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*** This is really, really not good. Feeling the hard texture of the ground against his face, he realized that he had fallen facedown on the ground. He couldn't move, even when he tried, and he already couldn't feel his fingers. What he did feel was a certain heat, and it overwhelmed his entire body. It's hot, it's hot, it's hot, it's hot, it's hot, it's hot, it's hot. He coughed and vomited the blood he felt rising in his throat the source of his waning life. So much came out that it frothed at the edges of his mouth. With his hazy vision, he could see the ground in front of him stained red. You've...got to be kidding me... All of this is mine? Feeling as though all of the blood in his body had spilled out of him, he reached a shaking hand to try to find the source of the heat that was burning through his body. As his fingertips reached the large cut in his stomach, he understood. No wonder it felt so hot. His brain must have been mistaking pain for heat. The clean gash that ran through his torso was so deep it had almost sliced him in half. Only bits of skin were still holding him together. In other words, he had run right into a checkmate in the chess game of his life. As soon as he realized that, his consciousness immediately began to fall away from him. Before his eyes, he saw a black boot descend, making ripples in the red pool of his fresh blood. Someone was there, and that someone...was probably the one who killed him. But he didn't even think to look that person in the face. It didn't matter anymore. The one thing he did wish was that she, at least, would be safe. " baru?" He felt as if he heard a voice that rang like bells. That he heard that voice, that he could hear that voice, felt like salvation to him more than anything else, so *** With a short scream, someone else crumpled upon the carpet of blood. She landed right beside him. He lay there, weakly attempting to reach her. Her white hand fell, powerless. He lightly grasped it in his own bloodstained grip. He felt the fingers of her hand move slightly to accept his own. "Just you wait..." He seized his fading consciousness, pulling it desperately back to buy a bit more time. "I'm going to..." find a way to save you. In the next instant, he Subaru Natsuki lost his life. CHAPTER 1 *** This is really going to be a problem. With no money and no idea what to do, he repeated the thought over and over again in his mind. Well, it wasn't completely accurate to say he had no money. The wallet in his pocket was filled with all the cash he owned, enough to go on a little bit of a shopping spree if he had to under normal circumstances. But in this case, "no money" is really the only way to describe his situation. "Yeah, but the currency system here is completely different, isn't it..." The young man flicked his rare notched ten-yen coin in the air and breathed a deep sigh. He didn't really have any features about him that stood out. He had short black hair and was of average height, being neither short nor tall. He was a bit muscular, though, as if he had been working out, and the cheap gray tracksuit that he was wearing really suited him quite well. He had small irises, so the whites of his eyes stood out, but right now, the way his eyes were downcast, he didn't have a very aggressive or championing look to him. He looked average enough to be quickly lost in a crowd...but right now, most of those passing by looked at him out of the corners of their eyes as if they were looking at something strange they had never seen before. But that was to be expected. After all, among all those onlookers, not one of them had black hair, nor were any of them wearing tracksuits. They had blond hair, red hair, and brown hair...some even had blue or green hair, among others, and they were wearing armor, or black robes, or the kind of costume a dancer might wear...that sort of thing. As he stood before the waves of open stares, the young man crossed his arms and had no other option but to accept the truth. "This has got to be one of those..." he said, snapping his fingers and pointing out toward the crowd of onlookers. "One of those so-called 'I've been summoned to another world' deals, right?" he said as an oxcart-like vehicle pulled by a giant lizard-like thing crossed in front of him. Subaru Natsuki was an extremely ordinary boy, born on Earth, the third planet in the solar system, to a middle-class family in the nation of Japan. If you were to sum up his nearly seventeen years of life, the previous sentence would be enough to describe him, and if you felt the need to add anything else, the extra sentence, "He was a third-year public high school student with a tendency to not show up to class," would be sufficient. Placed at a fork in the road of life, such as "whether to pursue a college degree or jump straight into the workforce," people are generally forced to make a decision one way or the other. That sort of decision-making is something everyone has to deal with and part of what we call life, but in Subaru's case (you might call it his specialty) he was a bit better than your average Joe at running away from things he did not like. In avoiding such a decision, the number of his unexcused absences had piled up, and before he knew it he was a bona fide truant, the kind parents weep over. "And to top it all off, now I've been summoned to a whole different world. I guess that seals the deal. I'm a high school dropout now. But seriously, what the hell is going on?" He felt as if he was having a not-so-well-thought-out dream, but even after pinching his cheeks and smacking his head against a wall, he wouldn't wake up. Subaru sighed. He had drifted away from where he was, getting all sorts of curious looks, and was now sitting against a wall in an alley just off the main road. "Assuming I really have been summoned to a fantasy world...the state of civilization appears to be the usual, medieval-like setting. So far, I haven't seen anything mechanical, but the roads are pretty well paved...and of course I can't use any of my cash." As for whether he could communicate with the people here, and regarding the value of goods, those were things that Subaru checked immediately upon realizing he had been summoned to a different world. Fortunately, he had no problem communicating, and he was able to confirm that commerce was handled in a currency of gold, silver, and copper coins. His first contact, a merchant at a fruit stand, wasn't all that welcoming to him, though. As for why Subaru was so quick to accept and understand his current situation, the fact that he was a modern Japanese youth poisoned by anime and games had something to do with it, and for that he was very thankful. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that as an adolescent boy, this sort of otherworldly summoning was the kind of thing you'd dream would happen to you, but on that note... "Without a little bit more of a welfare safety-net thing going on, a laid-back guy like myself isn't going to be able to deal, you know?" Subaru complained. Given his current situation, and pitiful starting equipment, he couldn't help it. His belongings consisted of a cell phone (which looked like it would run out of batteries soon), a wallet (filled with membership cards from various video rental stores), a cup of instant ramen he'd bought from a convenience store (pork bone and soy sauce flavor), a bag of crispy snacks bought from the same store (corn soup flavor), his favorite gray tracksuit (unwashed), and well-worn sneakers (two years old). That was it. "I don't even get a single Excalibur? I'm done. What am I supposed to do in this getup?" Well, there's only so much you can hope for when you're summoned to a different world on your way back from the convenience store. It had happened in the blink of an eye. Subaru had already gotten hungry and eaten half of the one thing he had that might have been of any use his pack of crispy snacks before realizing that he had just gone through his only source of food. But worrying about it wasn't going to help him now. Even if he'd wanted to put his hopes on the possibility that this was being staged as part of an elaborate reality TV show, the large lizard carts and look of all the people passing by nipped that in the bud. "The fact that no one seems to be paying attention to them means that they're probably normal...both those giant lizards and the half-humans." Subaru grumbled and looked on as people with strange outfits and colorful hair passed by, but out of all of them, the ones who really drove home the fact that he had been summoned to another world were the half-humans. Without having to look too long Subaru could see people with dog ears and cat ears, and there were even some who looked like they were lizardmen. But of course there were also ordinary humans, the same as Subaru. "So this is a world with half-humans...and probably wars and adventures, too. As for whether there are any animals I'm used to around... I'm not too sure, but given that lizard cart thing...it looks like they use animals in the same way we do." After putting all of that together, Subaru let out a long breath, but not a sigh. If things unfolded the way he had fantasized about before about otherworldly summoning, he ought to be able to use his knowledge of modern civilization to hold sway over everyone else...but there were a lot of things that still didn't make any sense. "The truth is, I have no idea what to do next, and I still have no idea how or why I was summoned. I don't remember stepping into a mirror or falling in a pond, and if I'm to believe this is the otherworldly summoning format I'm used to, where is the beautiful girl who summoned me?" The lack of a main heroine in this otherworldly summoning setup was a big hole in the plot. If this were taking place in a 2D world, someone in the creative department was seriously slacking off. If Subaru was really summoned for no reason and then abandoned just like that, it put him on the same level as single-use disposable goods. Now that Subaru had finished establishing the state of his surroundings, he really couldn't think of anything better to do than return to his default state of escaping from reality. "I guess if I keep this up, it's no different from locking myself up in my room back home." The thought of his parents crossed his mind, but right now he wasn't in a position where he could just sit around feeling homesick. Thinking he had to do something about his current situation, he stood back up and turned back toward the main road, but... Just as Subaru was about to walk out onto the main road, he almost bumped into someone who moved out in front of him. "Oh. Sorry 'bout that." Subaru gave a short apology and tried to continue past, but... "Hold up!" ...he was grabbed firmly by the shoulder and
pulled back into the alley. Nearly falling over himself as he turned around, Subaru looked up to see that the person who had thrown him back was a man with a large build. Behind that man were two of his buddies, and the three men stood in such a way as to block Subaru from exiting the alley onto the main road. The way they moved, it didn't appear this was the first time these men had done this, and Subaru had a bad feeling about what was going to come next. "Umm... May I ask what you three fine fellows plan on doing with me?" "Oh, it looks like this one here's a smart one! Well, nothing to worry about. Just give us everything you've got on you, and there's no need for anyone to get hurt." "So that's the deal, huh? Yeah, I guess it would be. Ha-ha... This really sucks." The men's gazes were filled with scorn and ridicule. They looked like they were in their twenties, with the meanness of their personalities reflected in their faces and dirty appearances. They didn't look like they were half-humans, but they certainly weren't saints, either. You couldn't call it an unusual plot development. Encountering thugs was a way to show the dangers of everyday life. In other words... "Damn, I've triggered a compulsory event." As he looked at the men smirking, Subaru tried to hold the status quo with a fake smile and considered his options. He was in quite a pinch, but since the beginning of time, in stories where humans are summoned to other worlds, those humans tended to be able to wield some kind of superpower. If Subaru had been summoned to this world under the same conditions as the stories he was familiar with, it was very likely that he had been given some sort of power. With that thought, Subaru felt that his body was a little lighter than usual. "I'm starting to get the feeling that this world's gravity is, like, only a tenth of my world's. I can do this. I can do this! I'm going to mow you all down and make this the first chapter of my glorious future! You're only here so I can pull experience points off of you, you scum!" "What the hell is he going on about?" said one of the men. "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure he's making fun of us. Let's kill 'im," replied another. "Took the words right out of my mouth... You're going to regret this!" returned Subaru, before flying forward with a straight jab from his right hand, aiming for the big man in front. Subaru's fist collided with the man's nose, but he also cut his fist on one of the man's front teeth and started bleeding. I hit someone for the first time in my life! Wow! It hurts way more than I expected. Subaru was confident in his fighting form, but he had never been in a real fight before. The man who was punched fell to the ground. Without taking a moment to pause, Subaru leapt at another of the men, caught off guard, as his next target. With a clean arc he landed a kick on the side of the next man's head, slamming him into the wall of the alley. This was going even better than he'd expected, and he started to be sure of the notion that he was invincible in this new world. "I guess in this world my stats are pretty good! What a rush! Now to finish this!" Turning back around, Subaru bent forward to beat down the last man standing, when his eyes centered on what that man was holding in his hand: a glinting knife. Immediately Subaru dropped to his knees, bent over forward, and with a spectacular single motion prostrated himself, pressing his forehead against the ground. "I'm sorry, that was absolutely terrible of me, I ask that you forgive me and please find it in your generous hearts to spare my life!" Prostration it was the most exteme form of showing absolute submission to another and the lowest form of Japanese humility. Just where did all of that fired-up feeling go? Subaru felt as if he could hear the blood drain from his body. Desperately clinging to any hope of mercy, he tried to make himself seem small and continued to apologize. With a knife involved, fighting was out of the question. No matter how you might train yourself, if you were stabbed, it was all over. All things in life are transient. Before he knew it, the two that Subaru thought he had defeated were back on their feet. One was holding his bleeding nose and the other was shaking his head back and forth, but other than that both looked as though they were in surprisingly good condition. "What?! You mean to tell me that my one-hit knockout punch only did that much damage?! What about my superpowers?!" "I dunno what you're going on about, but shut your trap! You've really done it now!" It looked as though Subaru had been completely wrong about being summoned into another world coming with the promise of some kind of powers. He wasn't really any stronger than he had been before. One of the men stepped on the back of Subaru's head, scraping his forehead against the ground and causing him to bleed. Another then kicked him in the face, and Subaru curled into a ball as tightly as he could as he was subjected to further acts of violence. After all, the one who hit first was Subaru. The men didn't hold back at all. Crap, this really, really hurts. Like, I could die. No, seriously. Unlike in his own world, there was no guarantee that these thugs wouldn't take his life. At this rate, it would be better to try one last-ditch effort to retaliate before he was beaten to death... "Stop moving, you whelp!" "Ow! No, don't... Ow! Ow! Ow!!" The man with the knife stomped on Subaru's hand as he tried to get up, then readjusted his grip on the knife so that the tip was held back toward his arm, ready to strike. "After we make sure you can't move we're going to take everything you've got. That's what you get for acting tough, you punk..." "I-if you're looking for money or valuables, I'm sorry but you're out of luck. After all, I don't have a cent on me...!" "Then those strange-looking clothes and shoes'll do just fine. You can just stay down and be food for the alley rats!" Oh, so there are rats in this world, too, Subaru thought. I hope they aren't big, like monster rats or anything. Subaru looked at the knife about to come down as if it didn't concern him at all, distancing himself from reality as best he could. Subaru didn't see his life flash before his eyes, and he didn't feel like time was slowing down, either. The end would probably come like the cutting of a thread, he thought. But just then... "Hey! Out of the way! Out of the way! I'm talking to you! Move!" yelled someone in a flustered-sounding voice as they dashed into the alley. Like the men, who suddenly looked up, Subaru managed to glance up in the direction of the voice, though he couldn't move his body. What he saw was a small girl with longish blond hair dashing by. From her red eyes, you could sense a strong will, and her one canine tooth sticking out made her look like quite a prankster. She seemed more cheeky than anything else, but Subaru felt that if she smiled she would look pretty cute. As if it had been staged for a comeback, the fading light of hope Subaru had been holding lit anew. He was waiting for this kind of development. The girl, in her well-worn clothes and unclean appearance, had stumbled upon this attempted murder and robbery in the act! What would surely happen next, was that with an overflowing sense of justice this girl would save Subaru's life, right from the clutches of death... "Whoa! You look like you're in quite a pinch there, but sorry! I've got my hands full right now! Good luck! Live life to the fullest!" "Wait, what?! Are you serious?!" Unfortunately, that hope was shattered in an instant. The girl raised her hand in an apologetic sort of gesture and didn't slow down as she continued racing down the alley. She went right past the men and kept going toward what should have been a dead end, kicked off against a wooden plank set up against the end wall, grabbed the top of the wall, and lightly flung herself up onto the roof of one of the surrounding buildings, where she disappeared. After the girl was gone, a silence fell upon the alley. It was as if a hurricane had just passed. Both Subaru and the men were dumbstruck. However, this didn't mean that Subaru's situation had improved at all. "Doesn't what just happened make your anger just sort of melt away and make you want to change your minds about all of this?!" "More like it killed the mood and now I'm even angrier. Don't think you'll get to die a pleasant death!" The men kept their feet planted on Subaru so he couldn't move. As Subaru looked at the glint of the knife in the man's hand, the death that loomed before him seemed ever more real. No, I mean, you've got to be kidding. I can't die this easily, can I? A twitching smile formed on Subaru's face as he looked around desperately for someone to deny the death that was coming his way. However, no such convenient development came. The tip of the knife drew ever closer. A feeling of resignation came over Subaru and he felt tears welling up in his eyes. It wasn't fear that overwhelmed him; it was more the feeling of emptiness that this would all end without him accomplishing anything. In the midst of this overwhelming despair, feeling as if he had been abandoned by everyone and everything... "Hold it right there, you evildoers!" That voice overcame the noise of the crowd, the vulgar insults of the men, Subaru's own heavy breathing, as well as everything else, and shook the very foundations of the world. When people say, "Time stood still," they must surely be talking about times like this. There was a girl standing at the entrance to the alley. She was beautiful. She had long silver hair, with braids in it that reached down to her hips. She was looking straight at Subaru with violet eyes that shone with intelligence. In her soft features were both elements of youth but also mature beauty. There was also a noble air about her that gave her a dangerous and bewitching charm. The girl was about one head shorter than Subaru, which made her around five feet, three inches tall. The clothes she wore used white as a base color, and there was nothing terribly ornate about them, but on the other hand, the simplicity emphasized her presence. The one thing that stood out was the white cloak the girl was wearing. It was emblazoned with embroidery that depicted a bird of prey, adding to her impression of majesty. However, it wasn't the clothes she wore that made her shine so. "I will not stand by and watch any more of your wrongdoing. That is enough." Her voice, like silver bells, rang beautifully in Subaru's ears, and for a moment he forgot the situation he was in. He was completely undone by the silver-haired girl's presence. The other men seemed to be just as shaken up as Subaru was. "Wha... Who do you think you are...?" "If you stop right now, I'll let you go. In a way, this is my fault for
