or at least, that’s what Rem thought.
She headed towards the bathroom with a towel in her hand while she organized her thoughts and washed her face. Her loosened thinking tensed up from the cold water. After she wiped her face with the soft towel, she went back to her room, and it was time to change clothes.
After she dropped her thin nightgown onto the bed, this young maiden’s soft skin was exposed, as she only had her underwear on.
Rem was rather petite in comparison to other 17-year-olds, but her body’s curvaceousness was richly feminine. In particular concern, her breasts had been growing considerably in these past few months.
Rem let out a seemingly melancholic sigh and turned around to the closet. She had many uniforms organized in a row in this place stored with clothes ――identical maid outfits were hung up.
She picked a set of clothes without hesitation and started to put on the uniform that she was used to wearing.
Thinking about it, she had actually been living like this and wearing her maid outfit for almost ten years.
Ten years ――it was the same date and the same time when the Oni village went into ruins, and she and her sister Ram were found by Roswaal. For Rem, it was literally more than half her lifetime.
This was the only time period where Rem would put on this maid outfit. She had no displeasure or doubts, and she thought she would continue on like this, however――,
Rem: [Would it be weird to wear different clothes every now and then…]
Rem saw her own image reflected on the mirror installed in the closet and looked carefully at her uniform. It was standard for a maid to have a well-kept appearance, and it was the minimum preparation she could do to avoid embarrassing herself in front of the Master. That was what Frederica had told her many times, who was a person Rem followed as an example for being a maid and who also educated her about the etiquettes.
Rem, of course, followed those teachings, and she didn’t fail to spend time on her personal appearance. However, she was more enthusiastic about it in these past several weeks and would check on it briefly. That being said, the enthusiasm was more about her preferring to be “adorable,” rather than it was preferring to be “perfect.”
Rem: […At this point, it’s a compromise.]
Rem turned around many times in front of the mirror, and put an end to the preparations that didn’t have an end in sight.
After she finished putting on her very revealing maid outfit, she put on her flower hair ornaments, and she was done. She turned over the hem of her short skirt, exited to the corridor in a lively way, and took a deep breath.
The corridor of the mansion was filled with the morning’s cool air. Rem breathed deeply of that air and started to walk happily. The place she headed towards ――was not the room next door, which was the room of her older sister, Ram.
Rem: [――Good morning.]
Rem said her greetings with a very thin voice and stepped into the room.
The layout of the room was the same as Rem’s private room, but its interior was subtly influenced by its owner’s personality. It still didn’t have much property in it, but she felt that even that really emphasized his character. “Every night and every morning” Rem saw it, and she felt her chest warm up.
It was a room used by a servant. It was not Rem’s room nor Ram’s room.
Excluding the sisters, this servant living in the Roswaal mansion could only be one person.
In other words, this was that person’s room――,
Rem looked down at the boy lying down on the bed in this dim room and called that name. However, that voice also seemed like it was vanishing and that it was something fragile, so there was no way it reached this boy, who was still in the middle of dreaming.
But, she said her greetings before she entered the room; so, she called out to the sleeping boy.
Rem: [So, Subaru-kun is an oversleeper, considering how he still isn’t waking up.]
Rem used that type of reasoning to justify her actions as she stood beside the bed. And then, she looked at the sleeping boy ――Natsuki Subaru’s sleeping face, and the impulse she experienced inside her caused her to loosen her lips greatly with affection.
Subaru was lying down on the left side of the bed, and was sleeping while holding onto the blanket with his arms. Subaru was sleeping ――wearing a black jersey. They were reproduced clothes that Rem had made by copying the foreign appearance Subaru had originally. She felt warm and fluffy inside from seeing him use those clothes as his sleepwear.
She didn’t just feel warm and fluffy, though. He would usually have his bangs up, but he had them down on his defenseless sleeping face, and there was a childish cuteness to it. He had lips that let out surprisingly quiet breathing and pretty fingers that were holding the blanket, fiddling with it. His legs were short. He was drooling on his pillow. It was cute.
Rem: [Subaru-kun is cute…]
“Such blind devotion,” was what she thought, even though she was a little amazed herself, but she couldn’t betray her own sensibilities. Actually, perhaps it couldn’t be helped because she felt that way.
It made Rem’s white cheeks blush. She enjoyed herself with Subaru’s sleeping face and appearance.
She sharpened all of her senses. It was the readiness to pick up all of the signals Subaru gave off.
She continued that observation that was exaggerated to the point of it being ridiculous for a short time and said,
Rem: [T-that’s it for today… Rem can’t take much more. Time to leave…]
Her heartbeat sped up. She became aware that not just her cheeks were burning up, but her ears were too. Rem somehow restrained herself and pulled her attention away from Subaru’s sleeping face. She stepped back. The boy was completely and remotely removed from her field of vision, and she somehow recovered herself.
Rem: [That was close… a little more, and Rem would have lost control.]
Rem placed her hand on her forehead, and gave herself credit for her self-control.
Taking a peek at Subaru’s sleeping face was her daily routine “every morning,” but not once did she test if her offensive desire and her defensive self-control were settled down. It was always a close battle.
――Furthermore, it was as if she wasn’t aware of how she had suspicions of following her desires when she was giving in to impulses from seeing his sleeping face.
Rem: [Rem really did try my best this morning. Geez, Subaru-kun is a sinful person…]
If he were awake, then surely he would have asserted false accusations from those brief words.
Rem left those words along with a hot sigh and quickly went to leave Subaru’s room. She completed the first thing she did in the morning for her daily routine, and then, this time, Rem headed toward Ram’s room.
Rem: [――Good morning.]
Whenever Rem entered her sister’s room, the voice she called out to the inside was, of course, about as quiet as she used with Subaru.
The lights were turned off in the room, and it was dim; but, in comparison to Subaru’s room, it was pretty bright. That was due to the approach of morning, and it was proof of Rem wasting her time in Subaru’s room. That being said, it didn’t hinder her work and it didn’t cause her to be late, as she was waking up early to allow for time to see his sleeping face.
Just from that, the amount of sleep she got decreased. However, her daily activities were not just about physical strength, but about willpower as well. After all, she was just aiming to replenish her willpower. It was not just Subaru’s sleeping face that did that――,
Rem: [――Nee-sama is also lovely today.]
Ram was lying down on the bed, facing upwards. Rem let out a faint smile at Ram, whose sleeping face was exposed.
Ram was Rem’s twin sister. “Their appearance makes them look like two peas in a pod” was what she had been told various times, but Rem did not believe it at all.
She had a stern face and light pink eyes that were full of strong, intellectual self-confidence. She had beautiful, brilliant pink hair that even had transient glossiness. She had a perfectly balanced body and slender, flexible limbs ――her sister was perfect no matter what she looked at, while she was a younger sister who improperly copied her only with her outward appearance.
Rem had people tell her that she had her good points, so she tried her best to not feel like she was indebted, but――,
Rem: [But still, Nee-sama is Rem’s role model.]
She was always full of confidence. She was always right. She was always strong, no matter what. That was who Ram was.
She felt indebted to her sister, who was like that, but she also was proud of her. So, Rem put her love, respect, and deep affection into her voice, and called out to Ram.
Rem: [Nee-sama, Nee-sama. It’s morning. Please wake up.]
She felt guilty for waking her, as she was sleeping peacefully, but Rem hardened her heart and body into one of an “Oni” and shook Ram awake. Doing this and waking up Ram was also part of her daily routine before starting her work. Ram softly whispered, “Just five more minutes…”. This was also an everyday thing Ram did when she opened her eyes when being called to.
Even Rem wanted to let Ram sleep to her heart’s content if she could.
Rem: [Nee-sama, you can’t do that. If you don’t hurry, change, and get ready, then you won’t set a good example for the apprentice Subaru-kun. Moreover, Subaru-kun still hasn’t recovered from the Witchbeast injuries, so Rem doesn’t really want to make him do so much work, and I feel bad…]
Ram: […Rem is more worried about Barusu than about Ram, so Ram doesn’t want to wake up.]
Rem: [Nee-sama, please don’t say such adorable things. …But, if Nee-sama takes a day off, then just Rem and Subaru-kun will do the work. Okay. Nee-sama, today you can…]
Ram: [Actually, Ram will get up. Alright, help with the clothes, Rem.]
Ram bravely took back those previous remarks as she suddenly raised her upper body and put her hands up in the air. Rem’s eyes widened at her sister’s quick change of mind and then let out a happy smile.
Rem: [Nee-sama is quite hasty. Rem needs to change your clothes, but first, Rem must comb your hair. You have quite the bed-hair today. Did you go to bed late?]
Ram: [Lately, Ram has not been sleeping well because we haven’t been able to sleep together, Rem.]
Rem: [How many years has it been since Rem has slept with Nee-sama again?]
Rem combed Ram’s hair with the comb she took out while being immersed in the nostalgic memories. Her glossy pink hair was smooth, so it was as if it was dancing in her hands. The fine feeling she felt with her fingers should’ve been about the same as Rem’s. ――That’s what she suddenly thought.
Rem: [Perhaps Rem will try growing out my hair…]
The reason Rem had her hair short was that she wanted to have the same hairstyle as Ram.
If she matched her looks and features by having the same hairstyle and the same clothes as her sister, making people say they were two peas in a pod, she felt like she’d be closer to being like her. Doing that was also Rem’s raison d’être.
However, now she wondered if it was okay to change that childlike obsession.
Rem: [Nee-sama, would you find it weird if Rem’s hair grew out…?]
Ram: […Are you asking if Ram would think it’d be weird? Or, are you asking if other people would think it would be weird? Based on that, the answer will be different.]
Rem: [Umm, would Subaru-kun think it’s weird…?]
When she tried to talk about the source of her anxiety, Ram bluntly let out a deep sigh.
Ram: [Why are you saying this so suddenly? Did Barusu say something?]
Rem: [No, it’s not that. It’s just, a thought Rem had while combing Nee-sama’s hair, and so…]
Ram: […Emilia-sama has long and beautiful hair.]
She easily saw through her intention of covering up her reasons, and then Rem let out a wry smile. Ram responded to the hints of her smile by shaking her head in disappointment.
Ram: [Rem, you would, of course, look cute even with long hair, no doubt about it. It makes Ram want to take Barusu and tear him up.]
Rem felt both joy and unease at Ram, whose voice and attitude were stern. She felt glad about Ram worrying about her, and she felt uneasy from thinking about how there might be tension between Subaru and Ram.
Rem: [Nee-sama, do you hate Subaru-kun?]
Ram: [Hating him and feeling that he isn’t appropriate for Ram’s cute Rem are two different matters.]
Ram gave a flat denial, which made Rem reflexively open her eyes wide at her. However, soon after, it changed into a smile filled with emotion.
In other words, Ram’s reply just now meant that she didn’t hate Subaru.
Rem: [Thank you, Nee-sama. Rem also is proud of my Nee-sama.]
Ram: [Oh. Well, of course. Ram is an older sister that one would want to take pride in, after all.]
They slipped off topic, but the confirmation of their sisterly love caused Rem to feel happy. Ram began to hum in a seemingly very good mood. ――She also was unusually skillful with her humming.
In response to that humming, Rem also started to pleasantly move the comb again and gently styled her sister’s hair.
This was also a ritual for the important sisterly bond between Ram and Rem, which was done every morning.
In the Roswaal mansion’s spacious courtyard, Subaru and Emilia were having a friendly chat about something.
Rem loosened her lips while looking down on that from afar.
Rem: [Subaru-kun looks so happy and cute.]
Subaru’s state of being merry filled Rem’s heart with so many emotions to the point of them overflowing.
In the courtyard of the mansion during this time of the morning, Emilia was spending her time contracting with the micro-spirits ――her once-a-day time to talk with them. That had been Emilia’s custom ever since she came to the mansion, and Subaru’s presence there was also a custom that continued ever since he came to the mansion.
???: [――Interrupting such invaluable time with the spirits; that man is truly hopeless, I suppose.]
Suddenly, a voice called out to Rem from the side, who was looking down at the courtyard.
She was focused on the garden, so she was a bit startled from having not noticed that presence. After that, the appearance of the person who called out to her gave her an even bigger startle.
Beatrice, who was standing right next to Rem, responded simply by folding her arms without giving an answer.
It was a girl with a lovely appearance. She had her light-colored hair put into drills, and she wore a magnificent dress that had a lot of frills. Her looks were impeccable, as if she were a doll.
She had an appearance that was unmatched, in the sense that the word “lovely” perfectly described her.
Rem: [No, she can’t possibly compare to Nee-sama, though.]
Beatrice: […It feels as if Betty has suddenly been insulted for some reason, in fact.]
Rem: [That’s not true. Nobody can be compared to Nee-sama. Rem thinks Beatrice-sama has her own good points. So, please don’t feel bad.]
Beatrice: [The more you speak, the more it shows that this is on purpose to make Betty unhappy, I suppose!]
Rem’s intention to cheer her up had provoked anger from the irritated Beatrice, and so she said “My apologies” to her and bowed. She wasn’t trying to anger her, but for some reason, something was irritating her.
Rem: [Are you perhaps hungry? It’s just a little more time until breakfast…]
Beatrice: [Don’t mock Betty for being hungry and unhappy, in fact! The attitude of the people in this mansion is unbearable, I suppose. This all must be the doing of that man, in fact…!]
Beatrice said those words and looked towards the courtyard with a frown on her face. What she saw was Subaru and Emilia still continuing their friendly chat. She then said,
Beatrice: [That man’s influence is showing on you and your sister, I suppose. Nothing can be more irritating, in fact.]
Rem: [Influence… right. It’s because Subaru-kun is lovely.]
Beatrice: [Why is it that you smiled there, I suppose? …Betty is starting to regret the decision of starting a conversation with you, in fact.]
When Rem smiled at the topic of Subaru, Beatrice put her hand on her forehead and sighed. She murmured those words while having that worn-out state, and Rem recovered from her initial startling.
Putting aside Beatrice’s regret, it was rare for her and Rem to have idle conversations. Also, whenever Beatrice was the one to start the conversation, it was a rarity that could be counted on one hand.
Rem: [Rem will have to write about this thing with Beatrice-sama in today’s diary entry today as well.]
Beatrice: [Really? You keep a diary, I suppose? Quite methodical, in fact.]
Rem: [Yes. Rem started doing it lately to record the daily things that happen with Subaru-kun and Nee-sama. There are still six volumes, it’s so embarrassing not being good at writing, but…]
Beatrice: [Six volumes…? It’s only been about a month since that man came to the mansion…]
Rem was embarrassed from her own incompetence, although for some reason Beatrice’s face was trembling fearfully.
She had countless amounts of things written in her diary, but her literary talent and the amount of time she had weren’t very permitting. It was next to impossible to express Subaru’s charm and Ram’s wonderfulness, so――,
Rem: [Even so, is it Rem’s hubris to think that maybe someday?]
Beatrice: [It’s of no concern, I suppose! You can do whatever you wish, in fact! …Geez, for what it’s worth, it seems to Betty that you worry too much, I suppose.]
Rem: [Worrying too much, you say?]
Beatrice: [Again, not to get involved in the messy business of you getting the day off, in fact. So before that happens, let’s just try to watch your condition moderately, I suppose.]
Beatrice confessed that with a sigh unsuitable for her appearance and with a face that seemed to be pouting.
Those words caused Rem to choke. She opened her eyes wide. It was a bolt out of the blue.
The trouble Beatrice was talking about was surely the “Rem’s Day Off” that happened the other day.
It was a sudden day off proposed to Roswaal by Subaru out of consideration for Rem’s health ――Rem was allowed to rest, and it was the day when everyone at the mansion carried out Rem’s work duties for that time.
To be honest, Rem got startled by the sudden proposal and had felt sorry for troubling them. She also had unease about leaving the work up to them; but, as for the result, it was also a time when she was able to truly feel how she had been very blessed.
Ever since then, it seemed that she was trying to put more and more of her soul into her work, but it seemed that Rem wasn’t the only one who believed that the circumstances didn’t end with just that day.
Rem: [Were you concerned about Rem, by any chance?]
Rem: [Thank you, Beatrice-sama. Those feelings really make Rem happy. From now on, Rem will do more, with the utmost dedication.]
Beatrice: [Stop doing that, in fact! Loosen up and make sure you don’t get tired, I suppose! If you don’t, it’ll cause trouble again, in fact!]
Beatrice swung her hands and knocked off Rem’s declaration of renewed enthusiasm. When that rejection caused Rem to hang her head in despondence, Beatrice pulled on her drills with her fingers and said,
Beatrice: [It’s weird to get tired even when there are more servants than before, I suppose. Betty understands that she is not suited for the work, but you should have your less-than-useful sister cooperate…]
Rem: [Nee-sama is perfect. She doesn’t have even a single weakness.]
Beatrice: […Then, use that man to your advantage and use him well, in fact.]
Rem actually wanted to refute her by saying she had no weakness, but she kept that to herself. In this case, the important thing wasn’t the extent of weakness, but rather Beatrice’s expectations.
However, the consideration itself was something that was not possible in relation to her previous relationship with Beatrice.
Beatrice: [What are you laughing about, I suppose?]
Rem: [Rem is sorry. But, Rem is happy. Beatrice-sama wouldn’t worry about Rem like this back then.]
Beatrice: […That’s not really true, in fact. Betty is full of sympathy, I suppose.]
She puffed out her cheeks. Rem said nothing to the girl that turned away.
In actuality, that may have been right. Beatrice was already kind to begin with, and Rem also had thoughts about that sometimes. However, Beatrice never spoke about that until now.
Rem: [Beatrice-sama, a little while ago you said that Subaru-kun influenced both Rem and Nee-sama …but it feels like he’s influenced you as well.]
Beatrice: [That’s some pretty severe sarcasm, in fact.]
Rem: [But it wasn’t meant to be sarcastic…]
Beatrice: [Then that’s even worse, I suppose.]
Beatrice snorted her nose with displeasure, and after that, she reached out for the room’s door that was right nearby when she turned her back on Rem. That was the parlor, but for Beatrice, who was connected to the door of the Forbidden Library through her Door Crossing, it could be none other than the entrance to Beatrice’s room.
Rem: [Beatrice-sama, you will be called again when it’s time for breakfast.]
When she said those words to the small back of the girl who sought to return to the forbidden library, Beatrice waved her hand in silence. The distortion of the room then was emitted, and then the girl vanished into the forbidden library, a place different from where she was.
Rem: [It seems that Beatrice-sama has changed too.]
Rem whispered those words while knowing that they wouldn’t reach the vanished girl’s ears.
Back then, Beatrice would rarely show up to the mansion’s breakfasts. But for the past month, she was perfect in her attendance, and she also didn’t turn down this morning’s invitation either.
When she looked outside the window, she saw Subaru and Emilia leaving the courtyard.
They went together like that, headed towards the Arlam village, a place close to the mansion, and should’ve been going to do radio calisthenics with the villagers, which was something that had become an established event. After that, they’d have breakfast when they returned to the mansion.
Rem: [Have to hurry.]
Rem saw off the two ever-growing smaller figures and also aimed to hurry over to the kitchen.
Everyone in the mansion gathered for breakfast. Rem hurried over the corridor’s carpet while she felt satisfaction from having something like that become an ordinary daily thing.
Emilia: [Wow, you even made tea today, Rem. It’s been a reaaally long time since you did that.]
Emilia greeted Rem, who came to her private room, and smiled with a cheerful face.
She had long, silver hair and clear, amethyst eyes. Even for Rem, as someone who saw her older sister Ram as a superior being, this girl had such beautiful looks that Rem could not help but admire them.
It was Bright Time, and Fire Time was about half over. Lunch had already ended, and the people at the mansion each went to do their respective duties. It was now time to rest.
She brought in delicious baked sweets and tea. Supplying Emilia with time to rest was also part of a maid’s job, although normally Subaru would be the one to take the initiative and take that role.
Rem: [Subaru-kun and Nee-sama went to go shopping in the village today. There are a lot of things on the list, so they weren’t able to make it for break time.]
Emilia: [I see. That’s something that’s been rare lately. Lately, it has been you, Rem, that has been going with either one of them for shopping.]
Rem: [Yes. Rem asked a selfish favor of them today. …Rem wanted Subaru-kun and Nee-sama to get along better.]
Just like she said in the conversation in the morning, it wasn’t as if Subaru and Ram did not get along. In fact, if you considered just their interactions, then they did get along with each other, and one could even say they had a nice relationship.
But as for them, they both were a bit dishonest about it. She wanted to improve that.
Rem: [So, Rem dares to be an Oni in body and heart.]
Emilia: [I see. Making them get along better…yeah, that’s a good thing. I totally agree.]
Emilia put her hands together in front of her chest. Her expression suddenly brightened, and then she gave Rem her approval. However, she tilted her head after that gesture with a “But” and said,
Emilia: [I thought that Subaru and Ram got along reaaally well. …You know, didn’t the two of them and Puck once go to the mountains to get ingredients for tea?]
Rem: [Yes. Thanks to that, Nee-sama’s assessment of Subaru-kun improved a lot. But, they need another push after that, and Rem will make an opportunity for that push.]
The shopping note, asking a favor of the two, made it necessary for them to run around in the village, so it did take up time. If they opened up their hearts during that time, then it would be a step forward for Rem’s plan for happiness.
However, that plan for happiness required the cooperation of not only Ram, but also Emilia’s――,
Emilia: [――? What’s wrong?]
Rem: [No, it’s nothing. Anyways, that is why, today, Rem will be serving you. Rem can’t make tea as good as Nee-sama does, nor talk about fun things like Subaru-kun, but please forgive this.]
Bowing with an expression that hid her thoughts, Rem pushed the cart and entered Emilia’s room.
In comparison to Rem and the other servants’ rooms, Emilia’s private room was a remarkably bigger size. It was a design close to Roswaal’s office. It had an ebony desk inside, a large table in the center, a chair used for receptions, and a bed placed in the room adjoining it.
Also, on the office desk and on the reception table, numerous books and documents were spread out.
Emilia: [Sorry about the mess. I’ll clean it up in a moment.]
Rem: [Sorry for the inconvenience.]
Emilia stated simply, and started to clean up the documents spread out on the reception table. Behind her, Rem also began to prepare the tea. When the table was safely empty, she placed a steaming cup down.
Emilia: [Hm? What about your tea, Rem? Not going to drink any?]
Rem: [No, Rem is but a mere server, so drinking with Emilia-sama would be…]
Emilia: [But, Ram and Subaru always drink with me, though…]
Rem: [――. Then, Rem will take you at your word.]
For a second, she felt hesitation, but Rem immediately withdrew her previous remarks and participated with her.
It is a slight violation of a servant’s rules, but it was something that Subaru and Ram had done. It is more important for their relationship than etiquette. Although she did feel bad for Frederica, who had taught her.
Rem: [If we meet again, next time Rem will apologize…]
Rem prepared her tea while apologizing to the senior maid, a woman that left the mansion for personal reasons. Rem then took up Emilia’s offer and shared tea time with her.
They both tilted their cups and spent the time quietly enjoying the tea’s taste and smell.
During that time, nothing like a conversation broke out. Rem noticed this and experienced some awkwardness, and she felt very annoyed at her own passivity.
Rem was passive by nature. She was aware of this. In terms of aggressiveness, she was far behind Ram and even Subaru, who overflowed with energy.
On the other side, it was also difficult for Emilia to gauge the distance between her and Rem. This situation was a manifestation of that incomprehensible distance, and Rem was disappointed in herself for allowing this to happen.
Maybe she should not have taken up Emilia’s offer after all――,
Emilia: […It’s lovely doing this every now and then, drinking tea quietly, isn’t it?]
Emilia: [Usually, it would be Subaru talking a lot, and Ram would give me various advice about my studies, but when it’s with you, Rem, it’s reaaally relaxing.]
Emilia let out a faint smile, and Rem became surprised at the girl who said those words. After she took a peek at Emilia’s face, it seemed as if there were no signs of her lying in her expression. This meant that those words just now were her true feelings.
She was quite embarrassed with how she blamed herself for the awkward silence and how she had looked downward, feeling worthless.
Rem: […How are your studies going?]
Emilia: [I think you could say they’re not going bad. Since the place I started is behind most other people, I have to work harder.]
She searched for a topic, looked towards the desk, and Emilia lowered her eyebrows at Rem, who asked that question.
As a candidate for the next ruler of the kingdom and a participant in the Royal Selection, Emilia was expected to have many things. These included not only the wisdom to carry the kingdom on her shoulders as a ruler but also the intelligence and education that would support that wisdom.
Currently, Emilia was at the stage to study that, and it was difficult to say if her level was up to standard even with the compliments she had received. But still, the Royal Selection would begin in the near future.
Emilia: [Before that, I want to get better, even if it’s just a little bit.]
Rem: [It’s completely understandable how you feel. Rem and Nee-sama did nothing but study right after we were picked up by Roswaal-sama.]
At the time, when they had just left their village, Rem was ignorant of the outside world, not considering Ram’s knowledge.
Studying in the mansion was not all there was to one’s work and knowledge as a maid. Apart from the minimum reading and writing, they were taught everything they didn’t know. That was why Rem had memories of putting earnest efforts into her studies too, just like how Emilia was doing now.
Emilia: [You and Ram did nothing but study in the beginning?]
Rem: [Yes. In particular, Rem was worse at it than Nee-sama, so it was really difficult.]
Emilia: [So you two were like that too. I guess there are no shortcuts, after all. I felt some eagerness …but I have to keep working at it, right?]
Rem: [You get eager, too, Emilia-sama?]
Rem felt it was something surprising and opened her eyes wide at Emilia, whose tone became frail near the end of her sentence. Emilia pouted with a “Isn’t that a given?” at Rem’s reaction and said,
Emilia: [All the other candidates are reaaally splendid. As it is, I’m viewed as a problem by being a half-elf, so even if I wasn’t, I still would have been in the forest for a long time.]
She heard that the Great Elior Forest was the forest where Emilia was born and raised. Rem didn’t know any more details than that, in regard to her birthplace.
――Come to think of it, Rem had avoided getting close to Emilia up until now.
That was because of Rem’s exclusive and reserved way of thinking. Only her irreplaceable sister and the surrounding world that was attached to her were important to Rem.
Rem wasn’t interested in Emilia, for better or worse. That’s why she tended to avoid participating and supporting more than what Roswaal had ordered her.
Besides, Rem thought that Emilia didn’t need her assistance, as she was someone who was always positive and worked hard.
Rem stayed as herself, while Emilia stayed as herself, and each thought it would be beneficial to spend time with the least amount of involvement with each other. That was the mere, weak relationship she thought they had.
Rem: [Emilia-sama, you’re really bad at singing.]
Emilia: [Ehh!? What’s this all of a sudden!?]
Her calm expression completely flipped. Emilia raised a voice at Rem’s words with a face that looked like she was going to cry. Rem looked at the change in her facial expression, and with an unconcerned face, she said,
Rem: [You’re surprisingly clumsy with your hands, and you’re a little too naive, so you have a side that’s easy to deceive, too. Also, you’re easy to accept the influences around you …and you cover yourself with a bucket.]
Emilia: [Subaru covered me with a bucket! Also, wasn’t it necessary?]
Rem: [Yes, that’s right. …Rem knows everything that happened this month.]
Rem had never tried to get deeply involved with Emilia, but now she knew so much more about her. There was more that could also have been said.
Emilia listened to Rem’s murmuring, put her hand on her face with an “Ah” and a pouting face, and after that, she let out a playful-looking smile.
Emilia: [Then I’ll get even, too. Rem, you are actually a reaaally obstinate person with your stubbornness. Also, you like things like picture books, and poetry, and you’re a little bit of a mayonnaise hater. And you’re really good friends with Subaru!]
Rem: [Impressive, Emilia-sama. There is no room to refute that. Rem particularly agrees with the last part.]
Emilia: [Fufu, right? But, why did you say that so suddenly?]
After Emilia puffed out her chest with pride, she tilted her head in curiosity. Rem responded to Emilia’s doubt by shaking her head with a “No.”
Rem: [There’s no big reason for it. It’s just that, Rem wanted to make sure of things. It’s been half a year since we met, Emilia-sama, and yet, far more things have happened in this past month from that point.]
Emilia: […Hmm, that’s true. Ever since Subaru came along, it’s been reaaally busy. You and Ram have been talking much more compared to back then, too.]
Rem: [So, err…umm, see.]
Unable to explain her inner feelings well, Rem pondered, searching for the right words. Emilia saw Rem projected in her amethyst eyes, and she kept the words to continue in silence.
She saw that attitude and made a decision. Back then, Rem was honestly apathetic towards Emilia’s courses of action, as long as Roswaal didn’t care about whether it was as he pictured it or not.
But, because this time she had felt differently from back then,
Rem: [Rem is also supporting Emilia-sama. At this time, for the upcoming Royal Selection, my abilities are very weak …but Rem will do what she can with this little ability.]
Rem: [Rem thought she knew Emilia-sama. That just now is like the basis for those thoughts. What Rem has learned about Emilia-sama.]
Emilia: […They weren’t just weird things?]
Rem: [There …may have been some weird things.]
When Rem gave a teasing smile, Emilia pouted with a “Geez,” and right after that, she started to laugh. Then immediately, they laughed with each other while sitting across the table.
Emilia: [Thanks. It makes me reaaally happy that you said that. It’s all thanks to Subaru, right?]
Rem: […Yes. Subaru-kun is lovely.]
Emilia: [Yes. Subaru is a reaaally good boy.]
Rem and Emilia subtly shared their differing opinions, and they drank their cups together.
Tea time, in the middle of the day, turned out to be a different time than expected, but――,
Emilia: [Rem, can I ask a quick request?]
Rem: [Yes, what is it?]
Emilia: [Please give me another cup of tea. For some reason, right now, I want to drink Rem’s tea.]
――In response to Emilia’s request, Rem started to prepare the tea with deep heartfelt affection.
The sound of the call bell caused Rem to run, and when she started to run, a surprising combination awaited her.
Rem: [Did you call, Roswaal-sama? …and the Great Spirit.]
It was at the Roswaal mansion’s top floor terrace in the night ――the individuals that greeted Rem there were Roswaal, who was sitting in a chair, and Puck, who was the calm spirit on top of the table next to him.
It was a magician with clown make-up and a Great Spirit in the form of a grey kitten. There were several existences that were beyond human understanding in the mansion, but among them, Rem was intimidated by these two who stood out.
Puck: [You really do come over immediately when you are called. But, you don’t have to cower like that. Well, I think it’d be hard for you to become smaller than me.]
Rem: [Apologies for not being able to live up to the Great Spirit’s expectations…]
Roswaal: [It’s something to nooot take seriously, Rem. That was just a joke from the Great Spirit.]
Puck: [Yes, yes, a spirit joke. Spirits don’t really think it’s funny either, though.]
Puck wrapped his very long tail around his body and laughed softly with a carefree tone. At Puck’s feet on top of the table, there was a glass filled with amber liquid.
There was a glass in Roswaal’s hand to make a pair. The thing these two were doing together was――,
Roswaal: [Relaxing and having an evening drink with the Great Spirit. Subaru-kun found the family’s treasured wine cellar. As a descendant, I cannot help but check out my ancestor’s achieeevements. Then, we ran out of snacks for the driiinks.]
Puck: [He said to call the hostess. So I called you. Sorry.]
Rem: [Hostess …that’s Kararagi’s way of saying “Excellent woman,” right?]
Roswaal: [Rem, I just tooold you. Do not take a Great Spirit’s wooords seriously.]
Rem was given an order once again from the head of the mansion, and she bowed respectfully. That caused Puck to give a disapproving “Boo Boo” at Roswaal, although he gave a nonchalant look at the Great Spirit’s behavior.
Anyhow, Rem soon figured out the reason she was called over.
Rem: [Understood. Rem will start the preparations immediately. Do you have any requests?]
Roswaal: [Nooope, I’ll leave that up to you.]
Puck: [I’d like mayonnaise! I want mayonnaise!]
Rem mainly received Puck’s request, and she quickly moved towards the kitchen. In her head, she had a conversation about the ingredients that should have been left over: snacks and mayonnaise. Lately, the latter condiment had been a staple of the mansion.
The people in the mansion mostly liked Subaru’s invention of mayonnaise.
Rem was a little bad with the strong, sour taste of it, but everyone liked it ――in particular, Subaru did, so she highly valued it as a fundamental, unique flavor. People other than him liked it too, including Emilia, Puck, and Beatrice, so she put her efforts into using it to create new dishes, too.
Although, they weren’t asking for that grand of a tour de force with the snacks. Rem took out the fish from the refrigerator that used a magic stone, quickly grilled the cut fish, and added mayonnaise.
Puck: [Hmmm, that jolts my instincts. What a nice smell.]
Puck uttered these words as he washed his face when Rem returned with the snacks.
Puck did look like a kitten, and he really was a spirit, but the way he acted and his tastes were just like a cat. Rem gave a wry smile at that figure while hiding her feelings and placed the plate on top of the table.
Rem: [If you can leave the plate and glasses like that, then Rem will clean it up. If you don’t need anything else, then Rem will leave…]
Roswaal: [Good work. I’ll have you rest like this for tonight…is what I waaant to say, but may I have you stay with us for a bit?]
Rem: [――? Yes. It’s ok. Umm, but alcohol is…]
Roswaal: [I know you don’t driiink. The smell is also risky. Perhaps you should separate yourself a bit.]
Rem was told to stay on the terrace, and she stiffened up slightly as she responded to him.
Roswaal let out a faint smile at those words, and put the glass in his hand on the table farthest from Rem.
Rem really had no tolerance for alcohol, although that was shameful to the Oni Clan.
All of the Oni were heavy drinkers who liked alcohol ――that was well-known gossip, but Rem really did see adults drinking excessively while having drinking parties many times. Also, unlike Rem, Ram stayed calm even after drinking. She was a real heavy drinker. A true Oni.
Roswaal: [You sisters are sooo extreeeme. Even Ram surprises me with the same face she always has, but Rem, you surprise me too in a different way. You were fiiine with alcohol cooking, too.]
Rem: [When cooking, perhaps there’s a difference in Rem’s concentration when it comes to separating the unnecessary from the necessary. At the party, the tenseness was just too much…]
Puck: [During the previous party, you and Lia were always happy, after all. That was cute in itself, so I kinda think it’s fine as long as you just know to do it in moderation.]
In response to Rem’s contemplating while having her head down, Puck said those words with mayonnaise on his whiskers while wrestling with the snack.
The party was the Roswaal mansion’s “Stargazing party” that had happened the other day. The hidden wine cellar in the mansion was discovered, and they had a party with the cellar’s alcohol.
During that party, Rem showed quite a shameful sight.
Rem: [That part of the event was an indecent scene…]
Puck: [If it’s you embracing Emilia with a bright red face, then it’s cute. Even if Betty and I want to get drunk off alcohol, we can’t …I wonder if Betty is different. Her circumstances are a bit different than mine.]
Puck recited the event in a sincere way, and Rem didn’t know how to respond.
Puck: [You make an uncomfortable face whenever you’re troubled. I think that’s a good thing.]
Puck looked at Rem, who was silent, and nodded his head while saying those words. When Rem reflexively put her hand on her face in response to those words, Puck focused back on the plate.
Roswaal: [You are like that with jokes too, but your fickle personality is hard to understaaand. Keeping moderate distance is important for relationships with people.]
Rem: [That’s difficult, but Rem will try her best. …So, Roswaal-sama.]
Puck said something unexpected to Rem, and Roswaal taught Rem the essentials for relationships. Rem nodded at that advice, and after that, she bounced back and called out to Roswaal. Just from her calling out to him, Roswaal understood what she was getting at.
Roswaal: [It wouldn’t be right to make you stay here where there is the smell of liquor drifting about. Soooo, I will quickly go into the main topic …Subaru-kun’s body.]
Rem: [What about Subaru-kun’s body?]
Roswaal: [About his body, he used his gate excessively in the forest and is in an exceptionally bad state.]
It was so heavy that it sounded serious, but Roswaal still said those words.
In the middle of the strife in the forest started by the Witchbeasts, Subaru’s mind and body were both exhausted, so he became burdened with quite an amount of debt. In particular, he suffered remarkable damage to his gate, which was an organ necessary for using magic. They were just about to monitor its progress, too.
Roswaal: [It’s hard to say that me, Ram, Emilia, the Great Spirit, or even Beatrice doesn’t have an aptitude fooor healing magic. Surely the only one with an aptitude for it would be you, Rem, but that’s for treating external injuries, so the internal isn’t in your area of expertise.]
Puck: [He is only using it recklessly, so it is worrying.]
Puck was getting into other people’s business, but nothing could be done about how she couldn’t deny it. Anyhow, there was a reason behind Roswaal’s preface. If there wasn’t a way to heal his body――,
Rem: [You would like to ask someone who specializes in examining the inside of the body if they could examine Subaru-kun?]
Roswaal: [He contributed greatly to the fact that the damage from the recent incident did not spread to the village and the mansion. I’m obligated to repay him to the fullest exteeent. Thus, I’ve been deviously working with the Great Spirit on a number of thiiings.]
Roswaal spread his hands and joked around, but Rem felt relieved by the sincerity of those words.
The way Roswaal spoke meant that he already had a solution. That was what Rem understood, as someone who had worked for him for these past ten years.
The question was how to solve it and how Puck would be involved with it.
Roswaal: [He has some accomplishments. There’s even a long-awaited opportunity. Soooo, I wanted to bring him to the best healer in the kingdooom. That’s why I requested a present from the Great Spirit.]
Puck: [You don’t really need my permission, either. Putting aside the emotional attachment, Roswaal is the one that controls that land, right? You know how I am, and Lia shouldn’t interfere as well, as long as her “kin” are safe.]
Roswaal: [Although, it would be bad if your good mood got hurt and you become big again.]
Puck: [Come ooon, I rarely do that. Geeez, you sure do hold grudges.]
They were laughing with each other, both in a good mood, but Rem knew that the conversation was actually dangerous.
When Roswaal went to the forest to see Emilia for the Royal Selection, he clashed with Puck, who opposed it. As a result, she heard that the topography had changed.
However, Rem put that aside as something minor, and she turned her attention toward the role she was given. It was the reason Roswaal had called Rem out to this place.
Roswaal: [You have a face filled with determination even without me saying anything, but I’ll dare to clearly give my orders. Rem, I give you the role to observe Subaru-kun …or rather, I give you the role to watch over him so that he doesn’t do anything unreasonable.]
Rem: [In other words, Roswaal-sama, you’re giving that to Rem? A just cause?]
Roswaal: [You’ve really bent the meaning of your circumstanceees. But, I don’t dislike it.]
Rem: [You’ve ordered Rem to watch over Subaru-kun, as someone who does their best to avoid stepping on Subaru-kun’s shadow and avoid breathing in Subaru-kun’s breath as much as possible, at all times.]
Puck: [You restrict yourself like that? I didn’t know that.]
Puck’s eyes widened as he found out about Rem’s several daily voluntary restrictions she had established. But, not surprisingly, that was merely the beginning. The restrictions that Rem had imposed on herself, fearing that they would be unchecked, were far greater in number and quality.
Rem: [But, this isn’t the time we should talk about all of it…]
Rem: [Anyways! Rem humbly accepts the order. From here, Rem will follow your order, and follow Subaru-kun around. It’s Roswaal-sama’s order, so there’s no choice in the matter.]
Rem paid no attention to Puck, who tilted his head in doubt, and she gave a salute to Roswaal as she straightened her back. After that, she moved smoothly back to the terrace, and she showed an elegant curtsey there.
Rem: [Alright then, please excuse Rem. Roswaal-sama, Great Spirit, sweet dreams――]
Rem gave a response that sounded more poetic than usual, and she gallantly left the terrace.
Seeing off her momentum, Roswaal and Puck looked at each other. Then, Puck pointed the tip of his tail to the table, to Roswaal’s glass, and,
Puck: [The girl was probably downwind.]
Roswaal: […III wasn’t aiming for what just happened right now either, okay?]
They said these words. The clown and the kitten took a sip of their glasses and resumed their evening drinking as they thought, “Oh well.”
Rem: [――Knocking. Excuse me.]
Rem knocked on the door as if caressing it and invaded the room in a way that made it seem like she had slipped in.
The lights were already off. Inside this room, the only thing that floated in the dimness was a pale blue spot of light with a bewitching glow ――in short, it was just the light of Rem’s eyes, which were immersed in the smell of alcohol.
Rem: [Rem knocked properly.]
She said that reminder again and put up precautions. Rem silenced her footsteps and stepped into the room. It was the place that she frequently passed by “every night and every morning.” Even if she closed her eyes, she would reach the place she intended to visit.
But, closing her eyes wouldn’t be fulfilling her objective, so she kept her eyes open.
Rem: [Subaru-kun is cute…]
She had a surprised look on her face as she saw the black-haired boy lying down on the bed reflected in her eyes. As soon as that happened, Rem relaxed her face. She had more of a faint smile than a normal smile.
This was how she would enjoy Subaru’s sleeping face daily before she went to bed in her own room late at night. Rem thought there were good points in Subaru when it was the morning or the night.
And then she had conflicting feelings with the gap between her usual lust and her feelings of guilt, but today they were clear. This was because tonight wasn’t out of her self-interest, but was instead a duty given to her by Roswaal.
Rem: [Rem has been ordered to watch over him at a distance where he can be watched attentively. So, it can’t be helped.]
While giving a broad interpretation of her master’s orders, Rem got close to the bed and kneeled on the bed. After matching the position of the sleeping Subaru’s eyes, the distance between their faces quickly shortened.
As a result, they were close enough to feel each other’s breath.
Rem: […Is it okay for you to be this defenseless in front of Rem, Subaru-kun?]
Subaru did not respond to the whispered words.
Unaware of Rem’s intrusion, Subaru continued to sleep; in contrast to his liveliness when he was awake, even his breathing was quiet. His sleeping face, too, looked as if it was appropriate for his age, or even younger, as long as he kept his sharp sanpaku eyes closed and surrendered himself to peace and quiet.
She incidentally was fascinated by his sleeping face more than usual, and Rem shamefully blushed.
She came here intending to strictly control herself, and yet what a fickle Oni she was.
Since back then, Rem wasn’t able to give genuine approval to her sister Ram’s adoration of being okay with, and even dedicating both her mind and body to, Roswaal.
It was because of the difference between the respect Rem had towards Roswaal, and the deep affection Ram had towards Roswaal, but that difference even turned into an inferiority complex, too, without Rem knowing it.
But, the person who suddenly came here was Natsuku Subaru. His existence became bigger in her, and she became able to understand the same feelings of adoration Ram had towards Roswaal.
She came to understand that she really was passionate and that it was something that could not be restricted.
She placed her knee on the bed, and then Rem put the upper half of her body onto the bed. While looking at Subaru’s face right by her and his figure, she said,
Rem: [Your fingers, are slender and lovely, even though you are a boy. Your sleeping face is as peaceful as a baby’s. And, your hair is the type that if you don’t dry it properly, it becomes bead hair.]
Curling his fingers, she mentioned the aspects of Subaru that interested her. But none of these things were faults. This was the terrifying side of Rem’s fever.
She concentrated her look on the particularly defenseless point on his defenseless sleeping face.
His lips were slightly open to breathe, but they were so close that if she put her face a little closer, she would touch them. She could feel his breath. This was another circumstance that would normally break the restrictions.
But, as soon as she became aware of that restriction, Rem’s world quickly started to return to the usual.
She was intoxicated by the smell of alcohol, but it wasn’t much. It was a matter of the amount she sniffed. Once she sobered up, she controlled herself sternly, and the girl who could control herself from touching the person she fell in love with returned.
Rem: […What a fool Rem is.]
After the thoughts tinged with the smell of alcohol cleared up, regret and shame started to overwhelm her. While blushing from that shame, Rem ground her teeth at her patheticness and stood up.
Roswaal ordered her to simply keep a moderate distance and observe him.
That didn’t change. Even if she broadly interpreted it and used it like a just cause, it was extremely irreverent and disrespectful.
Rem: [It’s all Subaru-kun’s fault for trying to seduce Rem.]
Rem smiled as she accused Subaru of a crime he had no memory of committing as he slept. Just like she usually did, she withdrew herself without doing anything. She decided that she’d apologize to Subaru for what she did tonight tomorrow.
Then finally, with just a hint of mischievousness, Rem playfully touched Subaru’s lips with her white finger and――,
The moment her finger touched his lips, Subaru moved with a desire for something in his mouth, and he took her into his mouth. The hot, coarse feeling on her finger made Rem’s thoughts go white hot, and she fell into a state of confusion.
That licking did not continue for long, and Rem’s finger was soon released, but――,
Rem was dumbfounded as she looked at her right hand’s index finger. She couldn’t move from that spot. That finger was so slippery and wet with saliva that she knew it clearly, even in this darkness, as the mysterious-looking light shined on it.
Rem: [This would barely be tolerated by the…]
The choice to wipe it with a towel or an apron quickly disappeared from her head. Inside Rem, there were two options in regard to this finger ――to do it or to give up.
Rem created all kinds of restrictions for when she dealt with Subaru, but what happened just now was completely out of her expectations, and she never thought about measures against this.
She didn’t because this was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime event that wouldn’t come again if she let it pass by her. It was a miraculous moment.
The devil inside her and the angel inside her clashed, and the disturbance started a whirlpool.
She was a proud survivor of the Oni Clan, but she was enjoying her sudden good luck. But, the only person who was conscious in this place was Rem. Nobody was looking. If Ram found out, what would she think? Was this an action that she could be proud of to her perfect sister? She honestly hated how the moment that she had her finger licked vanished from her memory.
Two opinions conflicted severely inside of her head. Rem’s breathing was rough, and it became intense. Sweat appeared on her forehead. Her whole body stiffened with tension. She was worrying, struggling, and――,
Rem: [Can’t do this…]
A white horn grew from her forehead, and with the utmost struggle, Rem pushed her finger wet with saliva against her apron and wiped it off. A sense of emptiness filled up her heart within an instant, but she ignored that, as she thought that it was for the best.
Rem: [Isn’t that right, Subaru-kun――]
She overcame her time of distress and sought to turn to Subaru’s face with a weak smile. However, those words were interrupted, and Rem held her breath in astonishment.
Rem put both of her hands together on the bed, and she breathed roughly. Arms went around the upper half of Rem’s body, and the man used his physical strength to forcibly pull down that girl’s stiffened body.
That sudden event caused her mind to blank out once more.
She lost her cool in embarrassment as a fever rose on her face, and Rem understood the situation she was in with a blush on her face. She was laid down on the bed facing upwards, and she was embraced. Her uniform got wrinkled from that reckless action, and she felt like her skirt was riding up too. ――It was a really shameless appearance.
He embraced Rem even closer with his surprisingly strong arms as she recognized the reality. They were both in each other’s embrace, and it made Rem’s heart jump so much that it seemed like it would explode.
The angel and devil inside Rem started fighting once again about the situation. It was not Rem being assertive, but rather him being assertive――
Rem heard the sleep-talking from the person who was troubling the inside of her head, which was in chaos, and Rem became exhausted at once.
If she tried to move her head around, Subaru was still in a deep sleep, and he also wasn’t aware of how he was holding tight onto a large, human-sized body pillow.
Rem: [That’s right. Subaru-kun isn’t like that, after all.]
There was relief in that whisper, along with some disappointment. She had complex feelings for the action that wouldn’t happen when he was conscious. Thus, to make up for the bothersome part, she enjoyed his temperature and smell with her whole body.
Rem: [It can’t be helped. Rem tried her best to resist, but Subaru-kun won’t wake up. But, it is impossible to move. So, Rem will continue to resist like this until Subaru-kun wakes up.]
She left only those flimsy words; Rem rubbed her nose and chest against Subaru like that, deciding to continue experiencing it comfortably.
――There was also a just cause to it. It was fine to have a day like this once in a while.
Convincing herself, she allowed it, and Rem started to slowly doze off as well. She started to yield to the doziness.
The next day, Ram came to wake up Subaru, and she saw him and Rem; both of them slept in and were in an intimate situation. A situation where Subaru was given a violent scolding, with him not being able to argue about it.
――For Rem, this was just another scene of Rem’s very ordinary happy day.
Kararagi Girl Meets Cats
Original Translation by Negi ― Link
“Hoshin of the Wilderness” was the name of a legend, someone that no one in the world was unaware of.
The beginning of his legend traced back to four hundred years ago, when the western area of the world was naught but ruins, with many small countries vying for supremacy.
A small country that did not have a desirable location by any standard, and was on the verge of being overshadowed by the other countries――the very first stretch of soil where Hoshin placed his flag on, having decided that he would start taking action, was the miserable land of “Kararagi.”
Hoshin had never been a person blessed with the talent for the arts of combat, the legends depicted.
Hoshin was an extraordinary man of wisdom, who excelled at holding discussions, knowing how to guide the hearts of people, the legends depicted.
Hoshin became well-acquainted with the ruler of Kararagi, controlling the management of the country from the shadows. In the blink of an eye, he formed friendly relations with the other countries, expanding his circle, sometimes using stratagems, sometimes by amity, and sometimes with his flair for business, the legends depicted.
When the surrounding countries realized that Kararagi had been operating behind the scenes in an effort to dominate the western lands, it was already too late.
With the majority of the small insignificant countries under the jurisdiction of Kararagi, and also with the inscrutable maneuvers of Hoshin, who had become the leader of that grand alliance, no one was able to stop them.
Thus, the era of war and competition between powerful figures came to an end, and under the name of “Hoshin of the Wilderness,” the Federation of Kararagi City States was founded.
???: [Haa~. No matter how many times I hear it, the legend of Hoshin really fascinates me.]
Having finished listening to the full story, the girl exhaled a breath of admiration with rapt attention.
She was a young girl with cute and adorable facial features, aged around eleven or twelve, and her stature was slightly shorter than the average of those the same age as her, yet she was far more good-looking than the average standard for those of the same age group.
Soft, purple hair and light blue-green eyes that shone with curiosity. With her pale and clear skin, her appearance could fool anyone being told that she was a noble girl from a nice place.
However, this girl――Anastasia was not from such a highborn family.
Anastasia: [Hm? Sup? It’s rude to stare at someone’s face like that.]
All of a sudden, Anastasia began appraising the person in front of her with a doubtful gaze. Her eyes contained none of the charm of a sheltered girl, and a glimpse of craftiness and vigilance not befitting her age could be seen.
Because of her origins, it was only logical that she was quick-witted. The person, with his jaws wide open, bared his fangs as he laughed.
???: [Nothin’. I was just thinkin’ that the little kid I picked up from that alleyway became quite an influential person. Well done, well done.]
Anastasia: [Talkin’ about an old story again? Uncle, don’t people often tell ya that you’re annoying?]
???: [If ya say that, then that means you’re way more annoyin’, since ya keep pesterin’ me to tell ya the same story again and again, Ana-bo! Ya better prepare yourself, because I’ll continue diggin’ up whatever past things for another few years or so.]
As Anastasia pouted, looking sullen, the large, calloused palm of a hand ruffled her hair. She didn’t brush away the arm, but both her face and eyes still seemed to hold dissatisfaction, which the owner of the palm involuntarily let out a wry laugh against.
He didn’t mind her competitive and indomitable spirit. If she wasn’t like that, then there was no point in him doing all of this.
Anastasia: [That’s enough. The elderly are people who’re always talkin’ about the same things, so I’ll bear with it for your sake.]
???: [Oh, ya worded that pretty strongly. Where did’cha learn that?]
Anastasia: [I heard it from the owner of the tavern, and also from the regulars. I only regret that I couldn’t question and get any weaknesses out of the dead drunk old man before I quit my job there.]
Exchanging banter and sticking her tongue out, Anastasia escaped from the hand patting her head, heading over to the doors. While doing that, she speedily and neatly adjusted her hairstyle and kimono.
Anastasia: [Breaktime’s over. Uncle, Chuden-san’ll fire ya if ya keep skippin’ work, too.]
???: [That’s scary. With your earnings, providin’ for someone with a large body like me’d be tough.]
Anastasia: [Why do I have to look after your basic needs!?]
???: [Ain’t it obvious? You’re gonna buy me and make me yours, right?]
Revealing his sharp canines with a smile, he touched his own neck with his broad fingers. The collar, the remnant of his days as a slave, was wrapped around his neck, fashioned from cold, rough metal. What was supposed to be an object for discipline was now a testament to their promise.
Anastasia held her breath at the gesture that invoked her memories of the promise, nodding immediately after.
Anastasia: […Yeah, that’s right. That’s right, but because it’s like that, it’ll be bad if ya dropped dead on the side of the road before I save up enough money. Take care of yourself properly!]
With a quick retort, Anastasia stuck her tongue out and then bolted out of the room. Listening to her pattering footsteps fading in the distance, he broke into a smile, gazing out the window.
Outside of the window was a cloudy sky, and his appearance was reflected in the slightly foggy glass.
An enormous frame that was too large to be fully reflected in the window of the room, and the visage of a beast that didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Anastasia. His bare skin was covered by dark brown fur, unsparingly exposing the majesticness of a demi-human, different from that of an ordinary human.
Ricardo Welkin――a giant man, unique even among the kobolds, and also a hired bodyguard associated with the Chuden Trading Company. To add to that, he was acting as someone akin to a supporter and a guardian to Anastasia.
However, the “guardian” part was something that Anastasia would never acknowledge openly.
The headquarters of the Chuden Trading Company were located in the Second City of the Kararagi City States, Banan.
Within Kararagi, there were ten large cities, all of them numbered from one to ten. Each city functioned similarly to a small country, governed under a mayor and a set of city laws, allowing it to exist as a sort of federation.
In the city of Banan, it could be said that the Chuden Trading Company was a mid-level organization. Having one of the most prominent enterprises, the Regret Trading Company as its parent company, the Chuden Trading Company was underneath its umbrella as a subsidiary associate.
It didn’t restrict the kind of goods it sold, but managed to handle those in a properous manner, so those that frequented Banan generally visited the Chuden Trading Company.
For that reason alone, while the gates of the city were open, with merchants from the outside rushing inside all at once, there was always a waiting line in front of the company. Because of that, the staff and attendants having a hectic schedule was a daily occurrence.
???: [――Anastasia! I’m runnin’ out of change! Hurry up and bring over the copper box and silver box!]
???: [Not only those! Also…]
Anastasia: [A burlap sack, right? Gotcha!]
While being showered with orders being yelled at her, Anastasia carried out the wooden boxes with her thin arms. They were packed with coins meant solely for payment. The copper box contained copper coins, and the silver box was filled with silver coins respectively. Both of them were quite cumbersome for a young girl, but there was no way she could dump everything down on the floor.
Anastasia’s position was that of a staff member that managed the actual trading――not. She was an attendant that ran all over the place to support the staff, a role commonly also referred to as a “helper.” 
As instructed, Anastasia utilized the little tricks that she had come up with to make her job easier, throwing in the heavy payment boxes by the staff’s feet.
The trading grounds where transactions took place in the Chuden Trading Company was a location where the merchants from outside of the city directly rode into on their wolf carriages――wagons pulled by a large wolf-like species known as Ligers. It was a place where those merchants could trade with the company on the spot.
Many long tables were lined up in the place, with the staff and merchants commencing their negotiations with the tables in between them, exchanging merchandise, money, and the such.
Each staff member was in control of different categories of products. Today, the employee that Anastasia was assisting had been put in charge of clothing, accessories, and textiles. The amount of money flowing in and out was huge, and all the product appraisals that they had to do were likewise dizzying.
???: [Next! Divide the customers that’re crowded around! Don’t spend more time than ya need!]
Anastasia: [From Hoshin’s sayings! “Time and money are equally valuable!”]
She didn’t even have the time to see the staff member nod in response.
Anastasia ducked under the elongated table, coming around behind the line of people and sorting them out, while she examined the goods and catalogs piled on the luggage platforms of the carriages with her eyes. There were multiple lines, and a few young boys that were also helpers. However, they were all working at a slower speed compared to her.
She carried out twice the amount of work compared to helpers twice her age, but she didn’t take pride in that. Even if the people around her were envious of her achievements, she thought nothing of them, so it was only natural that she wasn’t particularly proud.
After dealing with the waiting line that had formed at her place, Anastasia surveyed her surroundings with haste, wondering if she should get started on doing the same to the other rows of people――,
Anastasia: [――! Hey, you! What are ya doin’!]
In the middle of the waiting line being managed by a different helper, who was taking a long time with their work, a man jolted with surprise upon hearing the shout of anger that had come from Anastasia. He was a man with a scrawny figure she did not recognize, about to lay his hands on the loaded goods while pretending to take the catalog.
When the man realized that his attempt at thievery had been unsuccessful, having heard Anastasia’s voice ring across the area, he immediately made an effort to escape. Thrusting aside a helper that had ran over to stop him, he made a break for the exit of the place of commerce.
Anastasia: [I won’t let’cha go!]
Thief: [Outta my way, ya runt!]
However, faster than the man could flee, Anastasia blocked his path with her arms spread out. The man spat at the resistance being put up by the helper, balling his hand into a fist and holding it high over his head. It happened right before she was struck.
???: [You’re askin’ for a little too much, aren’t’cha!]
A muscular arm, twice the size of that man’s own arm and fist, was swung, and the poor man was sent flying towards the heavens. And just like that, he descended back down onto the floor of the trading grounds head-first, collapsing and lying on the floor. Limp.
Timidly opening her eyes upon catching his scream of pain, there was an abrupt shift in Anastasia’s expression.
Ricardo: [Good job noticin’ that thief, Ana-bo. Well done, but it ain’t good to be reckless. Imagine gettin’ injured from somethin’ like this. It’s gonna be a dumb ‘n heavy loss for ya. What ya hate the most are things not worth the effort, right?]
The kobold that had sent the thief flying――Ricardo, told Anastasia with a loud laugh, as she jumped at him. He then lifted the scrawny man up by the back of his neck, dragging him out of the area.
Ricardo: [Here, this way. Ya sure did have the guts to pull off something like that, in a place where I’m standin’ guard. Better get ready for one of your arms to go bye-bye.]
Thief: […That runt, doin’ an unnecessary thing and gettin’ in my way……]
The man glowered at Anastasia with a furious scowl, Ricardo’s threat falling on deaf ears. She slowly approached the thief, who looked like he might snap at her at any moment, and then promptly slapped him across the face.
A satisfying smack echoed throughout the place of transactions, stunning both the man and the surrounding people.
Anastasia: [Lowerin’ your own worth by doin’ stupid things, and holdin’ a grudge because ya were called out is the worst. Where’s your worth now, after bein’ slapped directly in the face by a little girl? You’re pathetic!]
While Ricardo watched Anastasia with a pleased smile, the thief choked on his words, raising only a “Guh” against the young girl’s blistering criticism of his actions. ――And then, the trading grounds erupted with cheers of delight.
???: [Well said!] [It was refreshing to hear that!] [Serves the thief right!]
Anastasia: [Thanks, thanks.]
Smiling and trying to appear amiable to the approving cheers from the crowd, Anastasia returned to being a young girl of her age, which she was. Her surroundings became even more lively at the change of her attitude, and Ricardo took the thief outside meanwhile.
Ricardo: [I’m probably supposed to do something like rippin’ off your dominant arm and throwin’ ya outta town, but…]
Arriving at the back of the trading grounds, Ricardo haphazardly tossed the man on top of the soil. The man paled upon hearing the intimidating threat, crawling on the ground on his hands and knees. However, Ricardo, flicked his own beard with a finger,
Ricardo: [――I’ll let’cha go for today. I can’t come up with somethin’ that’s harsher than what that midget just did to ya, so. I’m sure ya have some thoughts, opinions or whatever ’bout it. Make sure ya never show your face ’round here ever again.]
The man instantaneously scurried away when Ricardo shooed him off with a gesture. Staring at his back until he was out of sight, Ricardo yawned, as he moved to go back to keeping watch over the place of commerce.
???: [Do ya really think the thief from earlier will have a change of heart?]
Ricardo: […Oh, it’s the man, Chuden. Ya were watchin’?]