not being cautious. So do the right thing and give back what you stole." "Hey, what she's wearing looks expensive. You think she's nobility? Wait, huh...? What we stole?" "Please. It is very precious to me. I'd be willing to give it up if it were anything else, but I absolutely can't in this case. Please. I won't do anything to you, so please just give it back." The girl looked as if she was pleading with all her heart. However, there was an inexplicable feeling of pressure that rose within the group. Something was happening that was hard to explain. "W-wait a minute! We don't know what you're talking about!" "...What do you mean?" The men pointed to Subaru, still underfoot. "You didn't come here to rescue this guy...did you?" "...Those are some weird clothes that boy is wearing. Did you all have a fight among yourselves? I don't think three against one is really fair, but...if you're asking me if I know this person, I haven't ever seen him before in my life." Perhaps it was because she thought the men were trying to change the subject, but you could hear an amount of irritation in her voice. Because of that, each of the men rushed to explain themselves. "Wait a second! If you're not after this guy, then we're not involved! I bet it was that girl from before!" "You said you had something stolen from you, right?! That wall! You see that wall? She jumped off that wall and ran away on the rooftops!" "She's farther back! Back past that wall! At the rate she was going, she's probably another three streets down!" As the men continued to plead their innocence, the girl turned her eyes to Subaru, as if asking whether these men were telling the truth. Without thinking, Subaru nodded. "Hmm... It doesn't look like you're lying. So the one who stole from me is down farther ahead? I've got to hurry..." The girl turned away from Subaru and the men and toward the main road. The men clearly looked relieved. Subaru, faced with the reality of his abandonment, started to enter a state of shock, when... "Still, this situation is one I can't just ignore." As she turned back around the girl put her hand up, palm facing outward, and a series of shining lights began to dance in front of it. A dull thud rang out, like that of a hard object striking flesh, followed by the cries of the men as they were thrown backward. Then, there was a high-pitched sound as a fist-size clump of ice fell to the ground right beside Subaru. The clump of ice, which seemed to have formed heedless of both the season and the laws of physics, quickly evaporated as if it were being eaten by the surrounding air. "...Magic." The best word to describe what just happened immediately tumbled out of Subaru's mouth. There wasn't any incantation or anything, but that chunk of ice had definitely shot out of that girl's palm. Magic having seen it with his very own eyes for the first time, Subaru realized something. "It isn't quite as fantasy-like as I imagined... To be honest, this is kind of a letdown." Subaru had imagined there would be more light and energy being bounced around. In reality, all that happened was an unrefined-looking clump of ice suddenly materialized, was used as a blunt object for physical damage, and then suddenly disappeared. There was no feeling or anything put into it at all. "Now...you've done it." Subaru's feelings on magic aside, the other men, who had taken a real hit from those clumps of ice, got back to their feet. To be fair, it was only two of them who managed to get back up. The remaining man must have gotten hit in a bad spot, because he was still knocked out. But rather than this fact taking the fight out of them, it seemed to just make the other two men even angrier. Standing next to the man with the knife, the other drew out a blunt, club-like object, and both were ready to fight. "I don't care if you're a magic user or nobility or whatever! I've had enough. We're gonna kill you! Do you really think you can win a two-on-one fight?!" yelled the man with the knife, holding his face, blood still dripping from his nose. In response to his threats, the girl closed one of her eyes. "You're right, one against two sounds like it could be a little tough." "...In that case, would two on two be bit more fair?" As if it were finishing the girl's sentence, a new, higher-pitched, genderless voice entered the fray. Startled, Subaru looked around. The other men also followed suit, but there wasn't anyone inside or at the entrance to the alley who looked as though they were the owner of that voice. Then, as if to show both Subaru and the other men the answer to their question, the girl extended her left hand. Sitting on top of her palm and white fingers, there it was. "When you all stare at me like that, full of expectation, it's uh...kind of embarrassing." Using its paw to clean its face was a small, palm-size cat that stood upright on its two hind legs. It had gray hair and floppy ears. To the best of Subaru's knowledge it was nearest to an American shorthair. That is, if you ignored the fact that its nose was pink and it had a tail about the length of its body. Seeing the small, palm-size cat, the man with the knife seemed overcome with fear and yelled, "Y-you're a spirit mage?!" "That's right. If you want to leave right now, I won't chase after you, but make up your minds quick. I'm in a hurry." With that, the men rushed to pick up their fallen companion and leave the alley, but as they passed the girl on their way out, one of the men clicked his tongue and said, "I'm going to remember your face, you bitch. The next time we see you it won't go this well for you." "If you do anything to her I'll curse you and all of your offspring, you know? Though, in that case you won't be having any." For the thug, that must have been his best attempt at intimidation, but in contrast, the cat's response was light in tone but much more severe. The cat didn't seem to be completely serious, but the men paled more than they ever had before, and ran out into the main road without another word. Once the thugs were gone, Subaru was left alone in the alley with the girl and her cat. Thinking that he at least needed to say thanks, Subaru forgot his pain and started to get to his feet, but... "Don't move," said the girl in a cold emotionless voice. You could see in her eyes that she was being cautious. Even though she realized that Subaru was not with the other thugs, she wasn't about to let her guard down, that much was clear. It was actually Subaru's reaction that was more out of place. Even though the girl was looking at him like that, he was fixed on her beautiful and bewitching violet eyes. Not used to seeing such beauty, Subaru unthinkingly blushed and looked away. "See? I knew I was on to something. If he had nothing to hide, he wouldn't look away like that," said the girl. "I'm not so sure about that. That seems like a very natural reaction for a boy like him. I'm sensing zero evil intentions," responded the cat. "Be quiet, Puck. ...You know the girl who stole my badge, don't you?" Shushing her cat, the girl turned to Subaru. Her expression, full of confidence, was lovely. However... "I'm sorry to let you down like this, but I totally don't know her, like, completely not at all." "Wai What? Seriously!?" As her confidence was stripped from her face, Subaru was able to get a glimpse of how she naturally expressed herself, as opposed to her ongoing act. With that dignified air of hers out the window, the girl, flustered, turned quickly to the cat still resting on her palm. "Wh-wh-what are we going to do? Was this really all just a waste of my time...?" "A waste that's still in progress... I really think you should hurry. She was really fast when she ran away, so there's a good chance the culprit has some kind of strange protection on her side." "Ugh... How can you be so unconcerned about all of this, Puck?" "You're the one who told me not to get too involved, you know? Anyway, what are we going to do about him?" the cat said, as if just remembering about Subaru. As the topic of conversation centered back on him, Subaru put on a weak smile. "Oh," said the girl as she finally realized the cat was talking about Subaru. In response, Subaru put on an empty display of confidence and replied, "Don't worry about me. Thanks to your help, I'll be fine. You're in a hurry, right? You should go..." Subaru had hoped to finish this off with, If you'd like, I don't even mind helping you out. How about it, m'lady? while brushing his hair back and flashing a smile, but... "...Huh?" Suddenly dizzy, Subaru reached for the wall but missed, and fell face-first back onto the ground. "Wait. You shouldn't try to stand up just ye Well...okay," came the cat's warning, just a step too late. After falling with zero capacity to catch himself, Subaru felt a sharp pain as his consciousness went winging away. "...So, what should we do?" "He has...nothing to do with us. That's not enough to kill him. We're going to leave him." In the far reaches of his consciousness as it left him, Subaru could hear just a little of the pair's conversation. That's an otherworldly fantasy for you. Everyone has quite the severe view on the concept of empathy. Am I just going to be abandoned here in this alley? was the negative take. Well, I suppose I was going to die, and now I'm not, so I should be super grateful, was a more positive thought. With those two views in mind, Subaru's consciousness drifted further and further...further and further away... "Are you sure?" "I'm sure!" Right before the thread of Subaru's consciousness was cut for good, he was able to see that silver-haired girl, red in the face, turn around and shout. "There's no way! No way that I'm going to save him, okay?! Okay?!" Man, even when she's angry she's really cute. Go otherworldly fantasies. With that last thought, really this time, once and for all, Subaru's consciousness fell into darkness. It occurred to Subaru that the feeling of waking up was similar to having your face rise up from out of a body of water. When he opened his eyes, the sun's light was at an angle and shone into them, causing him to squint at the brightness and rub his eyes. He woke up in a rather pleasant way, and Subaru was the type of person to be fully awake once he opened his eyes. "Oh, you awake?" said a voice from right above Subaru's head, with him still lying down. As Subaru turned to look in the direction of the voice, he realized that he was still lying on the ground, but had his head on something soft that was being used as a pillow. "You shouldn't move. You hit your head, so I can't say whether it's safe to just yet." This concerned voice also sounded very kind, as Subaru remembered what happened just before he lost consciousness, he thought. Given the circumstances, he might just be in one of those blessed situations one hopes to be in as a boy. To have one's
head in a girl's lap... Responding to this divine revelation, Subaru pretended to turn to readjust so he could enjoy himself to the fullest. With a circular motion he rubbed his cheek against it and reached a feeling of absolute bliss, and far more than he expected he felt a fluffiness from the softness of the hair. "Wow... Beautiful girls are a lot hairier than I imagin Hey, wait a minute!" sputtered Subaru as he faced up, this time with his vision fully recovered, and took in what was happening. Right in front of Subaru, in his upside-down vision, was the face of a giant cat. "I thought that at least until you woke up, I'd make you feel comfortable. You can thank me later." "First of all, I'd like you to stop with that terrible falsetto voice. There's no way I'd mistake a cat for the heroine." Subaru had certainly never been in a situation before where he got to use a human-size cat's lap for a pillow and, well, it wasn't like you get to experience this every day, so he decided to make the best of it. "Wow, this is actually really comfortable. Like, this is amazing. Now I understand why people want to love their cats 'til they go bald." "Well, if you're going to be this happy about it, I guess it was really worth super-sizing... Don't you think so, too?" The cat scratched at his face as if it were embarrassed and winked as if seeking a confirmation. At the end of that glance was a silver-haired girl, standing at the entrance to the alley looking unfazed. It was the same girl from before, if Subaru was to believe his memories, eyes, and heart, which were all deeply branded by her image right before he lost consciousness. "Umm...I'm sorry about all of this. It looks like you ended up staying here with me until I woke up, and " "Don't get any ideas about this. The only reason I stayed is because I still have some questions to ask you. If it weren't for that, I would have left you behind. I mean it. So don't get any ideas." Pressing the point, the girl put strong emphasis on her words. This was a level of girl power that Subaru, who had no resistance against such beautiful girls, simply could not stand against. It was so strong that Subaru could do nothing but nod, ignoring the content of whatever she was saying. "The reason I healed your wounds, and the reason I had Puck serve as a pillow until you woke up all of that was for me. So I'm going to have you make it up to me, okay?" "I know you're trying to build this up and everything, but if you just have something to ask, go right ahead," said Subaru. It looked like she was one of those people who took the saying "helping others isn't just for their sake" to heart. The girl looked sternly at Subaru and shook her head. "I'm not asking, I'm commanding. You know something about my stolen badge, don't you?" asked the girl, dropping the tone of her voice. However, as this wasn't any different from what she had asked before, Subaru had to tilt his head in confusion. They had gone through this once already, right before Subaru had passed out. She keeps calling the thing a "badge," Subaru thought. So is it something like what police and detectives keep on themselves to prove what they are? I haven't seen anything like that. "You didn't hit your head real hard or anything while I was passed out, did you?" Subaru asked. "You were only out for about ten minutes, and no, nothing like that happened. Answer the question." "Well...if that's the case, I've got to say I really don't know. Ha-ha..." You can't do anything about what you don't know. Subaru's answer was no different from before. However, the girl didn't look particularly crestfallen, but instead nodded. "Well, if you don't know, you don't know. But, the fact that you know absolutely nothing itself is information you have provided to me, and enough for me to justify healing you," the girl replied, using twisted enough logic to baffle any swindler to describe her complete loss. As Subaru looked on, dumbfounded, the girl clapped her hands together as if to finish things. "Well, I'm in a hurry, so I'm going to get going now. Your wounds should all be healed, and I threatened those other guys so much I doubt they'll go near you again, but it's still dangerous to enter an alley like this all alone. Oh, and I'm not saying this because I'm worried about you; this is a warning: If I see you in a similar situation again, there won't be any merit to me saving you, so you can't expect me to do so again," said the girl with machine-gun rapidity. She took Subaru's silence as affirmation, nodded to herself, and turned around to leave. The girl's long silver hair swayed as she moved, and sparkled fantastically in the dim light of the alley. "I'm sorry about that. She's not really honest with herself. Don't think too strangely of her, okay?" said the cat with a laugh as, having returned to its original size, it jumped up onto the girl's shoulder. The girl patted its back as if to affirm its touch, and the cat disappeared, slipping behind the curtain of her hair. Without once looking back, the girl continued to walk on. As he watched her go, Subaru thought about what the cat had said, about her not being honest with herself, and her intentions. She had something stolen from her, and even though she was in a hurry to get it back, she saved Subaru. Then, after Subaru had passed out, she healed him, and when he woke up, she used terrible reasoning to try to show him that she wasn't worse off for doing so. "She's not really honest with herself" was not going far enough. Her efforts were coming up negative in everything, and it was hard to watch. The girl had every right to blame Subaru for getting in her way, but she hadn't complained even once, and she didn't even look for an apology. That's because to her, the only reason she saved Subaru was for her own ends. "If you live like that, you're just going to keep losing until there's nothing left," said Subaru as he got up, patted his dust-and dirt-covered tracksuit and started running. Sure, his beloved tracksuit was in pretty bad shape, but on the inside, almost all of his pain was gone. That's after being kicked and punched as much as he was. Again Subaru was reminded of the otherworldliness of magic, as well as the generosity of that girl who, despite going on and on about having Subaru pay her back, took nothing from him in return. "Hey, wait!" Subaru called out to the girl just as she had reached the entrance to the alley and was in front of the main road, looking unsure of where to go next. The girl touched her silver hair and looked a bit troubled as she turned around. "What is it? I'm going to tell you right now, I only have a bit more time to spend dealing with you." "So a little's fine, then?! Anyway, what you lost is really important, right? Let me help you look for it." The girl blinked a few times, surprised. "But you said you don't know anything..." "It's true that I don't know the name of the girl who stole that badge from you, or where she's from, but at least I know what she looks like! She's got blond hair, is sort of like a kitten, and has this canine tooth that sticks out that's hard to miss. She's shorter than you and her chest is pretty flat so she's maybe two or three years younger than you! How about that?!" When he got flustered, Subaru had a bad habit of speaking fast and not really even knowing what he was saying. Right now that bad habit was running at full blast, and even Subaru wanted to distance himself from his own words. The ensuing silence was painful. A cold sweat drenched Subaru's back, not to mention his hands and armpits, which was followed by heart palpitations, shortness of breath, as well as dizziness, and in addition to feeling faint, his nose stuffed up in an allergic reaction accompanied by a migraine, such that there were problems on every front. However... "...You're strange," the girl said with a hand up to her mouth, tilting her head to the side as if she were looking at some rare animal. With a finger still at her lips she stared at Subaru, sizing him up. "I should say up front that I can't offer you anything in return for your help. I might not look it, but I don't have a copper piece on me." "Don't worry, that makes two of us," replied Subaru. "Three of us, if you count me... Pretty terrible for us as a group," added a voice jokingly from the girl's silver hair, but Subaru ignored it and pounded his chest. "I don't need anything in thanks. I'm the one who should thank you. That's why I want to help." "I haven't done anything deserving of your thanks. I've already gotten something in return from healing you." She just won't give it up, will she? Subaru looked at the girl and her stubborn attitude with a weak smile. "If that's the case, then I'll help you for my own sake. The reason is...yeah, that's it. I'll use you for my 'one good deed a day' project!" said Subaru. "One good deed a day?" "That's right. Once a day you do one good thing. If you do that, after you die you've got a one-way ticket to heaven! If I can do it, then a wonderful life of just eating and sleeping is waiting for me so I hear! So that's why I'm going to help you for my own sake." Subaru felt like turning to himself and asking what the hell he was going on about, but at least he'd managed to make his point. The girl stood in thought, considering Subaru's words, when her cat poked at her cheek with its paws. "I don't sense any evil intentions from him, and I don't really think it's a bad idea, you know? With how large the capital is, it's way better than going on no clues at all." "But if I get him involved..." "You're cute when you're stubborn, but it's foolish to let your stubbornness get the best of you and make you lose sight of your goals. I'd really rather not think of my own master as a fool." The cat added its support in favor of Subaru, but the girl was still hesitant. In response, the cat dropped its expression and continued in a serious voice. "Plus, the sun is starting to set. If night falls, I won't be able to help you. I'm not worried about you handling a thug or two, but...it's better to be safe than sorry." "Well, it sounds like you're the one to call if there's danger! But, wait according to what you said, you can't come out at night? Is that one of the deals of your contract or something?" Subaru asked, taking a step closer. The cat flicked its whiskers with its front paw and said, "It's more like, I may look cute, but I'm a spirit, you know? I use a lot of mana just by materializing. When night falls, I return to the crystal that is my vessel and prepare for when the sun is out again. I suppose you could say it's the perfect nine-to-five job." "Nine to five? That sounds like a government job...
The conditions to hire a spirit sound more severe than I expected...!" Subaru was able to talk naturally about spirits, but that was only because of the analytical power he had as a modern otaku, poisoned by anime and games. Even traits looked down on by the public come in handy sometimes. While Subaru and the cat continued their conversation, the girl continued to anguish over her decision. However, that last point seemed to have tipped the scales, so after much moaning with a number of buts and stills and ifs she finally conceded. "I'm telling you, I really can't give you anything in return, okay?" After Subaru's first friendly interaction in this different world a pleasant, heartwarming episode one hour had passed. "What is the meaning of this?" Their investigation had stalled. As Subaru faced the girl's cold stare, he scratched at his face, trying to find a way out. "Even with all of my experience, I never thought that it would be this difficult..." "You seem to have a really high opinion of yourself, but I haven't seen anything from you to prove it. No matter how you slice it, things aren't going well!" "Nobody says, 'no matter how you slice it,' anymore..." Pointing that out only made things worse, and the girl's stare grew sharper, at which Subaru shrank away. Even though they had been searching for a little under an hour, for some reason, Subaru and the girl were back in an alley. Of course, there was a really good reason for this. There were several factors Subaru had discovered that made their search difficult. First, Subaru didn't know his way around town. Given that he had just been summoned from another world, it was hard to blame him for wanting a pass on this one. Additionally, it seemed that the girl was unfamiliar with the area as well, and at least ten minutes were wasted with both having full confidence that the other knew their way around. It was pretty funny, actually, or so Subaru thought. But the way the girl was staring at Subaru, she didn't seem to find it funny at all. Second, the characters and symbols written here and there...were completely illegible to Subaru. Given that Subaru didn't have any trouble communicating by speech, he hadn't thought all that much about it, but after a second look he saw that all around, here and there were handwritten symbols. Unless they were all some kind of "mystic charms to protect against evil magic" that tended to be popular, those symbols were probably letters for the common language. And because he couldn't understand them, he couldn't even read the road signs. In other words, while a miracle common in most otherworldly summoning works of fiction is "for some reason our words and writing are mutually understood!", in Subaru's case, only half of that came true. But given that if Subaru hadn't been able to communicate through words he would have been as good as dead, it was hard to call his situation unlucky. "Still, why do you have to raise the difficulty like that on me...? The world's not kind at all." Rather than exhausting all options, it was more of a case of finding a series of critical problems before you even get started. While despairing at making absolutely no progress over the past hour, Subaru noticed that his companion, that girl, was standing up by the wall of the alley with her eyes closed, paying absolutely no mind to him. Seeing her lips move as she muttered something a few times, he tilted his head in confusion. "Wonder what she's doing..." "Oh that? She's communicating with lesser spirits." Subaru raised his eyebrows in surprise as the girl's gray cat suddenly reappeared right in front of his eyes. "I thought that I hadn't seen you in a while, but you hadn't gone home or anything; you were here the whole time?" "There's still a bit of time left before I have to go. Unlike those minor spirits she's talking to, I take my job seriously." "Well that's quite honorable of you. ...But, what are these uh...lesser spirits again?" Going by the name, I suppose they're a rank down from regular spirits? Subaru thought. As if agreeing with Subaru's musing, the cat, floating in midair, waved its long tail back and forth. "Lesser spirits are beings that, in a state prior to becoming real spirits, start to develop some knowledge. If, over time, they gain power and self-awareness, they'll become spirits like me." As he nodded, listening to the cat's explanation, Subaru noticed that the area around the girl began to glow. The silver-haired girl was surrounded by faint lights that looked as though they were fireflies. It was the kind of scene that most people would subconsciously hesitate to interfere with. It was like holy ground, whereby the influence of the supernatural, only what was sanctified was allowed to be. In response to the scene, Subaru... "Wow! That's so cool! Are all of these glowing things spirits?" "Ah!" ...intruded on it without a second thought, breaking the fantasy of it all as he started talking to the girl. As the girl cried out in surprise, you could see droplets of tears that formed in reaction, sparkling in her eyes. Then the girl's flustered state spread to the lights around her and... "Oh, look at that. They're panicking." The many lights started to flee this way and that before finally scattering and disappearing into the air. "...Umm..." Both Subaru and the girl opened their mouths, dumbstruck, searching for where the lesser spirits had gone. Quickly the girl tried to continue what she had been doing, but it didn't appear the lesser spirits were heeding her call anymore. "Just look at what you did! They're gone! What are you going to do about this?!" "Ah... Um... I'm sorry! It was my first time seeing spirits like that and I got a little excited. I mean, it didn't look like they were dangerous or anything." "It was only safe because I had them under control. If you had done that to an inexperienced spirit mage, it would have been awful. In the worst case, the spirits could have gone berserk and...BAM." "'Bam?'" The girl was trying to admonish Subaru for not taking his actions seriously, but using the word "bam" wasn't exactly helpful. "Oh, come on. There's no way those little sparkly things could be dangerous. Do you really expect me to believe that?" "Well, to put it one way," Puck said, "I may look pretty cute...but it would only take two seconds for me to turn you into a pile of dust." "Damn, spirits are scary!" A shiver went down Subaru's spine in response to the cat's peaceful-sounding death threat, and he looked back at the girl. "I definitely hope you don't happen to be so upset you set that cat on me or anything..." "I would never use Puck for something like that. If I were going to be violent with you, I'd handle you myself... Ugh, it really looks like they aren't going to answer me anymore." Failing to establish a second contact with the lesser spirits, the girl, depressed, shook her head powerlessly. "I suppose it's not helpful to ask this after the spirits have already gone, but what is it exactly that you were trying to do?" "I was trying to see if I could get any information from them about what I'm looking for. They disappeared before I was able to ask, though." "What, really?!" Subaru was struck speechless by the gravity of his mistake. Seeing that, the girl jumped in. "Um, b-but... It did take some time and lesser spirits don't have the kind of clear awareness that regular spirits have, so I wasn't really expecting much, but... Okay, I'm sorry, that's a lie." The girl's hesitancy to lie was in conflict with her desire for a positive outlook, so while she tried, she was unable to soften the blow. In fact, her struggle with herself only highlighted to Subaru his own stupidity. At this rate, he wasn't going to be able to do anything but slow her down. This is bad, both considering the debt I owe and the fact that she's my one precious connection in this world... I'm gonna do my best to cling to this relationship and not let go...! "From the look on your face, it looks like you're up to no good, but...did you think of something? Um..." In front of Subaru, who had found a questionable new sense of determination, the girl hesitated. Subaru tilted his head and stared at her for a while as she furrowed her brow, but it was the cat that came to her rescue. "Ah, now that I think of it, we haven't told each other our names yet, have we? Should we introduce ourselves?" "Oh, you're right. Well then, I guess I'll go ahead and go first!" In an overly energetic fashion, in part to help cover up for his previous mistake, Subaru struck a pose and pointed to the heavens. "My name is Subaru Natsuki! The ignorant and unintelligent, forever and everlastingly penniless! Nice to meet you!" "Well, that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, does it? Anyway, I'm Puck. Nice to meet you, too." As Subaru put out his hand, Puck leapt into it with his whole body for a handshake. An onlooker would probably think Subaru was trying to squeeze the cat to death. The girl blinked in surprise at Subaru's bold interaction. "It's rare to see someone who's willing to approach a spirit so easily...and your name is just as unusual. With black hair and dark eyes like that just where did you come from?" "Ha, I was waiting for you to ask that question. Given this trope, I'll have to say I come from a small country to the east!" This is a pattern that has often come up in otherworldly fiction since times long past. A character will state that they come from a hidden country to the east, called something like "Zipang." There tends to not be that much interaction between countries, so if you say you've traveled to where you are from that country, it will make sense to most people. It's a magically convenient clich脙漏. "If you look at a map of the continent, Lugunika is the country farthest to the east, so...there's no country to the east of here." "What, are you serious? We're at the ends of the east?! So...does this make this country my long-yearned-for Zipang?!" "So you don't know where you are, you don't have any money, you can't read, and you have no one you can count on. I'm starting to think you're worse off than I am..." While Subaru was shocked at this new development, the girl was also starting to look anxious. With every action she took you could see the element of her personality that made her want to help others. She probably couldn't help but be concerned about Subaru, who to her was looking more and more to be not only defenseless, but absolutely helpless. The girl looked at Subaru again carefully, from the top down. "Taking another look at you, you actually look like you're in pretty good shape. Um... Uh... Subaru." "Huh? Oh. Yep, Subaru. That's my name." Having his name called in such a hesitant way for some reason felt like a fresh new experience to Subaru, and he couldn't help but stumble in his response. After clearing his throat to hide the fact that he was shaken up, he showed his biceps. "I do strength training every day. Since I'm almost always cooped up in my room, I've got to do at least that much to stay in shape." "I don't really get what you mean by 'cooped up in your room,' but you're from a high-ranking family, aren't you? Weren't you taught some sort of martial
art?" "I'm actually from an extremely ordinary middle-class family, but...what makes you think I'm from a high-class family? Do I exude some refined air of nobility?" "Well, you do have a bit of a curious air to you, at least." Subaru jokingly raised his hands as if to acknowledge the flattery. But then the girl suddenly grabbed those hands, and Subaru, taken aback by the suddenness of her touch, had to hold back a squeak from rising out of his throat. "It's also these fingers of yours, but your skin and hair are part of it as well. These aren't the hands of a commoner, and your muscles don't look like the product of hard labor." Subaru blushed as the girl continued to poke at his hands, but understood. He was also impressed by her ability to see that he was not just simply a foreigner in a foreign land. As Subaru stood in wonderment, the girl continued. "Black hair and dark eyes. I hear that is a common trait of the refugees from the south, but the fact that you are here in Lugunika with those traits means that you are able to live a life of luxury. Also, the craftsmanship of these strange clothes of yours is magnificent... So, have I got it right?" As Subaru grew quiet, the girl put on a proud smile. Feeling admittedly drawn by the bewitching atmosphere she had made fitting of her beautiful smile, Subaru processed the contents of what she just said and made a reluctant face. "If you're asking me whether you're wrong or you are right...you're absolutely wrong, but is there any way I can say it so you won't get hurt?" "If I'm wrong, just tell me I'm wrong. If you don't, it's just going to be more embarrassing for me." The girl blushed as her earlier confidence transformed into embarrassment. As Subaru watched her go silent, he thought about how he was going to explain where he came from. He could just say, "I'm a loser who was summoned from another world!" but given the precedent set by fantasy fiction about other worlds, that would open the gates for him to be labeled as someone who was wrong in the head. Looking back on the results of what he had said so far, he felt there was a significant risk in telling the truth. "You don't have to think that hard about it, you know? If it's something you can't talk about, I won't question you any further." Seeing Subaru struggling with what to say, the girl came to her own conclusions and didn't press him. Given that she had come to his rescue yet again in a way, Subaru grimaced, feeling all the more useless. "But...really, this isn't looking very good," the girl muttered, in a now-weaker tone, a clouded expression on her face. "..." Seeing that the girl could no longer hide how hopeless she felt, Subaru felt a faint flame light up inside himself. "What am I, an idiot? Well, yeah, I am an idiot. Just what have I been doing all this time..." Right in front of Subaru stood the girl who saved his life. Hadn't he offered to help her out so that he could repay her? If that was the case, then how was he supposed to explain his total lack of support? "Subaru?" Seeing Subaru fall silent and looking troubled all of a sudden, the girl tilted her head and looked at him puzzled. Watching as with that motion her silver hair tumbled down off her shoulder, Subaru thought as hard as he could. Subaru tried to remember what had happened when the thief ran through that alley as those thugs were stomping on him. Focusing on that instant in time, he needed to find something, anything that he could use... "I have a few things that I want to check with you, is that okay?" "Um...okay, yeah. Go right ahead." "Thanks. I'm pretty sure I heard you mention it a few times, but this is the capital of whatever country we're in...right? So, basically it's the town that has the king's castle in it, and it's a really big place, is that correct?" Subaru asked, remembering bits of the conversation that he had had with the girl before. While Subaru realized that his question must have sounded strange, the girl didn't interrupt and simply nodded a yes. "So in this big city, there's a girl who appears to be making her living stealing things. By the look of her clothes, she definitely doesn't seem to be that well off... Now this may be obvious, but there's got to be a place where people like that live." *** "Is there a place where crime is rampant, or something like a slum in the area...? I'm sure it's hard to exchange stolen goods for money without some connections, so I think there's a good chance she would have to go back to a place like that." With the image of the thief burned in his memory, Subaru analyzed her from head to toe, and used all of the knowledge he had about fantasy settings to help form his hypothesis. "So, I think rather than searching around aimlessly, we have a better chance if we aim for that, but... What's wrong?" "I was just surprised. You really do have a good head on your shoulders." "Well, rather than a logical conclusion, it's more that it's a common theme in medieval fantasy, but...if this is all it takes for you to start thinking better of me I have a feeling that I've got a long way to go..." Despite Subaru's response, he seemed to be taking the girl's praise rather well. While Subaru scratched at the side of his head to try to keep from showing how embarrassed he was, the girl nodded several times. "We'll go with your plan. Let's go back out to the main road and ask some people if they know of a place that's like what you described." "We're already really behind as it is, after all. Let's hurry up and get going." After Subaru and the girl looked at each other and nodded, they headed out of the alley and toward the main road. However, right before they could start their search for a spot where a lot of people who they could question were passing by, Subaru remembered something. "I was just thinking... I know your cat's name now, but I don't think you ever told me your name, ha-ha." While Subaru thought that bringing this up now might have not been the best time, the girl's eyes widened a bit in surprise. She then closed them, and after a few seconds of silence, said... "...Satella." "Oh?" Subaru, who because of her silence had begun to think that he had made a mistake, was a bit late in reacting to her whispered reply. In response, the girl turned away from Subaru and continued. "I don't have a last name, so you can just call me Satella." Her voice had no emotion in it. Because of her attitude, it was as if, though she was giving her name, she was refusing to be called by it. Through her actions, this girl, who gave her name as "Satella," was putting a distance between herself and Subaru more than she had ever done before. Subaru, who already thought that he would feel more comfortable having a surname to call her by rather than having to use her personal name, felt that he really couldn't use that name at all. For the time being, looking for a way out, Subaru decided to avoid using her name entirely, and instead just use pronouns. As he observed Subaru and the girl's exchange from the sidelines, Puck had one thing to say before slipping back under the girl's silver hair. "...That's in really bad taste, you know," it muttered, though its voice did not even reach the girl's ears, let alone Subaru's. Using the sounds of the bustling crowd as a guide, Subaru and Satella walked back through the alley they were in and reached the main road about ten minutes later. Shifting his gaze this way and that, Subaru looked for who they should question first, when Satella, who stood beside him, pulled on his sleeve. "Hey, Subaru..." When Subaru looked back at Satella he saw that she had her gaze fixed on something on the other side of the street. Subaru looked in the same direction and realized what Satella was looking at. I have a bad feeling about this, he thought. Adding further weight to his fears, Satella continued, with a serious look on her face. "...Do you think that kid is lost?" Out of all the possible things that could go wrong with this plan, the final one had reared its head. "...Well, uh..." One of the several things that Subaru had discovered throughout the day was that the silver-haired girl standing next to him was an incorrigibly kind person. But, whether it was due to a curse or some other reason, she would not ever admit it herself. Subaru sighed a deep sigh. "Let's just calm down a minute." "What are we going to do if she gets up and goes somewhere while we're dillydallying?! We've got to go talk to her right away..." "You know, that kindness of yours is a great virtue, and given the fact that I myself was saved by that kindness I really don't want to say this, but do you have any idea what situation you're in right now?" Where Satella was looking, near the buildings across the street, there stood a young girl. She looked as though she was around ten years old, with shoulder-length brown hair that was very cute. If she smiled, the people around her probably would not be able to resist smiling back, but unfortunately, at the moment her eyes were filled with anxiety, and she looked moments away from tears. There was probably an 80 or 90 percent chance that Satella's observation was correct. Subaru was sure it was, but... "There's also that my screw-ups are partially at fault, but the thief who stole from you is just getting farther and farther away from us. If we waste any more time here, by the time we catch her, she might already have sold it and then we'll have no way to get it back." "You're probably right...but..." "Then..." Certainly it would feel bad to just leave the girl like that, but with all of the other people around, the chance that someone else would help her was high. On the other hand, Subaru and Satella were pressed for time, and needed to gather information to continue their search. No matter how he thought about it, their current plan should have priority over helping that little girl, but... "But don't you see, Subaru? Look at her, she's crying." *** "If you don't want to stick around with me, that's just fine. Thanks for everything you've done, Subaru. I'll figure this out on my own...after I help that little girl." While Subaru stood at a loss for words, Satella looked like she had already made her decision. The way she said it, it wasn't as though she was saying that Subaru just didn't understand and she was tired of him, but that she felt guilty for forcing Subaru to play along with her unreasonableness. Her silver hair dancing behind her, Satella trotted off across the street to where the little girl was standing. The girl, who had been looking down with her teary eyes, noticed that someone had suddenly come to her side. There was a glimmer of hope in her eyes as she looked up, probably because she thought the person she was looking for had found her. "I'm sorry I'm not the one you're looking for," said Satella as she knelt down to talk to the