Having heard that voice speaking to him, Ricardo turned around to see a fox-eyed, chubby man standing behind him. It was a man who wore a nicely tailored indigo kimono――Chuden Agri, the representative of the Chuden Trading Company.
Chuden brushed the lower part of his kimono with a hand, his fox-eyed gaze moving towards the direction the thief had run away in,
Chuden: [It’s customary to cut off the dominant arms of thieves, and then chase them out of the city…… Surely, I don’t think that you, the guard dog of the enterprise, doesn’t know that.]
Ricardo: [It was settled as attempted thievery because of Ana-bo. Dependin’ on how ya look at it, she struck him a much harsher blow than losin’ an arm. If it were me, I would be way more scared of that.]
Chuden: [With the right opportunity, anyone could go back on the path that they strayed from, huh. Ya know that such a thing doesn’t exist, Ricardo-dono.]
Ricardo: [Of course, even I know that much. ――I memorized his features. The next time he’s up to no good ’round these parts, I’ll take his dominant arm, and his non-dominant arm as well. That’ll do, won’t it?]
When Ricardo growled out with a deep voice, Chuden said nothing for a moment, before giving him a nod.
Chuden: [Splendid. I was worried sick for a moment, thinking the Hound Ricardo had lost his motivation.]
Ricardo: [Stop it, it’s embarrassin’. Now, I’m a pet dog with the company’s collar ’round my neck, right? Ruff, ruff.]
Chuden: [Well, it’d be reassuring if ya were really, genuinely our pet dog…… Oh well, I guess I’m okay with that for now.]
Ricardo: [The way ya said it kinda bothers me…]
With a sniff, Ricardo responded to Chuden while frowning. Seeing his expression, the fox-eyed man shook his head in an exasperated manner, continuing with a, “By the way,”
Ricardo: […What is it?]
Chuden: [There’s somethin’ important I want to talk to ya about. It’s about a bit of a troublesome matter. For further details, let’s head to my room.]
Hearing the telltale signs of something ominous from Chuden, Ricardo deepened his frown, knitting his brows even further.
――Speaking from experience, in conversations that had begun like this, there had been no instances where the matter at hand could be put away as “little.”
Chuden: [Recently, there’s been frequent occurrences of caravans bein’ attacked around the outskirts of Banan. Have ya ever heard of ’em?]
As Ricardo entered the office he had been invited into, feeling ill at ease, Chuden brought up the topic he had mentioned earlier.
Ricardo made a face in turn, replying with, “Sorta.” His large ears had also caught wind of reports of damage being done to the caravans on the outskirts.
Ricardo: [But, I only happened to hear it. If it’s gonna be about somethin’ outside the city, then it won’t fall within the range of the company’s bodyguard. To begin with, the people who’re being attacked’re merchants from the outside… they’re not included in the people I need to protect.]
Chuden: [You’re absolutely right. That’s true, but those merchants are our important trading partners. Furthermore, their goods will also become our merchandise in the near future. If those were snatched away by brigands, and the merchants distanced themselves from Banan to boot, then the damage done will be enormous.]
Ricardo: […Ya better not be telling me to do something about those brigands, bandits or whatever.]
His background was quite renowned, but having expectations being placed on him because of it was stressful.
If the perpetrators were a gang of bandits that preyed on caravans, then their numbers would be no less than fifty people. Depending on the circumstances, there could also be a hundred of them. Taking them on all by oneself was something an idiot would do.
Ricardo: [If the enemy has a ton of people on hand, then it’s absolutely, definitely impossible, even if it’s me bein’ sent out. It is even possible to fight ’em alone?]
Chuden: [Oh, please put your mind at ease if it’s about that.]
With a sly look on his face, Chuden laughed in response to Ricardo’s concerns,
Chuden: [For the matter at hand, this time, even Banan’s Senate considers it a problem… Includin’ our company, the Association of Commerce will pitch in and gather people for the job. So, I want ya to spearhead the group, find the problematic gang of bandits, and wipe ’em out. Well, that’s about it.]
Ricardo: […That’s still an unreasonable demand, ya know.]
He grumbled, but deep down, he understood that Chuden was doing all he could to prevent him from backing out of this whole mess.
Because of the way Kararagi’s government’s was structured, the merchants had a say in whatever concerned the cities. The majority of the people affiliated with the Senate that dictated how the cities were ran, were either influential merchants or leaders of trading companies. Chuden was one of the latter.
Since he was sharing his plans, Ricardo could take a wild guess and say things had already progressed up to a point that the bill was submitted to the Senate, and all he, the person involved, had to do, was to nod in agreement.
Ricardo: [Puttin’ a kobold like me in charge of a ragtag group of people? What’re ya thinkin’, really.]
Chuden: [A talented person’s given a position where he can display his talents. It’s only natural.]
He answered brazenly, spreading out a map on top of his desk. It was a rough sketch illustrating the outskirts of Banan, and Ricardo saw red marks being placed on several roads that were being used by the merchants.
Chuden: [These are the surrounding routes, and the places where the caravans have been raided. There were zero survivors in every caravan attacked. Their goods and dogs, taken as well. For a gang of bandits, they’re being pretty thorough with their methods.]
While staring at the map, Ricardo set his eyes on the areas next to the places the bandits’ assault had taken place――a forest and a rocky field. If a band of brigands with sufficient numbers needed to conceal themselves, then there was a high possibility of them setting their base somewhere around that area.
Like that, as the two went on with their conversation, their eyes fixed on the map――,
???: [‘Scuse me, I brought some tea.]
Announcing that, Anastasia entered the room, holding a tray with steam coming out of the cups placed on top of it. She set two cups of ryokucha on the desk, in front of Ricardo and Chuden.
Ricardo: [What, Ana-bo, servin’ as a waitress? What happened to your job as a helper?]
Anastasia: [The busiest hours’ve settled down, and I was told I could take a break after I bring tea to ya two. More importantly, why’re ya both staring at a map?]
Being shrewd enough to bring her own cup of tea with her, Anastasia tilted her head as she blew on her ryokucha. Ricardo pointed a finger at the map in response to the question,
Ricardo: [We’re talking about how a lot of people’re dyin’ ’round these red circles. Right now, we were at the part where Chuden demanded me to solve it.]
Anastasia: [Eh, you’ll solve it? Will ya be safe?]
Ricardo: [Oh, you’re worried for me?]
He appeared to be happy, a broad smile making its way on his face, but Anastasia shook her head, saying, “No,”
Anastasia: [That’s not it. Ya need to use your brain for a job like searchin’ the culprit. Are ya fit for the job?]
Chuden: [Please don’t worry. What I asked Ricardo-dono to do was to split open the culprits’ heads once they’re found. In that case, that would be his field of expertise, wouldn’t it?]
Anastasia: [Ah, then that’s good. What a relief.]
Ricardo blew out a sigh, seeing the two get along very well. His sigh was as powerful as a gale, its force blasting both of them away and causing Anastasia to snap at him with an, “Uncle!”
He jabbed a finger at her face in return,
Ricardo: [Ya know what? This ain’t a game. Us adults’re gonna talk about important things, so a child like ya should go outside and chase after butterflies or somethin’.]
Anastasia: [Butterflies aren’t even worth a coin, so there’s no way I’ll chase them around. More than that, lemme hear the details. It might be dangerous if I don’t know anythin’, so?]
Ricardo: [Why’d not knowin’ ’bout the brigands on the outside be dangerous for a helper inside the city?]
Chuden: [Well, why not? This might take up all of your time for a while, so let’s have Anastasia listen to it as well.]
Unlike the hesitant Ricardo, Chuden was remarkably benign towards Anastasia’s curiosity. Originally, he had been charmed by the bright future in front of her, so his softness was brought to light in these situations.
As for Ricardo, he really did not want to let Anastasia hear about the bloodier side of the world. However, his concerns would be the target of laughter coming from the people around him, with them telling him he was being overprotective.
Anastasia: [――Hmm. I see, even the outer parts of the city don’t have it easy.]
Receiving the same explanation as Ricardo had been given before, a comment of indifference slipped out. Of course, was what Ricardo could only think in response to that reaction, which had been identical to that of a child who did not know best.
However, contrary to how Ricardo had perceived her answer, Anastasia continued with a, “By the way,”
Anastasia: [What sort of goods did the victims load on their carriages?]
Chuden: [Their goods? According to the reports, it seemed like they departed after packing up antiques, such as jewelry before coming to Banan. Caravans of handicrafts, mana stones, weapons, and armor were also attacked by the bandits.]
Anastasia: [Uh-huh, is that so? ――Kinda strange.]
Anastasia tilted her head sideways, muttering under her breath.
Ricardo: [There, that’s enough. Chuden, ya shouldn’t make a kid listen to weird things like that either.]
Ricardo had noticed her nearly inaudible muttering, but he prioritized sending her away more than making conversation with her. Anastasia looked upset, but Chuden reluctantly ordered her to leave.
Anastasia: [What’s with ya!? You’re bein’ mean, Uncle!]
Holding her unfinished cup of tea, Anastasia stuck her tongue out as she was forced out of the room. Ricardo closed the door after watching her leave, shrugging his shoulders.
Chuden: [Really, you’re so overprotective of her.]
Ricardo: [Say whatever ya want. Yeah right, I’m overprotective. That’s what I am, so I won’t let those bad guys come close to the city Ana-bo’s in. I’ll get on with it and finish the job.]
Refusing to be mocked, Ricardo bared his fangs as he glared at the map. Affected by the frightening, unnerving air being released from his enormous frame in close proximity, Chuden exhaled, his cheeks stiffening slightly.
Chuden: [The Hound is living up to his name, huh. It’s scary, but at the same time, I’m really glad you’re on our side.]
――A few days passed since the dramatic scene that had occurred at the Chuden Trading Company.
Inside a tavern located at the western end of Banan, a girl was leaning on the counter while babbling endlessly to the female owner.
???: [And then he left me here, after treatin’ me like a nuisance and all. Uncle was being unfair.]
????: [I see. I thought I haven’t seen his dog-like face for a while, so that’s what it was about… Is that why you came here to drink until you’re dead drunk, Ana-chan?]
Anastasia: [Yep. I’m heartbroken right now, so cheer me up please. Oh, and I want a refill.]
The girl being referred to as “Ana-chan,” pestering the owner to refill her cup of milk was Anastasia, as you all know. Despite being bothered before opening her tavern, the owner handled the young girl’s request with kindness and a touch of tenderness.
To the owner, Anastasia was an adorable employee who had been working at her tavern until quitting three months ago. The owner’s positive feelings towards her were not as extensive as the ones she directed towards Ricardo, but she cherished her nonetheless.
Because of that, she could condone Anastasia visiting her even while she was making preparations to open her tavern, and she was also willing to listen to her complaints.
Tavern owner: [But, it’s a little unexpected. I thought the relationship between you two was one-sided on Ricardo’s end. To think that Ana-chan’d feel lonely while he’s away…]
Anastasia: [That’s ’cause Uncle’s mine. I already made reservations for his collar, so he shouldn’t go places where I can’t reach him. He doesn’t understand that, for cryin’ out loud!]
Even in the present, a collar with a broken lock was fitted on Ricardo’s wide neck.
The collar was an item that had restricted his movements during his days as a slave, and it was now a mere ornament, devoid of its function. Although he had cast off his status as a slave, he left the collar attached to his neck in order to do penance.
It was something Anastasia was tremendously unhappy about.
Someday, she would set a price befitting him, and then she would purchase him. After that, she had decided she would take off the collar with her own hands and toss it away. That was one of the many dreams that Anastasia wished to fulfill.
Anastasia: [Thanks to ya and Uncle, I’ve gotten real close to making my dream come true. That’s why I need to do my very best. I need to try harder more than ever.]
Tavern owner: [Your dream? What kind of dream is it? Can I hear it?]
Anastasia: [My dream’s to become as big as Hoshin-san! In order to do that, right now’s the time to lay low and be obedient, so I can save up power, knowledge, and money.]
“Mfuh,” she snorted as she spoke about her dreams, optimistic and vigorous, and almost making the owner chuckle at her.
There were many merchants who looked up to the legend of “Hoshin of the Wilderness.” If one were born in Kararagi as a young boy, then that person would dream of experiencing the same success story at least once in his life.
However, if it was a young girl she was close to with those dreams, then it was a special, different case.
Anastasia: [Come on! You’re laughin’ too? That part of ya’s the same as Uncle!]
Tavern owner: [Sorry! But, I think that dream of yours won’t necessarily end as just a dream. In fact, you were taken away by Chuden-san from that large company… Like that, if you became his wife, then you could at least become a higher-up of the city, right?]
Anastasia: [Me, becomin’ Chuden-san’s wife? That’s a little… no. No, no.]
Apparently, the girl cackling in a child-like manner wasn’t aware of how attractive her appearance was. Even though she was adorable enough as she was currently, the owner guessed she’d eventually grow into a beautiful woman.
When the time for that arrived, what the owner had just said wouldn’t be something to laugh at.
Tavern owner: [You know what, Ana-chan. You probably won’t believe me right now, but please remember this. You’re cuter than the average child, so there might be people out there who’re up to no good. If you feel like you’re in danger, make sure to talk to Ricardo or Chuden-san about it.]
Anastasia: [Ehh… but, that’s…]
Tavern owner: [Just remember it.]
Having been warned with a serious expression, Anastasia gave a nod to her words with, “Okaaay.” She guessed the owner was going to continue lecturing her, so she drank up the refill she had gotten for her previously empty cup of milk.
Anastasia: [Thanks for the drink. I still have work to do today, so I’m gonna head back.]
Placing three copper coins on the counter as payment for the milk, Anastasia jumped off her seat. The owner momentarily looked disappointed, but soon after, waved her hand at the back of the small girl who was leaving her tavern,
Tavern owner: [Ana-chan, come and show your face here durin’ your next day off, will ya?]
The last thing Anastasia heard from the owner before she left was her Kararagi dialect, which rarely came out of her.
Anastasia: [Hmm, I still have a lotta time… Uncle ain’t here, anyway. What should I do?]
Stretching out her body outside the tavern, Anastasia struggled to think about what to do with too much time on her hands.
Today was a holiday, a complete day of rest that took place once a week. She had said to the owner she still had work to do, but there was nothing on her schedule. Having said that, even if she went to the trading grounds to be of assistance, it was obvious the people there would greet her with disapproving looks.
Anastasia: [It’s bothersome even if I’m told to curry favor again… okay, I think I’ll just walk around while eatin’.]
Straightening herself with her head held high, Anastasia started strolling down the busy street, which had various people weaving in and out of it. Like this, ever since she had been able to carry her own wallet around with her, walking while eating had become one of her secret hobbies.
Back when she had been living in the back of the streets, stalls selling food out in the open had been her hunger’s greatest enemy. Because she could enjoy those foods in the present day, she thought that she had acquired a good social standing compared to where she was previously.
As she kept on walking while stuffing herself with the dekoyaki she had bought, she felt a set of eyes staring at her.
Glancing at the direction of the stare, her eyes met with a grimy boy who was looking at her hands. She could easily imagine where he had come from. He was a hyena, living in the slums at the back of the city.
The people who rummaged through garbage dumps, desperate to obtain enough food to get by everyday, were referred to as hyenas. They did not have a house, and they did not have anything to eat either. Hyena was a term that was said to have existed since the era of Hoshin.
Anastasia had also been a hyena in the past. In her case, living in extreme poverty and surviving on what meager amount of food she could get her hands on had not been anyone else’s business. And so, she had her own opinions and thoughts about the gaze the boy was directing at her. However――,
Anastasia: [――That’s just stupid.]
Anastasia crammed the rest of the dekoyaki into her mouth, and then showed off the empty container to the boy. Shaken by her domineering action, he turned around and scampered back into the alley in a hurry. How unambitious.
The attitude of waiting to be fed with one’s mouth wide open like a nestling, expecting to be given things as charity, was what got on Anastasia’s nerves the most. ――In reality, she had attained her current position because it had been given to her.
Because she understood what it felt like, Anastasia’s heart ached with pain, caused by her own actions, as well as her words that ended up tying her heart as if it was a piece of rope.
Ricardo was there for her, but he could possibly be――,
The moment she let her guard down while thinking about something else was taken advantage of, and a hand reached out and felt around the inside of her kimono from behind. She immediately flung off the person’s arm, but it was too late. A small shadow pulled out her wallet from her kimono then sprung away, and she could see their back as they threw themselves back into the alley. Her wallet had been stolen. ――And it had been taken from her so easily.
The one who got robbed was the fool. That way of thinking was something Anastasia knew too well, being a former hyena. Her usual self might have given up on taking it back, thinking her wallet had been stolen because she was not careful enough, but for this occasion, she was not in the mood to give in.
Anastasia: [Wait up!]
Chasing after the fleeing shadow, Anastasia also jumped into the alley. It had been a long time since she had set foot on the rough, low-quality roads at the back of the street, but it was a place where she had ran around for years, ever since she became old enough to become aware of her surroundings. Her body remembered how to navigate around the area.
She caught up with the thief soon enough, using her footsteps and voice to lead them where she wanted them to go. Cornering them into a dead end right after, the shadow that had run straight into her trap turned around to face her with a frustrated expression.
Anastasia: [There, gimme back my wallet. Between me and you, there’s a difference in how much experience we’ve got.]
Hyena boy: [Wh… what experience……? Wearing clean and pretty clothes like that… To a person like you, I won’t……!]
Even if she told him she had previously been in the same position he was currently in, he probably would not believe her. To add to that, it was meaningless to say such a thing.
Drawing closer to the hyena glaring at her, Anastasia made a move to take back her wallet from him. Along with her nutritional condition, she also had a grasp on the arts of self-defense, something she had learned from the trading company. Snatching back her wallet could be done effortlessly. However――,
???: [――Right. How can I stand being criticized by a runt like you, talkin’ like ya know everythin’?]
Hearing a man’s voice from behind, Anastasia attempted to turn backwards in a panic.
Despite that, at a speed faster than her own, a harsh, sharp blow struck her upside the head, and she collapsed onto the ground. Both of her hands and feet felt weak, and her consciousness immediately started fading away, growing distant.
???: [Heh, ya did a great job. There, take that wallet, and hurry up and get the fuck out!]
Hearing the man’s voice, which gave the impression that he was quarreling with someone, Anastasia vaguely registered that she had been caught in a trap. Someone’s trap, by someone. She felt like she had heard the rowdy voice somewhere before.
――The man’s voice, sounding like he was wishing misfortune upon her, was a voice she felt like she had just recently heard at the trading grounds.
Meanwhile――the band of mercenaries that had Ricardo as their leader was having difficulties with the extermination of the brigands.
They did find a few of them inside the forest around the city, the place that had been marked down on the map, but the brigands’ numbers were too small for them to be able to pull off their many raids on the caravans, which was the matter at hand. Upon being spotted by the group of a few dozen people, the brigands immediately scattered and fled in disarray. The possibility they would continue to commit thievery was low.
However, they accomplished nothing other than that, and not a trace of the problematic culprits of the caravan attacks could be found.
Ricardo: [So, they’re also not in the cave that we found in the forest. Even though I didn’t expect much because of how narrow that entrance was…]
Having received reports that brought zero advantages to them one after another, Ricardo’s expression darkened as he added several more “x” marks on the map.
There was also the fact the mercenary group was not cooperating too well because it had been built in a hurry, but Ricardo believed it was his incompetence that did not let the group achieve the results they so desperately needed, even if they were doing their best. Though, the situation was so incomprehensible that it weighed on his mind even further.
Ricardo: [Is there a chance they went to a different place? It’s making me concerned, since it overlaps with us settin’ out to exterminate the brigands, though…]
Even the Senate responsible for the management of the city wasn’t a tight-knit organization. It was impossible to say that it was certain there was nobody assisting the bandits, wishing for the downfall of the current members of the Senate. If things turned out to be like that, then the situation would go on to become more complicated.
However, compounding even more, Ricardo could not help but feel like the situation was wreathed by a different intention or purpose.
???: [Ricardo, a caravan departing from Banan is here. Please come and meet them, just in case.]
Ricardo: [Got it.]
The vice-captain called out to Ricardo, who was grumbling to himself inside the tent set up where they had established camp. Heading outside through the tent flap, he saw a caravan that took along several dozen wolf carriages, moving along the evening road in a large group.
They had more than a few sturdily-built guards with them, and it could be said they were a large caravan with quite a lot of people.
Ricardo: [Traveling over a long distance during this time of the day? Ya must be pretty busy.]
Caravan leader: [It’ll be a big problem if we worry about the dear, mighty sun, and end up missin’ an opportunity for business. Hoshin’s gonna sneer at us from the skies. I don’t want that to happen.]
Ricardo: [Well, I agree…… Anyhow, ya got quite an intimidatin’ bunch of guards with’cha.]
Caravan leader: [Recently, we heard that it’s unsafe ’round here. It’s not like ya guys got nothin’ to do with it too, right?]
The large man leading the caravan gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. Ricardo didn’t have the privilege to respond to him directly. Instead of answering his question, he walked up to one of the caravan’s wolf carriages, pulling up the cloth which covered the luggage platform.
An iron cage was placed on the platform, and inside of it were the merchandise――multiple humans who had been pushed inside.
Ricardo: […Slave trading, huh.]
Caravan leader: [Do ya detest it, mister? I guess it makes sense, since that collar of yours is evidence that ya used to be a slave.]
The man pointed his finger at Ricardo’s neck, saying that after he looked at the hole in the collar where the gem had been taken off. The existence of the gem, depending on its presence, displayed the corresponding status of collared slaves. In the case of Ricardo’s collar, it proved that he was a freed slave.
Ricardo: [Slave tradin’s also a legal business. If the agreements are upheld, then it’s unreasonable for me to meddle with it.]
Sniffing at the slaves, who possessed dull and lifeless eyes, Ricardo moved away from the wolf carriage. And then, he spoke to the representative of the caravan, telling him, “Ya can go ahead.”
Ricardo: [Sorry for preventin’ y’all from leaving. Be careful on the way out, even though we’re on alert. If ya get attacked by the rumored brigands, instead of havin’ all your possessions robbed, they’re also gonna rip off your bones as well as your flesh.]
Caravan leader: [That’s dreadful. We’ll be as careful as possible.]
“Scary. That’s real scary,” the man laughed, and then made his caravan start leaving the area. Ricardo separated himself from the mass of wolf carriages as well, giving orders to the mercenaries and telling them to monitor the group of merchants as they left.
???: [――Mister Wolf, you’ve got a nice expression on your face.]
A guard that was stationed at the tail end of the line of carriages spoke to Ricardo, his thick voice giving him an image of stickiness and humidity.
He was a robust man. He was also taller than Ricardo, who was already more than two meters tall, and although the width of the man’s physique was inferior, his experience in combat was probably comparable with Ricardo’s, since his body was covered in scars from wounds created with sharp blades, such as swords.
To add to that, what stood out the most on the man’s body were the four arms protruding from his shoulders――the proof that he was a part of the Multi-Arm Clan.
Ricardo: [It’s rare to see a multi-armed person in Kararagi, instead of the Empire.]
Multi-armed man: [Ufufu, you’re right. It seems like most of the multi-armed people drifted away to Vollachia, but my ancestors carried on their legacy in Kararagi. Which means their descendant is me.]
Showing off his goggling, large eyes, and the weapons――broadaxes, that were held in each of his four arms, a grisly smile spread across the man’s face. Ricardo did not like the way he smiled, but what he disliked more was his attire.
An atmosphere of powerfulness surrounded him, and he was lightly equipped with leather armor that merely protected his vital spots. He was also wearing an item made out of fur, draped over his head, but Ricardo was not a fan of the fashion sense evoked by the piece of fur. It was obviously because――,
Multi-armed man: [You’re curious? You’re curious about this. Ufufu, of course you are. Because this is the pelt of your fellow wolfin. It was hard, trying to neatly peel off the skin of the one I killed.]
Ricardo: [Looks like you’ve misunderstood, but I’m just a dog-human… a part of the kobold race. I only grew up to be this large because I ate a lil’ too much.]
Multi-armed man: [Ufufufu! I know. You wolfins are on the verge of going extinct, so you’re taught to say that. Since the whole race can lie to preserve their blood, isn’t it admirable, compared to the Oni Clan that perished? Don’t you think so?]
The man bent over provocatively, peering up at Ricardo from below. However, Ricardo did not respond to his taunt. His arms remaining crossed, he jerked his chin towards the tail end of the wolf carriages, which were all driving further away from where the two were standing.
Ricardo: [You’re being left behind. Aren’tcha a guard? Stop being unnecessarily curious and get on with your work.]
Multi-armed man: […That’s too bad. Ahh, that’s a bummer. Ufufufu, too bad, too bad.]
Saying that with a hint of persistence, the man withdrew his four broadaxes and returned them to his back, where he carried them. After that, he stared at Ricardo from head to toe with his goggling eyes, and then,
Diddley: [I’m Diddley. If we’re able to meet again somewhere, I want to talk about this pelt.]
Ricardo: [I see, Diddley. I’d rather not. If I see ya again, I’m gonna lop off that head of yours.]
Diddley nodded his head over and over again at Ricardo’s response, acting as if things had gone exactly as he wanted. He then chased after the wolf carriages with a bounce in his step, moving away into the distance in a well-behaved manner.
Watching him leave until he was gone with a wary eye, Ricardo cracked his neck, giving off a loud pop as he did.
Vice-captain: [Those were a creepy bunch.]
Ricardo: [Slave traders’re just like that… Oh, there was one guy so weird that I didn’t wanna take the time to separate him from the rest. He called himself Diddley. Do ya know him?]
Vice-captain: [I don’t know, but someone might. I guess I should ask around.]
Ricardo: [It’s not related to the extermination of the bandits, but… Well, it’s just out of curiosity. Idiots who miss the point like that guy ain’t good for children’s education, so I’ll kill him if I see him durin’ a day off.]
The vice-captain next to him widened his eyes as Ricardo muttered irritatedly. And then, he burst out into laughter.
Ricardo: [What’s that laugh for?]
Vice-captain: [I just thought that you’ve changed. These days, it’s pretty well-known between fellow mercenaries. That the Hound’s fallen deeply in love with a girl who’s still very young.]
Ricardo: [Everyone’s been tellin’ me that… Ya guys must be really bored.]
Nudging the vice-captain who was talking nonsense, Ricardo let the dull thuds of his footsteps be heard as he returned to his tent.
Once again, they were going to focus on digging out and exposing the brigands’ hideout. If they continued like this, achieving nothing, then it wouldn’t be strange to have Chuden or someone at a similar position give them snide remarks, or even tell them to hurry up.
Ricardo: [And, Ana-bo’d sulk if I left her alone for too long.]
Saying that out loud, Ricardo remembered that he had just been laughed at by the vice-captain, feeling a mixture of surprise and exasperation.
It could not be helped, even if a rumor like that was circulating around. Him being “deeply in love” was a misunderstanding, but he himself acknowledged the fact that he cared for her, and also the fact he worried about her. Because of that,
Ricardo: [It’s nice if she were at peace, without any eventful things happenin’.]
Before ducking under the tent flap, Ricardo murmured as he gazed at the sinking sunset.
The sky was light-purple, with the colors of dusk and sunset intermingling. The same, beautiful color as the hair of the girl that came to his mind.
――With Ricardo’s wish in vain, Anastasia was currently encountering the largest predicament she had ever come across in her whole life.
Anastasia: [Nn, nnnh,]
Her mouth was gagged, and her hands and feet were tied firmly. Unable to even raise her body from the floor, she was in a state of imprisonment, like a perfect example of being kidnapped.
This is bad, this is really bad, Anastasia cried out as she twisted her body around with all her might.
Right after she had woken up, Anastasia had realized that she was in an abnormal situation. It took only a moment for her to assess the situation, and she also remembered clearly what had transpired before she lost her consciousness. Because of that, Anastasia had been exceptional at keeping her composure for a person who had just been captured. Although, whether it would lead her to breaking out of her crisis or not, was a different question altogether.
――She remembered the person that had struck her, just before she had been knocked out.
He had the voice of the man who had attempted to commit thievery at the trading grounds a few days prior. His attempt had been seen through by Anastasia, and he was the person who had been knocked down onto the ground by Ricardo. After that, she had delivered a slap to his face as he kept directing resentful complaints towards her, and the applause she was showered with was fresh in her memory. ――She figured the man bore a grudge against her for that reason, and it was why she was having such a terrible time.
Anastasia: [If ‘hats so, ten’t ‘hat ol guy’s……]
Severe punishments were delivered against thieves. That was the Kararagian Style. Following it, the man should have received the natural punishment, which involved losing his dominant arm, at the very least. If he was trying to get his revenge on Anastasia, even after what he had pulled, then his tenacity was splendid. Though, she wanted to tell him to be more passionate about something other than this.
As she pursued Ricardo’s responsibility for the situation, Anastasia finally regained her calmness.
Anyhow, even if she continued making a racket, it was probably fruitless. She could see no windows in the room, and she could not imagine her voice reaching outside. Her captor would not confine her in a place where her clamors could be heard outside, in the first place.
Judging from the way her voice echoed, the room was not that wide. The floor she was lying down on was cold and hard, made out of stone――not built out of stone. A shed had been erected right on top of a rocky tract. She could not imagine the ground having been leveled either, leading her to think her captor had done a poor job, which could be described as sloppy in many ways.
――What was the objective of the man who had captured her?
Finishing her quick examination of the room, Anastasia’s thoughts wandered to the objective of her opponent.
If it were the thief from earlier, then his motive would most definitely be revenge. The issue at hand was the details of his revenge. Having come this far, he would not release her after just giving her a good scare, most likely. Killing her after teaching her a lesson… was not a far-fetched guess, were the thief a shallow, hot-tempered person.
Anastasia: [‘ell, prolly a ‘lave.]
Selling her off to slave traders was the choice with the highest possibility of happening.
In the first place, slave trading was not particularly rare around Banan, or even in the Kararagi City States as a whole. Laborers were valuable assets as sources of manpower, and they were in demand for all sorts of tasks, such as servants and maintenance workers of the highways.