girl, whose eyes opened wide in surprise. But in those eyes was not a feeling of relief, but a feeling of fear. You could tell, even from far away, that being spoken to by a stranger had caused her heart to shrink away, afraid. "I'm sorry if I'm bothering you, but where are your father and mother? Aren't they with you?" It looked as though Satella had noticed the girl was afraid, and her voice was in a tone that was kinder than Subaru had ever heard it before. However, it wasn't enough to convey her concern to the girl, who had lost sight of her parents and was now shivering because she did not know what to do. "Umm... Uh... Please don't cry. I won't do anything to hurt you, okay?" Satella tried to keep open the girl's heart before it shut completely on her, but it didn't seem to work, and the little girl only shook her head back and forth. The tears that had welled up in her eyes looked as though they were about to overflow, when... "Now feast your eyes on this magnificent notched ten-yen coin!" "Huh?" said Satella, surprised by the sudden voice that had leapt in, and when she looked up, there was Subaru in his gray tracksuit. Subaru first smiled weakly at Satella's reaction, and then turned his smile from her to the little girl. The sudden intruder had also surprised her. Subaru then put out his right hand in front of her. "Now, can you see this coin here in my right hand? I bet you can! All right, now I'm going to squeeze it tight. Like this...squeeze squeeze squeeze..." "Wait, Subaru...what are you...?" "And would you look at that!" Ignoring Satella's interruption, Subaru took his fist where he had been holding the notched ten-yen coin and opened it wide for the two to see. When he did, the coin that should have been in his hand was gone. "Wow! The coin I was squeezing is gone! Now where could it have run off to...?" The little girl blinked a few times and then stared hard at Subaru's right hand, but whether she looked at the back of his hand or his palm, she couldn't find it. Subaru, emboldened by the girl's reaction, nodded, and then reached out with his left hand and gently brushed his fingers through her hair. "Would you look at that! So this is where the coin was hiding." When the little girl saw the coin resting between the fingers of Subaru's left hand, she was stunned. Satella, who couldn't figure out the trick, was just as confused. Subaru took a magnificent bow before the two and then dropped the notched ten-yen coin in the little girl's hand. "I'll let you keep it as a present. It's special, so take good care of it, okay?" Subaru looked on with a smile as the little girl held the coin close and nodded vigorously. As he was doing so, Satella poked him in the side. "Hey, Subaru..." "Don't look at me like that. I mean, I'll admit what I said before was a bit harsh but..." "How did you do that?" "Oh, you mean that? You're not questioning my motives, but how I did the trick?" Subaru promised to explain the trick later to Satella, who looked very interested, before turning back to the little girl, who was looking very curiously at the ten-yen coin. It seemed like Subaru's amazing magic had helped calm down her anxiety. When Subaru knelt down and asked her a few questions, she answered them quickly and clearly. "I see. So you got separated from your mother, huh. Don't worry, don't worry. Just leave it to your big brother and sister. We'll find her right away!" After giving the girl another pat on the head, Subaru held out his hand to her, and with a little hesitation, she grabbed it. Satella, who was watching, opened her eyes wide. "You really look like you're used to this... Subaru, is your profession taming children?" "When you take it out of context like that, that sounds really, really bad! And no. I'm unemployed." Technically, Subaru had the incredibly convenient status of being a student. However, given that he hadn't been going to school lately, and particularly now that he had been summoned to a different world, he didn't really feel that he was qualified to call himself that anymore. But, regardless... "So, big sister, how about you hold this lonely little girl's hand? She looks like she could use another friend," said Subaru with a wink. The little girl had reached her other hand, the one that was not holding on to Subaru's, out to Satella. Satella looked surprised for a moment and held her breath, but then let it out and took the little girl's hand in her own. "Right. Don't you worry. Just let your big sister handle this. We'll definitely find your mom, okay?" Satella said, smiling at the little girl as she nodded silently. Subaru and Satella led the girl along, with her between them, and the three continued down the main road through the waves of people together. "The way we are now, don't you think there are some people out there who look at us and think that we're a young couple with our child? How embarrassing!" "...Huh? Even with the benefit of the doubt I don't see how anyone would think that you and that girl are anything other than brother and sister..." "I can't tell if that's just a really dry joke, or that's really what you thought I meant!" As Satella and Subaru went on talking, the little girl between them let a small smile spread across her face. Fortunately, perhaps because they really stood out as a group, it didn't take long before they found the little girl's mother. In this case, it wasn't only Subaru who stood out, but also Satella, with her silver hair and extraordinary beauty. "Thank you so much!" Once the girl's mother was reunited with her child, she thanked Subaru and Satella several times, though they smiled and played it off as if it were nothing. As the little girl and her mother were leaving, the girl looked back and waved good-bye several times, and Subaru and Satella waved back. Subaru turned to look at Satella, as she stood beside him waving to the girl, and saw that she had a bright and cheerful expression on her face. "Now, I get the feeling that we've wasted a lot of time doing this, but what does our big sister have to say? I'm sure she'll find some kind of way to describe this as a means to an end!" Subaru said in an orchestrated manner, snapping his fingers and making fun of Satella's all-too-kind nature. Of course, he wasn't really criticizing her; it was more that he was just poking fun. After all, Satella had given such a roundabout excuse for why her encounter with Subaru was useful, so he was curious to hear what she would say. "...It's simple." In response to Subaru's teasing, Satella smiled. "Now we can be in a good mood as we continue to search." *** "Even if we got my badge back, I'm sure I would have regretted not helping that girl. Don't you think it is better to both help the girl and get my badge back?" It didn't look like Satella was just saying that to keep her own hopes up. She looked so refreshed she probably believed it. With that kind of response, Subaru really didn't know what to say. He would have to rethink his opinion of this girl. Not only was she the type of person who was so kind she always ended up losing everything, she also was the type of person who wanted to have it all. "I see. You're right. Thanks to your quick decision, we won't have to say, 'Sure, we abandoned that little anxious crying girl all lost and by herself, but we were able to get the badge back, safe and sound, hooray!'" "Well that's a really negative way to put it," said Satella, frowning, then glaring at him as though she seemed to have remembered something. "But besides that... Why did you help me? I thought you were against helping the girl, Subaru." "I just wanted to show off my ability to do magic tricks! ...Which is, of course, a lie. Didn't I say so before? I'm going to help you find your badge so I can do my good deed for the day and go to heaven." "But since you helped the girl, doesn't that count for your good deed for the day already?" "That's a very good argument! But I mean, it's not like I'm limited to one a day or anything. I can do more. So anyway, I'm going to do enough for tomorrow today! I'm actually planning to get this whole week out of the way!" Subaru had the feeling that he was getting away from the true meaning of this whole "do one good deed a day" concept, but he still tried to make an argument. Satella stood by, shocked. "Subaru...with a personality like that, you're going to end up losing everything one day." "You're the last person I want to hear that from!" Subaru shouted, flipping her words back toward her, but Satella just tilted her head in confusion. Apparently she really just didn't get it. "You really are a nice boy, aren't you?" "You know, it kind of bothers me that you're treating me like I'm younger than you. I know that a lot of people think East Asians are younger than they are, but we really can't be that different in age, can we?" Subaru thought that by a rough estimate Satella looked to be about seventeen or eighteen years old. Given that Subaru had a rather early birthday compared to others in his age group, he was seventeen and thought that it was possible she could even be younger than him. But in response, Satella narrowed her violet eyes slightly and said, "However old you think I am, I don't think that you're very close... After all, I'm a half-elf." *** Subaru was at a loss for words. Seeing his response, a number of complicated emotions flashed across Satella's eyes. Finally, the emotion that settled was an ineffable mixture of resignation and hopelessness. "I see. No wonder you're so cute. After all, it's like a given in fantasy worlds that elves are always beautiful." "...Huh?" Subaru finally nodded, having come to his own conclusions about Satella being a half-elf. Satella blinked her eyes several times. Her expectations had completely missed their mark. "Hmm? What's wrong?" "It's not that anything is wrong, it's just...I mean...I'm a half-elf, and..." "Yeah...I heard you the first time." Unsure of what Satella had a problem with, that's the only way Subaru could think to answer, but Satella's reaction was dramatic. "....ah." Satella made a strange sound in her throat, before suddenly turning away from Subaru, finding the nearest wall, kneeling beside it, and holding her silver-haired head in her hands. In the face of such an inexplicable reaction, Subaru just didn't know what to say. "Take that!" "Ow! What the hell was that for?!" The gray cat, which as always seemed to come and go as it pleased, had punched him in the face with its paw like it was reenacting a fancy fighting move. Puck purred, flicking at his whiskers with the same paw he had punched Subaru with. "I don't know, I just felt this overwhelming frustration and couldn't keep it bottled up inside of me." "If that's the only reason, it's going to be hard to get rid of the feeling that a great injustice has been done to me, but it was a soft and squishy punch, so I forgive you." "I mean, I'm not really mad
at you or anything. If I had to say one way or the other, I'd say it's the opposite." "The opposite?" said Subaru, confused. "Yes, the opposite," Puck said with a nod. But before Subaru could ask what Puck really meant by that, Satella had returned. Twisting the ends of her silver hair in her fingers, Satella glared at Subaru. "Subaru, you...nincompoop." "Nobody uses the word 'nincompoop' anymore, and what have I done to be insulted by you?" "Hmph. If you don't understand, that's not my problem. More importantly, we've got to continue our search." With the subject of Satella's unreasonableness cut off without another word, Subaru looked irritated, but that irritation evaporated as Satella began to act more friendly and familiar. Subaru still didn't know why she'd had such a sudden change in attitude, but there were more important things to think about. "Anyway, that episode with the little lost girl made it painfully clear isn't this town just too big to be searching around for something in?" "Well, it's the capital of Lugunika. It's the largest city in the nation. If I remember correctly, there are about...three hundred thousand people who live here, and a lot of others come and go." Satella answered Subaru's question in detail and with a hint of pride in her voice. "I see, I see. Three hundred thousand people, huh. That's quite a lot... Thanks for the regurgitated information." "Urr..." Satella muttered. It appeared Subaru's guess had been on the mark. Subaru tried to use that new information to picture Lugunika's capital city in his mind. If it had a population of 300,000 people, then for a city in a medieval fantasy setting, it was quite large. Of course, that number only reflected the people who lived in the city, so after adding in traveling merchants and adventurers, the number of people at any given time would probably be greater than that. As Subaru watched all of the people passing by from the side of the street, he was again astonished by the concentration of such variety in a group of people. There were half-humans, half-beasts, and regular humans all mixed together, and it really was like a melting pot of different races. The fact that they had gotten lost in the alleyways for almost an hour wasn't just something to laugh about, either. The area was so large and the roads so complicated that they really had gotten lost. "In other words, we don't have any more room for error. We have already given up a big advantage to the thief, and if we get stuck again it really will be too late. So let's choose our next move carefully." "What do you mean?" "If we run around without some sort of plan, we won't get any results. For instance, if we go back to the place where your badge was stolen, we might be able to get more information out of people. Was there anyone who saw what happened?" "Actually...I think there may have been." Satella put her hand to her mouth as if she had remembered something and then explained herself to Subaru. According to Satella, her badge had been stolen in broad daylight, right in the middle of a crowd of people. If so, the theft was a bold move, but looking at the commotion on the street in front of him, Subaru thought that it wasn't necessarily a bad decision on the part of the thief. The more people there are, the easier it is to get lost in the crowd. "Do you remember where it was stolen from you?" "Yes, I think...it was this way." Subaru followed Satella down the street. As they made their way through the confusion of the bustling crowd with its many different kinds of people, Subaru felt his sense of distance and direction taken from him just as quickly as when they had made their way through the maze of alleyways before. He felt as if he no longer had any idea of where he was walking. While the place they were in should have been one he had never seen before, Subaru felt a strange feeling that he had seen it before, and that feeling just wouldn't go away. "Wait. No, I have definitely seen this place before." Seeing the place that Satella had led him to, he scratched the side of his face and smiled a half smile. The place where Satella had had her badge stolen from her was the same street corner to which Subaru had been summoned. "This is where I was so confused I decided to go cool my head down in an empty alley, and then had my encounter with thugs A, B, and C..." Remembering what had happened about two hours earlier, Subaru now mused to himself that amazing coincidences like this really did happen sometimes. If so, he was in in luck. He had someone in mind that they could talk to. "So that's the situation. I told her, 'Leave it to me!' and came over here to see you, Mr. Fruit Salesman." Subaru spun around and pointed at the owner of a fruit shop on the side of the main road. The fruit that lined his shop was fresh, and just looking at it made his mouth water. "...What, it's you again? I was hoping for a customer, Mr. Broke," said the shop owner with a cold glare that didn't seem fitting for one who dealt with customers on a daily basis. The man wore a bandanna and was very muscular. He had a stern looking face and a deep, threatening voice. To top it all off, he also had a white scar that ran down the left side of his face, probably left by some kind of blade. No matter how you looked at it, there was no way he was a respectable, law-abiding citizen. That's why it was so surprising for him to be behind the counter of a fruit shop. "Oh, don't be so cold, Pops. You were acting pretty nice to me not all that long ago." "That's because I thought you were a customer. If I had known you had no money on you, I would have chased you out earlier, like I'm about to do now." Subaru was trying to act like they were best friends, but the shop owner was having none of it. He waved his hand as if he was shooing away a bug. "Oh, come on," Subaru sighed, relaxing his shoulders. "Are you sure you want to treat me like this? Haven't you noticed that I'm different from the last time I came here?" "What's that?" said the shop owner, unsure of how to react as Subaru made a triumphant expression, nostrils flaring. Subaru stepped aside and held both his hands out to show Satella standing behind him. "Look at that! I brought someone with me! You may have chased me off once you learned I was penniless, but what do you think, now that I've brought in someone who just very well may become a new frequent customer of yours?!" "Um, Subaru...? I hate to say this when you've got your hopes up, but I don't have any money on me." "Huh, what, really? You're telling me that we were walking around the capital without so much as a single coin between us?!" The shop owner gave a sigh as he looked at the two paupers in his shop. "So? What was it that you wanted to say, now that one beggar's become two?" "Well, actually, we're looking for something, and I wanted to ask if you could at least hear us out?" "That was just my way of saying I don't have the time to deal with you people! Take a hint!" the shop owner yelled. Subaru felt himself take some intense eardrum damage. "Th-this wasn't a good idea after all, was it?" said Satella, shrinking away as she tugged on Subaru's sleeve. It might be true that asking for help without buying anything was pretty selfish, but that didn't change the fact that they had no money to buy anything with. Just when Subaru was about to give up on trying to get any information out of the man, he heard a voice. "Hmm? Are you...the two from before?" Subaru and Satella turned around. Standing right in front of them was a woman with long brown hair. It was someone they had both seen before; after all, the woman was not alone. Holding her hand was a little girl who looked very happy to see them. "We are, but...why are you here in a place like this? The only other person here is this heartless, scary-faced man." "Ha-ha... This is my husband's shop, so I thought I'd stop by and say hello." "Your husband's shop?" Subaru and Satella looked at each other, and then turned back to look inside the shop, their gazes finally settling on the scar-faced man, who had folded his arms. "Pops...you didn't kill this woman's husband and take their shop, did you?" "What are you going on about? This is my shop, and that is my wife!" Subaru looked back in shock at the woman, who smiled, looking a bit unsure of how to react. She was a beautiful woman, with fine features and a gentle demeanor. This woman and that stern-faced man? There had to be some mistake. He couldn't possibly be threatening her, could he? Subaru thought with a worried look. But despite Subaru's rude conjecture, the little girl who was holding her mother's hand darted past Subaru to the shop owner, who hugged her and picked her up. "Oh, look at you! Aren't you all excited. Now tell me, do you know these two destitute beggars?" "Beggars? Dear, don't call them that!" After hearing her husband's sharp words, the girl's mother raised her eyebrows and began berating her husband. She then explained how she, her daughter, Subaru, and Satella had come to meet. After hearing what happened, the shop owner set his daughter down. "I'm sorry about that. That was not the way to talk to the people who saved my daughter. Please forgive me." "Oh, don't worry about it. I mean, it is true that we don't have any money on us, and..." "That's right, old man! I hope you think long and hard about your action...s... Um...your cute face looks pretty scary right now." A look from Satella shut Subaru up. Right after that, the little girl reached out her hand to Satella. In her hand was a small ornament in the shape of a red flower. Satella held her breath, and looked from the ornament to the little girl and back several times, with a slightly troubled expression. "Please, take it," said the mother, placing her hand on Satella's back, urging her on. "My daughter wants to thank you in her own way." Satella nodded slightly and then took the flower ornament from the little girl's hand, and pinned it on the left breast of her white cloak, before kneeling down so that the little girl could see it. "Thank you. I like it very much." As Subaru watched Satella's brilliant smile from the side, he found himself unable to look away. Seeing that smile, the little girl blushed and looked away, and the shop owner, watching all of this, cleared his throat. "You saved my daughter. I want to thank you. Ask me whatever you want." With a strong nod, the stern-faced shop owner put on his best smile. Satella was surprised, but then looked to Subaru and smiled, but it wasn't the same smile as before. This one was a triumphant one. "See, I told you. It really did come around and help us in the end!" she said, as if this odd twist of fate was entirely her own doing. Even though the street was just one off the main road, the atmosphere was full of gloom.
It was still and silent, and there was no sign of any kind of life, let alone traces of people around. The street Subaru and Satella were on wasn't far from the main road, but the hustle and bustle from before now seemed like a far-off dream. "We heard from that guy that if we were looking for stolen goods, they would be handled and sold in the slums, but..." whispered Subaru as he peered down the street that supposedly would lead them to the slums, "...the air down there and the mood, not to mention the general character of the people down there, are all probably going to be pretty terrible. Are you sure you really want to go?" "You're the one who suggested that my badge might be there in the first place, and the owner of that shop said it would probably be there, too..." "You shouldn't forget that right after he said that, he added that we should probably give up," said Subaru, reflecting back with a sour face on what was said at the fruit shop. Thirty minutes after unexpectedly reuniting with the little girl and her mother at the fruit shop, and using that coincidence to turn the situation around and gain some valuable information, Subaru and Satella were now at the entrance to the rumored slums, where most stolen goods were said to be brought. After realizing that Subaru and Satella had helped his daughter, the stern-faced shop owner had warmed up to them, and listened to their plight. Because of that, they were able to get information about the slums, but now they were hesitating. "I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but wouldn't it be better to ask for help? Like, if we asked the police, or...I guess they would be guards in this case...I'm sure if we asked those kind of people to help us search and they sent a team out to find it, this would get resolved a lot more quickly." "We can't." Satella immediately rejected Subaru's suggestion. In fact, she so flatly rejected it that it took Subaru by surprise. "I'm sorry, but...we can't. I also don't think we can get the guards to act over such a small theft, and...I have other reasons that I can't ask the guards for help," said Satella, pausing for a moment with her lips shut tightly, before looking at Subaru with a look of pleading in her eyes. "I'm sorry, but I can't say why." Realizing that she quite clearly didn't want to be asked, Subaru raised his hands slightly, conceding. "So, what should we do, then? I suppose we can still employ team tactics with just the two of us," said Subaru in a light and joking tone, trying to keep the mood up. "Don't forget me!" replied Puck, who had reappeared on Satella's shoulder, looking at Subaru and Satella as it wiped its face with its paw. "But we don't really have the time to just sit around and talk anymore. Even if you want to try those team tactics with two humans and a cat, I've only got about an hour before it's time's-up for me." As Puck looked up at the sky, Subaru followed its gaze and saw that most of the sky that was peaking through the buildings on either side of the street had already shifted from blue to orange. The reason the slums seemed so dark and dreary wasn't only because of the damp and sour smell coming from it. It was getting closer and closer to sunset which of course meant that Puck would soon reach his limit. "So whether you decide to go or turn back, it's best to make that decision soon," finished Puck. "I don't know what you mean by 'team tactics,' but we've got to keep going. There's no way that we can let this chance go and risk having my badge be out of our reach forever," Satella said, answering Puck. She then turned to Subaru. "All right, so I've decided I'm going, but...the people who live here are probably used to getting into fights, so I want you to be careful, even more than before. If you're scared, you can just wait here for me to come back." "Wait here?! Just how much of a chicken do you think I am?! I'm going! I'm going to stick to you like I'm a spirit who's come back to haunt you!" "So in other words you don't want to be in front. That would really, really make it easier on me, though." Satella sighed yet again in the face of Subaru's energetic readiness to flee. Subaru thought about how, ever since he and Satella had met, he had only made her look troubled. The few times she did smile, the reason had nothing to do with Subaru. It was unfortunate. Given how cute she looked even when she was displaying negative emotions, Subaru thought it would be wonderful if she ever did smile at him. "All right! Let's do this! It's about time I do something to show you what I'm made of!" "What are you so excited about all of a sudden? I can see up your nostrils." "Well, that was a great way to ruin my display-of-determination scene! Thanks!" Even though he had his energy tripped up a notch from the start, Subaru hurried his pace so he wouldn't fall behind Satella, his arms flailing back and forth as he rushed to not be left behind by this girl who kept continuing on toward her goal. Now, Subaru and Satella entered the next stage on the way to completing their task the slums. And it looked like they were going to have a lot of trouble... That is, until it became clear that an unlikely character would prove themself very useful; very useful indeed. "Who, you ask? Me! Yes, me! For some unknown reason, the people here in the slums are really nice to me! Just what unknown variable is responsible for this?! Has my charm stat finally been adjusted?! I haven't felt so loved since I was in preschool!" Back in preschool, Subaru was quite the cute one. His hair was long and he was often mistaken for a girl. Given the change to his current state only took ten plus a few years. The passage of time really is cruel and unforgiving. "Has something about me changed from before? Do I, like, have something on my face?" "Well, you do have your evil-looking eyes, short ears, and flat nose on your face..." "I could have gone without the evil eyes and flat nose description!" retorted Subaru before hanging his head. Satella put her finger to her lips and thought. "Hmm... It probably has to do with the way you look and are dressed right now. You're covered in dust and dirt and there are even traces of blood. The people who live here also have it hard, so they must look at you in pity and can't help but be kind to you..." "Right now you're doing a good job of making me feel as bad as I look! But you're right! It makes perfect sense! Damn it all!" As they say, people with the same sickness pity each other. While it was great that Subaru seemed to be more likable in the slums in an unexpected way, Satella's likability was at an all-time low. The reason again probably had to do with the way that she was dressed. "The thugs from before made similar comments, but you really are dressed pretty well, aren't you?" "I guess I do stand out, don't I...?" replied Satella, looking at Subaru nervously, as she rolled down the sleeves of her white cloak. However, while she acknowledged the problem with her fine clothes, she seemed to be oblivious to the fact that it wasn't just the clothes, but the person wearing them as well. "Um, I have something I'd like to ask you, but " "What's that? This is no place for you and your fancy clothes to be walking around in, young lady, so go on now, get outta here!" Again, Satella was brusquely turned away as she tried to ask someone for help. Given that her low rate of success had to do with both her good looks and her fine clothes, rather than twice worse off, it was better to say she was "worse off squared." However, it wasn't as though Subaru could suggest that she get all dirty like he was. "At least you might be a little better off if you take off your cloak..." Subaru suggested. "...I know, but..." Satella gripped both shoulders of her cloak with her hands, but would not take it off. Subaru thought that her response was a little bit strange, but he didn't bring it up. As Satella looked down, she lightly brushed her hand against the red flower decoration pinned on her left breast. Subaru, seeing how Satella found comfort in that decoration, couldn't help but feel like smiling, and it made him want to try even harder for her sake. If Satella couldn't do this on her own, he was glad to make use of his dirty appearance to make progress. I guess this means that good things can come even from getting beat up by a bunch of thugs in an alley, Subaru thought. "Well, don't worry too much. You can leave this to me. Anyway, with the fruits of my labor, we'll soon have her cornered, so let's keep chasing after that criminal. So yeah, with the fruits of my labor, we'll soon have her cornered! So! Let's...keep...searching!" "I understand that you're happy to be useful for once, but it's really lame when you put so much emphasis on yourself like that." Subaru had struck a pose with every pause of his sentence, which he thought was cool, but when Satella put it like that, it just made Subaru seem like he was hopping up and down as if to say, Look what I can do! Satella stared at Subaru with a face that looked like she regretted raising her opinion of him earlier, and Subaru just responded with a weak smile. It had been little more than two hours since they had met, but with things like this, Subaru already felt as though he had known Satella for a long time. However, this little episode had a different ending than the last few. "I'm sorry, but I'm already at my limit," said Puck weakly as he leaned up against Satella's neck. His gray coat glowed with a weak light, and his figure blurred as if he were going to disappear at any moment. "The way you disappear kind of looks like you're dying." "I tried to stick around longer than usual because I wanted to protect my precious daughter from this evil-eyed guy hanging around her. But when I work myself to the bone, I end up fading away when it's time for me to disappear." "That's terrible! But leave it to me! I won't let any dangerous guys near her after you disappear!" "Wait, does that mean it's okay for me to wipe you off the face of the Earth before I disappear?" "No! Not okay!" shouted Subaru, stepping away and hugging himself. "I'm joking," said Puck with a small burst of laughter. After that, Puck looked to Satella, who took from her breast pocket a crystal that was glowing with a green light. "I'm sorry for pushing you so hard, Puck. I'll do my best from here on out, so you just get some rest." The green crystal continued to glow with a faint light in Satella's hand as she held it. It looked different from what you might call a jewel. So far as Subaru could tell, "crystal" was the word that fit best. Puck crawled down Satella's arm and approached the crystal, then reached out and hugged it to its small
body. Finally he turned back toward Satella. "I'm sure you know this already, but be careful, and don't push yourself too hard. If something happens don't hesitate to use your od to call me back out." "I know, I know. I'm not a child. I can take care of myself." "I wonder about that... My precious daughter here always makes me worry when it comes to things like this. I'm counting on you, Subaru." Puck looked at Satella with affection, the way a parent looks at their child. Satella blushed, but also looked annoyed. With the conversation thrown his way, Subaru beat on his chest. "All right! Just you leave it to me. You can trust my sixth sense. When it sounds the danger alarm, I'll get us out of there in no time!" "I really don't understand half of what you're saying, but all right. Now with that out of the way, good night. ...Be careful." With a last glance directed at Satella, Puck finally vanished. His small body became a small ball of light, which gradually melted away into the world around it as he disappeared. Other than the fact that it was a talking cat, this was the first time Subaru had seen Puck do anything spirit-like. Now, having seen this fantastical display, he felt mixed feelings of excitement and awe welling up inside him. As Subaru was getting excited all by himself, Satella ran her hands lightly over the crystal and put it carefully back in her breast pocket. From the conversations that they had before, Subaru thought that crystal must be holding Puck's core right now. "Now it'll be just the two of us...but don't get any ideas. I can still use magic, you know." Apparently Satella had taken Puck's last words seriously, and was on her guard. "Hey, the last time I was alone with a girl was in elementary school. I'm not really capable of doing anything. Haven't you been paying attention to my lack of human skills thus far?" "You're totally hopeless, but then again, I'm convinced. ...All right. Let's keep going. But remember, with Puck gone we need to be even more careful than before." Perhaps shocked by Subaru's proud proclamation of his cowardice, Satella couldn't seem to keep up her apprehensions of him, and so tied back up the front of her robe and went on ahead. "I'll be the vanguard, so you just keep your eyes on what's behind us. If anything happens, call me right away. You mustn't think that you can handle everything on your own. I don't want be mean...but you're really weak." "Well, when you put it that way, it's hard to get angry about it..." If Satella just wanted to push Subaru away, "You're really weak" would have been enough. Given that she couldn't hide what she truly felt, Satella was soft at the core...too soft, even. Subaru nudged Satella along, even though it looked like she wanted to say something, and the two continued their search. Despite all the talk, their search continued in the same way as before. Their methods were basic. Whenever they found someone, they would describe who they were looking for and asked if the person had any ideas about who it might be. Subaru, who was now doing all of the asking, had gotten better at it after having talked to so many different people. He was starting to hit his stride. "You know? It might be that Felt girl. She was blond and really fast, right?" A little under an hour after they had entered the slums and started asking around, they had finally run into some valuable information. The guy who gave the information was someone that Subaru had gone straight up to and said, "Hey, my brother, how's life?" like they were already friends. "If it's Felt you're looking for, whatever she stole is probably sitting in the loot cellar. She usually takes things there, gets them tagged, and then the old man who's the master there'll get them sold at a market somewhere else." "That sounds like a pretty strange system... Doesn't anyone worry about the master of the cellar taking off with all of the goods?" "The reason he's the master is because people trust him not to do that. But, well, even if you go up and tell him it's stolen, he'll probably just say 'So what?' right back at you, so you'd better be prepared to negotiate a price to buy it back. After all, it's the original owner's fault for being stupid and getting it stolen in the first place!" the man finished with a laugh. Subaru was able to get the guy to tell him the location of the loot cellar, so they would probably be able to find it soon, but there was a new problem. Subaru and Satella were both penniless. "That guy said we should buy it back, but without any leverage, I get the feeling this master guy would wipe the floor with us." "Why do I have to pay to get back something I already own...?" As the problem veered back toward their combined lack of funds, Satella looked worried. She had a point, of course, but it wasn't like they could expect the loot cellar's master to agree. In order to solve the matter peacefully, and with certainty, it would be best to follow that man's advice and try to negotiate. However... "It seems a little late to be asking this question, but that badge you say was stolen from you...does it happen to look expensive? Even if we walk in expecting to be overcharged, it would be impossible to negotiate without having any idea of what it's worth." "...It's small, but there is a jewel embedded in its center. I don't know how much money that someone might buy it for, but I am fairly certain it wouldn't be a small amount." "A jewel, huh... That seems like it's going to be a problem." Even for people unfamiliar with how much things are worth, a jewel is one of those convenient items that you can tell is expensive at a glance. Subaru doubted that there was the technology to produce imitations in this world, so most things that resembled jewels were probably jewels. In other words, they would all fetch a high price. While none of this new information sounded like good news, Subaru thought there was something strange about what Satella was saying. Even though the badge was supposedly hers, she said that she did not know its value. While it was possible it was something she might have received from someone else, it stuck in his mind. "Anyway, let's first just find this loot-cellar place. It is possible that we can negotiate a way to buy it back at a reasonable price..." In the worst-case scenario, Subaru had one way to secure funds, although he was reluctant to use it. And he didn't want to tell Satella until right before he had to. As they walked, Subaru and Satella spent the next ten minutes talking about various ways they might be able to take back her badge, but nothing seemed to come together. Now that they were in front of the place called the "loot cellar," Subaru and Satella looked at each other. "This place is a lot bigger than I imagined. Just how well can the market for theft be going these days?" Subaru said. "I understand them calling it a cellar rather than a shed...if this place is filled only with stolen goods... Either way I'm not sure the people here have any hope of salvation," added Satella. Of course, as the loot cellar existed as a place to hold items until they were sold, it was unlikely it would be filled to the brim. It wasn't a high-storied building, but it was wide enough to the point where it looked as though it could function as living quarters for a large number of people. The building was right up against a tall defensive wall, and was in the deepest part of the slums. "That tall wall behind the building...is that...?" "I think it's one of the walls of the city. Which means that we must have come all the way from the city's center to its edge," replied Satella. Subaru tried to imagine a map of the city in his mind, given what Satella had said. It was likely that the city was built as a square and had walls like this on all four sides. Additionally, either in the center or on the northernmost side there should be a castle, from which these slums would be positioned far away. Considering that it had been three to four hours since Subaru and Satella had begun their search, the scope of the city seemed to be a little larger than Subaru had originally imagined. "All right, according to what we've heard, there should be a master in charge of this cellar who handles all of the stolen goods, but...just how exactly do you want to approach this?" "We're going to be direct and honest. We'll just say, 'We've had something stolen from us, so if you can find it, please return it to us.'" Subaru tried to explain that that wasn't going to work, but Satella wouldn't listen to him. At her core, Satella was too direct and honest herself. If something was twisted or bent, she couldn't help but try to set it right. Of course, that was one of the reasons Satella saved Subaru in the first place. "All right, I got it. But leave this to me." Because of Satella's personality, Subaru was all too sure things would get complicated if she was the one doing the talking, so Subaru volunteered himself. His backup plan... Well, it was hard to call it a "backup plan" if he was already considering using it, but if things got complicated before he had the chance to put it into action, that would also be a problem. Subaru had made his decision; he wasn't one to hesitate at times like this. Satella looked surprised that Subaru wanted to do the talking, and while Subaru was musing on how cute her surprised expression was, he hurried to try to think of a comeback for whatever argument against it Satella would have, but... "All right. I'll leave it to you." "Look, I understand that it's hard for you to let me handle something this important, and I'm not stupid enough to think that I've gained your trust, but I've got a plan, so if you'd just trust me this once Wait. Huh?!" "W-why are you so surprised?" "Going by everything that's happened so far, you'd think that this would signal the start of an argument, right? I imagined you'd say something like, 'Do you really expect me to just let a good-for-nothing like you, whose only ability is to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide, handle something this important? Don't make me laugh! I'd expect a dog to do a better job than you!' Then I, while hurt, would use the opportunity to renew my determination!" "I would never say something that mean!" As Subaru exposed his exaggerated persecution complex, Satella didn't look all that happy. However, clearing her throat, she fixed her amethyst eyes on Subaru and said, "Of course I would be lying if I said I didn't think that you were holding me back in any way, and just when I think you're finally being serious, to my chagrin you say something completely stupid..." "'To my chagrin,' huh? I haven't heard that in a while," joked Subaru. He sighed and relaxed his shoulders, unable to argue back. "Still, even though you act like a jerk sometimes, it was because of you that we were able to keep that little girl from crying, and I don't think you're the kind of person to lie or do anything without thinking about it