Back when Anastasia used to live in the slums, nearly being caught by slave traders was not uncommon. Even considering Banan’s city laws, the enslavement of hyenas in the slums were overlooked. Because of that, there was an unspoken agreement between the slave traders about keeping one’s hands off clean-looking children, but…
Anastasia: [I ‘crewed uph.]
Once she had gone ahead and made a mistake, there was no way to justify it.
The Chuden Trading Company was her sponsor, and she also had Ricardo with her to begin with. Should he ever hear that she had been trafficked by a slave trader, he would definitely bare his fangs at the man who had done so.
She was not getting ahead of herself because it was an objective truth. ――Well, perhaps she was being somewhat arrogant.
???: [I’m telling the truth! She’s a first-class article. You guys will understand if you take a look!]
Just as Anastasia came to that conclusion, out of the blue, someone’s voice drew near.
His harsh voice cracking, a scrawny man entered the dark room. Anastasia remembered his face and the sound of his voice, identifying him as the thief from back at the trading grounds.
Following the man, two more men walked into the room. Both of them had a large build, and comparing them to the skinny man, the difference between them could be put as that between a withered branch and the trunk of a giant tree.
???: [We ain’t doubtin’ ya. It’s just that people make mistakes when they get cornered.]
Thief: [Do, do you really mean it? Why would I do something so reckless? L-look, it’s that one……]
Intimidated by one of the large men, the thief seemed to be growing agitated. Seeing him point at her with a trembling finger, Anastasia immediately acted as if she had been unconscious for the whole time.
A presence peered at the “unconscious” Anastasia. And then,
???: [Huh, she’s a real fine one. She’s a pretty girl, and she’ll grow to be super beautiful. This ain’t just a win, this is a huge win.]
Anastasia let out a tiny cry as she was forced to sit up, her head being grabbed off the ground. However, the man did not notice that she was awake, resuming his inspection of her while handling her without care.
Judging from the flow of the conversation, this man was a slave trader. Having been told she was a “fine one,” Anastasia recalled what the tavern owner had said to her in her former workplace. She was wrong to have paid no heed to her words.
If she could, she wanted an opportunity to meet her and apologize directly to her, but…
Thief: [Th-then… it’s a deal, right? Right?]
???: [Ya said ya wanted to join our tradin’ company, and promised to bring a souvenir. Yeah, you’re able to bring such a fine article. You’re a great help to us.]
???: [Bu~t, that’d only apply if this girl were a stray dog, without any leashes from anywhere attached to her.]
Immediately after he emitted a voice, sounding like he had caught his breath, there was a violent sound, and something crashed into the wall. Soon, Anastasia heard a pained scream and the noise caused by someone writhing in agony, comprehending that the thief had been struck by a fist.
It was punishment for arbitrarily overstepping the unspoken agreement, one that was heeded by human traffickers, as a mere amateur.
Thief: [Aah! Aaaah! It hurts… it huuurts! Gweh!]
???: [Quit screechin’ and quiet down. The sleeping child’s gonna wake up and be scared.]
As Anastasia was let go, she sensed the trafficker turn around. Upon cracking open her eyes to assess the situation, she saw the thief lying down on the ground, said trafficker gazing down at him. He dug the heel of his foot into the thief’s stomach, eliciting a cry of pain.
Trafficker: [Geddit? Even we traffickers have a set of rules we gotta follow. We’re able to run our business, only because the city laws overlook it. Can a guy who’s clueless ’bout them work with us? Hey, whaddya think?]
Thief: [Gah, fh… I… I’m so, I’m sorry…!]
Pressed against the earth by the man’s weight, what sounded like creaking bones reached Anastasia’s ears as well. The thief pleaded for his life, blood trickling out of his mouth. The trafficker was crouching down beside him, bringing his face closer to him.
Trafficker: [Ya learned a lot from this. Good for you. From now on, we’ll train ya ’round these areas with hands-on guidance, so ya can rest easy.]
Thief: [Th, thank y…]
Thinking he had been forgiven, the thief was about to express his thanks, but he was forced to stop midway.
The clack of a metallic sound, and the thief’s “Eh?” overlapped. The shivering thief touched his own neck with a finger, his face sinking with despair from the chilly, solid sensation.
Thief: [Wh…why… did you put a slave’s collar on me…?]
Trafficker: [I told ya you’ll get hands-on guidance, right? Becomin’ a slave’s the fastest way to learn about the rules surroundin’ slaves. You’re a wuss, but you’re young. You’ll survive if you’re fortunate ‘nough.]
Thief: [That’s not what you sai――bgeh!]
Sent flying with a kick to the side of his face, the thief was knocked unconscious, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. After making sure he was out cold, the trafficker fastened handcuffs on him, and threw him away on the floor.
Trafficker: [Jeez, this is why amateurs pull some scary shit. Ahh, though, we were lucky to obtain a first-class article. The rule breaker got declassed to a slave, too. I’m glad none of us suffered any losses.]
???: [But, I think it’s a large problem for these two new slaves.]
The other man, who had been silent for the whole time, responded thickly to the trafficker’s comment. The trafficker cocked his head with an, “Ahh…” towards the man’s reply, directing his gaze at Anastasia. And then,
Trafficker: [Sorry, but I don’t consider slaves as people. These’re products, same stuff like meat ‘n fish.]
Saying that, the trafficker exited the shack, bringing along the large man accompanying him. The door was locked from the outside once again, and the two presences left the area.
Inside the shack, with the darkness and silence returning, Anastasia let out the breath she had been holding the entire time. Her heart pounded and she was drenched in cold sweat. It was good that they had not noticed it, but…
She had caught the eye of a trafficker who acted very much like a real trafficker.
It seemed like the thief had also been turned into a product, but she could not bring herself to think he had deserved it.
Because, whether retribution was carried out sooner or later, did not serve any purpose to Anastasia.
――A few hours had passed, and Anastasia judged that it was night-time based on her intuition.
In the meantime, she had been left lying on the cold floor, tormented by the urge to roll over multiple times, but she had to bear with it every time. It was because,
Thief: [Why do I have to go through such a… Dammit, dammit…]
The thief had regained his consciousness, perpetually mumbling and whining, unable to accept reality.
If he realized Anastasia had been awake, then there was no mistake he would shower her with a storm of profanity. So, she had to endure the impulse to turn over, in order to prevent herself from causing any unnecessary noise.
Anyway, being dissatisfied with the comfort of the hard ground was something she would have never thought of in the past. Anastasia did not think of it as becoming weak due to her living a relaxed, enjoyable life. Nothing was bad about it. Rather, she was slightly proud of herself.
If one lived like a human being, then of course they would not be able to bear living like a non-human. No one should be a pushover and behave submissively at the bottom of the ladder. Dreams must remain big and high up in the sky.
Thief: [Oi, you’re actually awake, right? Hey, you’re awake, right?]
As if he had ran out of things to say in his monologue, the thief dragged himself towards Anastasia. Hearing the tone of his voice and the feelings of resentment deep in his bones, it was clear that the man was intending to inflict harm upon her. His hand grabbed the cloth tied around her mouth, roughly taking it off.
Anastasia: […I’m awake. You’ve been noisy for some time.]
Thief: [Y-you, you’re awake, you’re awake! You… youuuu… how dare…!]
Anastasia: [Just sayin’, but I don’t recommend hurtin’ me. Ya understand my product value as well, don’t ya? That trafficker might as well get rid of ya for real next time.]
Thief: [Uh… guh, fguh,]
Just by hearing those three words, “get rid of,” the thief immediately withdrew his fury. The pain of being beaten and kicked seemed to have recurred to his mind, and he grew discouraged, holding his head in his hands.
Anastasia: [Where’s this place?]
Anastasia: [Don’t ya have somethin’ that might come in handy?]
It was no use, the “conversation” was not going anywhere.
Deeming it useless to talk to the man who appeared emotionally and mentally drained, Anastasia sat up slowly. She twisted around her body, stiff from being unable to sleep well, and started crawling over to the door of the shack.
Thief: [It’s pointless.]
Ignoring the thief’s pessimistic words, Anastasia somehow managed to stand up whilst leaning against the wall. After that, she played around with what looked like the handle of the door, but it showed no signs of opening. If so, should she remove the rope around her wrists by rubbing them against the ground?
It happened when she thought of that.
???: [Sneak, sneak… Hmm, does it feel like someone’s in there?]
The moment before she began struggling in vain, she heard a voice coming from the other side of the door. Frankly, it sounded way too nonchalant, but it was enough for Anastasia to think the voice to be unrelated to the traffickers.
Anastasia: [Here! I’m inside! I got captured!]
???: [Ooh, someone’s in there! Wow~! It’s just as Hetaro said! Got it~!]
Saying that, the presence outside distanced itself from the door by a tiny bit. Anastasia wondered what they were going to do, but she instantly came to realize the reason, and hurriedly threw herself towards the side of the door. The very next moment,
???: [Oryah~! Mimi go boom!]
Simultaneously with the shout, a tackle accompanied by a bluish-white light blew off the door into the shack. The hinges burst apart, and the wooden door ricocheted around the room loudly.
???: [Alright, it’s a success! Mimi is awesome~! Hum! Hum!]
Anastasia was rendered speechless by the excessively violent method that had been carried out. However, taking no notice of what she thought of it, the silhouette standing at the doorless entrance was displaying a dance of joy, seemingly having a great time.
The silhouette was too tiny. Their height was only around half of Anastasia’s, who was already on the smaller side for her age. Their physical appearance, lit by the moonlight was not even that of a human. They were a cat, and if one were to speak of a bipedal, cat-faced race, that would be no other than a cat-human.
Cat girl: [Ooh, you’re tied up. Tied up! Wait a lil’ bit~!]
The cat girl giggled innocently, walking over to Anastasia, who was unable to move due to being restrained, to remove her bindings. “Clink!” She exclaimed, showing off her claws, and then used them to sever Anastasia’s restraints.
Anastasia: [Uhm… Thank you?]
Cat girl: [Yup, ‘thanks’ is important~! If you’re able to say it then well done. Mimi also gets told by Hetaro and Tivey to not forget it~. You’re a good girl. Good girl, good girl.]
Anastasia: [S, stop, it’s a bit embarrassin’. Anyway, who’re ya?]
The orange-haired cat girl patted Anastasia’s head without any hesitation. When Anastasia kept her distance and asked her a question, she blinked her large eyes, and,
Cat girl: [Fufu~, glad you asked about that~. Umm, Mimi is a chivalrio thief! Chivalrio!]
Anastasia: [Chivalrio what…?]
Although the girl declared it triumphantly, placing a hand on her hip, Anastasia had no clue about what she was saying. Was it a name? No, if so, why would she be calling herself “Mimi”?
???: [Onee-chan, it’s “chivalrous,” not “chivalrio.”]
However, Anastasia’s doubts were answered from a different direction. She heard the sound of a calmer voice from the entrance of the shack, the same the girl had entered from earlier. There, making an appearance and peeking inside, was a petite cat-human, just as Anastasia had expected. Even including physical differences within a race, he was identical to the girl.
???: [We are sorry for confusing you. I’m Hetaro, and this is Mimi-onee-chan. For now, please just follow us.]
Unlike Mimi, her little brother――Hetaro seemed quite rational, bowing to Anastasia. Just like how she had acted a moment ago, Mimi looked proud of herself, her head held high beside him.
Their identities were surrounded by mystery, but Anastasia understood that they meant no harm. If so,
Anastasia: [From Hoshin’s sayings! “Decisiveness is the mightiest sword!” All right, I’ll follow ya.]
――Women should be courageous, and men should be charming.
Two intruders had suddenly entered, followed up by their astonishing declaration of being “chivalrous thieves,” but Anastasia decided to believe them. It was mostly because of her ability to judge the characters of people, something she had fostered within her short life, that she had decided that the two children were not trying to be evildoers.
Hetaro: [Come on, you too! Let’s go together!]
Not only did Hetaro invite Anastasia, who had displayed her will to escape, on their breakout, but he also tried to bring the thief with him. However, the thief directed a frightened look towards the children.
Thief: [Do-don’t say anything stupid! If I ran into you guys… and get found out, they’ll kill me! I-I’m having none of this. Dy… dying is something I absolutely don’t……!]
Hetaro: [That can’t be…]
Anastasia: [It’s useless. Ya can’t help him no matter what ya say. ――Only those who’re determined to walk down their own path, are able to live an honest life.]
She stopped Hetaro, who was persistently struggling to convince the thief, and walked out of the shack. Even after that, Hetaro looked like he was unable to decide what to do, but Mimi clapped his shoulder.
Mimi: [Hmm, it’s disappointing~! But it can’t be helped. We can only save the people who reach out their hands because they want to be saved~.]
Unexpectedly, Mimi had reached the same conclusion as Anastasia, trying to pull Hetaro towards them by grabbing his hand. Prompted by his sister’s words, he finally gave up on the thief.
Anastasia: [Which part of the city’s this?]
Hetaro: [We’re at the edge of the trash heap. Those traffickers always use this place, and…]
Mimi: [We discovered it by ourselves! It’s time for justice~!]
“Trash heap” was a common name for the disposal site meant for burying dirt and scrap under the ground. Because it was a place people preferred not to approach, nor to linger around for long, it was the most optimal choice as a hideout for traffickers.
Gazing up at the moon, Anastasia blew out a small sigh, then searched for the route that would bring her back to the streets.
There was quite the distance between this empty place and the populated slums. Anastasia was confident in how far she could walk to a degree, but comparing herself to Mimi and Hetaro, she would not be able to catch up to them. Even if she shouted for help, she would only attract slave traders. The best option was to continue running while making little noise, like this――,
???: [That’s no go~od. Tricking us and trying to run away.]
However, her wish in vain, the voice called to her from above.
When Anastasia immediately stopped in her tracks, a giant man landed in front of her with a heavy thud on the ground. And then, her breath caught in her throat as she saw the man’s bizarre frame.
The hide of an animal draped over his head, the large man was a member of the Multi-Arm Clan, four arms protruding from his shoulders.
The voice of the man with goggling eyes was the thick, sticky voice she had heard earlier in the shack. He was the other man who had been standing behind the trafficker.
Multi-armed man: [It’s good you’re energetic, since you’re going to be a slave. It’s wonderful that you’re energetic. But, being too energetic isn’t good. Let’s calm down, shall we?]
As the man said that, bringing his face closer to her, a scream almost tore itself out of her throat.
Strictly speaking, it was not the man who incited her fear himself. It was the foreign item she witnessed in his hand.
Multi-armed man: [Ah, this? I surprised you, didn’t I? Sorry, sorry. But, you see? This guy saw you guys off while you all escaped, right? He really was clueless on how things were done, watching a slave in the same room run away and doing nothing.]
While laughing, the man shook the item dangling from his hand――the thief’s head. Decapitated with a terrified expression plastered on his face, could he not have understood the reason of his death until the very end?
The man haphazardly tossed away the severed head, which still had blood dripping from the neck. And then, those bloodstained hands of his reached out towards Anastasia’s neck――,
???: [Pre-emptive strike!!]
Multi-armed man: [Whoa.]
Right as Anastasia was about to be captured, Mimi drilled a glowing kick into the man. He effortlessly caught it with his bottom left arm, and grabbed her body with his upper left arm as well.
Mimi: [Mm!? Wha? A lot of hands? Not fair!]
Multi-armed man: [Yes, it’s not fair. Sorry for that. The more arms you have, the stronger you are. Isn’t that obvious?]
Hetaro: [Let go of onee-chan!]
Unlike Mimi, who was being optimistic and carefree despite being caught, Hetaro quickly ran to get behind the man.
However, the man evaded him as if he had a pair of eyes on his back, and since Hetaro had nowhere to run, he could not escape from the two right arms of the man as a result.
Mimi: [Not fair! Not fair!]
Hetaro: [Mh…! Sorry, onee-chan, I’m sorry…]
Mimi, who was thrashing around, and Hetaro, who was painfully aware of their difference in strength. The man restrained them with his four arms, his eyes filled with enjoyment, moving to look at Anastasia.
It was as if he were saying, “You might be able to run away right now, because my hands are full.”
Anastasia: [Only a person like the guy who died earlier would believe an offer that’s too good to be true.]
Multi-armed man: [I guess that’s how it goes. Being clever is going to knock your feet from right under you in some cases. I obtained two cat-humans who look like they’d be useful to replace the idiot…… You’d call this being very fortunate.]
The man laughed in his sticky voice, and Anastasia sensed another trafficker approach her from behind. She was restrained yet again, commodified for good this time.
So, before she was gagged yet again――.
Anastasia: [Just remember one thing.]
Multi-armed man: [Hmm?]
Anastasia: [If ya lay your hands on me, a scary, scary wolf’ll come. ――I’m rather unlovable, too.]
Hearing Anastasia’s declaration of her hostility, the man’s shoulders shook with happiness.
Multi-armed man: [Ufufufu! Nice, that’s very nice. ――Then, I guess I’ll be looking forward to it.]
He did not take it as Anastasia being unwilling to admit defeat. Therefore, the game between them had been established.
――She would not play a game in which she had lost before it even started.
Even if the trafficker grabbed her shoulder roughly, and she was dragged away with a gag in her mouth, the fighting spirit continued to burn in Anastasia’s eyes, refusing to die out.
Contained within the legend of “Hoshin of the Wilderness,” was the story of the bloodless liberation of a stronghold.
According to it, Hoshin entered the enemy’s stronghold on his own, gained the devotion of the stronghold’s master with his eloquence alone, convinced them to open their robust gates, and welcomed them as an ally.
Multiple theories existed regarding the method he had used to enter the stronghold.
Shamelessly paying a visit by walking up to the front gates, burying himself inside the cargo brought into the fort, and there was even a theory that stated he had played dead to take them by surprise.
However, no matter how divided the opinions concerning his entry were, the manner in which they were tied to his exit was the same in every single one of those theories.
――Hoshin liberated the stronghold without causing any bloodshed, saved the minor power, Kararagi, and his legend began.
From that point onwards, Hoshin used his first achievement as a foothold, jumping into the ongoing battles between countries vying for supremacy. And then, it would eventually lead him to build up the history――the birth of the Kararagi City States.
Remembering such an anecdote, Anastasia was impressed by how exceptional legendary heroes were.
How gallant did he have to be, and how aware of his chances of success did he have to be, in order to set foot in enemy territory all by himself? It was well-known that Hoshin had been inexperienced in the arts of combat, and the only weapon he had was his tongue. That part of him was similar to herself.
Making it so that the only difference between them… was probably how Hoshin did not experience having a slave’s collar fitted around his neck, because he never blundered in a way that would happen to him.
Feeling the cold, hard sensation of the collar against her skin, Anastasia sighed, recognizing the difference in the capabilities between a hero and herself.
She was not in the mood to joke that she now sported matching collars with Ricardo, but the existence of the collar gave her a sense of relief to an extent. It was because she knew her opponents were legitimate slave traders.
People might wonder if the words legitimate or illegitimate even applied to the trafficking of slaves, but there was quite the disparity between the two.
The difference could be distinguished by whether they used slave collars or not. The collar Anastasia wore was one kind among the tools referred to as Meteors, connected to the owner’s gate through the gem of the collar. Because of that, the owner only had to think of it in their head to cause pain to slaves as punishment, and in many cases, slave traders used these Meteors to manage and maintain their slaves.
Without these Meteors, slave traders would have to resort to violence to discipline their slaves. In that case, the possibility of reducing the slaves to defective products could not be avoided, so the more legitimate a trafficker was, the more they would handle their slaves carefully.
That was why the existence of the collar evidenced that the slave traders had some decency――she did not have to worry about being killed, at the very least. It was the primary source of Anastasia’s relief, and the reason why she could carry on thinking.
???: [Nn~! Mnn~!]
And, there was one… no, there were two more things that provided her with moral support.
It was the existence of the two little cat-humans, who had the same collar fastened around their necks, and who had been trapped inside the same shack with her.
Mimi: [Nnnn~! Mnnnn~!]
With her endless amount of energy, Mimi continued to struggle in an attempt to free herself of her bindings for hours on end. Hetaro was lying down beside her in silence, but he wasn’t curled up out of resignation.
The lack of noise from him was not because he was pessimistic, but because he was contemplating how breaking out of this situation would be achieved. Without a single trace of submission nor compromise within them, the look in his eyes said he was biding his time, the same as Anastasia.
Hetaro was vigilantly looking for an opportunity he could seize, Mimi was full of vigor, and both of them were not remotely close to giving up.
With that as the case, Anastasia had hope. A gigantic, shaggy source of hope.
Anastasia: [‘omehow, gotta tell ‘ncle…]
She had to pass down her location and her predicament to Ricardo.
It was the only thing Anastasia could do, as a method to liberate this stronghold of the slave traders.
Like that, the trafficker from before made an appearance in front of the three children, who were desperately searching for a way to escape.
???: [I’ve already heard from Diddley, but two cat-humans in exchange for an idiot is an excellent deal.]
Opening the door and surveying the room was a well-dressed man who let out a snort.
Anastasia remembered seeing him on the previous night, guessing that he was the head of the slave traders. The day before, she had not been able to see his face from the front, but she could see it today, his accessory-covered attire in full view as well.
The leader had brought several bodyguards with him, and among them was the four-armed man. Upon noticing Anastasia’s stare, he gave her a twisted smile, waving his hand.
The head of the traffickers, three bodyguards, and one berserker. It seemed grandiose for a thorough inspection of their products.
Leader: [What, I heard y’all were causin’ mischief yesterday. I’m a faint-hearted man. Thanks to my nature, our business is goin’ rather well… Oi.]
Politely, he answered to Anastasia’s unspoken observations. After he nodded, the bodyguards took the children’s chains off the wall, but it was not as if they were about to be freed.
Leader: [Time to repack the boxes. The business over at Banan’ll try out another place soon, too.]
Tugging at Anastasia’s chains roughly, the leader told her she would be shipped out, in a roundabout way. She was taken outside of the room, and she was also about to be placed in the luggage platform on the outer part of the wolf carriage.
However, it happened in the middle of being brought onto the carriage.
Bodyguard: [Wha… hey! Wait!]
Mimi began going on a rampage after she had been taken outside just like Anastasia had been, shaking off the bodyguard’s arm. She hopped off the ground, trying to pounce onto the leader of the traffickers. Was it instinct that made her target the head of the group, rather than any tangible strategy? The choice in itself proved correct, as the leader’s cheeks stiffened for a moment.
Multi-armed man: [You were already told causing mischief isn’t good~.]
However, Mimi’s revenge was brought to a halt midway. The huge, four-armed man barged in between her and the leader, bashing her with two of his arms. She was slammed against the ground, unable to soften her landing and bouncing across the earth.
Leader: [Ah, hey, Diddley! Don’t overdo it! It’ll be bad if she gets damaged!]
Looking at Mimi, sprawled out on the ground, the leader slapped the giant man on the back. The man――Diddley, he was called, reacted to his words by shrugging his shoulders and stepping backwards.
Leader: [Sorry for that, lil’ kid. Even so, ya shouldn’t do that. We don’t wanna go out of our way to damage our goods. If ya behave well, then we won’t have to treat ya like this.]
Mimi: [Oh~, I won’t be fooled, bad guy!]
Mimi retorted at the leader, who crouched down to speak to her in a disgustingly sweet voice. The punches’ impact had dislodged her gag, and she demonstrated her indomitable spirit with her mouth, now freed from the cloth.
Mimi: [Misdeeds will make you have a bad time! Even if we get caught, Hetaro and Tivey shall stand in your way~!]
Leader: [You’re an energetic girl, even after gettin’ punched in the face… It’ll be worth disciplinin’ ya.]
Mimi: [Wh… mih, gyaah!]
While she was speaking, every hair on Mimi’s body stood up, and she cried out at the top of her lungs. Her eyes widened as she screamed. The cause was the slave’s collar. The leader had commanded it to torment her.
Seeing his elder sister writhing in pain, Hetaro grimaced as if he were experiencing the same torture. Eventually, once Mimi had been weakened enough, the leader of the slave traders put the gag back in her mouth and then stood up.
Leader: [What’re ya doin’, almost lettin’ her escape, ya dunce? If ya don’t pull yourself together… Do ya wanna play with the collar too? The motivation you’re lacking’ll return to ya pretty fast, won’t it?]
Bodyguard: [I-I’m sorry! I won’t do it again! ――hk,]
The bodyguard who had messed up got his face’s side slapped. He then repositioned the unconscious Mimi in his arm. Anastasia, watching the sequence of events, had already realized that they had been captured by a truly troublesome bunch.
They were organized, ambitious, and capable to top it all off. She was getting fed up with them.
Leader: [Well, if ya try to run, you’ll be put through a painful, painful experience like what just happened. I’m sure ya learned your lesson, so… hey, let’s go out. Ya better bid farewell to your hometown.]
Hearing the leader speak with a contemptful edge in his voice, Anastasia gave a quick observation of her surroundings. No matter where she looked, the area was filled with scrap. It was certainly the trash heap, indeed. She was not impressed one bit.
Leader: [Ya look like ya had enough of sayin’ goodbye to your hometown. Let’s go, then… hey hey, wait a minute.]
As Anastasia stared at the ground, the leader pushed her from behind, trying to shove her into the carriage. Pressed by the momentum of the shove, she lost her balance and fell to the ground.
Leader: [What, I didn’t hit’cha that hard. That ain’t good, ya need to live strong.]
One of his bodyguards pulled Anastasia to her feet after she fell forward. She shook her head while being forced to stand back up, hiding her clenched fist from their field of view.
Like that, she tried to walk towards the wolf carriage, pretending to look like nothing had ever happened――,
Seized by cold fear, Anastasia raised her head. Standing in front of her and looking down at her was Diddley, his goggling eyes opened wide.
Feeling those eyes peer into her, a chill ran down her spine. He saw me, she thought, feeling the skin under her collar itch from dread.
She would be punished with the collar, just like Mimi. ――However, her predictions were,
――Rejected by Diddley, who loosened his lips, laughing in a subdued voice.
He did not bring up anything about her actions, returning to being cautious of their surroundings like the other bodyguards. Anastasia was dumbfounded by it, but she was pushed from behind once again, stepping onto the platform of the wolf carriage.
The luggage platform was curtained inside, having been tampered to make sure its contents could not be seen from outside. It was probably a plan to separate illegal slaves from those that conformed to the rules and agreements of slave trading. Of course, Anastasia and the two cat-humans had been made slaves in a way that violated the rules, and the slave traders would not be able to get away with it if they were ever exposed.
Unlike the shack, the platform had a window. The area was cramped as a result of all the alterations, and the three kids were pressed against each other; it could almost be described as “being packed inside a box.”
Leader: [Ya better be on your best behavior in here. Havin’ to bully children pains my heart, after all.]
Pointing at his own neck, the leader threatened them with the fear of the collar, lowering the cloth that covered the platform. Right before the sight of the trafficker was hidden by the fabric, Anastasia caught a glimpse of Diddley’s smile.
It was horrifying, feeling as if he had seen through her scheme, but she had no idea of what went through his mind.
Hetaro: [Onee-chan, onee-chan…]
Inside the confined space――box, Hetaro was worried for the unconscious Mimi. She had not come to her senses yet, but her life was not in any particular danger. The effect of the collar was of that sort. Moreover――,
Anastasia: [Ya ‘ook it off…?]
Hetaro’s gag was out of his mouth. When Anastasia tilted her head out of confusion, he noticed and showed her his sharp front teeth, clacking them together.
Hetaro: [Our teeth are more sturdy than most people’s. I’ll teach onee-chan too after she wakes… uhh…]
He hesitated, having imagined Mimi starting to make a racket the moment her mouth was freed. He could already see her raising hell in her loudest voice, and then getting knocked out by her collar again.
Not only were their hands and feet bound together, but they also had the collar around their necks. Hetaro’s issue must be the way to deal with those. However, Anastasia had various, effective solutions for what to do.
Anastasia: [‘irst… pwah. We should compare and adjust the information we have at hand.]
Hetaro directed his surprise towards Anastasia, who had taken off her gag by bringing her hands to the back of her head. She exposed the palms of her shackled hands so that he could see what she was holding. In her hands, was a metal shard she had secretly snatched when she had fallen over, before being placed on the wolf carriage.
Anastasia: [When I picked it up after pretendin’ to trip, I was scared for a second, thinkin’ I got seen.]
She was unsure of the true intentions of Diddley, who had overlooked it. However, it was true that she had been saved by his caprice.
The conditions were strict, but they had been fulfilled. Mimi and her sibling, Anastasia herself, and the outside world she was able to see from the luggage platform. The slave traders’ leader and their appearances, the map of the surrounding area of the city that was fresh in her memory, and Ricardo――.
――If Anastasia could connect all of them together, then she would be able to “liberate the stronghold.”
Anastasia: [Hey, I have somethin’ to ask ya, but…… doesn’t the wound on your cheek hurt?]
Hetaro’s expression stiffened in response to her question.
Feeling that his reaction met her expectations, an adorable, cunning smile spread across her face.
Vice-captain: [Ricardo, I discovered it while asking around, but it seems like that Diddley guy is quite nutty.]
The vice-captain reported his findings, returning to the tent, while Ricardo was glaring at the map inside. Sitting on a chair far too small for his giant physique, Ricardo made a frustrated face at the results of the vice-captain’s investigation, gnashing his fangs together.
Ricardo: [Anyone’d know that by takin’ one look at the Skin Wearer.]
Vice-captain: [Whoa, Skin Wearer describes him pretty well. Well, it’s not a bad name to call him. He’s practically infamous for skinning his opponents once he kills them.]
Ricardo: [He has a damn terrible hobby, is what I think, though…]
Recalling the four-armed man, Ricardo wrinkled his nose out of disgust.
He would be alright with it if the man only wore the hide of animals, but in reality, the man wore the skin of demi-humans he had killed. Ricardo did not think the man would be satisfied with only having one or two of those “collectibles.” Therefore, he probably had a countless number of skins, enough to swap them out depending on his mood or the weather.
Vice-captain: [He apparently comes from further north, but he recently came here to work and gain publicity. Right now, was it the… Razcrew Trading Company that we just met? It seems like he’s contracted exclusively to them.]