first," said Satella, looking back over their much-sidetracked journey thus far. "So...I'll trust you. ...If this all works out I might even think that meeting you was all worth it." "You know, if instead of that last part you had just looked up at me and said, 'Please, do your best for my sake,' I would have been totally pumped up to do this, you know?" "I can't force myself to say something like that, but... Good luck." This was a girl who could not bring herself to lie for any reason. "...All right, I'll give it my best shot," said Subaru, breaking into a smile before heading toward the entrance of the cellar. The trump card Subaru had, which he wasn't able to tell Satella about, was the one thing out of what he had brought from the previous world that he could really consider worth anything. Because that thing probably didn't otherwise exist in this world, there was a possibility he could use it to barter. Subaru would have liked to avoid doing that, but at the same time he was fairly certain that in this world, Satella's badge couldn't possibly fetch a higher price than his cell phone, and he didn't think he would have another chance in this world to use his cell phone this way. "Um... Is anybody home? ...Er, wait...the door's open." A sour, spoiled sort of smell drifted out of the entrance to the loot cellar. Subaru went to knock on the door, but from a gap in it, he saw that it wasn't locked. As he peeked inside, he could only see that it was incredibly dark. "It's hard when there's not any kind of light... Well, considering the purpose of the place, I suppose it makes sense, and it even serves as a metaphor for the dark feeling of guilt in doing dirty business." Subaru stuck his head inside and tried to look around, but not even the light from the moon reached this place in the deepest part of the slums. He couldn't see an inch in front of his face. As Subaru prepared to go inside, he turned around to Satella. "I didn't hear anyone answer me, but I'm going to go ahead and go inside, so can you please keep watch?" "Are you sure? Wouldn't it be better for me to go instead...?" "If on the off chance someone ambushes us and you're the one taken out, then it's all over. If I'm the one attacked, you'll be able both to help me, and to strike back. This is the most reasonable way to do this, so please let's just go with my plan, okay?" Satella considered Subaru's plan. After a few moments of silence, she took out of her breast pocket a white crystal, which suddenly shone with a white light. "At least take a light. And call me in whether someone's there or not." "I know, I know. Puck told us to be careful, so I'll be careful. This is really useful, by the way." "You can find lagmite ore just about anywhere. You really are ignorant, aren't you, Subaru," said Satella, unable to contain her shock, as she handed Subaru the lagmite ore. The crystal gave off a faint warmth along with its light, which was about as much illumination as you could expect from a candle. "Okay, well then, I'll go take a look. I don't think I'll be gone too long, but you can go ahead and eat without me." "Oh, stop being so stupid. Be careful, okay?" "Gotcha. Also, Satella? Don't come in until I call for you got it?" The courage that Subaru had been building up to prepare himself to enter the cellar had pushed him just enough to say her name. Up until now, he had felt too embarrassed to say it, and had hesitated. After clenching his fist together, excited he was able to finally say it, he looked back at Satella. "...What's wrong?" Satella was looking at Subaru frozen, with her eyes open wide. This reaction was far different from any that Subaru expected, and so he tilted his head in confusion. "I'm sorry... It's nothing. Once we get my badge back, I'll apologize properly." "I don't know what you're planning on apologizing for, but I'd rather hear a 'thank you' instead. It would be even better if that thank-you came along with a smile." "You dummy." As those two words came out of her mouth, Satella made a little bit of a smile, which Subaru made sure to burn into his memory. Even with his stupid jokes, Subaru was at last able to make her smile. If all of this turned out well, he would like to see that smile again, in a brighter place. "All right. Will it be a snake or a demon that pops out this time? Given the fantasy setting, neither option is one I can just laugh off..." Subaru joked to himself, and with lagmite in hand, he carefully made his way into the cellar. In the dim light, Subaru could make out a counter in front of him, across from the entrance. The building must have originally been something like an inn. It looked as though they were using the first-floor bar area without any major changes. On top of as well as behind the counter which was probably serving as something like a reception desk Subaru could see a lot of different items cluttered close together. There were small boxes and pots, swords and cheap metallic objects, and many other varied items. It was clear that all of these were stolen items, based on the wooden tags that were attached to all of them. "The way the system works, if you rounded up all of these wooden tags and handed them to the guards, it looks like they could arrest everyone at once..." However, as was usual with this line of business, there were probably some connections between this place and the not-so-upstanding citizens who offered support. Subaru was suspicious of where most of these stolen items ended up. Subaru ventured farther into the cellar, looking for Satella's badge. But just then... "Hmm?" Subaru suddenly stopped, feeling something strange under the soles of his shoes. It didn't feel like he had stepped on something hard; it was actually the opposite. Like the ground he had stepped on was clinging to him; like there was something sticky on his shoes. He raised his foot, and touched the bottom of his sneakers. He felt some sort of fluid, something strangely sticky that clung to his fingers, stretching as he pulled them away. It was something that instinctually made him feel uneasy. "What is this...?" Subaru brought his fingers close to his nose and tried to smell it, but because of the stagnant air inside the building mixing with it, he couldn't quite pin it down. Unsurprisingly, he didn't have the courage to try tasting it. After wiping the rest of the substance on the nearest wall, Subaru, urged on by a feeling of unpleasant dread, put the lagmite out in front of him and started forward. Then, he found the source of the slime. "...Wha?" Subaru unconsciously let out a foolish sound as he looked on. In the small visible range of his light, what he first saw lying limp on the ground was an arm. Its hand's fingers were reaching out as if to grab something, but the other end of the arm, at the elbow, was missing the body it should have been connected to. Moving his light and following along the axis of the arm, Subaru saw a leg farther on ahead a leg attached to a body. With the exception of one arm, that body had all of its other parts, though the throat area was cut wide open. It was the corpse of a large old man. "Eek!" Subaru squealed pointlessly as he realized what he was looking at. At that moment, Subaru's mind had blanked out. His thought processes had completely left him, and his hands and feet had frozen in place. There was a pause, and then... "...Well, you found it. That's just too bad. Now I have no choice, yes, no choice at all." Subaru thought that it was the voice of a woman. The voice was low and cold, the voice of a woman who seemed somewhat to be having fun. "Gwah!" Subaru didn't have the opportunity to turn around. As soon as he turned to face the voice, his body was blown away by an incredible force. He hit his back against the wall, and on impact let go of his lagmite, and darkness closed in as it tumbled into the distance. But Subaru wasn't thinking about that. What now ruled over his consciousness was... "Gu...it's...h-hot." A heat assaulted Subaru Natsuki and completely overwhelmed him. This is really, really not good. Feeling the hard texture of the ground against his face, he realized that he had fallen facedown on the ground. He couldn't move, even when he tried, and he already couldn't feel his fingers. What he did feel was heat, and it overwhelmed his entire body. He coughed and vomited the blood he felt rising in his throat the source of his waning life. So much came out that it frothed at the edges of his mouth. With his hazy vision, he could see the ground in front of him stained red. You've...got to be kidding me... All of this is mine? Feeling as though all of the blood in his body had spilled out of him, he reached a shaking hand to try to find the source of the heat that was burning through his body. As his fingertips reached the large cut in his stomach, he understood. No wonder it felt so hot. His brain must have been mistaking pain for heat. The clean cut that ran through his torso was so deep it had almost cut him in half. Only bits of skin were still holding him together. In other words, he had run right into a checkmate in the chess game of his life. As soon as he realized that, his consciousness immediately began to fall away from him. Now, even the heat that had been ravaging him disappeared, and the unpleasant feeling of touching his own blood and organs vanished as his consciousness continued to fade. The only thing left behind was his body, which refused to follow his soul. Right before his eyes, he saw a black boot step down and make ripples in the red carpet of his fresh blood. Someone was there, and that someone...was probably the one who killed him. But he didn't even think to look that person in the face. It didn't matter anymore. The only thing he did wish for was that she, at least, she would be safe. " baru?" He felt as if he heard a voice that rang like bells. That he heard that voice, that he could hear that voice, felt like salvation to him more than anything else, so *** With a short scream, someone else fell upon the carpet of blood. She fell right beside him. There he was, weakly attempting to reach her. Her white hand fell, powerless. He lightly grasped it in his own bloodstained grip. He felt the fingers of her hand move slightly to grasp his own. "Just you wait..." He seized his fading consciousness, pulling it desperately back around to buy a bit more time. "I'm going to..." find a way to save you. In the next instant, he Subaru Natsuki lost his life. CHAPTER 2 *** "...What's wrong, my man? You're staring off into space." "...Huh?" When a man with a white scar across his stern face spoke to Subaru, that's all he could respond with. The man with the scar twisted his face. "Look, I'm asking you what you're going to do! Are you going to buy that abble or not?!" "...Huh?" "An
abble! You want to eat one, right? You started talking to me, and then you suddenly stopped and stared off into space! I almost freaked out! ...So, what'll it be?" The muscular, scar-faced man, put a round, cute-looking red fruit into the palm of Subaru's hand. Whatever it was, it looked almost exactly like an apple. After Subaru looked at the fruit and then back at the man's face, he said, "No I mean, didn't I tell you already? I'm forever and everlastingly broke." "You kidding me?! I've had enough of you wasting my time. Get outta here! I've got a job to do. I don't have time to deal with your nonsense." The man annoyedly pushed Subaru aside and went across to another part of the shop. Subaru continued to look around, puzzled. "Huh? What? What's going on?" He was so flustered, it was a miracle he was even able to get a sentence out as he tossed his questions around. The main road was full of people as always, and apart from the lizard carts that would pass by, the full width of the street was filled with pedestrians. It was still at a time when the day was bright. It wasn't as though it was really hot outside, but it would be enough to make you think that the wolflike half-humans walking around in their fur coats must be sweating. "But this is totally not the time to be reflecting on the state of the setting!" Subaru held his head in his hands and twisted about, and his strange poses of distress were enough to gather curious glances from all around. However, now, Subaru really didn't have the capacity to worry about that. "After all...it was just night a minute ago, wasn't it?" The sun was high in the sky. At the very least, according to what Subaru had sensed, it should already be night. The night flipped immediately from night to noon. The change was so sudden it reminded Subaru of when he was summoned to this world in the first place. However, that and this were under completely different conditions. "My stomach...isn't cut open, is it?" Subaru lifted up the top of his tracksuit and looked at his stomach. Earlier, it had been cut open with what must have been a large blade, and he had bled so much that he was sure he was going to die. However, not only was the wound not there, there were not even any traces of blood. Actually, Subaru's beloved tracksuit wasn't even dirty. The convenience store bag he held in his hand was also as full as it had ever been, and his cell phone and wallet were where they should be. In every sense of the phrase, he was back to square one. It was enough to make him feel like he was going crazy. Realizing there were gaps in his memory, Subaru tried to think of what happened right before he had lost consciousness. His stomach had been cut open and he was moments from being killed. He thought that he had heard a woman's voice. He had found a corpse in the loot cellar, and the person who probably had killed that man attacked Subaru. In that state of near death... "...That's right! Satella!" Satella, who must have been worried about Subaru and entered the building, had also been cut down by the same weapon that took him out. As soon as Subaru realized that, he felt his innards twisting in pain. The feeling of guilt was even stronger than the feeling of pain he had felt when he himself was attacked. "Wasn't I told to take care of Satella?!" Subaru thought back to Puck's words right before he disappeared. The promise Subaru made with that cat certainly wasn't a joke. Despite the fact that there were at least three times he should have turned back, he had missed every opportunity to do so. Satella had told him as well. If anything happened he was to call her. He didn't even do that. "Am I an idiot? Well, of course I am. I don't even have time to just hang my head depressed like this. I've got to go find Satella and Puck..." Both of them might be dead. When that thought crossed his mind, Subaru shook his head to brush it away. Subaru didn't have any positive qualities, and he couldn't make himself useful at all. He was something like a mob character, or at best the comic relief character, and yet he was still alive. If that were the case, there was no way that good-natured Satella, who could use magic and wasn't honest with herself but was true to her ideals, or that aloof weirdo spirit cat could be dead. At the very least, he didn't want them to be. "At any rate, I've got to go back to the loot cellar..." Since that was the last place he was in before his consciousness was cut off, there must be some kind of hint left there. As soon as he thought of that, Subaru moved to act. This was where his quick decision-making could shine. In the previous world, most of that was used in decisions like "I'm not going to school today," but right now it was important for him to act quickly and cut off all his doubts. However, as soon as Subaru had made his decision and was ready to go... "Hey, kiddo. How about let's have some fun." Subaru unfortunately had his path from the alley cut off by three men. When Subaru looked at who had talked to him, he couldn't help but gape. "Hey, what's with the stupid look on yer face?" "I bet he doesn't realize the mess he's gotten himself into. How 'bout we tell 'im?" said another man in the group mocking Subaru, as they smiled with sinister smiles. After staring at the men for a little longer, Subaru felt as though he was being forced to watch a farce. There were three men. Even if you were trying to be nice, you couldn't call them well put together. Their bad personalities and bad upbringings just seeped out of them. They were classic thugs. With all of this, Subaru was feeling an incredible sense of d脙漏j脙 vu. "Did all of you guys hit your heads on something while I wasn't looking?" These were the same guys who had served as the reason for Subaru and Satella's meeting just hours before. Sure, they were nothing more than mob characters, but it was hard to imagine that three other guys with the exact same faces were doing the exact same thing. "In other words, now that you've found me alone, you want to get revenge...is that it? I understand that you want to kick me when I'm down, but this is really not the time for me to be dealing with you. You guys..." "What the hell are you babbling about? Have you lost your mind or something?" Subaru had wanted to just talk his way out of this, peacefully, but given the way these guys were acting, even Subaru was starting to get ticked off. The only reason that he wanted to solve the issue peacefully in the first place was because he was in a hurry. Normally, Subaru had a pretty short fuse. "Now listen here, kiddo. If you just put down everything you've got and walk away, we'll let you go." "Ah, is that right? Everything I've got. Gotcha. I'm in a hurry, so that's fine with me, really." "But you've got to get down on all fours and act like a dog first! Say, 'Save me, save me, please!' too!" "All right, I've had it with you idiots!" They just had to push it too far, didn't they? Subaru had already lost it. The men weren't prepared for Subaru's sudden change of attitude, and were shaking. Of the three, as they stood dumbfounded, Subaru picked the skinniest of the group to hit first. It was the one who had the knife, the source of Subaru's defeat before. "You're first! Guys like you who don't know the preciousness of life can go to hell!" Subaru landed an uppercut on the man's jaw with all his strength, and then threw a punch into his open abdomen. The man slammed against the wall and was out like a light. Subaru immediately moved to trip the next man beside him. Unable to react, the kick landed and the man fell over. As soon as he was down, Subaru tackled the remaining man. His tackle aimed low, and with the force of it he was able to carry the man and slam him into the wall. After the man lost his breath from the impact of his back against the wall, Subaru landed another kick to finish him. Subaru then turned around to the man he had just tripped and motioned him with his hand. "Now it's one-on-one! Come at me with all you've got!" "Who're you to act all fair and square with that surprise attack?! You little punk!" The man ran at Subaru and grabbed his collar, trying to push him into the wall. "Not good enough!" Subaru yelled, and took hold of both of the man's wrists and pulled them away. Looking at the startled man's face, Subaru's expression twisted into a fiendish smile. "Don't underestimate the free time of a truant! I spent so much time swinging around a sword because I didn't have anything better to do that my grip strength is over seventy kilograms of force! I can bench eighty kilos, too!" The man cried out as Subaru crushed his wrists, and as soon as he had broken his stance, Subaru struck him with his elbow, and the thug cried out. As Subaru spun around behind him and put his arms around his waist he said, "If I accidentally kill you, don't hate me too much for this, but I've always wanted to try doing a suplex on someone without mats!" Subaru lifted the man up part of the way and then threw him backward. Unable to react, the thug's head collided with the wall behind them and he slumped to the ground, unmoving. After making sure the other two men were silent, Subaru walked over to the first man he hit, the one with the knife. Although the man had comparatively taken little damage, you could see that he was sweating. As Subaru came closer he tried to pull out his knife. But as he did, Subaru kicked him relentlessly in the face. He was out. "Hmph! Well that was easy! In this world, evil never triumphs!" said Subaru Natsuki as he struck a pose to celebrate his victory. After checking for sure that none of the men had actually died, Subaru immediately left the alley. "Even with this, it's not like the situation has gotten any better. I've got to hurry to the loot cellar." Subaru noticed as he was leaving that there were onlookers who were wowing and gasping in surprise that he had left the alley unscathed. If you realized I was back there, then you should have gone to the guards! Subaru thought as he held back the urge to lecture them. Right now he couldn't let any minute go to waste. After having enacted his revenge back in the alley, Subaru headed toward the deepest part of the slums, and when he arrived at the entrance to the loot cellar, the sun had already moved far across the sky. "F-finally...finally I've found it. ...It sure took me a long time, damn," said Subaru, wiping the sweat from his brow, and slumping down to rest. He had spent nearly two hours running around before he finally had reached his destination. "I was just here, so I thought I would be able to find it again without getting lost, but..." Probably the biggest problem was that