Ricardo: [Gainin’ publicity? Does he look charmin’ enough to do that? Though, I see there’s someone who’s quite knowledgeable ’bout that guy.]
Vice-captain: [They said they once got into a fight with him in a tavern. One of their ears was torn off. They got off lucky.]
The vice-captain said as he shrugged, but Ricardo agreed with him. If the person had gotten away with just an ear torn, then they were fortunate.
The strong stench of blood wafting from that man was not something any ordinary mercenary could compete against. They would be killed with a mere twist of his arms. And he had four of them, so the difference in ability between him and the others was glaringly clear.
Vice-captain: [You got a scary face there, Hound. Even if you grow bloodthirsty, isn’t he irrelevant to our job?]
Ricardo: [I know, I know. Fuck, I’m headin’ out for a lil’ while.]
Keeping the irritation burning in his chest at bay, Ricardo left the vice-captain behind, exiting the tent. Gazing up at the night sky above the camping grounds, he used a finger to fumble around with his collar out of boredom.
Still unable to get a grasp on where the group’s target, the gang of bandits, was located, Ricardo could not hide how discouraged he felt from his weakened sense of smell. Piling on that, he felt even worse because a person who got on his nerves had rubbed his wavering state of mind the wrong way.
Diddley, the man who had peeled the skin of the people who shared the same race as Ricardo, and draped it over his head. He could not help but feel a thick sort of malice from how Diddley had called him “Mister Wolf” to his face. Excluding that man, who had referred to Ricardo as a wolf without being convinced of what he called himself, the only other person who did the same was Anastasia――.
Ricardo: [What, my beard’s tremblin’… huh?]
Caressing his beard, Ricardo raised a brow as he felt a tinge of uneasiness. From a slight distance ahead, he could hear voices coming from an argument. Spontaneously, he started walking in that direction.
???: [Ya know what, runt. It’s dangerous ’round here. Ya better hurry and go back to the city.]
????: [But, I’m saying I need to talk with the person in charge. Please let me through.]
Along with the exasperated voice of a rough fellow, a rather formal young voice overlapped with it. Once Ricardo took a look at them, he saw a tiny, tiny cat-human arguing with a mercenary standing guard at the grassland.
Ricardo: [What’re ya causin’ a ruckus about? A full-grown man yellin’ at a child. How shameful.]
Guard: [Ah, Ricardo-san… No, it’s ’cause this runt wouldn’t listen to me tellin’ him to go home, so……]
The guard repeatedly dipped his head at Ricardo, who barged in between them. Snorting at the guard’s behavior, Ricardo then glanced over at the boy. He was a young cat-human with an intelligent-looking face.
Ricardo: [Son, I’m the representative around here. What, if ya need to talk about somethin’, I’m all ears.]
Cat-human: [Are you the person in charge?]
The boy, clothed in rags, widened his eyes at Ricardo’s attitude. He immediately gave him a polite bow afterwards, kneeling down and lowering his head further to the ground.
Cat-human: [I ask of you. Please rescue my elder sister and brother.]
Ricardo: [Your siblings? What’s it about?]
Cat-human: [It’s the slave traders. They were caught by them, and I…… want you to save them.]
Ricardo: […Aah, I get it now. I’m sorry to hear that, but…]
Ricardo scratched his head, feeling an inkling of pity at the boy’s desperate plea.
His older siblings were most likely cat-humans, and they would be perfect targets for the traffickers to prey upon, if they were as young as this one. Compounding on that, the rags the boy wore――assuming they were hyenas from the slums, if the slave traders tried to capture them it would not infringe on Banan’s city laws. It had been a mistake to ask Ricardo to go against that.
If only I wasn’t on duty, Ricardo thought, mercy starting to bud in his heart. However,
Cat-human: [Please look at this.]
Intercepting Ricardo’s rejection, the boy took off the rag he was wearing. Looking at the chest and stomach area of his scrawny body, Ricardo let out a small grunt.
――The boy’s skin was swollen with dark red, and the internal bleeding underneath had formed a drawing.
The more Ricardo stared at that drawing, the more it started looking like a map, and he realized that it was a map similar to the one which depicted the outskirts of Banan. The very map he had been glaring at until recently.
Ricardo: [Son, this injury of yours… no, what’s this map?]
Cat-human: [Someone is inflicting wounds upon either my sister or brother. With our Divine Protection… the power of the Divine Protection of Trisection, we three can split our injuries and fatigue between each other, and… this wound is a result of that.]
Ricardo: [Drawin’ a map through injuries… That’s pretty darn impressive. I see, so they showed ya their whereabouts… wait.]
The boy’s siblings, who had been captured by slave traders, were letting their youngest sibling know of their location by having wounds etched into their body. Ricardo was amazed by their idea, but it was not enough to force him to take action. However, he furrowed his brow upon thinking about something. ――That was not all there was to the map.
Ricardo: [This map…]
The map of the surrounding area of Banan. It was a map similar to the one Ricardo owned, but it was too similar. The map on the boy’s body even had a few notable places marked down, such as where the caravans had been attacked, and where Ricardo’s group had thought the bandits were hiding.
It would be impossible to draw this map if without the siblings having looked at Ricardo’s map while doing so. Between the two maps there were a few differences, such as the mark on the camping grounds near Banan――the current location of the mercenary group, and the mark that traced the highway extending from the city, as if it was following along the path.
Ricardo: [This place, the highway, and the workplace of the bandits… Connecting those together…]
Guard: [Ricardo-san? ……Wha――whoa!]
While in deep thought, his eyes fixed on the map etched on the boy’s body, the guard called out to him. However, Ricardo grabbed the guard’s shoulder, baring his fangs and shouting out,
Ricardo: [Gather all the big shots and come inside the tent right now! The kid’s achieved an incredible result!]
The boy called himself Tivey, showing the dark red map engraved upon his body in front of everyone. Supporting Tivey’s shoulders, who was standing on top of the desk, Ricardo pointed at the bloody map for the mercenaries to see.
Ricardo: [Listen up, everyone. Look at this map on this boy’s stomach. Right now, someone’s etchin’ the details of the map into the body of his sibling, who was captured. It’s a freakish thing, but we can glean somethin’ from this.]
Vice-captain: [It’s about the location of the slave traders that caught his siblings, right? That’s amazing, yeah, but it’s not…]
Our business, the vice-captain did not say out loud, keeping his words ambiguous. However, his sentiments were shared between everyone in the tent.
Unrelated to whether they disliked or even tolerated slave trading, the objective of this mercenary group was the subjugation of the brigands. Even if they felt sympathy for Tivey, they could not stray away from their goal. Towards the mercenaries who had that in mind, Ricardo shook his head with a “No,”
Ricardo: [What’s important’s the huge amount of marks on this map. The place where the caravans were ambushed, and the place we mistook as the bandits’ hideout are also marked. Ain’t it strange?]
Vice-captain: [I guess it doesn’t sit right with me, but… what meaning is there to it?]
Ricardo: [Just listen. There’s an “X” symbol placed where the caravans were attacked, and another near the area we mistook for the place the bandits’re lurking around. In exchange, there’s a circle placed on the slave traders who should still be on the move…… Ya should know what the creator of this map wants to say.]
Vice-captain: [――. Whoa whoa, Ricardo. You can’t be…]
Understanding the context behind Ricardo’s savage grin, the vice-captain widened his eyes. However, there were a lot of mercenaries who had yet to reach the answer to the mystery. To make sure everyone could hear it, Ricardo spoke,
Ricardo: [Our targets, those we’re lookin’ for, ain’t bandits. Slave traders that do business borderin’ on a bunch of brigands’ business…… no, our target’s a Muggers’ Tradin’ Company, made up of those who disguise themselves as traveling merchants, and then launch attacks on other caravans.]
It was obvious why they had not been able to find anything while searching for the hidden gang of bandits. No such gang existed. The crimes had been committed by an armed group, who pretended to be traveling merchants and attacked people who passed by.
Looting the wolf carriages and goods of other caravans, and turning their employees into slaves. Like that, selling off what they harvested, as well as their slaves to some other city, then traveling around the whole country while engaging in business was the go-to method of these Muggers’ Trading Companies.
Ricardo: [So, it’s this Muggers’ Tradin’ Company, but… they’re roaming around this area on the highway durin’ this time of day. Judgin’ from the speed a loaded wolf carriage can move at, there’s only one candidate.]
Vice-captain: [――The Razcrew Trading Company!]
The vice-captain clicked his tongue, thinking about the group that had just passed in front of the camping grounds a few hours prior, the very group that had just came up in their conversation before the meeting. He looked like he was panicking, fearing that the Razcrew Trading Company would escape if they did not take immediate action, but Ricardo shook his head at him.
Ricardo: [There’s nothin’ to be panickin’ over. I told ya. This map will keep tellin’ us where that bunch’s headin’ for. Before long, they’ll stop in their tracks to set up camp.]
Once the band of mercenaries got a hold of their location, then it would be time for the Hound to live up to his reputation.
Vice-captain: [Fold the tents! We’ll be pursuing the Razcrew…… no, the Muggers’ Trading Company at once!]
The vice-captain raised his voice, and the slightly energized mercenary group scattered immediately, all at the same time. Watching his fellow mercenaries leave the tent, Ricardo gave a firm clap on Tivey’s shoulder, who had fulfilled his role to the very end.
Ricardo: [Son, good job for doin’ your best. Ya were amazin’.]
Tivey: [If it’s for onee-chan and onii-chan, then it’s… to be… expected…]
Replying with that, Tivey grew weak as he relaxed his body. Ricardo promptly supported him, feeling the burning temperature of his tiny body and seeing his labored breathing. It was only natural. Tivey must have endured an unbelievable amount of pain because of these injuries. If he had been reduced to this state as a result of the pain being distributed, then the suffering of his siblings, who were on the receiving end of such atrocities, must be beyond description.
Because of that, Ricardo and his group needed to give it their all.
Ricardo: [Ana-bo, your message has been heard loud and clear.]
Lifting up Tivey in his arms, Ricardo called out to the girl who was not present.
Accurately drawing out the map she had only taken a single look at, connecting the dots between the bandits and the slave traders, and delivering it to the “Uncle” etched into the area of the camping grounds. ――The girl who had played a key role in achieving this result.
Ricardo: [I gotta find ya safe and sound, and ask ya why ya were caught by some slave tradin’ company…!]
Why had the girl, who was supposed to be in the city, been thrown into the midst of such a critical emergency?
However, Ricardo did not even think that it had been the doing of the man he had let off the hook.
――The clash between the band of mercenaries, led by the Hound, and the Razcrew Muggers’ Trading Company began in the middle of the night.
The deserted village, located at the side of the highway that linked cities together, was a place often used as a camping ground by legitimate caravans that stopped by on their travels, in order to let their weary feet and Ligers take a rest.
The camping ground, formerly a village that specialized in agriculture, had a few, abandoned houses left scattered around as a reminder of old times. The existence of the houses, all equipped with roofs, made it more than just a little appealing to use as a place to set up camp.
Because of that, the fact that an illegitimate Muggers’ Trading Company was making themselves comfortable at this place, had fully incurred the blazing wrath of the Hound and his group.
The Hound and his forty rowdy mercenaries were quietly surrounding the deserted village that was sinking into the darkness.
Fires that had been set up at the camp, used to clear the view of those standing guard, and the vulgar voices of the ones holding a feast, while chugging down their alcohol-filled mugs. The carriages with the tethered Ligers had the seal of the store number on it――proof that it was the company the mercenaries were after, and there was no mistaking it for any other.
The map engraved into Tivey was perfect. Remembering the boy he had left in the tent before carrying out their plan, as well as his pleading voice that surfaced into the back of his head, the Hound gave his orders to the vice-captain, and placed small troops in various places around the village.
Confirming that they were ready to go, the vice-captain nodded at the Hound. Receiving his signal, the Hound threw his head back to look up at the sky and opened his jaws,
A bestial roar was released, as if reaching for the round moon shining in the night sky.
The next moment, the Hound’s limbs swooped down towards his assigned position――and the battle had begun.
Ricardo: [Shut it, moron!]
With one swing of his large machete, Ricardo struck down the frenzied man who lunged at him.
The thick chunk of iron penetrated the man’s head, his skull exploding like a fruit. Looking at the body that had fallen over, with blood and brains splattered all around it, the men behind the corpse gulped one after another.
The men: [Hk…]
Ricardo: [Don’t stop in your tracks, ya dolts!]
Being horrified by their ally’s glamorously mutilated body, and because of it pausing their movements and freezing their thoughts, were actions below those of a third-rate fighter.
Ricardo sliced through one man, and bashed in the neck of another, snapping his neck. He shoved a third man into the wall by kicking him with all his strength, pulverizing the top of his head with the butt end of the machete and knocking him down to the ground.
A Muggers’ Trading Company that disguised themselves as a regular company, repeatedly plundering and pillaging other caravans in the middle of their travels. Even with such an extravagant title stuck onto them, they proved themselves to be a letdown the moment they were forced to be on the side of the ransacked.
Vice-captain: [Ricardo! How’s it going over there!?]
The vice-captain swung a bloodied sword as he ran towards Ricardo, who kicked away the corpse near his feet. Observing the disastrous spectacle created by the Hound’s rampage, the vice-captain started to lament the situation, a hand placed on his forehead.
Vice-captain: [I wasn’t worried about you, but this is too much. Are you planning to massacre them?]
Ricardo: [Is it worth holdin’ back ‘gainst these fellows? I almost feel like cuttin’ all their limbs off and throwin’ them into boilin’ hot oil.]
Vice-captain: [I understand how you feel, but please think about what comes next. We might even have to explain this to the Senate, so this can’t be resolved by murdering everyone and reaping all the benefits.]
Ricardo: [What, if they tell me to slit my stomach and apologize, then I’ll do just that! But, that’s only after everythin’s settled peacefully. And that seems unlikely if we find Ana-bo and the boy’s siblings.]
Anger burning inside of him, Ricardo barked at the vice-captain, who seemed concerned about the Senate’s intentions.
The only factors that had made it possible to ascertain the identity of the Muggers’ Trading Company, were Anastasia’s quick wits and the cooperation of Tivey’s siblings. Such small children were forced to do more than they could manage. Ricardo and his group had a duty to repay their deeds.
Hearing Ricardo’s words, the vice-captain’s expression fell even further as he looked up at the sky.
Vice-captain: [Aah, goddammit! This is why exactly I didn’t want to be paired with you. Your influence is rubbing off on the others, and I’m worried if there are going to be enough of those fellows to give their testimony by the end of this……]
Ricardo: [I won’t target the leader, at least. If some morons remain alive at the end, then that’s fine, ain’t it? Rather…]
Vice-captain: [I know. It’s about the Skin Wearer dude, right?]
Diddley the Skin Wearer. That man of the Multi-Arm Clan was unmistakably the main force of the Muggers’ Trading Company.
Neither ambushes nor cheap tricks would work against that. He was in a different dimension altogether, compared to people who would fall for those.
Ricardo: [Goin’ up against that guy’s impossible unless it’s me. Don’t let the others try and fight him.]
Vice-captain: [Needless sacrifices are just gonna keep piling up otherwise. Say, it should be almost time…]
The mercenaries had been told to send out a signal with a whistle once Diddley’s whereabouts were located. If Ricardo slayed him, then the victors of the battle would become set in stone.
Waiting for the sound of the whistle to ring across the clearing, Ricardo pricked up his pointed ears, but――,
???: [Heeeeeeey! Come ooooooout, Mister Woooooooolf!]
A thick, sticky, and grisly laugh echoed, thoughtlessly shaking the air of the deserted village, reeking of blood, with its cheerfulness.
Due to the Hound’s planned attack, the Razcrew Trading Company had been hit by a devastating blow within the blink of an eye.
Those that were either drunk or slumbering were easily killed by the mercenaries, and their numbers were reduced by one third. However, the people who had managed to avoid death during the first assault were the real members that composed the Muggers’ Trading Company. They would certainly be small fry if facing against Ricardo.
However, that only applied if they were against Ricardo.
???: [Shit! What the hell’re these guys, tryin’ to make light of us!?]
An aide countered a mercenary that had tried to attack them, and Razcrew grinded his teeth, facing the fresh corpse.
Five mercenaries had made their way inside Razcrew’s bedroom, which was located in the abandoned house that was the most intact in the deserted village. Every intruder was cut down by the sword skills of his aide. However, it was clear this attack was not only a racket caused by five people, as they could hear screaming and the clashing of swords ringing out from all over the village.
Razcrew: [This ain’t the work of some dumb bunch of bandits… it’s the work of those simpletons at the highway.]
The news of Banan’s Senate organizing a band of mercenaries as a countermeasure against damages done to caravans had reached Razcrew’s ears as well. Because of that, he had wrapped up his business in Banan, and attempted to leave in order to try out another place for trading. All this, while the mercenary group wasted their time searching around in the corner of his eye.
Aide: [Boss, what shall we do with the others?]
Razcrew: [They have Diddley. Even if we sat around doin’ nothin’, those who don’t know their place can get killed off for all I care. Rather than that, there’s something I need to check.]
Hearing the name of the multi-armed berserker, the aide immediately closed his mouth. By now, that madman would be gleefully skipping around the battlefield, sprinting freely while decapitating people.
However, finding the cause of this chaos came first. If an unusual disturbance had occurred in his usual work, then the problem would be lying within the “unusual” part.
Razcrew tested the sensation of the bracelet he had snapped onto his wrist, an object linked with the gem on the slaves’ collars, and headed for the place where his products were safeguarded, while bringing his aide with him. And then,
Razcrew: [If I remember correctly, that girl was in this box.]
Standing in front of a specific box, Razcrew ordered his aide to open the door. When it creaked open, the heavy stench of blood wafted out of the box, and Razcrew knitted his eyebrows in frustration.
On the far side of the box, he sensed someone catch their breath. Entering it, Razcrew squinted his eyes amidst the dark, and nodded, making sense of the situation from the scene in front of him.
Razcrew: [I see. Those runts had some kind of Divine Protection… Not bad.]
The female cat-human with her stomach area painted in blood, and the male cat-human who had suffered through an identical number of injuries. Razcrew was honestly impressed by the girl standing in front of them, as if trying to protect them.
That appearance and that skill. She was a masterpiece among every “product” he had handled so far.
Razcrew: [Ya did well, considerin’ your hands ‘n feet were tied together. Those wounds… didja pick up a shard of glass at the trash heap or somethin’?]
Girl: [Ya seem like ya got time to be light-hearted. You mean that sca~ry wolf ain’t comin’ to pick me up?]
Razcrew: [Our rabid dog’s probably takin’ him on right now… Rather, the damage you’ve caused’re gonna cost ya a pretty penny.]
Razcrew showed off the bracelet on his left hand to the bluffing girl. Just by thinking about it, he could cause his collared slaves to feel a great deal of pain. He had already carried out that threat on the female cat-human.
Imagining the pain, even that girl stiffened her cheeks, and Razcrew drew out a dagger with a twisted blade from the inside of his outfit. It was one of his favorite torturing devices.
Of course, he was not planning on hurting the girl and decreasing her value as a product. The dagger was meant for the cat-humans behind her.
Razcrew: [Listen, missy. It’s not necessarily ya yourself who has to take responsibility for your screw ups. What happened this time’ll teach ya a good lesson.]
Rascrew jerked his chin, and his aide reached his arm out to hold down the girl. Like that, he would torment the cat-humans to a suitable degree in front of the girl, and make her regret what she had done. And if Diddley swept up the surrounding mercenaries, then it would be the end of this ruckus.
Girl: [Responsibility for my screw ups, huh…]
As Razcrew pondered on how he would clean up the mess in advance, the girl’s faint voice reached his ears. Turning around, he saw the girl meet his eyes with a glare.
Those light blue-green eyes had a power that sucked him into them――,
Girl: [If that’s so… it means you’ll be takin’ responsibility for what you’ve done!]
The girl declared out loud in a harsh tone.
In a flash, the female cat-human sprung to her feet with great enthusiasm, grinned, and then,
???: [Evil won’t prosper in this wo~rld!]
She shouted, the back of her feet landing a powerful kick on Razcrew’s face.
――In that one fleeting second, the situation inside of the box had taken a drastic turn.
Mimi had jumped awake due to Anastasia’s call, and she kicked away Razcrew while covered in blood, her appearance harrowing. The moment she did that, Razcrew should have punished her using his bracelet.
The punishment being given to her through her gate, Mimi’s tiny body shook as if she was about to start bouncing around. However, it did not contain enough power to halt her justice. It was because the punishment was being shouldered by Hetaro.
The Divine Protection of Trisection was a Divine Protection that enabled the siblings to share sensations such as pain. The distribution defaulted to an even split, but they could consciously unbalance it. It was also possible to receive a hundred percent of the pain when drawing the map, or when the eldest sister was receiving her punishment.
Hetaro: [I’m not as strong as onee-chan, so… I can only do things like this.]
Hetaro had said, his resolve to accept Anastasia’s suggestion of etching the map onto his body too bright for her eyes. Even now, as he suffered from the pain and bleeding, he took on his sister’s punishment and protected her until it ended.
Mimi: [Ooh~! Chya~!]
The fighting strength of Mimi, who was bouncing all over the room, having comprehended the will of her brother, was much higher than what Anastasia had imagined.
The aides, who were taken aback by the falling Razcrew――jumping into the gap that appeared for nary a moment, Mimi punted one of the two aides with her short legs, defeating him by slamming him against the wall.
Those were bodyguards that Razcrew had brought along, commanding them directly. They could not possibly be weak, but the fighting strength of the roused cat-human had increased even further, influenced by her excitement.
The aide came to his senses after his ally was defeated, unsheathing the sword on his waist. The single-edged blade, known as a katana, released a single, terrifyingly sharp strike. However, Mimi skillfully ducked under it, and,
She made him lean backwards with a blow from her tail, and followed up with a powerful headbutt to his stomach. Batting at the throat of the staggered enemy with her short limbs, she then finally knocked him out cold by flinging him across the box.
Mimi: [You see that? It’s Mimi’s overwhelming victory!]
Triumphing over both Razcrew and his aide, Mimi jumped with elation over her win.
Anastasia’s eyes were wide open, having witnessed Mimi’s maneuvers. That fight was only supposed to buy some time for them, but she had not expected Mimi to wipe the traffickers out.
Anastasia: [Anyways, I guess this wraps it up!]
Although she was surprised by results that exceeded her expectations, Anastasia stole the bracelet from the fallen Razcrew.
Even if they were to escape from this area, it would be difficult with their hands and legs left shackled together. So, the best option was to make securing their safety a priority, and wait for the scary wolf to come running towards them.
Mimi: [Ooh, the collar came off! Hetaro’s also came off~!]
Anastasia: [Alright! We can take off our collars usin’ this, just as I thought. What’s left is…]
The bracelet acted as a key, and Anastasia used it to remove her and the siblings’ collars. After that, she took the collars and refastened them on Razcrew and his two aides.
Razcrew: [Ya little… don’t think… you’re gettin’ away with… pullin’ this shit… gaaah!]
Regaining his consciousness, Razcrew threatened her in a low voice when he noticed the collar around his neck. However, Anastasia punished him with the bracelet, leading him to pass out once more. It was hard to control it, so she had accidentally inflicted the same pain on the unconscious aides, but with this, she had finished securing the safety of her group.
Anastasia: [What’s left is Uncle… I believe in ya, so please don’t betray my trust…]
Next to Mimi, who was beginning her treatment of Hetaro’s injuries, Anastasia murmured quietly while rubbing the bracelet, praying that the next time someone opened the box, it would be a familiar face.
Anastasia: [Ah, my bad.]
She carelessly made an error while trying to control the bracelet, and Razcrew’s scream echoed across the box as he was punished.
Summoned by the large, intense act of self-assertion, Ricardo paid the man a visit, only to witness a sea of blood.
???: [Ahaa, you came to see me, Mister Wolf.]
Breathing heavily from excitement, the berserker directed his gaze towards Ricardo. A massive number of corpses were strewn around his feet, none of them retaining their original shape.
However, even as he stood in front of the mountain of corpses, all of them mangled beyond recognition, there was something he could make out with a single glance.
Ricardo: [That, that too, and the other one over there. They’re not my allies, they’re yours.]
Multi-armed man: [Huuh, were they? They were loitering around in front of me, so I got annoyed and killed them. Stuff like that happens sometimes, right?]
Ricardo: [Hell no. Don’t lump me in with ya, damn idiot.]
Feigning ignorance while raising his bloodstained broadaxes was Diddley the Skin Wearer. He adjusted the piece of fur he wore with one of his four arms, and glared at Ricardo with his goggling eyes.
Diddley: [Just as I expected. The wolf that girl was talking about was you.]
Ricardo: […You’re the one who let Ana-bo do as she pleased. Rather than bein’ whimsical, you’re just stupid. What ya did resulted in y’all being on the verge of a wipe-out… There’s a limit to riskin’ your life to make the others laugh.]
Diddley: [Really? Personally, I’m fine with it if it means I can play with the wolf.]
I see, that’s truly the logic of a berserker.
The misjudgement of the person in change, having hired Diddley for his skills without taking his personality into consideration――it was rare to see someone with such an amoral personality to this extent, so perhaps it was cruel to tell his boss to sense that part of him before contracting him.
Called by the vice-captain who had accompanied him, Ricardo pointed towards a different part of the battlefield with his large machete.
Ricardo: [If I confine this guy to this area, then the others surely won’t get pushed back any further.]
Vice-captain: [The same could be said for the opposing side, though.]
Ricardo: [Shut up. Just leave and go somewhere else. Pray for my victory.]
Shooing off the vice-captain and his concerns, Ricardo faced Diddley alone. Taken aback by the fact that Diddley was waiting quietly for the vice-captain to leave, Ricardo raised a brow.
Ricardo: [What, you’re more well-behaved than I imagined. I thought you’re a rabid dog, but it seems like you’ve been disciplined.]
Diddley: [It’ll be my loss if the flavor grows weak, all because I was bad-mannered in front of my feast, don’t you think? I’m Diddley. I have a personality that wants to taste delicious things while they’re in their best condition.]
Ricardo: [I see. I don’t have any standards of tasty or nasty in a fight to kill each other. ――Ya haven’t done any unnecessary things to Ana-bo, have ya?]
Diddley: [Would you have been more passionate about this if I did?]
Ricardo: [I’d be about to toss ya into boilin’ oil, ya dolt.]
Their banter serving as a trigger, Ricardo took one step to close the distance between him and Diddley’s chest. Diddley intercepted him with his four broadaxes, swinging them towards his broad frame with varying trajectories to each of them.
With the wind blowing around him, Ricardo dodged the strike of the first broadaxe by lowering his posture. After deflecting the two following strikes with his machete, he greeted the Skin Wearer with a front kick before the final attack reached him, flinging him away.
Ricardo: [Goh, ruyaaah!]
Along with a war cry, the machete was swung down towards the staggering Diddley’s head.
Diddley caught the blow, one that could even split a giant rock in half, with the two broadaxes he held above his head. Steel collided against steel, and sparks flew. As they were about to enter a competition of strength, the multi-armed man lashed out using his remaining two arms. Ricardo immediately fended off the broadaxes that approached him from both sides, using his breastplate to do so.
His ribs creaked, and the impact even passed through the organs behind them. Vomiting out a glob of blood that surged up his throat, Ricardo leapt backwards using the momentum of having Diddley pushing against him. He broke into a fit of coughing.
Ricardo: [Kah, peh, peh! Damn, you’re pretty good at this!]
Diddley: [You’re good as well, Mister Wolf. Well then, let’s start taking this seriously.]
Diddley responded with a persistent, wide smile to Ricardo, who spat out blood and verbal abuse. Immediately after that, the multi-armed man’s giant frame disappeared from his sight as if it had been blurred out from sight. A four-armed anomaly prowled within the dark night.
Ricardo: [He can pull that off with that body of his?]
Ricardo growled, narrowing his eyes in the dark at Diddley’s unexpected display of the arts of stealth.
He had not thought that the man with an incredibly self-assertive appearance would be able to dive into the darkness so spectacularly, like this. The berserker was absent in his field of vision, and the thick stench of blood in the air prevented him from tracing his movements with his sense of smell.
If Diddley had covered the area in blood for this purpose, then he had an eye for some tough tactics to face, unexpectedly.
Instantaneously, he swung his machete up just as there was a sound of something cutting through the wind. Their weapons clashed, and Ricardo sensed he had turned aside three strikes in total, judging from the impact he felt in his hand. Canceling out three gigantic broadaxes with one swing was the fruit of Ricardo’s abilities.
However, if one of the four strikes had made its way through, then it meant that Diddley’s tactics had bested him.
A broadaxe sunk into his left shoulder, severing his wire-like fur and dense muscles. Fresh blood spewed out, pain and fury exploding in the back of Ricardo’s throat.
Diddley: [Uha~h! I can’t cut it off with one broadaxe!]
Yelling with delight, the berserker flipped backwards with fearsome nimbleness, lurking back into the dark night. The sound of him stepping on grass, which would mean he had landed, could not be heard. His skill in melting into the darkness was akin to facing a wild beast.
It could be said that the way he carried himself was like a living nightmare.
The incarnation of a nightmare that wore the skin of those it killed, and brought forth death with its four arms. It was a strong, vivid image.
Diddley: [How is it? How is it, how is it, how is it? Are you enjoying my dance?]
The source of the slight sound of the ground being kicked, and the thick, sticky voice did not match.
A strange gait he used to set his voice and footsteps independently from each other, deceiving Ricardo’s eyes with his art of stealth, his ears with his voice, and his nose with blood. Ricardo did not have the means to pursue the giant form that prowled in the dark.
Distancing himself, and then approaching. Slinking around, bouncing around. To the right and to the left, above and below, the number of wounds inflicted on Ricardo were gradually increasing from the strikes of the broadaxes that aimed to kill, lashing out one after another, changing their trajectory as they pleased.
The moment Diddley struck, even if Ricardo deflected his attacks, his senses relying on the direction of his opponent’s murderous intent, blocking up to three hits was the limit of his defense. The remaining strike would carve into his body, and it was only a matter of time until he was beheaded.
Ricardo: [Shit, dryah! ――Fine, then. I’ll interrupt your damn dance by killing ya!]
Letting out a shout that would make others forget that he was facing a difficult situation, Ricardo carried his machete on his shoulder and jumped backwards. The Hound held up his weapon while looking straight ahead, with an abandoned house to his back.
If he made sure there was a wall behind him, then he could limit the direction of his opponent’s assault, having it arrive from his front or his side. Although he did not know “when” or “where” would Diddley make a move, it would be possible for him to shut off “where” he would strike.
Despite that, the berserker gave a delighted laugh at Ricardo’s martial judgement.
Diddley: [Ufufufufu! That’s right, you would try to do that! But, you know!]
The next moment, Diddley came into view in front of Ricardo. However, he appeared far beyond the reach of both Ricardo and himself――he was not aiming to engage in close combat.
His broadaxes drew a wide arc upon being thrown, transforming into discs of death as they advanced on Ricardo.
Hurling the broadaxes was a move that brought certain death to their enemies, who would have taken a desperate measure, because they had not been able to break through Diddley’s art of stealth. ――In order to deal with four attacks coming from four different directions at the same time, four arms were required.
Diddley: [I’ll kill you, and then I’ll show off your pelt to that girl. What kind of face do you think she will make?]
Laughing cruelly, Diddley spoke of the unsavory future actions, to be performed after he finished his job. Unable to put up with him any further, after having heard the contents of his speech and having looked at his expression, Ricardo opened his mouth wide.
――To subdue his opponent’s lethal attack, Ricardo decided to play his strongest card as well.
Opening his jaws, that were lined with sharp teeth, Ricardo released a roar of destruction in front of himself.
The very air rumbled, and the earth was turned over from the quaking din. The spinning broadaxes were blown away, swallowed by the massive shockwave, and the wave of sound landed a direct hit on Diddley, staining his giant frame with blood.
His eyes widened from the unforeseen attack, Diddley tilted his head, his face covered with blood.
There, Ricardo lunged at him without a single pause in his movements, mercilessly swinging the machete he had carried on his shoulder.
The machete stabbed into the berserker’s thick neck, sending his large physique flying along with the fur he wore, much to Ricardo’s satisfaction, and caused a blood flower to bloom.
The sound of bones and flesh being squashed out of shape overlapped, and the berserker crashed down onto the ground.
Diddley: [Amazing… I was… fascinated by your… performance…]
His neck broken, Diddley uttered that out with a smile, letting out one, final breath of joy before he fell silent.
――That was the end of the Muggers’ Trading Company, the evil that had grown rampant within the city of Banan.
The day after the incident, Ricardo and Anastasia were in the chairman’s office of the Chuden Trading Company.
Sitting on the sofa and sipping some ryokucha, Ricardo sighed as he finished giving his job report to Chuden.
Ricardo: [So, we got rid of the fellows who were up to no good. We also retrieved Ana-bo, and our losses… ain’t that big a deal.]
Chuden: [It appears so. It seems like a lot of unexpected situations were piled on top of each other, but…]
Having listened to the detailed account of the whole event, Chuden, sitting on the opposite side of Ricardo, nodded deeply. Receiving his somewhat inarticulate response, Ricardo wrinkled his nose with, “What,”
Ricardo: [You’re puttin’ it ambiguously. Do ya have any complaints or somethin’ ‘gainst m…]
Anastasia: [Of course! Do ya have any idea of the dreadful experience I went through because of ya? Ya deserve a pay cut! A pay cut! Be strict with him, Chuden-san!]
Ricardo: [Ghn… I already said I’m sorry, haven’t I, Ana-bo…]
Ricardo’s expression clouded over as Anastasia continued ranting right beside him. Chuden had also shrugged his shoulders in exasperation, and Ricardo sincerely felt bad for his mistake this time.
Thanks to Anastasia’s quick wits, they had succeeded in annihilating the Muggers’ Trading Company.
However, having listened to how it all began, listened to the details of Anastasia being captured by the slave traders――Ricardo felt deeply indebted to her.
He hadn’t expected that acting on the mercy in his heart to end up backfiring. The predicament that Anastasia went through during the whole incident was a consequence of Ricardo’s carelessness, and therefore, completely his fault.
Ricardo: [But, we were able to shut down the Razcrew Tradin’ Company thanks to it…]
Anastasia: [Think about what’cha did!]
Ricardo: [Yes, I’m sorry! I’ll work hard to make sure nothin’ like this ever happens again…]
Ricardo flattened his ears against his head, apologizing to Anastasia, who was fuming. Looking at their interactions, Chuden burst into laughter.
Chuden: [Jeez, ya two are… no, I understand. For the matter in hand, the credit will go to Anastasia. For Ricardo-dono, well, consider it somewhere between receiving credit and your mission being labeled as failure.]
Anastasia: [You’re too soft, really. Uncle’s gonna get ahead of himself!]
Chuden: [If that’s so, then it’s alright if ya discipline him strictly.]
Anastasia: [Aah, yes, understood. I’ll discipline him strictly!]
Looking as if she had received official permission from Chuden to do so, Anastasia glanced sideways at Ricardo.
Her eyes made him anxious of the coming future, but at the same time, those were the eyes of a girl who had “liberated the stronghold.” Ricardo was also proud, since it proved he had made the right choice regarding her.
Chuden: [Anyway, Anastasia, ya did an excellent job in connecting the dots between the slave traders and the brigands. Where did ya find out such a thing? Did ya hear them spill it on accident?]
Anastasia: [Ah, uhm, it’s not a big deal. They had a leader standin’ at the top, didn’t they? I remembered seein’ the jinglin’, shiny stuff he wore.]
Chuden: [Ya recall seeing his accessories?]
Anastasia: [I just remembered seein’ those while I was workin’ as a helper. And, I thought the incident had been all about the customers, who were buyin’ and sellin’ them, then bein’ raided by the bandits, based on what ya and Uncle were talking about. And then… I imagined maybe that’s why the gang of bandits that Uncle was lookin’ for couldn’t be found. In the first place, I thought it was strange that, for a bunch of bandits, they were goin’ after products that were hard to sell out before the price dropped, so…]
Chuden held his breath, hearing Anastasia speak as if she had merely been lucky.
Beside her, Ricardo had also been left speechless by her bizarre way of connecting her ideas. What was even more terrifying than that, it was not the fact she had reached the correct answer using her eccentric way of thinking, but the method she used to deliver that answer to Ricardo.
Anastasia: [The siblings who were captured along with me… ah, they’re cat-humans, but when the older sister was bein’ beaten, the younger brother’s cheeks were also swelling up for some reason. I thought they were linked together through a Divine Protection. Then, they said they had one more siblin’ outside.]
Chuden: […So, to make the map appear on the other sibling’s body, ya etched the map into the body of the sibling ya were with?]
Anastasia: [I’m glad I was able to take a single look at the map here. Thanks to that, I could draw it pretty accurately.]
The fact that she had been able to draw out the map she had only gotten a glance of, and a very precise one to boot, was not of much importance to Anastasia. Staring at the sky out of the window in the wolf carriage, measuring their location and the distance they had travelled by looking at the position and height of the sun, listening to the number of times the wheels rotated, and using those to add on to the map made out of injuries, were considered as trivial to her as well.
Once they had pinpointed where the slave traders were hiding during the night, in the camping grounds, it was certain victory for the mercenaries, the uncertain variable known as Diddley excluded. Anastasia had been the key figure for all of that.
Ricardo: [Though, how could ya do that inside a carriage that held ya captive…]
Anastasia: [On that luggage platform, the wall’d be warm where the sunlight hit it, and I’d been countin’ the time ever since the bell rang durin’ noon. And because I did all of that, the locations on the map were perfect, right?]
Ricardo: [Oh, uuh, you’re right…]
Ricardo nodded slowly. Just as she had said, perhaps it was not that impressive if she had done those one by one.
However, counting every second to keep track of time, ascertaining their direction from the position of the sun and the angle of the sun’s rays, coming up with a plan to escape, and engraving a clear-cut map that existed in her memories into a human body, accomplishing such things simultaneously was normally impossible. And she had done it all by herself, so what were he and Chuden able to say?
Chuden: [Well, well… you’re really beyond what I imagined.]
Chuden seemed extremely satisfied about Anastasia, who innocently cocked her head sideways. He was the man who had noticed her resourcefulness, pulling her into his trading company from her former position as the poster girl of a tavern. He could not help smiling about her actions that had allowed him to recover what he had invested, and his conviction that his eyes hadn’t deceived him.
However, Ricardo was deeply concerned about Chuden’s expectations, fearing them as dangerous and risky.
That’s why he deliberately spoke in a loud voice, rubbing Anastasia’s head roughly.
Ricardo: [Well, I guess she was really beyond what we all imagined. I didn’t expect Ana-bo to crush the enemy’s captain before I came to save her, and even treat him like a slave! I’m astonished!]
Anastasia: [Th, that couldn’t be helped! I thought it was dangerous outside, so I had to secure our safety inside… Also, he brought it upon himself since he’s a slave trader… Stop that! My hair’s goin’ all over the place!]
When Ricardo had gone to pick her up, Anastasia had already placed a slave’s collar onto the leader of the enemy, splendidly giving him a taste of his own medicine. There was no sweeter revenge than a slave trader having a slave’s collar fastened around his neck.
Ricardo: [I promised I’ll entrust the handlin’ of my collar to ya, but maybe I was too hasty.]
Anastasia: [Don’t make fun of me! Even if it’s a verbal agreement, I’ll protect it with my lifeeee. What the heck are ya sayin’!]
Ricardo laughed while showing his fangs to Anastasia, who shouted at him with a reddened face.
He had omitted it from the report, but considering she was acting like this, then it was probably wiser for him to shut his mouth about Anastasia bawling and jumping onto him the moment she saw him come to pick her up.
Chuden appeared to be dumbfounded by their exchange. Since the focus of the conversation had veered off from Anastasia’s achievements, he thought he should put an end to it for now.
Chuden: [By the way, about the little cat-humans… the siblings that cooperated with the arrest of the culprit… Where might they be?]
Finally, Chuden asked them about the people who had contributed greatly to their cause, noticing that they were absent despite having been brought up several times during their conversation. Ricardo and Anastasia both frowned at the question.
Ricardo: [About that… I’m not sure. There’s no doubt the eldest sister treated the injuries of her two little brothers with her Healin’ Magic, but…]
Anastasia: [She said, “Justice does not ask for anything in return~!” and just… left.]
Chuden’s inquiries were shared by Ricardo and Anastasia.
The three siblings, who had made a significant contribution to the extermination of the Muggers’ Trading Company, did not seek any rewards nor words of gratitude, and had disappeared as the morning sun rose, the sister carrying her brothers and dashing off gallantly. No, they had returned to the entrance of the city with Ricardo and the others, so they should be somewhere around Banan, but…
Ricardo: [Allies of justice… do those kids know what it means?]
Anastasia: [Of course they do… I hope. It’s true that I was saved by their justice and courage, and I think I’ll be able to meet them again somewhere.]
Those siblings were incredibly loud, so they would probably be easily found if one went on the search for them. However, what Anastasia wished to say was definitely not that.
Ricardo crossed his arms, responding to the smiling Anastasia with, “Right.”
Hearing that, Anastasia stretched out her body. And then,
Anastasia: [Well then, since I got an extra, unnecessary day off, I’m goin’ back to work.]
Ricardo: [Wait a minute! Ya know what happened yesterday and today. Do ya have enough energy to…]
Anastasia: [But I’ve been asleep the entire time. If you’re the bodyguard of this company, then ya should get back to work too, Uncle! Ya need to make sure you’ll never make a blunder like this one again!]
Being pulled by the hair on his arms, Ricardo was shoved out of the room by the small girl.
Once he had finished giving his report, he planned on chugging some alcohol and lazing around. However, such an insignificant wish failed to reach the ears of the enthusiastic girl.
Anastasia: [Your price fell from this huge blunder, right? Then the day I can buy ya ain’t that far away!]
With a wide grin popping across her face, the girl shamelessly daydreamed of human trafficking.
Feeling like he had been reduced to a harmless creature by her smile, Ricardo, ashamed, blew out a sigh.
He supposed being told that he was going soft was only natural, since hearing what she said made him feel good.
Filled with deep emotion, Ricardo scratched his head, and followed behind Anastasia.
Sunlight on the Water
Original Translation by Negi ― Link
One day, in the early afternoon, it started with a declaration that came out of nowhere.
Priscilla: [――Al, I am bored. You shall commence something that is of my interest.]
Al: [Hey hey, Princess. Even a tyrant will be surprised by your opening sentence. I can’t keep up with you either, if you don’t change the pacing of your speech depending on the situation. What was that?]
Priscilla: [I am bored. You shall commence something that is of my interest. If you are unable to do so, I shall lop your head off.]
Al: [Huh!? Isn’t there no doubt that you’re being a tyrant?]
Al shouted with a muffled voice, holding up both of his hands and gazing up at the sky.
Leaning against the iron fence on the balcony, when he stared intently at the magnificent, blue sky, he saw the clouds flow quickly across the wide expanse as they were blown by the wind. Absentmindedly thinking that tomorrow’s weather might worsen――right after that, the tip of Al’s chin, who was leaning backwards, was pushed by a strong force.
Al: [Dah! Whoa! Gyah!]
Just like that, Al’s unsupported body half-rotated, using the fence as a fixed fulcrum. Coming dangerously close to being thrown out into the air, he immediately grabbed onto something with his right arm, desperately pulling over the soft and smooth sensation towards himself.
Al: [Th, tha, that was close! Right now, I was totally wandering on the border between life and death…]
Priscilla: [Unfortunately, your crisis is ongoing nonetheless… no, your current situation is more dangerous.]
While looking at the garden that was located right below the balcony, right as Al breathed out a sigh of relief, he was told that he was in more danger than before. Letting out a silly voice, Al returned his gaze to the balcony. And then, on the other side of the iron fence, he saw the pale arm that he had hastily clutched onto――the owner of the arm, smiling sadistically.
She was a girl with orange hair, clothed in a red dress that boldly exposed her luscious skin. Effortlessly supporting Al’s body with her left arm that was in his grasp, she extended her delicate, pale fingers towards him,
Al: [Pri-Princess!? Princess! With a more merciful heart, please hear me out! I only have one thing to ask of you, I promise!]
Priscilla: [Although it was only for a few seconds, you shall embrace the honor of touching my exquisite, gem-like skin, and sink to the bottom.]
Along with the cruel pronouncement, the fingers on his right hand were forced off as if they were repelled from her arm. What she did was basically a flick to the forehead, only that she did it on his fingers instead, but the speed and power of the flick was in a different league. A shrill sound resonated, and the force of it sent his whole body airborne.
Blown backwards with the feeling of floating in the air taking control over his body, while remaining upside down――he was plunged headfirst into a body of water, submerging below the surface.
???: [Ri, ri, ri, right now! I feel like Al-sama has fallen into the pond!]
Priscilla: [Oh, Schult. You have shown your face at the right moment. Here, I have a desire for tea, so you shall promptly prepare it. It is your job. Do not make me wait.]
Schult: [Y-yes! Of course! But, Al-sama also looks like he is in trouble!]
With bubbles floating out from the gaps in his helmet, Al sank down into the rather deep water. In the distance, he could hear the concerned voice of the boy, as well as a boisterous laugh that came from the girl who was using his predicament as an appetizer for her boredom.
――I wonder what the heck I’m doing.
Thinking that, Al kicked out at the bottom of the pond, propelling himself up to the surface with a powerful thrust.
At the southwest area of the Dragon Kingdom of Lugunica, this place was known as the Barielle Barony, which was governed by Baron Leip Barielle.
Leip, the lord of the domain, had laid down a rule of tyranny that was hated by all of his people. He had also imposed heavy taxes and made excessive labor mandatory, which caused the Barielle Domain to be referred to as a penal colony on one occasion.
However, during these few months, the bad reputation of the Barielle Domain had disappeared into the shadows. Far from that, rumors were circulating around, saying that the relations between the lord of the domain and the people were at an all-time high in recent years.
All of that was because of Leip, who had a change of heart after taking a young, intelligent, and beautiful woman as his wife, the fruit of him starting to make dedicated efforts for his people――not. Every one of the people knew that wasn’t the case.
The change had occurred not in his heart, but the lord of the domain himself. Namely, although Leip had been managing his domain, he came down with an illness, so his wife, who became the lord of the domain on his behalf, had improved the domain’s relations with her own ability.
Since Leip had fallen ill, the fate of his territory was entrusted in the hands of the elegant woman, replacing Leip’s position as the new lord of the domain. Her talents were regarded as something that was divine, and she had captured the hearts of the people all at once.
Taking the place of the previous lord that continuously exploited his people, was a female lord who administered a reign that supported her people. With her unprecedented, dignified beauty, as well as her frequent observations of the territory that made her easy to approach, the people of the Barielle Domain were captivated by her existence.
That was the reputation of the compassionate woman, admired and praised by the people as the “Sun Princess.”
Al: […If word gets out that the Sun Princess tried to drown her attendant by kicking him into the pond, I have no idea what the people are gonna think about that.]
Priscilla: [Do not speak of something that is scandalous as that. To begin with, the dead do not have a mouth to make their voice heard… Comparing the claims of you, a ruffian who is as good as a suspicious man, and the beautiful me, who do you think will the people believe?]
Al: [What you said right now is especially scandalous, without a doubt!]
Al asserted with a thumbs up, while sitting cross-legged near the pond at the garden of the mansion.
He was drenched in water from head to toe due to being submerged in the pond, and his clothes, let alone his underwear were soaked as well. Exposing his zori to the sun by taking them off, the upper half of Al’s body became naked as he took his vest off, struggling to wring it out.
Putting the fabric in between his chin and chest, he used his right arm to squeeze it forcefully. It was only natural that he was having a hard time twisting the water out of his clothes, as he was one-armed, since his left arm wasn’t at where it should be.
Schult: [Al-sama, I will squeeze it! Please leave it to me!]
Unable to stand by and watch Al continue struggling, the young boy decided to raise his voice. Having a tender and adorable face and wearing a small butler uniform, his appearance was heartwarming because it looked like he was trying to do something that he couldn’t do just yet.
However, even such feelings were――,
Priscilla: [Halt. It will be troublesome if your fingers were roughened from carrying out washing such as that. Shall your comfortability deteriorate, I will immediately dismiss you from the position of lying by my side.]
Schult: [Wah, wah, wah! Priscilla-sama, I will be surprised if you hugged me so suddenly…!]
Just as she took him in her arms from behind, the boy with a reddened face――Schult, shrunk into himself. Looking at his embarrassed expression as he was being tucked into the girl’s arms, it was a mystery how the smile-provoking impression that he had given earlier had changed into an immoral feel, to the extent that it was almost strange.
Priscilla: [What, Al? For what reason are you staring at us absent-mindedly with an idiotic look on your face?]
Saying that, the orange-haired girl who had Schult in her arms smiled daringly.
She was certainly the sun――someone with radiant beauty so bright that it would blind the eyes of the people who laid their eyes upon her. Orange hair that shimmered in the sunlight and eyes that were of flames that blazed fiercely. With the engrossing charm that she had, as well as her refined limbs that were exposed without regret, she enthralled the hearts of those who saw her, regardless of if they were a man or a woman.
A girl that left an impression so strong, that even her red dress didn’t look good enough compared to her. She was the very Sun Princess who managed the domain in place of her husband, Priscilla Barielle herself.
Al: [Ah, no, I was just double-checking that oneshota is nice, yeah. Thank you for the meal.]
Priscilla: [Again, that is a word that I do not know of. Is that another one of your hometown’s “Great Waterfall Language” or whatever it is?]
Al: [Yeah. Also, there’s water here and there in my helmet, and it’s hard to see what’s in front of me. It’s like that.]
Lining up vague excuses, Al put his hand on his helmet, making it ring as he adjusted it. The clacking sound came from the welded part of the black steel helmet that he always wore on his head.
Schult, still held in Priscilla’s arms, widened his eyes as he watched Al fiddle with his helmet.
Schult: [Helmet! Your helmet will rust if you leave it like that! If your helmet is gone, then you will be headless! It’s scary! You need to dry it quickly!]
Al: [Your misunderstanding is cute, but it’s not my head’s made out of iron, so I won’t be headless, y’know? And there’s no need to worry about this helmet getting rusty anyway.]
Schult: [Eh? It will not rust? You also have a head… it’s a little bit disappointing.]
Al: [I don’t know what part of it is disappointing, Schult-chan.]
Al smiled wryly at Schult, who seemed saddened for some reason, and then slapped the water out of his helmet by hitting it.
Al: [This helmet’s been specially made. It’s something that I have quite a connection with, see that?]
Priscilla: [Huh, that is the first I have ever heard about it. Where have you stolen it?]
Al: [Why is your first choice “steal”!? Come on, put more faith in me!]
Priscilla: [I cannot think that someone of your resourcefulness is able to buy something of that caliber. Where have you stolen it?]
Al: [It’s from the Gladiators Colosseum that I was in a long time ago――! But, it’s not like I stole it! It’s just that when I was running away from that place, a kindhearted guy gave it to me. It was being displayed in the Colosseum, so I think it’s a pretty decently made helmet. Maybe.]
The moment the word “Gladiator” popped up in Al’s explanation, sorrow flitted across Schult’s expression for a brief moment. However, the attitude of Priscilla, who didn’t even bat an eye despite hearing the same word, made Al a little bit happy.
Priscilla: [You were one of the Gladiators at Vollachia, indeed. If that is so, then you must be from somewhere on the Gladiator Island Ginunhive. That helmet would be an item associated with the Gladiator King, or more accurately, a replica.]
Al: [I can’t even hide anything from a knowledgeable human! Yeah, you’re right, I was forced to work at the Gladiator Island for so long. I also dropped my left hand there. The helmet’s the alternative for my severance pay.]
Al spat out in such a manner, half-sulking at the fact that his personal history had gotten profoundly exposed. Anyway, setting aside where he came from, it was true that his helmet was specially made. There was no need to take it off and dry it.
Al: [So, it’s no use even if you make a curious face like that, Schult-chan.]
Schult: [Ah, um, I am not actually curious about it! Men aren’t all about their faces!]
Al: [That isn’t even a follow up! And it hurt me unnecessarily!]
Failing to console Al, Schult’s shoulders sagged dejectedly. Patting the boy’s head, when Priscilla casted a sidelong glance at the helmeted man,
Priscilla: [What, a man’s value is not determined by his face alone, however, his face is one of the standards that ultimately decides his worth. Schult, you are also to not forget that you had gained my favor because of your lovable appearance. You must hold back your growth as much as possible. Also, I will be unforgiving of any unwanted hair.]
Al: [At least make it an order that he could work out somehow by putting in effort, Princess.]
Schult: [I-I will do my best…!]
Al: [See! Schult-chan’s straightforward, so he believed it.]
As Schult made his declaration while clenching his fists, Al gave him a pitying look. However, to Schult, devoting himself to Priscilla was something that was pretty much the same as his reason to live. It would be insensitive to get in the way.
After choosing which direction her attendant would be going down with a casual remark, Priscilla drew out her fan from her cleavage. No matter how many times Al saw the same gesture, it was a bold hiding place that was also pleasing to the eye, but Priscilla covered her mouth with the fan, and,
Priscilla: [Hm, the boredom that had been diverted has returned. Al, before long, you shall provide your next act of entertainment. I have enjoyed seeing you drown in the water. Next shall be… hmm, shall you dance atop a fire?]
Al: [Ohh, that’s a good idea. I also felt like drying my clothes right now, hey, idiot!]
Priscilla: [Despite being about to accept it once, why have you come to your senses so abruptly? What was that, right now?]
Al: [I’m just playing the straight man after pretending to go along with the silly man, but don’t make me explain. You’re gonna shave down my heart.]
When Al shrunk bank, discouraged, he could see that Priscilla’s mood was starting to tilt towards the sullen side. She was as fickle as a cat, but she was far more violent than one. That was what was scary about his master.
Al tilted his head to the side in contemplation, unsure of what to do although he wanted to humor her in some way or other.
Priscilla: [As a jester who serves to entertain me, you shall always remain conscious of your minimum duty. Adhere to Schult’s example. If it were my words, that one has the willingness to accomplish it, whatever it is.]
Al: [That’s way too much of an unreasonable demand.]
Priscilla: [It is not. Schult, tell me a story that will alleviate my boredom. Right now, at this place.]
Schult: [Eh!? Ah, yes, I will do my best. Umm, umm…]
Since Al couldn’t comply with her wishes, Schult was chosen to be on the receiving end of Priscilla’s tyranny instead. Seeing the boy thinking as hard as he could to come up with something was starting to weigh heavily on his conscience, so he attempted to stop it, but――,
Schult: [Ah! I remember one thing! Just a while ago, a housemaid-san was talking about a rumor.]
His face brightening up, Schult spoke with his hand raised in the air.
Schult: [I heard that there’s been many cases of people going missing, in a village that’s at the south of the domain! There’s a forest near the village, and it’s said that anyone who comes close to the spring will not be able to return! It’s a rumor about the “Nightmare of Ladrima.” Ooh, it’s scary!]
Al: [What the heck? With you saying stuff about me being headless and all, do you like stories about hollows or somethin’?]
Smiling wryly at the realization of Schult’s unexpected interest in hollows, Al let the water fall out from the gaps in his helmet. After that, letting out a metallic clunk from the welded part of it, when he turned to Priscilla with a “Hey, Princess,”
Priscilla: [The village in the south, “Nightmare of Ladrima,” a spring that causes people to disappear… I see.]
Seeing Priscilla muttering wearily made Al have a bad feeling about it.
And so, the bad feeling that he had became a reality before he could make a move.
Priscilla said, closing her fan and pointing the tip of it towards Al and Schult,
Priscilla: [It will be enough to relieve my boredom. Why don’t I resolve that incident by my own hand!]
Fully motivated and completely willing to stick her nose in a troublesome matter, Priscilla beamed, her smile as brilliant as the sun.
――Ladrima, the village that was located in the southern area of the Barielle Barony, was a normal village that could be found anywhere.
Far away from the kingdom’s main highways, any signs of its development were thin. It was nothing more than one of the many villages that existed within the domain, and the only thing that was slightly popular about it was its flowers, which were the village’s speciality. The villagers lived their lives with little change because they liked it that way. Because of that, in the present day, Ladrima Village was thrown into an uproar due to the strange incidents that rarely happened to them.
Al: […Well, that’s why I said that we should disguise ourselves before coming here.]
Priscilla: [Do not utter such foolish things. Why is it necessary for me to disguise myself and elude the attention of the people? There is not a reason that exists for me to feel ashamed. The commoners shall burn my influence into their memories to their heart’s content.]
Al: [I’m saying that it’s to make sure we don’t stand out, not about feeling ashamed, but… I guess it can’t be helped now.]
Scratching the back of his neck, Al sighed at the gazes that were directed towards them. All the staring was coming from Ladrima’s villgers, who were surprised by the intruders that appeared so suddenly, which was a reasonable reaction.
After all, the Dragon Carriage that pulled up to the village was embellished by gold, silver, and jewelry, which was basically the exteriorized form of a nouveau riche’s tastes.
Along with a vivid, eloquent golden Carriage, if an extraordinarily beautiful girl came into view in addition to that, it was only fair that the villagers would be confused, unsure of what was going on.
Just as Al had thought, a large portion of the villagers’ astonishment were directed towards Priscilla and the Dragon Carriage, but he wasn’t aware that quite a few of them were staring at the one-armed, helmeted man with an eccentric outfit.
If it was the case of standing out, then the master and servant were similar in that sense. Anyway,
Al: [Firstly, the basis of an investigation is making steady progress by gathering information from people, but…]
Priscilla: [Slow and steady investigations do not suit me. We shall immediately head towards the spring that was brought up earlier.]
Al: [I thought that you’d say that! Schult-chan, can you keep company with her?]
Since his master hated the sound of words such as “slow and steady,” as well as “little by little,” it seemed like she had no intention to follow the ironclad rules of investigation. With Priscilla already having grown tired of waiting, Al tried to entrust her to Schult, who was also accompanying her.
However, there was no response from him. Al turned around, only to see the young butler running his eyes over a large book with his undivided attention, while making a solemn expression on his face.
Schult: [Ahh! Ah, I’m sorry! I was too focused on the book!]
Al: [Scolding you with “That’s neglect of duty!” can wait. What’s that book?]
Schult: [Priscilla-sama gave it to me! She said that it would be useful if I remembered the stories when she is bored… She told me to keep reading it until I can recite it.]
As Schult had only recently learned how to read and write, he was struggling with the major challenge that had been given to him, to the point that smoke might erupt from his head at any moment. Priscilla’s fickle and self-indulgent actions were a common occurrence, but Al still felt bad for Schult, since the boy was at the mercy of her whims.
Al: [Princess, what did you teach Schult-chan this time? I feel sorry for him.]
Priscilla: [Knowledge will aid one’s life. Schult has a myriad of things that he must learn. Do not measure it with your pathetically small standards at your own discretion. However, I will not deny your feeling of wanting to admire a teary-eyed, assiduous Schult.]
While covering her mouth with her fan, Priscilla casted a sidelong glance at Schult. Her thoughtfully arranged plans were extremely difficult to find out. It also included the possibility of the “plan” not even existing, however.
Al: [Schult-chan’ll need to stay strong. Though, the villagers’ restlessness will probably reach its limit pretty soon. We should really explain the whole thing to them.]
Priscilla: [In addition to that, you will be gathering information from the people slowly but steadily, you are saying? Well, I suppose that is alright. Until Schult finishes reading his book, I shall make an exception and go with you.]
Priscilla accepted Al’s apprehensive suggestion without protesting, much to his surprise. Before she changed her mind, he raised his hand while facing the people who were gathering around them at a distance,
Al: [Sorry for surprising you guys. We aren’t anyone suspicious. We might not look like it, but please think of us as something like an investigative team. Recently, there’s a couple of incidents that’s been occurring around this village, right? We’re here to investigate it.]
Gesturing towards the three people in the group, including himself as he clarified the purpose of their visit, the villagers exchanged glances with each other.