Subaru couldn't read any of the signs. Additionally, it wasn't as if he could mention the name "loot cellar" outside of the slums, so he had to rely completely on his memory. "Last time we came here I was talking with Satella, and my eyes were on her most of the time, so I guess it's no surprise I don't remember the way very well, damn it," said Subaru as he continued to drip with sweat. However, the greatest sin Subaru had to face was now right in front of him. While he was doing his best to ignore it by talking to himself, his heart wouldn't be fooled. It started to beat louder and louder as his pulse quickened, and Subaru felt his hands grow heavy. His mouth felt dry and his ears were ringing again and again inside his head as though someone was hitting him. The answers that Subaru sought were inside that loot cellar. For an instant, Subaru had a flashback as he closed his eyes: the old man's corpse, his own sliced-open abdomen, and the figure of Satella, whom he had dragged into all of this. "Don't be scared. Don't be scared. Don't be scared. Are you an idiot? ...Well, of course I am, but do you think I'm really going to come all this way and then go back empty-handed?" Of course, it wasn't as though Subaru had any place to return to. Right now, this was the only place that he could cling to. Finding his determination and facing forward, Subaru realized that his knees were shaking as he tried to walk. He slapped his legs to calm himself down and after a deep breath he finally moved forward. In the orange light of the early evening, the rough door to the loot cellar looked as though it was wordlessly rejecting him. "Is there anyone home?" After pushing away these negative feelings, Subaru knocked on the door and raised his voice. The dull sound rang out, but there was no answer. With uncomfortable silence as his only answer, Subaru became frightened by that very silence and knocked harder on the door. "Someone... I know there's someone in there! Come on, answer me! ...Please." Clinging to a fleeting sense of hope, hoping and praying that what was happening right before him was somehow a mistake, he beat harder. Unable to take the force of Subaru's sudden desperation, the door began to creak and its hinges started to bend, and then... "Cut it out already! What are you doing, trying to break the door down just because you don't know the password?!" The door was suddenly opened with a great force, and Subaru, who had been leaning up against it, was thrown back. Subaru was thrown about five meters from the entrance to the cellar, where he rolled a few times and then looked up, completely startled. At the end of Subaru's gaze was a giant, red-faced, bald old man. The man had ragged clothes that covered his muscular body, and the red light of the setting sun shone on his polished bald head. In other words, it was a giant, very energetic-looking old geezer. "Who are you, boy?! I've not seen you around here before! How did you know where to find this place? How did you get here? Who told you?!" With astonishing speed, the old man closed the distance between him and Subaru and lifted Subaru up by the collar. Feeling his feet leave the ground, Subaru very quickly learned his place. Subaru had thought that in most circumstances he could win in a fight, but these were not ordinary circumstances. As he was held up by this six-or seven-foot-tall old man, Subaru lost all desire to resist. "My name is Natsuki Subaru, the ever-busy and never-free wandering vagrant...... For now at least, would you be so kind as to put me down? Let's talk with both our feet on the ground," Subaru added, giving it his all just to squeeze out that indirect request. While his violent first encounter in the place had left a terrible first impression, in the end, Subaru was let in to the loot cellar. Subaru had described the man from whom he'd first gotten information about the loot cellar, and told the giant old man that he was the one who introduced him to the place. In front of the counter that was facing the front door, Subaru sat on a fixed chair meant for visitors and shifted uncomfortably. There were splinters sticking up out of the seat, and they kept poking him in the rear. If he'd had to go to the bathroom, those splinters could have been the trigger to make him pop. "Why do you keep moving about like that? Are you that concerned about where your balls are?" "Of course not. My boys are just fine. But, really? That's the first thing that comes out of your mouth in this situation?" "Giant" was the best way to describe the old man, since he wasn't just tall, and he looked cramped as he bent down behind the counter. When he came back up, he had a bottle of liquor in his hand, and after pouring himself a glass, brought it to his lips. "Well, you interrupted my drinking time. I hope you have a good reason for coming here. If not, that's just terrible." "The sun's just started to set and you're already drinking? You're going to die an early death if you keep that up." With that retort, Subaru, holding his chin up with his hand and elbow on the counter, took a quick look around the inside of the loot cellar. There was not a single trace of the tragedy that Subaru had witnessed the previous evening he had been here. As he looked at all of the various stolen items strewn about the room, he couldn't tell whether they were organized in some way or not. The old man noticed Subaru looking about, and narrowed his eyes in a knowing way. "So, kid, are you interested in some of these goods?" he said, striking right away at the heart of the matter. The giant old man, who had given his name as "Rom," smiled as he poured himself another shot of liquor into his dirty glass. "There are really only two reasons that people come to this place: they're either bringing something in they stole, or they have some business with the stolen items themselves." "...Well, one of those is one of the reasons I'm here." "One of the reasons...huh. So that means you've got some other business being here?" Rom raised one of his eyebrows as Subaru gave a conditional agreement. Subaru nodded, and then, reluctantly, knowing full well that he probably wasn't going to be taken seriously, said, "This may sound a bit odd, but... Old man, have you...uh, died recently?" Subaru decided not to add in the details about the decapitated arm or sliced throat. Old Man Rom opened his gray eyes wide for a few moments before; as if to signal time starting back up again, he broke into a laugh. "Ga-ha-ha-ha! I was wondering what you were going to say! Now I may be an old man with not much time left to live, but too bad, I haven't died yet! I suppose when you get to this age, I don't imagine it being that far off, though." Apparently, Rom took Subaru's question as some kind of edgy joke, and took out another glass for Subaru. "Want a drink?" Subaru refused the alcohol with a hand signal, followed up by a "Sorry, not right now." Subaru had managed to get his first question out, but the others inside him were multiplying. The corpse that Subaru had seen in the loot cellar...there was no question about it. It was definitely the corpse of the old man who was sitting in front of him right now. Sure, it was dark, and it was the first time Subaru had ever seen a corpse, so it wasn't as though he'd been in a perfect state of mind. However, this old man had so many characteristic features about him, Subaru couldn't imagine mistaking him for someone else. But Subaru could turn the question he just asked on himself. He, too, had been inflicted with mortal wounds as well. Subaru started to think that it had somehow been all a dream. He wasn't sure he could trust what was inside his own head. Was all of what happened here really a dream? If it was, then how much of it was a dream, and why am I here in the first place? The burning pain Subaru had felt, the warmth he felt from that girl's touch, the overwhelming pangs of guilt...if they were all just some leftover traces of a dream, then why was he here right now? It would make more sense to say that everything since he'd been summoned to this world in the first place was a dream. "Rom, have you seen a silver-haired girl around here lately?" "Silver hair...? No, I can't say I have. Silver hair's one of those things that stands out in a bad way, too, so even if my memory's starting to fail me, I don't think I would have forgotten if I saw someone like that," said Rom, following up with a laugh. But that didn't make Subaru feel any better. Rom must have noticed the seriousness in Subaru's expression, because he wiped his own smile away and said, "Drink," putting a glass in front of Subaru again. Rom tilted the glass and filled it up full with an amber-colored liquid. Seeing that Subaru did nothing but stare silently at the glass, once more he said, "Drink." "I'm sorry, but I don't feel up to it right now. Plus, I'm not so much a little kid that I want to drink to act like I'm cool." "What are you talking about? Drinking and acting up is exactly what kids like you are supposed to do! So go ahead and take a big gulp and burn up your insides. When you do that you'll be able to cough up a bunch of things you've got stuck inside because they won't be able to take the heat. So drink!" said Rom a third time, pushing the glass on Subaru. Overpowered by his attitude, Subaru took the glass in his hand and brought the amber liquid to his nose. A strong smell of alcohol struck the inside of his nose and Subaru's face twisted as he almost started coughing. However, despite all of Subaru's resistance, there was a part of him that wanted to do as Rom said. Subaru had thought that drowning one's troubles in alcohol was the mark of a lame adult, but... "All right...here goes!" Subaru tilted the glass and drank all of it in one gulp. Immediately his esophagus began to scream as it was burned. Subaru slammed his glass on the counter. "Argh! Gah! That's terrible! It's hot! It's so bad! Ugh! Disgusting!" "You don't have to say it that many times! Come on! You're going to lose out on half of the fun in life if you can't understand how good liquor tastes!" As Subaru spewed out comments along with the heat from the liquor, Rom yelled at him and drank again. This time he took the whole bottle up and gulped from it. After drinking about three times as much as Subaru just had, Rom gave a mighty burp and smiled. "But still, you should be proud of yourself! That was good form there! So how about it? Do you feel like letting any of that stuff inside you out now?" "...Yeah! Just a little! Old man, it's time for me to take care of that one other reason I'm here!" Turning the old man's smile back with a wicked smile of his own, Subaru wiped his mouth
with his sleeve and pointed into the back of the cellar, where it looked like most of the stolen articles of value were concentrated. Rom's face took on an air of seriousness, and Subaru told him directly. "I'm looking for a badge that's got a jewel embedded in it, and I want you to let me have it." This was Subaru's original goal. Other than confirming Satella's safety, it was the main reason he was here: to retrieve the thing so important to Satella that she would face danger just to get it back. Even while Subaru still felt insecure about the state of Satella's well-being, he thought that if he could at least get a handle on the state of the badge, he would have a clue toward finding her. After Subaru had stated his goal with all of his emotions thrown behind his words, Rom made a difficult expression on his face before replying. "A badge with a jewel... I'm sorry, but no one's brought in anything like that." "...Really? Think long and hard about it you sure you're not going senile yet?" "If I can't remember when I'm at my best with liquor running through me, then I really have to say I don't know. However..." Just as the last thread of Subaru's hope was about to be cut, Rom gave him a sly grin. "Someone's made plans with me to bring something in later today. I'm told it's something valuable, too, so it might just be the thing you're looking for." "Is the person bringing it in, by chance...a girl named Felt?" "That's exactly the case, but...what? You actually know the name of the thief who took it?" Subaru couldn't help but strike a victory pose. Just as he'd thought he had lost all of his leads, things had connected once again. Felt's name had just come up. Felt, the name of the girl who had supposedly taken Satella's badge. If that were the case, Felt's existence would prove Satella's existence. At the very least, Subaru would be able to be sure that Satella wasn't some figment of his imagination. "I was just about to think that my love of silver-haired heroines had made me delusional..." "I'm sorry to interrupt your strange sense of relief there, but you don't have any guarantee that you'll be able to buy back the item, even if she brings it here. If it's got a jewel embedded in it, it's going to fetch a high price." "Ha! You can look around at me all you want, but I'm sorry. I've got nothing! I am eternally and peerlessly penniless!" "Then you're out of luck!" Rom yelled back, taken by surprise. But just as he did that, Subaru lifted up a finger in front of his face and waved it back and forth. "Tsk-tsk-tsk. It's true, I may not have any money. However! In this world, you do not necessarily need money to obtain things. There's this wonderful system called 'barter' haven't you heard?" Rom didn't argue back, he just nodded in silence, egging Subaru on. Subaru dug around in his pants pocket, and in his hand when he took it out was... "...What's that? It's the first time I've ever seen anything like it." "This object that I now raise up is fantastic magical item that can be used to freeze any object in time! It is called a 'cell phone'!" It was a compact-size, white-colored, thin-model cell phone. As Rom looked on amazed at this mysterious item he had never seen before, Subaru quickly moved his fingers and a moment later a white light flashed in the darkness inside the building. As a loud shutter sound rang out along with the flash, Rom fell back behind the counter. It was such an exaggerated reaction that Subaru couldn't help but laugh, but Rom was obviously mad. "What are you doing?! Are you trying to kill me?! Don't think you can fool me with your funny moves!" "Wait, wait, calm down. Take a deep breath, relax, and come over here and take a look." Rom was still red in the face, and it wasn't because he had been drinking, but nevertheless Subaru held out his cell phone in front of him. After a doubtful look at Subaru, his eyes opened wide as he looked at what was in front of him. "This is...this is my face. How did you do that?" "I told you, didn't I? This is a fantastic item that cuts out a piece of time and freezes it. Using this item, I cut out a bit of your time, just before now, and sealed it within this device." Then, Subaru changed the direction of the camera and pointed it at himself, and took another picture. When he showed the screen to Rom again, it showed Subaru making a peace sign. "It cuts out little pieces of time, just like that. So how about it? Pretty rare, huh?" "I can't get terribly excited about that lame pose of yours, but this really is...hmm..." After insulting Subaru's pose, Rom looked very intensely at the cell phone. Subaru made a fist and squeezed it, emboldened by the fact that Rom seemed more interested than he expected. "This is my first time seeing one of these, but...basically, this is a mitia, isn't it?" "A mitia?" Subaru was about to say, "It's just a flip phone," but caught himself. Rom nodded again. "It's what you call things you can use to do magic without opening up a gate, like magic users do. That said, they're mostly used as gifts rather than tools..." So magic items were called "mitia." Subaru nodded, thinking the word fit pretty well. Rom, who had continued to look closely at the cell phone, finally put it back on the counter. "I'm not sure I can put a definite price on this. I've worked here in the loot cellar for a very long time, but this is my first time handling any mitia. ...I can say, though, that it certainly would sell at a high price." It seemed that rare items commanded attention in any business, even for those working the black market. Rom's voice had quickened in excitement, and he rubbed the tip of his chin as he looked down at Subaru. "To be honest, even if it has a jewel embedded it in, exchanging something like this for a purely decorative item really puts you at a loss. You'd be better off trading it for something more expensive... Well, really, you can't compare it to any of this stolen junk I have here." For someone involved in illegal activities, it was strange for Rom to give him such a kind warning, and Subaru responded with a weak smile. To anyone else, what Subaru was trying to do must seem stupid. "No, it's all right. I'll exchange this mitia for the badge that Felt brings in." "Why would you go so far to do that? Is that badge really worth more than this mitia? Or are you saying that it's worth more than money can buy?" asked Rom, unable to come to terms with Subaru's decision. Honestly, if Subaru was in the same position as Rom, he thought he might have said the same thing. "Well... Actually, I haven't seen the badge myself yet, but I don't think that it could be worth more in money than this cell phone, and I'm sure I'm going to be taking a loss." "If you understand all of that, why do you want to go through with it?" "Isn't it obvious? I want to take a loss." Rom blinked a few times at Subaru, but at the same time Subaru felt a sense of exhilaration, because this...this was his answer. "I want to pay someone back. I'm someone who always feels like they have to return a favor. I'm one of those modern kids who can't handle the feeling of being indebted to someone. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. So, even if I have to take a big loss, I'm going to take back that badge." "Hmm... So, it sounds like this badge isn't actually yours... Is that right?" "It belongs to a beautiful silver-haired girl who saved my life. I don't understand why, but it's very precious to her." "But what about that person who saved you? Why isn't she here?" "I'm currently looking for her! Actually, right now I'm not even sure she's not a figment of my imagination that I created because I was feeling down!" Subaru gripped his fist and laughed off his previous anxiety by putting it into words. Subaru was going to get this badge back, and then once again meet that girl. He wanted to see her smile. "You're quite the idiot, aren't you?" laughed Rom as he looked on at Subaru and his determination. After having gotten through the first round of negotiations, Subaru spent the next while chatting with Old Man Rom. Given how interested Rom seemed to be in the mitia, Subaru mused to himself that gadgets were something men were fond of, no matter what world you were in. "Whether it be your clothes or this, you've really got a lot of strange stuff on you, don't you? I mean, these things here are delicious!" "I know, right? Hey, wait! I thought you said a bite! Those are my corn chips! That's the last food I had on me!" "Oh don't be so stingy. If you keep something as tasty as this all to yourself, you're gonna fall straight to hell, I tell ya." "Oh and you won't, for eating all them yourself?! Blaming others while you're doing the same yourself is a really bad habit of you baby boomers... I said, stop eating those!" Subaru thought he was just being kind by sharing some of his snacks, but after seeing them all get eaten like this, he sure did regret it. As he put his empty snack bags back in his convenience store bag, he was close to tears. By the time they both heard a knock on the door, it was already quite close to sunset. It was just as Subaru was starting to doze off, and when he looked up, he saw Rom move his giant body lightly toward the door. After quietly putting one ear against it, Rom whispered. "To the giant rats...?" "We give poison." "To the great white whale...?" "We lend a fishing hook." "To our most honorable great dragon...?" "We say, 'Burn in hell!'" To each of Rom's short questions came a curt answer. Along with the special knock, those had to be passwords. Satisfied with the answers, Rom unlocked the door. "Sorry I took so long, Old Man Rom. I had someone really persistent on my tail, and it took me a long time to lose 'em." With a friendly tone in her voice, a young girl slipped past Rom, bragging of her exploits. The girl's blond hair was semi-long, and her eyes were red like a rabbit's. From the side of her mouth peeked a mischievous canine tooth. The clothes she was wearing looked easy to move in, but they were in tatters. Subaru stood up without thinking, causing a clatter. The girl immediately looked his way and wiped the smile from her face. "Who's this? Hey, Rom. I told you I was going to bring something big, so I didn't want anyone to be here, didn't I?" "I understand how you feel, but that uh...kiddo there has some business with you, Felt, and it's not completely unrelated to that 'big thing' you said you were bringing in." Rom's answer only made Felt more suspicious. By the way she was unconsciously drawing her hand close to her chest, it appeared that that's where she was holding the badge. Felt continued to be on her guard as she looked at Subaru. "What's with that guy? You didn't sell me out, did you, Rom?"