Putting it honestly, there was no persuasiveness in what he said. Along with his claim that they weren’t suspicious, and the investigative team that consisted of a woman, child, and a helmeted man, there were too many dubious points. Al was already prepared for the information gathering to become complicated and arduous.
???: [The woman by your side… I may sound rude if I say this, but is she the Sun Princess?]
The person that tentatively stepped forward was a man with short hair with a few gray hairs mixed in, who looked close to being middle-aged. He gazed at Priscilla, as if he was acting as the representative of the villagers’ opinions.
Receiving his gaze, Priscilla gave a small sniff, along with a “Hmph,”
Priscilla: [Not once have I ever called myself with that name. However, it is true that the commoners within the domain have been regarding me fondly as such. If you gaze at my eminent beauty that is identical to the sun, it is a reasonable conclusion nonetheless.]
Man: [――Ohh, just as I thought!]
The man’s eyes shone as he heard Priscilla’s words, which were rather excessively self-conscious. And then, his astonishment and amazement having been transmitted to the other villagers, they all kneeled down simultaneously.
Man: [To, to think that the Sun Princess would actually visit us! We were consulting the surrounding villages about the spring, but…]
Priscilla: [It was passed from one place to another, and it has finally reached my ears. I have arrived at this village in person because of that. Surely, I am able to expect that you will not waste my effort in coming here by feigning ignorance, saying that it is a matter that has been already dealt with?]
Man: [Ye, yes!]
Taking control of the village’s will within an instant, Priscilla gazed over at the kneeling villagers with satisfaction. After that, she turned around to face Al, who stood still the whole time,
Priscilla: [Here. What are you doing, Al? Making slow and steady progress is your task. I shall be displaying my authority like this. While I am doing that, you shall promptly fulfill your role.]
Al: [That’s fine by me, but… I dunno, but I’m not satisfied with that!]
When he went along with Priscilla to do something, there were times that Al seriously doubted if he was making the right call, or was actually mistaken. It was probably because he had never seen her fail.
Priscilla: [Naturally. After all, this world is made to be convenient to myself.]
Saying her signature phrase dauntlessly, Priscilla laughed as she gave Al a supportive push on the back.
Afterwards, thanks to the obedient and cooperative villagers, the gathering of information progressed quite smoothly.
Al: [There’s a forest next to the village, and there’s a spring in it. And, during these two months, they say that the people that headed for the spring all disappeared one after another. First, it was a villager, then it was the person who went to look for the missing villager, and then it was someone who stopped by, and then…]
Priscilla: [An unusual rumor had been spread, and once in a several days, there will be someone who would approach the spring and then vanish. ――What a peculiar, absurd idea it is.]
Priscilla narrowed her eyes against the information that had been gathered from the villagers, which was organized and presented to her in a straightforward manner. She sounded terribly bored, but Al had the same opinion as her.
Undoubtedly, it was no more than the saying: “a mummy hunter becoming a mummy” consequently happening in real life.
Al: [They also said that they sent out search parties from the village over and over again, but the end result was always terrible. Apparently, the forest becomes foggy, and they were alone when they realized it. There were also instances of some managing to come back safely, but some people also don’t come back. So, that’s how a missing person incident happens consecutively.]
Priscilla: [That is not enough of a reason for the continuous damage that has been done to this village. The foolish commoners who dare to venture into a dangerous forest, are surely not limited to the people in this village. What lured in the outsiders?]
As expected, Priscilla was looking at things differently. Impressed by what she focused on, Al whistled to express it, but his whistle didn’t give out any sound. Before he incurred Priscilla’s displeasure with the noise that sounded like a hoarse sigh, he cleared his throat with an “Ahem,”
Al: [This is the masterpiece. It’s about this spring, but it was exaggerated even before the rumors were spread. Approaching the spring, you will be swallowed up by the fog. If you manage to pass through it… supposedly, you can meet the dead.]
Priscilla: [――Huh. Meeting the dead, I see.]
Al: [There’s also rumors of it being connected to the afterlife or whatever, but both of them are a bunch of nonsense. But, unexpectedly, there’s no end to the amount of people that are being tricked by that rumor. As of now, only a few dozen people fell victim to it, but it could turn into a major incident if the numbers keep increasing.]
If the source of the rumors――the root of all evil wasn’t resolved quickly, then it could develop into a situation where the country has no choice but to move. Once that happens, even if the issue was settled, Priscilla’s capabilities as the lord of the domain would be questioned.
As someone who was waiting to participate in the Royal Selection, it would be preferred if she was prevented from being put in a bad position. Thinking from that point of view, Schult’s choice to pick up the rumor of the incident was absolutely correct. Because of that, they were able to make moves that were necessary to solve the problem.
Al: [What do we do, Princess? Forming a quick investigative team and stamping out the issue could be one choice we could make…]
Priscilla: [Obviously, we shall immediately head into the forest and inspect the actual spring. If it is a problem that I am able to settle, then I shall put an end to it with my own hands. Are there no objections?]
Al: [Are you serious? By heading into the forest, you mean… you would go in there? Bugs might jump outta there, y’know?]
Priscilla: [Fool. Is that enough of a reason for me to withdraw from it? First of all, my radiant authority repels the likes of insects.]
Declaring something that couldn’t really be asserted as a lie, Priscilla appeared to be fully motivated to enter the forest.
That wasn’t a decision that was meant to be praiseworthy, since Al knew that Priscilla didn’t say that just because she wanted to deal with the problem right away. It was just that he thought that she seemed rather proactive in resolving the issue. Unlike her usual self, she was being supportive.
However, the level of Al’s bewilderment was not as much as the villagers that just heard of Priscilla’s plan.
The idea that the representative of the lord of the domain, Priscilla, would be directly venturing into the forest, provoked a type of perplexity that made them feel like their world was turned upside down. Panicking and all flustered, the villagers attempted to stop her from doing so.
Man: [We, we cannot let the Sun Princess do such a dangerous thing! If you insist that you must go, then we will follow you! Every villager will aid…]
Al: [Wait, wait, wait, wait! I know that you’re worried, but every villager!? Don’t be ridiculous. We won’t be able to move a muscle if a huge crowd comes with us!]
Al spoke up, alarmed when the chief of the village lost his cool, but it seemed like the man wasn’t the only person to believe in the reckless plea that he made on the spot. The villagers genuinely looked ready to accompany Priscilla.
The chief gripped his fist tightly, a slight tremor in his voice.
Man: [The previous era of the lord of the domain felt like hell. Words are not enough to describe our gratitude towards you, the Sun Princess, who is now governing the domain instead of that lord. At least, please let us be your meat shields!]
Priscilla: [Hm, hm. That way of thinking is not bad. You are doing quite well for a band of commoners. Do not forget the loyalty that you are pledging to me.]
Al: [Is it the time to be saying that!?]
Priscilla sounded content, but it would only be troubling and burdensome even if they brought along a ton of people who were unable to fight.
Using his vocabulary to its fullest extent, Al struggled to cajole the villagers into stopping them from providing their assistance.
Al: [We really appreciate that you guys feel that way, but there’s no point in overloading ourselves with meat shields. The Sun Princess wishes for you guys to stay here quietly, waiting for good news.]
Priscilla: [That is quite a convenient interpretation of my words.]
Al: [The Sun Princess wishes for you people of the domain to remain safe! Hurrah, long live the Sun Princess!]
Villagers: [L-long live the Sun Princess――!]
When Al lifted his arms into the air with desperation, the villagers were enticed into doing the same whilst raising their voice. The situation was being developed way too forcefully, but with this, Al hoped that he was able to put a stop to the villagers’ self-sacrifice.
After that, all they had to do was hurry up and leave before the villagers came to their senses.
Al: [Let’s go, Princess. Life is limited, but the possibilities are infinite. Let’s go to a hopeful tomorrow.]
Priscilla: [Mh, let’s go, was it? That is a new word from the “Great Waterfall Language.” I like the sound of it.]
When Al gently tugged at Priscilla’s hand, she followed him without getting angry nor protesting. Behind her, Schult was still grappling with the contents of the book, following them while looking like his head was going to explode at any moment.
Priscilla: [Well then, we shall be settling the situation promptly. Let’s go.]
Using the newly-learnt word, Priscilla authorized the departure of the Dragon Carriage in a good mood.
The villagers saw through the gold-adorned Carriage’s departure, giving Priscilla their three rounds of cheers all the while.
The forest with the spring in question had a peculiar ambience that floated around it, as if it was rejecting any person from entering it.
Whether it was due to the problem of the spring that was happening, or whether it was something unique to the forest that was there from the start, whichever it was, there was no mistaking that something malevolent was permeating the area.
Al: [Well, we’re ignoring that and trespassing on the forest without hesitation, though.]
Al muttered out calmly, while treading on the grass that peeked out from the ground and straining his eyes at the overgrown trees.
Several dozen minutes after departing from Ladrima, the group of three had arrived at their destination, and had already begun their investigation whilst trampling on the ground. Of course, they couldn’t ride through the forest in the Dragon Carriage, so the inspection was being conducted on foot.
Al walked at the front, using his Blue Dragon Sword to make a path by cutting down the greenery that blocked their way. They marched ahead in a way that the two people behind him were following after his footsteps, which were made by the firm steps of his zori. Anyway,
Al: [Wasn’t it better to leave Schult-chan at the Dragon Carriage, together with the driver?]
Turning his head to the side, Al spoke to the two people behind him――Priscilla, who was boldly heading further into the forest with her high-heeled shoes, and Schult, who was timidly tagging along while linking arms with her.
Upon hearing those words, the look on Schult’s face morphed into an apologetic one. On the contrary, Priscilla glowered at Al,
Priscilla: [Fool. If Schult had been left at the Dragon Carriage, then I cannot see the point in bringing him with us. I am able to discern that you wish to be alone with me in the dark, but you think too much with the lower half of your body.]
Al: [I didn’t make that suggestion out of immoral thoughts! It’s made out of the purer upper half of my body!]
Schult: [It’s, it’s alright! I will do my best so that I will not inconvenience both of you… ah! I will fall down! Muh! I endured it!]
Priscilla: [Hm, well done, Schult. I shall praise you for that.]
Unlike Al, who had gotten his suggestion brushed aside, Schult looked delighted, complimented by Priscilla after nearly tripping over. It wasn’t like he was jealous. Perhaps, maybe.
Rather than that, the slow pace they were walking at and the tense atmosphere was a larger issue to him. The uproar about the spring didn’t draw too much of his interest, but he was getting stressed by how sluggish and leisurely they were being.
Al: [Why don’t we just torch the forest? That way, it’ll be quick and easy ’cause the spring will also evaporate.]
Priscilla: [The number of foolish statements that you make have been increasing more than usual, Al. Firstly, how will you make up for it if you settled the incident using that method? That is as good as defeat.]
Al: [Is it a problem of winning or losing?]
Priscilla: [Everything will be, if one regards it as such. Since losers continue being defeated without recognizing that, the belief that they will lose before the match even begins is ingrained into them.]
Priscilla asserted fiercely, crossing her arms with a “To begin with,”
Priscilla: [I am also fond of flames. Burning objects makes me excited. However, setting the forest on fire just because there are people who approach the spring… that is a lowly, wretched reason for the wildfire it would cause. How preposterous.]
Al: [What I don’t understand more than that are your preferences… But, okay, I get it. I’ll go back to cutting down the plants.]
Instantly deciding that it was meaningless to oppose Priscilla’s views, Al focused on creating a path they could walk on with his Blue Dragon Sword. To road to their destination was a trackless path. The forest was so dense that he could understand why many people went missing, but it also made him wonder if the reason why they were disappearing was unrelated to the spring.
There was not much of a reason for one to enter a forest that wasn’t that big. Although, that was only fair because it didn’t even meet the requirements of having a path so that people could pass through.
Priscilla: [Tempted by the forest’s spring, I see. What a hackneyed tale.]
Priscilla spoke out from behind, sounding like she was trying to stifle her boredom. Hearing that, Al agreed with a “Yeah,”
Al: [Apparently, the first person that went missing saw some magnificent light that danced in the forest. They were led by it, and went after it without thinking… And now, those who want to meet the dead keep getting swallowed by the spring one after another.]
Priscilla: [Wanting to meet the dead… It is increasingly being reduced into a hackneyed tale.]
Al felt like something was off with what Priscilla had just said. Boredom, anger, dissatisfaction, contentedness, joy――her whims were erratic and elusive, but what she muttered out didn’t match any of those emotions.
It was as if she currently felt an emotion that was something similar to envy or jealousy. That was what he thought.
Al: […Princess, you don’t have someone you wanna meet?]
Priscilla: [I have no idea. Recently, the only person I am familiar with who has passed is my beloved husband.]
Al: [He’s not dead yet. Looking from an outer point of view, he’s just under medical care.]
Priscilla: [He even leaves the care of his excretory system in the hands of others. That is surely the equivalent of being dead.]
Al could no longer see any strange indications in her attitude, which wasn’t even trying to hide her disgust. Ignoring it and shrugging his shoulders, he looked at Schult, who had remained quiet during their exchange.
Perhaps, the topic and he and Priscilla had spoken about was upsetting for a boy that was young as Schult. Just as he expected, Schult seemed to remember the person who was brought up in the conversation, his face turning white as paper.
Schult: [Master was… a bad person, right?]
Al: [The opposite of justice is another type of justice. There’s a wise saying like that, but Master Leip can’t be referred to as just, to say the least. He’s a completely evil guy. Though, it’s not like we’re the just ones either.]
Priscilla’s husband and someone who was the original lord of the Barielle Domain, Leip Barielle had been scheming to seize the Kingdom’s real power by using her as his puppet. However, his aim has been shattered by Al and Schult, and he had already been broken down mentally, losing the ability to function normally in everyday life.
Al: [There were a lot of people who were happy to see him like that. It’s evidence of Princess’s popularity, but it’s pitiful.]
Schult: [But, I… at least, I will pray for his soul to be at peace.]
Al: [I said he’s not dead…]
Al tried to say, but paused when he saw Schult fold his hands with a solemn expression. He supposed that it was alright that at least one person would earnestly mourn for Leip, hoping that the lord would become even a little bit better in his next life.
Priscilla: [Rah, stop that, stop that. It is a waste of time, praying for that gaunt, senile man.]
However, it seemed like Priscilla disapproved of the prayer that Al had turned a blind eye to. With a fiery look in her eyes, she shook Schult’s head, who was clinging on to her arm,
Priscilla: [If you have the time to spend on such trivial matters, return to memorizing the contents of the book.]
Schult: [Eh, ah, yes! I will memorize the contents of the book! Uhm, the first one is…]
Al: [Don’t bully a pure kid…]
Although Al touched on Priscilla’s immature behavior, Schult stopped praying and went back to his recitation of the book. Poor Leip, he thought as he internally put his hands together in a prayer for the lord instead, driving his sword into a remarkably thick branch that was in front of him and slicing it off.
Priscilla: [Speaking of, Al. You seem to reject the idea of meeting the dead, almost terribly so.]
Al: [Because there’s no way it exists. If we die, it’s over. We can’t meet the dead, and we aren’t allowed to try and meet them. It’ll only make us miserable. You have the same opinion, right?]
The space between the trees was small and narrow. Nicking a branch, Al kicked it in. It didn’t break with one hit. He bashed it with his foot again, but it still refused to break off. The wood was tough.
Priscilla: [Even if we have arrived at similar conclusions, with me and you, the processes that we have gone through to reach that are disparate. We cannot meet the dead. That is true.]
With his third kick, the tree toppled over with a dull thud. Lifting it up with his shin and moving it aside, he continued creating the path――,
Priscilla: [Or――is it that there is someone you do not want to meet?]
Grinding his teeth at the words that rang in his ears, his leg that he put too much strength in flung aside the fallen tree. It rolled across the forest floor in a disorderly fashion, disturbing the nearby leaves and branches, and Al blew out a long breath.
She was really a girl who would bluntly and mercilessly trample down the hearts of other people.
Al: [You know what, Princess. Do you really think I’ll talk about something as serious as that…]
Forcefully calming down his heart, Al feigned an easygoing attitude and turned around. However, his words didn’t reach Priscilla. It wasn’t only her, but Schult as well.
The area was foggy. And, Al was alone before he knew it.
Al surveyed his surroundings. When he realized it, his vision was clouded in white, and it felt like he was in a world that was only vaguely a forest. In fact, he was unsure if he really was still in the forest. Unable to sense the presence of the two people who were right next to him, he placed his Blue Dragon Sword on his own shoulder.
Al: [You’re kidding me. This is unfolding just as I heard how it’ll go like.]
The villagers’ testimony, the story that he was doubtful of, thinking that it was just a fishy tale, had become reality.
Entering the forest of the spring would cause the intruder to be captured by the fog, leaving them all alone. There were people who managed to pass through it and return, but if they were unlucky, then they would be dragged into the spring――,
Al: [And they’ll be able to meet the dead, huh. Sorry, but that doesn’t make me happy.]
Depending on the person, it might be worth taking the risk of going missing for that, but reuniting with the deceased only made Al feel like it was uncanny.
Al: [Instead of that, I’m happier if I could accidentally touch the Princess under the cover of the fog.]
Prioritizing his ulterior motive over the sacred mystery of the spring, Al reached out his Blue Dragon Sword and parted the fog. The tip of the sword touched thin air, and he couldn’t detect the existence of the trees that were previously crowded around the area. It was unnatural.
Following the theory of when one became lost in an unfamiliar place, it would be wiser to stay put as much as they could. However, Al knew that his two companions, who were unconventional and unknowledgeable respectively, would probably not adhere to that.
Al: [I have no choice but to look for them, huh… Give me a break.]
Breathing out a sigh at the situation where he had no choice but to actively move around, he slowly advanced into the fog.
Fog being attributed to a sign of misfortune was an idea that was accepted in every part of this world. The kind he was surrounded in was different from the fog that would be primarily thought of as a bad omen, but it didn’t lessen its eeriness.
Raking away at the fog that was so thick that he could feel it, Al strained his ears, seeking to meet up with his two companions. He was reluctant to call out to them because of his instinct. Somehow, he had a bad feeling about it. It was――,
???: [――Who is it?]
Al stopped in his tracks, cautious of the breath that he heard beyond the fog. On the inside of the helmet, what stirred his eardrums was the sound of someone else’s breath, but it was too deep for him to think that it was Priscilla, nor Schult.
The other person obviously sounded like a man. None of his company matched that description. With tensions running high, Al braced himself.
In front of him, he could hear the faint sound of footsteps drawing near. Heading towards him expeditiously.
Surely, there was no way that the deceased would actually appear――.
???: [――I found you, traitor.]
As Al shuddered, an old man with a robust physique broke through the fog, appearing before his eyes. He was a white-haired elderly man who wore well-tailored clothes, and had eyes that were murky with ambition.
He was someone that Al recognized. Eyes boiling with hatred, the man glared at him,
???: [You are…]
Al: [I said he’s not dead!!]
Before the man spat out his rage, Al directed a slash at him that diagonally cut him down.
Unable to react in time to the sudden act of violence, the old man received the full extent of the blow. Then, the man simply dispersed into nothing as he fell on his back, melting into the fog without leaving a single trace behind.
Watching the man disappear, Al lifted up his Blue Dragon Sword while breathing heavily. There were no bloodstains on its blade.
Al: [Hey, so it’s really a fake story! At least bring the dead to me. The dead!]
At the sudden appearance of the old man who had been recently brought up in a conversation, moreover, who was still alive, Al expressed his anger towards the sloppy and careless supernatural phenomenon. No matter how he looked at it, what just happened was way too realistic.
It probably wasn’t because it decided to listen to Al’s opinion, but as he kept on ranting, multiple shadows emerged around him, switching places with the disappearance of the fake Leip.
A huge man who was armored from head to toe, a black-clothed man who held a long katana, a half-naked, smaller man who had blades fused to his fists, and there were also others that Al could recognize. He let out an involuntary sigh.
Al: [An assembly of fellow Gladiators is fine by me, but what the heck? Did you guys die without me noticing?]
There was no response. Instead of that, the black-clothed man lashed out his weapon, drawing a horizontal line.
Al immediately closed the distance, crouching down to avoid the silver flash of the blade. He had challenged that one strike thousands and ten thousands of times. His body remembered what was coming. Meeting the knee that followed after the first strike with his own sword, Al skewered his opponent the moment he lost his footing.
The huge, armored man had the habit of raising his arm whenever he executed a powerful technique. The smaller man distanced himself from those who flung themselves at him while expecting to die, fearing the damage that could be done to him. Nothing had changed. In fact, they were worsened in terms of quality.
???: [They’re not faithful enough to the original――!]
Carving through the torso of the large man who raised his arm, Al threw the Blue Dragon Sword at the place where he knew that the smaller man would retreat, seeing that he refused to come any closer. Spewing out fog instead of blood from where they were fatally wounded, the imposters of his old friends vanished.
The next one that appeared wasn’t a Gladiator. However, Al recognized his face as well. With all his gratitude, he swung his sword.
Al: [Thank you very much for the farewell gift!!]
He sliced through the neck of the gatekeeper, the person who had given the steel helmet to him as a parting gift when he escaped from the Colosseum. Watching the leering smile dissolve into the fog, Al confirmed that he repelled the second wave of enemies.
Al: [Goddammit, making me do something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth… Everyone was alive when I ran away from there in the first place. Ah, it’s only Ghajit that I killed.]
Just as what he did to the imposter, Al had killed Ghajit by skewering him in the stomach. If that was it, then it could be said that he certainly did meet the dead.
Al: [Smells fishy… Well, it’s out of the question if you can’t pick who you want to see.]
It would only perplex the person who went to meet the deceased, if the people they were previously affiliated with were haphazardly summoned left and right. To begin with, the living were also appearing, so the preconditions of meeting the dead had already fallen apart.
Al: [Though, I’m dealing with the rumors in order. Is the afterlife the next thing I’ll be debunking if things go on like this?]
In that case, he predicted that the name “Al” would be put on the list of missing people. The requirements for that would be him being killed by the fog that he encountered moments ago, or having a separate, unpredictable event happen in the same area.
Al: [Seems like the third wave arrived while I was talking about that.]
As Al assumed a stance with his sword held firmly in his hand, fed up with the whole thing, the fog in his sight began squirming around. The silent, swirling fog weaved itself to form a shape, molding it into the existence of a new being.
By now, he wouldn’t be surprised no matter who came to him. ――That was what he thought. However,
The being that was supposed to be constructed by the white fog, was pitch black to the point that it completely filled up his vision.
Slender limbs that were cloaked by the color of darkness. The churning fog was engulfed by the jet black shadow that expanded vehemently, losing its original form and causing the world to be overwritten with ease.
――What was replicated was a forbidden being who shouldn’t have been there.
A hoarse breath escaped from his lungs, and Al became aware that he was pinned down and rendered useless.
He had realized that this fog replicated the people that its target had some kind of connection to, whether they were dead or not. However, this… this was breaking the rules.
This transcended life and death. This was a blasphemous act against everything that ever existed.
Al: [Ah, aaaahhhhhh――!!]
Unexplainable, vicious fury flared up from within Al, making him let out a shout that was driven by his raging emotions.
He had to obey the voice that inspired his willingness to act, kicking off the ground and cleaving through the shadow in front of him, using every last bit of his strength. That was what he needed to do.
Despite that, his shout of determination rang shrilly, the foot that was supposed to kick the ground trembled, and the sword that he was planning to hack into the enemy with had slipped out of his loosened grip, falling down onto the floor.
He couldn’t move. He wasn’t able to move. It was impossible to do so, because it was hopeless.
Thousands, ten thousands, several hundred millions of tries. Even with all that, it was futile. ――Even now, Al had been already certain that it was impossible.
His teeth chattering, Al felt like his knees could give out at any moment.
In front of him, the shadow began advancing slowly towards him. The black-clad being was wearing a dress that was of the same color as the darkness that hid her from the world. The hem of her dress swayed in the shadows, and her thin arms were lifted up while straightened.
He saw every one of her delicate, supple fingers. Silent, tender, and loving, they reached out for his defenseless neck.
He would be at ease if she touched him. He would be at ease. That’s why――,
The sudden jolt of terror caused Al to crumple to the ground, landing squarely on his bottom. Just like that, the inadvertent petrification of his body had worn off. Doing everything he could to pull back, he attempted to distance himself from her.
Al: [S…top. I, I’m… I’m…!]
His voice cracking, Al’s shout refused to manifest as one. The shadow didn’t pay attention to his rejection, closing the distance that he had just widened, walking up to him and persisting in laying her fingers on him.
Al was on the verge of letting out a scream of despair, but――,
The next moment, the shadow’s chest was pierced by a crimson, lambent sword from behind.
While he was taken aback by the sight that was unfolding before him, a blinding light emerged from where the blade had struck immediately after. A red and white refulgence swelled up one after another, and the darkness that was made out of the fog burst into flames instantaneously. Her whole body was fully blanketed in fire.
???: [――How frivolous. In the end, a counterfeit is nothing more than this.]
Beyond the fog that was evaporating into a scarlet blaze, the voice of the bored-looking girl reached Al’s ears. On the other side of the wall of flames that flickered between them, there stood Priscilla, a crimson sword held in one hand.
The power of the treasured sword had incinerated the shadow that was weaved by the fog. It had been, right in front of Al.
Al: [How, dare…]
Al: [Look at what you’ve done! In front of me, how could you… bhah!?]
Priscilla: [Hold your tongue. Do not point your misdirected anger at me, foolish commoner.]
As Al grinded his teeth, his body shaking with raw fury, Priscilla ruthlessly delivered a sharp blow to the side of his face with her sword. Tipped over by the force of the hit, Al blinked in surprise from the impact.
Al: [Ah, kah… Hh, Prin… woah! Hot! Gyaah! Fire! Ahh, fire!]
Priscilla: [This is your penalty for your insolence. With the flames of the Yang Sword, you shall become a little bald and reflect on your actions.]
As the result of receiving punishment from the heartless Priscilla, a part of Al’s helmet was lit on fire. He made an effort to put it out by desperately rolling around on the forest floor, sinking to the ground in a slovenly manner after the flames were extinguished.
Looking down at Al, Priscilla stuck her Yang Sword into the ground, letting out a disdainful sniff as she did.
Priscilla: [The more shackles that are chained to one, the more they will be tempted by these kinds of evils. The more one puts on a front of disinterest, the more likely they will be to turn out like this. How disgraceful. How laughable.]
Al: [P-Princess, are you the real one? You’re not fake, right?]
Priscilla: [If I step on you like I usually do, will the pleasure cause you to recall your memories?]
Al: [Wow, really faithful to the original! You’re the real one!]
Looking up at the beautiful girl who was tilting her head with a touch of her cruelty, Al was relieved, feeling that he had returned to the world that was within the territory of sanity.
Right before that, he still felt the effects of the terror that had been replicated, but now that it had been dissipated into the fog, he could tell himself that it was a counterfeit. There was no problem. There shouldn’t be.
For now, he could simply be happy with being able to meet up, and also how neither of them were harmed in any way.
Al: [You’re completely fine?]
Priscilla: [There is no possible way that I will be enticed by such a lowly illusion. Do not move unnecessarily from where you are. The fog will be clear soon. Schult shall be clearing it out.]
Al: [Schult-chan will? Why?]
Priscilla: [I have given him the answer. If Schult is not an egregious fool that knows no bounds, then there is no problem.]
With the mention of the young butler who wasn’t present at the moment, Al was puzzled by Priscilla’s doubtless, unhesitating assertion. However, his puzzlement wasn’t solved by words, but rather, it was solved by the results.
A twisting curve. It was definite, greatly distorting Al’s vision to the point that it could only be described as that.
Within the contorting realm, the scenery alone was wrenched out of shape, since there were no changes to Priscilla, who remained standing with her arms crossed. Leaving her and Al unharmed, only the world was given a tremendous twist, warping and tearing off. After that, the fog gradually came apart, shredded indiscriminately――,
Al: [No way.]
Right after Al blinked his eyes, the fog that had been scattered around in huge quantities had completely vanished. He and Priscilla were back inside of the forest――and in addition to that, they were transferred onto a patch of grass on the side of the spring.
In front of the dumbfounded Al, a spring that wasn’t that large was stretched across the area. The water was crystal clear, with countless water weeds floating on its surface, and he could see that the petals were swaying in the wind here and there.
And, a boy was standing in the middle of the spring, waist-deep in the water with both of his hands raised in the air.
Al: [Schult-chan!? What are you doing!?]
Priscilla: [Schult has banished the evil that has been encircling this spring. Creating the fog, leading astray those who lost their way, and submerging them into the spring when they have been spellbound. A bewitching, hideous evil such as that.]
Saying that to the astonished Al, Priscilla glared at the spring with an expression of displeasure. Noticing that the two were present, Schult’s face lit up with joy, and he started heading in their direction.
Schult: [Pr-Priscilla-sama! Al-sama! I found it, as you can see! The Water Mirror, it was sunken under the water just as you taught me!]
Al: [By “Just as you taught me,” you mean…]
Schult: [In the book that was given to me, it was just as what was written in the fairytale!]
As Schult said that while wading through the water, making his way back to them, Al was struck speechless, remembering the book that the boy had been reading. The book that Priscilla had made Schult read until he knew it by heart, making him recite it even when they were in the forest. The book was about――,
Priscilla: [Springs, lakes, and the edge of the water. Near those places, there are an abundance of anecdotes such as this one. If that is so, in areas of water where its flow is concentrated into one place, mana is prone to piling up in there. Naturally, although rare, there are cases where it would give rise to phenomenons like this.]
Schult: [The secret of how not to be tempted by the monster, or the hollow, at the edge of the water was written in it!]
Priscilla: [It is a fairytale to read aloud to children, amusingly.]
Priscilla explained, casually closing one of her eyes, but Al’s stupefaction remained lingering, unable to be subdued. That meant that she had already discerned the truth of the spring, right from the very moment where she caught wind of a part of the rumor.
Schult: [Priscilla-sama, this is the Water Mirror. I broke it, and the fog disappeared.]
Jumping out of the spring, Schult made a dash towards Priscilla, even though he was soaked to the bone. In front of her, he handed over a faintly white, translucent crystal to her. That was probably the Water Mirror.
Priscilla: [Well done. I shall praise you for it.]
Schult: [Thank you very much! I am happy that I could be of help!]
As Priscilla received the Water Mirror, drawing back her chin, a broad smile spread across Schult’s face. Watching the two’s interaction from behind, Al scratched the back of his neck, feeling awkward.
Al: [So, is the case settled now? The incident was caused by the evildoings of the accumulated mana, or whatever.]
Priscilla: [――Like that, an incompetent one might have jumped to that conclusion before heading back.]
Detecting a hint of menace in her callous remark, both Al and Schult widened their eyes. Shortly afterwards, the Water Mirror burst into flames in Priscilla’s hand. Transparent chunks of mana were scorched by the heat, and then――,
Water Mirror: [――hhk]
The Water Mirror changed its form abruptly, flinging itself out of Priscilla’s hand. Two pairs of wings, a small, blue-colored body, and goggling compound eyes――it was an abnormal being that had the body of a human, along with the wings and head of an insect.
Letting out a high-pitched shriek, the misshapen being attempted to escape from the area.
Priscilla: [――Do you really believe that I will let you escape with ease, Evil Spirit?]
The tip of the twirling Yang Sword sliced off the wings of the small being, boring through its torso and pinning it to the ground. Immobilized on the ground like a preserved specimen, the abnormal being thrashed its limbs around, struggling to free itself.
Water Mirror: [――hhk]
Priscilla: [Do not chitter about like a bird. Combined with your appalling appearance, I am thoroughly disgusted by your existence.]
Priscilla twisted her sword in an irritated manner, drawing out additional screams from the insect-like being. Witnessing such a scene, Schult fell down, his legs giving out, and Al gulped in a large breath of air.
Al: [Princess, is that a Spirit…?]
Priscilla: [It is as you can see. For the most part, the Water Mirror had disguised itself as something that was naturally created, in an attempt to wait until we have passed through. That shamelessness, as well as its audacity to underestimate me… is deserving of ten thousand deaths.]
Al: [Ohh, it’s an Evil Spirit. It’s the first time I’ve seen one…]
Al grimaced, looking at the Spirit――the Evil Spirit that was desperately gasping for breath, skewered by Priscilla’s Yang Sword.
Evil Spirits were a species of Spirits, but there were no differences between the two in a strict sense. However, as Spirits that harbored malice against both people and animals, the term “Evil Spirit” had spread far and wide. Originally, Spirits were supernatural lifeforms that were represented by mana, mostly free from the rights and wrongs of the physical world.
On the other hand, it was a rare occurrence, but Spirits that evidently bore ill will towards those around it, such as what was inside of the Water Mirror, were born. They were called “Evil Spirits” and were given the same treatment as Witchbeasts, designated as the harmful enemies of humanity.
Priscilla: [This one had been luring humans to it by utilizing the ability of the Water Mirror, drowning them in the spring and absorbing all of their Od. Presumably, it used that method to amass its strength. It is similar to the traits of a carnivorous plant.]
Her explanation implied that the missing people had fallen victim to the Evil Spirit’s scheme, over and over and over.
Having the desire to meet the dead, if the missing people had entrusted their single wish to the spring, and were able to reunite with the people they wanted to see before dying, then that didn’t sound too bad. However, if they were devoured with their wishes in vain, then――,
Schult: [Priscilla-sama, this Evil Spirit…? What will you do with it?]
Priscilla: [Obviously, I will dispose of it. It went ahead with its barbarous acts within my domain. There is no atonement for that, no matter how many times I shall slaughter it. Yet, I am benevolent and generous. ――Since although it is deserving of ten thousand deaths, I shall be settling it with only one.]
Schult seemed to hold a small amount of sympathy for the Evil Spirit that was letting out anguished screams of pain. In spite of that, Priscilla simply paid no mind to his pity.
Perhaps the Evil Spirit had found a ray of hope in Schult’s behavior, as it stopped its thrashing limbs, lifting its neck so that the boy could see it, starting to cry out as if it was making a desperate appeal. It looked like it was acting as if it was begging for help, as if it was saying that it would do anything for it.
Gazing at the Evil Spirit, Schult’s voice caught in his throat, tears welling up in his eyes. Even with him glancing over at her while being at a loss for words, Priscilla’s blood red eyes did not waver even in the slightest.
And then, before unnecessary friction was created between the girl and the boy, Al interjected.
Al: [Imagine this. I did it on impulse. I won’t do it again. I’ll turn over a new leaf. Even if it’s trying to tell you that…]
Al: [You heard it back in the village. The first victim was led by a swaying light inside the forest. That means, this guy has been targeting humans from the very beginning.]
Evil Spirits were Evil Spirits, their nature wouldn’t warp into something else so abruptly. There was no reason for their malignity either, as they were purely an enemy against humanity. Because of that, there was no need for sympathy, nor compassion.
Priscilla: [At most, you shall gradually burn to death. With that, it shall be the repose of the souls of my people.]
When Schult fell silent from Al’s words, Priscilla openly declared as such, concentrating her power into the Yang Sword.
Following her will, the blade of the Yang Sword began to emanate a red-hued light. The brilliant, blazing flames snaked towards the edge of the sword, incinerating the Evil Spirit’s tiny body.
An earsplitting screech was released. However, the shriek was eventually swallowed by the flames, fading out slowly and surely, disappearing――cut off without any warning, never to be heard again.
That was the final act for the consecutive cases of missing people――The “Nightmare of Ladrima.”
Al: [From the bottom of that spring, I heard that the bones of the missing people were found one after another. Most of them were turned into piles of bones, but they say that they’ll somehow be able to tell apart who’s who with the accessories that the victims were wearing.]
A few days after the incident with the spring was resolved, Al passed down what he had just heard to Priscilla.
They were on the balcony at the second floor of the Barielle Mansion, during their tea time that was between their working hours. Priscilla, who was drinking the tea that Schult had made for her, frowned at the report from the man that appeared in front of her.
Priscilla: [That spring? What are you talking about?]
Al: [It’s the after story of the Evil Spirit-related things that happened very recently! You sound like you forgot it for real and it’s scaring me!]
Priscilla: [Spring, Evil Spirit… ah, you are talking about Ladrima. Do not unearth a topic that has already lost my interest. You will make me wonder what is happening.]
Al: [Is it my fault? Was it my fault? Okay, I’m sorry~!]
Apologizing to Priscilla, who looked both disinterested and dissatisfied, Al sat down on the side opposite to her. A slightly warm breeze was weaving through the balcony, and the weather was fine to the point that the warmth of the sun could make him drowsy.
Priscilla put back her cup on the table, sniffing at Al’s lazy attitude.
Priscilla: [To begin with, how can you unearth a story that is already over, in that deplorable state of yours? Just to let you know, you played a lesser part than Schult during that day.]
Al: [Stop! ‘Cause I can’t deny that! You forgot the whole incident, but you remember that!?]
It was hard to forget the truth of him being trapped within the Water Mirror’s illusion, becoming a hindrance to his companions. Al’s face reddened inside of the helmet as he was forced to recall the memory of it, pointing a finger at Schult, who was refilling the teacups.
Al: [Really, why didn’t the Water Mirror’s trap work on you and Schult-chan? I can understand why it didn’t work on you because you’re off the charts, but Schult-chan’s just a shota!]
Schult: [Ah, yes. I am just a “shota“…]
Al: [Sorry to say this while you look embarrassed, but shota isn’t a word that’s used to praise someone.]
As Schult laughed shyly, Al patted his head to the point that he was messing up his hair, moving his face closer to the boy. It was as if he was asking for the key to breaking through the illusion, which Schult responded by dropping his gaze to the floor.
Schult: [I didn’t do anything special. Before even that, what illusion…?]
Al: [We’re starting there!?]
Priscilla: [It is not a difficult topic. It is just that Schult did not have a deceased person that he wished to meet, nor did he feel like he had to put on a facade and conceal his desire to, because he does not have anyone that he seeked to reunite with. Firstly, his precondition of falling victim to the Water Mirror’s illusion varied from yours.]
Stealing back Schult from Al, Priscilla put the boy in between her cleavage. While looking at the enviable sight, Al narrowed his eyes, mulling over the contents of Priscilla’s clarification.
――The reason why Schult wasn’t caught in the illusion, was because he didn’t have the happy memories to fulfill the requirements of being trapped in it.
Being an orphan, Schult was found when he was on the verge of death, and he didn’t have any memories of his family, nor did he have any memories of joyous days from before he had been taken away by Priscilla. Because of that, the illusion didn’t work on him.
If that was so, was the negation of the effects of the fog a fortunate or an unfortunate thing? Which one was it?
Al: [At the very least, I don’t feel like I was fortunate…]
It was a period of time where he was associated with the living as well as the dead during the many encounters that he had in the fog, but to Al, all of those were unwanted reunions. Besides, every one of them were fake.
His expression hidden within his helmet, Al glanced over at Priscilla, who appeared to be delighted with Schult in her arms.
The girl who had pierced the shadows with the blazing Yang Sword didn’t question him about what he had seen in the fog. Of course, she probably didn’t even remember what she had burnt.
Although Al understood that she wasn’t being considerate or anything, that it was just the result of how she ought to exist, he found solace in her attitude, feeling gratified by it.
Priscilla: [What is it, Al? Staring at me? You cannot exchange positions with Schult.]
Al: [It’s true that I’m jealous, but I’m not looking at you because of that! …By the way, you really didn’t see anything in the fog?]
Priscilla: [Disappointingly, the only person I am familiar with who has passed is my beloved husband.]
Al: [I said he’s not dead! Even though I met him in the fog! Though he’s alive!]
Among the various unwanted reunions that he had, meeting Leip was one of the most awkward experiences that he ever had.
Priscilla laughed softly at his revelation, and Schult made a surprised face. After continuing to laugh for a while, she gave a slight tilt of her head.
Priscilla: [By the way, Al. Where did you hear the report of the village that you have given to me just now?]
Al: [Ah, a messenger came from the village in question just a little while ago. They told me the whole story, gave their regards to you, and… oh yeah, the flowers were delivered to the entrance.]
Priscilla: [――! You utter fool! Tell me that earlier!]
Schult: [Hyah! Pr-Priscilla-sama!?]
Her eyes lighting up at the last segment of Al’s report, Priscilla swept Schult up like a princess, rushing out of the balcony. Al got a late start in chasing after her, who ran off at breakneck speed, but he immediately followed her with haste.
Like that, Al finally caught up with the two at the mansion’s entrance――in front of a bouquet of large flowers.
Priscilla: [Yes, yes! Grandeur, elegant, and truly adorable. I shall praise the residents of Ladrima for it!]
Putting one hand on her hip in high spirits, Priscilla broke out into a wide smile at the bouquet――the flowers of the finest quality that were brought into the mansion along with the report, its red petals blooming opulently.
Priscilla’s reaction was close to when she was given a luxurious, golden Dragon Carriage, when she saw many bizzare works of art, and also when she admired Schult. In other words, she was elated.
Al: [Are those flowers that high quality?]
Priscilla: [Ha, how pathetic it is to be ignorant. These are flowers that only bloom in a part of Lugunica, the forest of the spring in Ladrima, called “Kurenai.”]
Al: [Never heard of them… wait, what? Did you just say that they only bloom in the forest of that spring?]
Priscilla: [They only bloom during this certain period of time. It may well as be the one thing that makes that puny village worth existing.]
Crossing her arms and lifting up her bountiful chest, Priscilla nodded over and over again as if she was ascertaining the quality of the flowers.
Staring at her serene expression from the side, Al understood why she seemed so eager to resolve the incident of the spring. In retrospect, she was strongly against burning down the forest.
Her beaming face told him the reason for this, that, and everything.
Al: [So, Princess, you saved that village because you were after those flowers from the very beginning, right?]
Priscilla: [Do not utter such foolish things. Ladrima is my domain. There is no way that I will grant them my acts of goodwill only because of that. ――However, I will not deny that it is why I had taken immediate action.]
Unapologetic and with no intention to hide it, Priscilla walked over to the bouquet unhesitatingly.
If the truth of her actions were known, then the villagers that extolled her as a goddess of mercy would be baffled. Of course, there was no point in letting them know. There were things that were better off staying unknown, like how people say that ignorance is bliss.
Al: [In actuality, you did save the village. Even if you were prioritizing your personal desires.]
Because Priscilla wanted to adore the large, red-hued flowers, the actions she took to do so saved the village, and it ended up leading to the villagers giving her their support. It basically proved what she always said: “This world is made to be convenient to myself.”
Schult: [Priscilla-sama, where should I bring the flowers to?]
Priscilla: [You shall adorn my room and the entire mansion with it. While the flowers still contain life, they shall please my eyes with their beauty. Do make sure to treat them attentively so that they do not wilt.]
Schult: [Understood! I will do my best!]
Following Priscilla’s orders, Schult ran off in an effort to gather all the vases in the mansion. After watching the young butler’s departure, Priscilla noticed Al’s presence, and,
Priscilla: [Ahem, Al. What are you doing? If you have the time to stand there and do nothing, go and be of assistance to Schult. Assume that every one of these petals are worth at least two times more than your life.]
Al: […You’re being too harsh, Princess.]
With Priscilla in a good mood, in high spirits, and her tongue being as sharp as ever, Al let out a shameful, wry laugh at her razor-sharp words.
And then, before his butt was kicked by the crimson girl who had the red flowers behind her――his cruel and compassionate master, Al rushed to take part in the preparations of carrying the bouquet of flowers into the mansion.
The Loving World Petra Saw
This is an edited Machine Translation, This is expected to have a quality dip in accuracy, therefore, if you read this story you must take it into consideration.
Original Translation by Goldkills ― Link
The girl groaned as she furrowed her shapely eyebrows and made a troubled face.
She was a pretty girl, and she was well dressed. She had reddish-brown hair that she wore above her shoulders and a big red ribbon that she wore on her head. Her clothes were made of simple materials, but she knew how to keep them colorful and fashionable, and how to bring out the beauty of her childish cuteness without using makeup.
Petra Leyte ――that was the girl’s name, and she was also a beautiful girl who would be known in the future as the best-looking girl in the village of Arlam.
This was not just Petra’s ego, but an objective assessment as well. She did not rest on her laurels, but made every effort to improve herself.
At one time, Petra had a theory that “cuteness is all that matters.”
Now that she had changed her mind a bit, Petra came to realize that “cuteness is not everything,” but her cuteness was still a weapon. There was no way Petra could neglect it.
However, cuteness was no longer a universal weapon, and this was a blow to Petra.
Petra: [It’s hard to be noticed by Subaru if you’re just cute…]
For Petra, who was at that troubled age, the biggest problem at the moment was the love that resided in her small chest ――the so-called problem of “first love.”
Petra prided herself on being cute, but she had never been in love before.
Arlam was a small village, and the boys of Petra’s age were her childhood friends. They were the same people she knew from back when she was sniveling and peeing the bed in her sleep. They were not romantic relationships, but more like family relationships, like those with siblings. However, the young men in the youth group, who were a little older than Petra, were like her father, if not her brothers. They were more and more difficult to fall in love with.
And for Petra, who had never known anything outside of the village of Arlam, love remained a distant thing.
Of course, there were some childhood friends who had feelings for the cute Petra, but she was so used to listening to them that she didn’t pay them any mind.
So, this was Petra’s first love, her first big show, her first big game. And Petra, who was not only cute but also cunning, did not sit on her looks.
Petra: [Even with a quick glance, I can easily recognize Subaru when I see him.]
Petra nodded repeatedly, recalling the name of the person she was thinking of and his uncomplicated goodness.
Natsuki Subaru ――a servant who had taken up residence in the mansion of the Margrave who was the lord near the village of Arlam, was the person Petra had a fondness for.
His demeanor was casual and overly familiar, and his black hair and eyes were unusual. To Petra’s eyes, who was interested in clothing, his servant’s uniform did not suit him very well. However, if she put aside these initial impressions, Subaru had a very kind and gentle personality.
This was not to say that love was clouding Petra’s eyes.
Petra was aware of that; she was calm, even though she was suffering from the fever of her first love. Her natural competitive nature convinced her that she could not win this battle if she lost her cool.
Petra: [So, the first step is to know your enemy. If you don’t, you can’t do anything about it.]
Petra nodded vigorously as she made her plan.
――Do not sit on your laurels, do not neglect efforts to improve yourself, and do everything you can to know your enemy.
That was Petra’s conclusion and roughly the best mindset in this battle.
???: […Petra, are you done thinking?]
Petra: [Oh, I’m sorry, Meina. I’ve kept you waiting.]
Meina: [No, I’m fine. But you were being so serious.]
It was actually Meina, who had been with her the whole time, who spoke to Petra after she had decided on a course of action after much deliberation.
She was Petra’s childhood friend. She was like a younger sister, but she was a little sad that Petra didn’t spoil her these days, as she would soon have a younger brother or sister.
Petra nodded her head in response to Meina’s words, and then said, “I see.”,
Petra: [I’ve got a fight that I don’t want to lose… and speaking of which, what did you write on the bandage on Subaru’s leg? Lucas and his friends seem to have written some weird stuff on it…]
Meina: [Me? I wrote, “I love you.”]
Petra: [You love him?]
Petra’s eyes widened in surprise as she was struck from an unexpected direction. Petra’s astonished reaction surprised Meina, and Meina shook her head and said, “Uh…yeah.”
Meina: [I thanked him for his help… but everyone else wrote the same kind of thing, and Lucas and the others were writing so big that my writing was really small.]
Petra: [O-Okay, so just tell me… how much do you love him?]
Meina: [How much?]
Petra: [For example, if it was Subaru or me, who would you choose?]
A difficult question was thrown at her, and Meina looked extremely troubled.
But Petra, who had asked the question, was trying hard not to let her inner impatience show on her face. If her sister’s feelings were true, then a fierce battle would ensue that would be merciless and unforgiving.
Petra shuddered at the thought of such a thing happening. But――,
Meina: [Comparing Subaru to Petra, I like you better…]
Meina: [Compared to Lucas, though, you’re in trouble…]
Petra: [I see, Lucas and… What? Did you just say you like Lucas, Meina?]
Petra’s eyes widened at the unexpected confession, and Meina’s face flushed. Petra felt a hot fluttering sensation in her chest at Meina’s unexpected reaction.
As it was, Petra hugged her cute friend and stroked her head with her hair tied up in twin tails.
Petra: [Meina, is cute! Cute, cute, cute… You’re too good for Lucas!]
Meina: [Oh, don’t say that in such a loud voice! Petra, you idiot!]
Petra, who had forgotten all about her last-minute fears, blushed as Meina shouted at her in such a way.
Petra: [I’m sorry that I ran out of the mansion without saying goodbye the other day.]
???: [――. It’s not something that you should apologize to Ram for. Ram will give you credit for apologizing, though.]
The pink-haired maid replied to Petra, who bowed politely, with an irreverent expression and attitude, but with an inscrutable kindness in her words.
This was right after she had learned of Meina’s love interest and was relieved that her friend was not her love rival. A blushing Meina had pushed her away, and as Petra strolled through the village, she saw a familiar maid’s uniform.
She was a maid in uniform who worked at the lord’s mansion. She had come to the village to do some shopping, and Petra had caused her a little trouble a few days ago. The apology Petra just made was for that.
However, the pink-haired maid, who called herself Ram, was not very friendly, and Petra, who was a bit braver than the others, could not hide her surprise. And then, instead of Ram, it was,
???: [Nee-sama, what is this girl talking about…?]
Ram: [The children once came to see Barusu after he had been bitten by the dogs. They couldn’t stand to see him so ugly then, so they left him alone.]
Petra: [I didn’t leave because Subaru was ugly…]
Ram: [A joke.]
When Petra protested, Ram shrugged her shoulders with a nonchalant expression. Petra’s lips pursed into an “Ooh” as she savored the disappointment in her attitude.
???: [Her mischievous side is also part of the charm of Nee-sama. But, it may be difficult to understand at first.]
And so, it was the person standing beside Ram who stepped in front of Petra. A girl dressed in the same maid uniform as her, this girl’s face was a perfect match for Ram’s.
She was another face Petra had seen many times in the village. She was one of the lord’s maids, though they had never exchanged words like this before.
Rem: [Nee-sama is my sister: I am Rem. What is your name?]
Petra: [Um… My name is Petra Leyte. Uh, I’m always happy to help the lord.]
When asked by the blue-haired maid, Rem, Petra was a little pressured, but she managed to reply. In response, Rem closed her pale blue eyes and smiled.
Rem: [Surely Roswaal-sama will be pleased to hear you say that.]
Petra: […And thank you to Rem-san as well. I was told later that you and Subaru came to the forest to save us…]
Rem: [――. No, not at all. That all was because of Subaru-kun.]
At Petra’s words of thanks, Rem was humble and then boastfully puffed out her ample chest. Then, Rem seemed to be looking heartily proud at something.
Rem: [It was Subaru-kun who had figured out that you were in the forest and in that particular place. Rem only helped a little bit with that. And after that, Rem caused a lot of trouble for Subaru-kun and Nee-sama…]
Rem lowered her eyebrows and mentioned her mistake. However, Petra’s attention was not on the subtle expression of remorse, but on the change of expression that she had just shown.
Reddening her cheeks, loosening her lips, lowering the corners of her eyes, and placing her palms on her hot face, Rem told her about that day―― Petra felt a certain passion in her attitude.
And that passion had only one possible destination, based on the current trend of statements.
Rem: [Subaru-kun is…]
The smooth movement of Rem’s tongue as she talked about Subaru with vigor. The bitter face of Ram, standing right beside her, proved the intensity of her words.
What surprised Petra, of course, was the passion, but also the sudden change of Rem’s blushing cheeks.
Petra and Rem had been friendly with each other for a long time, even though they only saw each other from a distance. However, when she came to the village to get the necessities for the mansion, they never exchanged any friendly words. This was largely due to the fact that Rem had a cold impression of being inhospitable to others.
However, that cold impression had now melted away, and Rem had the loveliness of a girl with a heart and soul. This made Petra smile, even though she was younger than her, but at the same time, it made Petra feel a sense of danger.
Because, it was obvious that Rem was feeling something special about Subaru.
Quietly, Petra let the initial shock sink in and quietly observed Rem.
She had short, silky blue hair; clear, jewel-like pale blue eyes; and a face that was not beautiful, but rather cute and well-shaped, with a wealth of expressions that changed from one moment to the next. ――Her slender white arms and legs, large breasts, and revealing modified uniform made her a formidable opponent.
Ram: [Ram has nothing to do with this.]
On the other hand, Ram, who had the impression of sharp and dignified beauty compared to the softer Rem, answered that way ahead of Petra’s eyes that were assessing her enemy. It was as if she had read Petra’s inner thoughts, which made her nervous for a moment, but it was probably just an accidental remark.
In any case, Ram’s attitude toward Subaru was not that of anger. In other words――,
Petra: [Once again, I am Petra. It is nice to meet you.]
Rem: [――? Yes, thank you for your kindness. Rem is Subaru-kun’s Rem.]
Petra’s offered hand was squeezed back, and she stared at Rem, who smiled softly, with a strong determination. Rem tilted her head with a face that didn’t match the cute hostility of such a young girl.
That is, in only having introduced herself, did she not hide her thoughts and feelings in the slightest.
???: [One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.]
The shouts of radio calisthenics stretched up into the sky around the square of Arlam Village.
Radio calisthenics had become a morning ritual for the villagers, and Natsuki Subaru was the one who got up early and moved his body in front of the villagers gathered in the square, calling out to them.
Now that he had recovered from the wounds that he sustained in the Witchbeast incident and was again in good health, Subaru visited Arlam Village every morning and spent time with the villagers in relaxing radio calisthenics.
This was a great opportunity for Petra to be able to see Subaru every day. The truth of it was, doing radio calisthenics was embarrassing for her, but it was worth it.
Petra: [Without this, I would lose out to Rem-san, who he sees every day.]
Acknowledging Rem as her love rival, Petra spent her days unilaterally vowing to fight the good fight. Without this strong awareness, the advantage of Subaru’s coworker, Rem, was undeniable.
Of course, the frequency of seeing someone is not an essential condition to make love come true, but it’s hard not to develop feelings for them. It’s a natural desire to see the person one loves every day, win or lose.
So, radio calisthenics was convenient for Petra. It was worth the effort of waking up all the adults, including her parents, and even Muraosa, for this. Eventually, it became a habit, and now everyone was gathering together without Petra having to wake them up, and a pleasant morning came.
Subaru: [Alright, Victory! Let’s gather! See, there’s a reward for being here today!]
After a final shout, an enthusiastic Subaru raised his hand and gathered the villagers together.
What Subaru held in his hand was a sweet potato stamp with a picture engraved on the cross-section of the sweet potato. It was made by the dexterous Subaru, and the villagers who participated in the event would receive a stamp as a prize for their participation. There was nothing to be gained by collecting them, but many people looked forward to them because there was a different sweet potato stamp every day.
Petra was one of them, and she loved everything Subaru did for the most part.
Subaru: [Oh, Petra, you did a great job of keeping your arms and legs moving this morning.]
Petra: [Hehe, really? Was it cute? Was it Cute?]
Subaru: [Oh, it was cute, it was cute. And for such a cute Petra, I’ll give you a bonus, and…]
When it was Petra’s turn to have her potato stamp card pressed, Subaru’s hand slipped in response to Petra’s excitement. When he tried to regain his grip, the potato stamp fell to the ground and rolled around.
In a panic, Subaru scurried off to pick up that potato stamp, and then――,
???: […Yes. Don’t panic. You’re just scatterbrained.]
Subaru: [Who even says that these days.]
???: [Don’t make fun of me.]
Before Subaru was able to, a person had reached for the potato stamp, picked it up, and handed it to him. In response to Subaru’s comment, the other person poked his forehead with their finger.
It was a person wearing a white robe with a hood covering their head. The tone of her voice and their thin appearance led Petra to believe that it was a woman. Petra wondered if there was such a person around here.
Petra: [Hey, Subaru…]
Subaru: [――. Mm, oh, oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Okay, let’s resume. Let’s stamp it!]
With a pop, a potato stamp was pressed on the participation card, but Petra couldn’t pay attention to the pattern. Petra’s eyes were glued to Subaru, who was in front of her, the whole time.
Just before, Subaru was looking somewhat happy, stroking his poked forehead and relaxing his lips. To Petra’s eyes, Subaru looked too happy.
Girl in robe: […Huh? You dropped this. Here.]
Petra pretended that the participation card had been taken by the wind, and deliberately sent it flying at the feet of the girl in the white robes. The white-robed girl picked it up and handed it to Petra with a casual gesture.
Petra’s eyes widened, peering at the shape of such an opponent from directly below.
This was a woman with jewel-like amethyst eyes; long, beautiful silver hair; and a well-shaped face that made Petra tremble ――a formidable foe, indeed.
Petra had decided that her strongest lifelong love rival would probably be Rem. Victory over her was the condition for Petra’s first love ――it would be a fierce, hard-fought battle, even for the cute and unrivaled Petra.
However, here an enemy suddenly rose on the board, much to Petra’s dismay.
Girl in robe: [――? What’s wrong?]
Her gesture of tilting her head slightly, without malice, was also charming, and the other party curiously gazed at Petra. Petra did not know how the woman herself felt about Subaru.
However, it was clear that Subaru had special feelings for her, just as Petra had for Subaru.
And Petra, struggling with her first love, was unable to find a good way to fight back――,
Petra: [――Bleehh!] 
Girl in robe: [Eh!? Why!?]
The other party was surprised by her childish behavior, and Petra snatched the participation card from their hands. She decided to declare war on them with such a childish approach.
――Petra’s battle continued. Being cute was not enough to win. The world was a very big place.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
 A reference to a Japanese short story about a restaurant where people get eaten. See here for more: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Restaurant_of_Many_Orders
 Is not only a reference to what Jesus said on the cross; it is the name of a Japanese drama film エリ・エリ・レマ・サバクタニ
 “hub” modern JP slang from Habuku “省く” or Murahachibu “村八分”
 Shitaigeri “死体蹴り” Japanese video game slang from fighting games, meaning to attack the opponent after the game has ended to move them across the screen after a win.
 Dias speaks with a slightly slurred voice when he uses Desu “です” he says Gesu “ゲス”.
 Nen-banashi “念話” is short hand for telepathy, this spelling is typically seen in manga and anime.
 Nininbaori “二人羽織り” or “Helping Hands” comedy performance; a performance in which one person wears a haori on their shoulders, while another person behind them puts their arms through the sleeves of the haori and feeds the person in front
 Their pronoun is Wagahai “吾輩” historically a male pronoun, but is now used as an arrogant pronoun that is sometimes used by teenagers during Chūnibyō.
 Fire time is from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM
 Baseball slang Batchikōi “バッチコーイ” , meaning to call for a pitch as a batter.
 Puck uses 女将, and Rem uses オカミ both are Okami, the Japanese term for a woman that runs a Japanese inn, or restaurant or is a hostess/waiter.
 This Translation is “as-is” with no corrections or editing from the original source. Only the formatting of the text has been done as per the translator’s request.
 Attendant = 小間使い (komazukai)
- Helper = オコマ (okoma)
There was no way to shorten “attendant” so I used “helper” instead.
 Ryokucha = A type of tea in Kararagi. Literally green tea.
 Dekoyaki = A type of food in Kararagi. Probably something like takoyaki.
 This Translation is “as-is” with no corrections or editing from the original source. Only the formatting of the text has been done as per the translator’s request.
 おねショタ (oneshota) is “older girl x young boy”
 Hollow = ghost in the Re:Zero universe.
 ミイラ取りがミイラになる “a mummy hunter becoming a mummy”.
It’s a phrase for when someone who went to look for someone else became unable to come back. It could also mean that someone who went to convince someone else became convinced by the other person instead.
 What Priscilla actually says here is テンションが上がる. It would be “my tension is increasing” if it was literally translated, but that will mean something different.
 What Al actually says here is ラッキースケベ (lucky sukebe). It’s a type of fanservice in anime/manga where a character accidentally witnesses another character being naked, or where a character accidentally touches another character’s you know what.