"Just how long do you think we've been working together? I'd never do anything like that. The only reason he's here is because I think that he's got an offer for you that ain't too bad." Rom winked at Subaru, "Right?" While feeling disgusted at being winked at by an old man, Subaru cleared his throat to help dispel his nervousness and, ignoring Rom's continued gaze, turned to face Felt. "You don't have to be so nervous. Why don't you just sit down and have a glass of milk first?" "Stop it with that stupid face of yours. I can tell you don't know what you're doing... Look, I don't know what you're scheming, but I'm not interested in anything you have to say, unless I'm sure it means more money for me. So go ahead and get straight to the point." Felt's reaction was cold. Subaru's shoulders fell at how bad his first impression went by, but... "I begged this old man here to give me some time to talk to you, but...my business is actually with that jeweled badge you have hidden away in your pocket there." The girl raised her eyebrows along with the level of her caution. Subaru knew not only about her theft, but exactly what she stole. But Subaru raised both of his hands in front of her, trying to calm her down. "I'm not planning on doing anything. I've only come here to talk. That is, to negotiate." Subaru then, with his two hands still in the air, pointed down at a small table near the counter. "Let's aim for a result where both of us come out on top. In other words, a win-win situation." After a short pause, Felt nodded, and both sat down on either side of the small table. Rom then poured two glasses of milk and set both in front of them. "I'll give you the place and this milk, but you're on your own when it comes to negotiating." "Don't worry, I've come here prepared to have everything taken from me. Just watch me as I lose it all," said Subaru, punching his fist into his other hand as if he was bragging, about to enter a fight, though saying nothing to be proud of. Rom snorted, but Felt, who had already begun to drink her milk, twisted her face. "Hey, Rom. You haven't watered this milk down, have you? It tastes terrible!" "Why does everybody have to insult the drinks?! I'm showing you some kindness here...!" said Rom before taking his giant hand and rustling Felt's hair. Subaru thought it looked as though Rom was going to tear Felt's head off, but it was clear from Rom's face that he meant no harm and was just patting her head like any old man would his grandchild. Plus, Felt looked used to it. "You two look closer than I thought you would be. I'm getting lonely over here all by myself." "Don't say something wimpy like that when you've got a face that looks just as awful as this old man's." "I've had my face insulted before, but really? As bad as this guy?! Come on!" yelled Subaru, shocked as he looked back up at Rom's bald head and was stricken with horror. While Subaru didn't have the most handsome features and was often mistaken for some kind of thug, he didn't think they were so bad as to be compared with this six-foot-tall giant of an old man. "...You're right. Sorry about that, I went too far," replied Felt. "Here's where I'd want to say that, to make it up to me, I'd like you to call me 'big brother' in a cute voice for the rest of the discussion, but I'll go ahead and forgive you for now. You've got to be careful so you don't say anything too hurtful, or... Rom, what's wrong?" "I'm really beginning to think you two have teamed up together just to come in here and make me angry..." Rom was smiling, but a vein was popping out of his forehead. Subaru and Felt looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Rom let out a deep sigh. "Just when I thought Felt had made a new acquaintance around her age, you turn out to be just as twisted as the others." "...Rom, please. I know you think you're helping, but I'm going to ask you to stop saying such embarrassing things," said Felt. "Plus, 'around her age'...? Although I suppose from your perspective everyone else looks like they're in the same age group." Subaru took another look at Felt, but even taking into account the fact that she was probably thinner than she should have been, she looked about twelve or thirteen. If you wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and stretch your imagination, she might have been able to pass for fourteen years old. It was enough of an age difference for Subaru to feel embarrassed if Felt were referred to as his acquaintance or friend. But Subaru's analysis aside, Felt and Rom's argument continued on without him. "What do you think is going to happen to you if you keep up this 'lone wolf' attitude of yours? Sooner or later, I'm going to get too old to be able to take care of you anymore. Do you really think you can make it on your own?" "Just how many times have you told me this already? Isn't it a mark of senility to say the same thing over and over again? But other than that, it'll be a long time before you're too old for anything, and before that happens I'll..." "...You'll do what?" Subaru said, jumping in, as Felt's sentence trailed off. Felt suddenly looked up, irritated. Given that he seemed to have asked a question he shouldn't have and was in danger of wrecking the mood, Subaru cleared his throat. They had gotten very sidetracked, and it was time to return to the main point. "Anyway, let's go ahead and start our negotiations. So, uh...Felt. You've got that badge, right?" "...Yeah, I do." Subaru cut straight to the point, and in response, Felt answered honestly. Reaching into her breast pocket, Felt took out something and set it silently on the table. It was the badge that Subaru had been looking for. What first stood out to Subaru was a design on it that was in the shape of a dragon. The badge itself was about the size where it would fit easily in the palm of your hand. While Subaru couldn't exactly tell what material it was made out of, the design of the winged dragon was intricate, and in the dragon's open mouth was a red jewel that made it look very unique. Subconsciously, Subaru was drawn to the sparkle of the jewel in the badge's center. "So..." Felt's voice caught Subaru's attention and brought him back to where he was. She then slid the badge over to the edge of the table, as if to remind him that it still wasn't his yet. "Now it's your turn to show me what you've got. As you can see, this is no ordinary badge, and I went through a lot of trouble to get it. If you can show me something that will match both the badge and my efforts, we can both be happy, right?" "While I see you're trying to test me with that evil-looking smile of yours, I'm sorry. I've only got one card to play. After all, you would have to look far and wide to find one as destitute as me!" Subaru proudly threw out his chest, but Felt didn't look all that happy. The moment I say "poor," everyone makes that face at me, don't they? thought Subaru. But Subaru's feelings aside, he went ahead and played his only card. Subaru slapped his cell phone on the table, and just as he thought, Felt looked confused. However, that reaction was just the kind he was looking for. Subaru started up the cell phone's camera and... "Take this! Nine-frames-per-second continuous shooting!" "Wah! Wha ?! What are you ?! Hey, what's with that noise, and why is it so bright?!" A white light flashed and a mechanical-like shutter sound went off several times at a rapid pace. Felt seemed like she had something to say about Subaru's terrible breach of manners, but before she could open her mouth, Subaru held the cell phone's screen in front of her face. Upon seeing her own self on the screen, she opened her eyes wide and said, "That's..." "That's right! I made a copy of you! This mitia cuts out a slice of someone's time and stores it away! I want to trade you this mitia for that badge you've got." Having played his best card right away, Subaru was able to push the negotiations in his favor. It was an established negotiation tactic, and depending on the situation, could be used to force a conclusion to be made right away. Of course, this also meant telling the person you're negotiating with that you had no stronger cards to play, and Subaru had said that already in the first place, but it seemed to work. "I see. That's pretty amazing. Rom, how much do you think this mitia would go for?" Felt looked at the screen and nodded a few times, but Subaru thought that her reaction was incredibly indifferent. Her eyes didn't light up and she didn't even take the cell phone in her hands to look more closely. She wasn't interested in the cell phone's uses or its rarity, but only how much money she could turn it into. "So this fascination with high-tech stuff is only limited to men in this world, too?! Somehow that makes me feel really sad and lonely!" "Oh, shut up. What's there to make a big deal about? If this so-called mitia can sell for more than this badge, then I couldn't be happier. For that, I trust Rom to give me a proper appraisal." "Well, I can't say exactly how much I think it would go for. To be honest, I don't think the two objects can be compared. I think that badge could go for a lot of money...but not as much as this mitia. In other words, I think you have a lot to gain by making this trade, Felt. That's what I think." "I see, I see. If that's the case, then why not?" Felt seemed pleased when the trade got Rom's seal of approval. While Felt's reaction was a little bit different from what Subaru had expected, it appeared the trade was going to happen as planned, and Subaru couldn't be any happier about that. However, as soon as he reached across the table toward the badge, Felt interrupted him. "Wait. Our cards have been played, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try to sweeten the deal." "...I'm not sure how I feel about you saying that so plain and clear, but no matter what you say or do, I don't have anything else. Like I said before, I am peerlessly and infinitely broke." "I'm not that cruel, and after all, Rom said so himself. Your mitia is worth more than this badge. However, I doubt that you don't have any more cards to play." Felt stood up and looked down at Subaru. Her red eyes were lit up, and he could see that she was sizing him up. A cold sweat ran down Subaru's back. Subaru had already played the strongest card he could in their negotiations so far. However, Subaru still had a few other things on him that he thought might be valuable in this world. At the very worst, he thought he might be able to play a few more cards, but... "I said not to worry, didn't I? I don't plan on trying to take any more from you. I'll be happy enough
if I know I can just turn this thing here into money." Felt lightly clapped her hands together and smiled, appearing pleased at the look of anxiety on Subaru's face. Subaru gulped upon seeing Felt's reaction and, taking a few deep breaths, looked away in hopes that he could hide just how shaken he felt. "So then, if that's the case, what do you mean when you say you still want to 'sweeten the deal'?" "Hmm? Oh, that? It's simple. It just means that you're not the only person I'm negotiating with." Subaru looked confused, but Felt stuck out her pointer finger and explained. "The reason I stole the badge in the first place is because someone asked me to...in exchange for ten blessed gold coins." "So you've already got a price settled with the person you stole it for?! Ten gold coins, huh... I don't really understand how much that is, but..." Subaru glanced at Rom, who took the hint and nodded back. "If it were me, I might be able to sell this badge for four, at best five gold coins. There's also the possibility that I would get talked down to three." "So that means that they're already paying twice its worth?" "Didn't you hear her? She said blessed gold coins. They're made of blessed gold, which is much rarer, so ten blessed gold coins is closer to twenty gold coins in worth." "So they're paying four times as much?!" "Why are you acting so surprised? With that mitia of yours, even in the worst case you could easily get twenty blessed gold coins. Besides, there are probably collectors out there who would pay even more. You can't even compare the two." Subaru really didn't understand the general cost of goods in this world, but he had thought that gold coins were the most valuable currency. The thought that his cell phone's worth was measured in a currency even greater than that, and not just one or two but twenty coins, was enough to take him by surprise. "If this mitia really does fetch a higher price, then I have no intention of honoring a prior agreement with someone else, and I don't have a problem telling them that." "Then why are you saying you'll 'sweeten the deal'?!" Felt's mischievous grin twisted into an even more villainous smile. "If I tell them you've made such a ridiculous counteroffer, if they still want the badge, don't you think they'll try to offer me something more?" "In other words... Is that what you're saying? If the other side turns around and offers more than twenty blessed golden coins...then if you don't show me all the rest of your cards, you won't have a chance." Felt's villainous smile had become so villainous it had reached a breaking point and become more like something refreshingly triumphant as she said those last words. On the other hand, with this ominous turn of events, Subaru's expression started to cloud over. "So when are you planning on meeting with this person who commissioned you to steal the badge? I assume you'll let me sit in on the negotiations, right?" "Of course, if I put you at too much of a disadvantage, I might end up losing some of the money there is to be made. But don't worry about the location, we're meeting here," Felt said, tapping the edge of the table with her finger, before leaning against the back of her chair and looking up at Rom. "As long as Old Man Rom's around, most people will forget about using violence as an option. Just the thought of having to fight this scary old man sends shivers down your spine, don't you think?" Felt looked to Subaru for agreement, and after one quick glance at Rom, Subaru nodded several times. On the other hand, Rom didn't seem too bothered about their having that kind of opinion of him. "You really can't do anything without me, can you, Felt? I worry about you. Would you like another glass of milk? I also have some other things that are a little sweeter." Rom had started to look like the grandfather who spoils his granddaughter like she was a cute kitten. Rom looked thrilled as he poured another glass of milk for Felt. Subaru looked at the two of them, and let out an exasperated sigh. "Really, if you had already called that person here in the first place, were you planning on trying to negotiate the price with them even if I didn't show up?" "Of course I was! Just how much do you think I had to go through to steal this thing? What if poor little me had to meet with them all on my own and got talked down on the reward? Wouldn't that be sad?" "'Poor little me,' huh..." Felt was small and thin and though from that outward appearance one might be tempted to describe her as such, given how strong and stubborn a personality she had Subaru had a problem thinking of her as helpless. Thinking back to when Felt had run away after having stolen the badge, she had left Subaru for dead as he was being assaulted by those thugs. Remembering that episode left Subaru a bit angry, so he couldn't help but bring it up. "Speaking of which, don't you remember me at all?" "Huh? Did we meet somewhere before? I mean, unless it was some really sort of shocking encounter, I don't think I'd remember you. I'm quite busy, and to be honest you look pretty plain. Only your hair and clothes stand out." Felt cackled. As far as he could tell from the way she said it, Subaru didn't think that Felt was lying. There was also the fact that he had just had the plainness of his overall appearance insulted, so it was enough to put him into a minor state of shock. It was starting to seem like there really was no such thing as common human decency in this world. Not if anyone could so easily forget passing by the scene of an attempted murder and robbery. But then again, there were people like Satella, who had saved Subaru even though there was nothing in it for her, and this old man who, despite being a bit of a villain, you just couldn't bring yourself to hate. Even in this different world it wasn't as though everyone was the same. It wouldn't be right just to judge everyone based on the actions of a few bad eggs. "Anyway, that's enough about your terrible memory, Felt. When is that other person supposed to be coming?" "I'm not sure I like your attitude... But I said I'd finish the job by sunset, so we agreed to meet here after sunset... Since the sun's already set they should be here any minute now I think?" That conversation might have triggered an event flag, because just then came a sharp knock on the door. All three people at the table looked at one another. "Did you tell 'em about the special knock?" "Ah... No, I didn't. It's probably for me, so I'll go check." Felt stuck her tongue out at Rom and she leapt from her chair and went over to the door. The way she acted, you'd think she owned the place. "You really okay with letting her get away with that?" Subaru said as he turned to Rom. "Well, it's not like I just met her. We've known each other for a long time... I suppose I can let her depend on me every now and then." Subaru thought Rom actually looked very happy to be depended on, as the old man went into the back of the cellar and returned with a large club. The club was about the length of a bamboo kendo sword, and it seemed to be made of wood. At the tip and sticking out in various places were sharp points, and it looked like a clean hit would easily leave a fatal wound. The closest thing to compare it to would be a bat with nails in it, but even in this world it looks like clubs are pretty standard equipment... Wielding a club like that seemed to suit the six-foot-tall, musclebound old man. Subaru thought that if his clothes were a bit more torn and he was wearing a loincloth it would be an even more perfect fit. "Upon seeing your uncivilized figure in all its glory, even I can't help myself but wince and smile at the same time." "You sure like to run your mouth, don't you? Just who do you think you have to thank for getting this far? Woe is me," Rom added, shaking his head. Subaru looked back at Rom for a few moments. "Well, to be honest, I've very thankful for your help. It's not like everything's over yet, but I'm almost there, and the only reason things have been going so well for me is because of your help, so...thanks." "...If you suddenly start being honest with me like that, I'm not going to know what to do," said Rom in response to Subaru's thanks, scratching at his bald head before letting out a deep sigh. "You have more to thank yourself for in finding this place and making use of what you had on ya. I haven't done anything deserving of your thanks." "You know that's not true. After all, Rom, you knew that Felt was planning on discussing the price of what she stole here with someone, right? Then, as soon as you heard what I had to say, you had all the reason to just throw me out." *** "You're the one who gave me a chance to even talk to Felt. Of course, it was my efforts my efforts! that took it from there!" It was important so Subaru had to say it twice. As Subaru proudly pointed his thumb at himself, Rom's expression grew complicated and he was silent. Thinking that Rom had finally grown tired of his antics, Subaru started to regret his eagerness to praise himself. "I wouldn't call the way I feel about it 'thanks,' but...if either of us is to thank the other, it should be me, rather than you," muttered Rom, softly, just as Subaru's feeling of regret was starting to show on his face. The old man's wrinkles deepened as he put on a smile. "There's the fact that you have a mitia and then there's your clothes and the look about you... You come from a pretty well-off family, don't you?" "Well, I wouldn't exactly say that..." "You don't have to hide it. I bet that you can't make public the fact that Felt stole that badge. If for nothing else, I'm very grateful of the fact that you're trying to settle this in a peaceful way." It seemed that Rom had formed his own conclusions about Subaru's mysterious background, and that inside his head, Subaru was something of a very thoughtful gentleman. "Felt and I...we've been together about as long as she can remember, since when she was a little girl," Rom said. "I remember you saying something like that a little while ago...Have you two been here that whole time?" Subaru nodded his head in the direction of the surrounding slum area. Rom nodded. "In a place like this, everyone's just struggling to survive. In that kind of environment, the young ones tend to gangs from others like them, but...Felt really isn't suited to that." "If the way she's been acting is the way she acts to everyone, I'm not that surprised." Felt's attitude so far seemed resolute and bold, but while that sounded good, there was no question that all of that resolution was geared toward her own ends. If you act like that, Subaru thought, anybody who wants a mutually beneficial relationship with you isn't going to be too thrilled. "But isn't there also a problem
in how she approaches you, Rom? I don't mean to be rude or anything, but I think that part of the reason her selfishness has gotten so bad is because you're always there for her." "...I don't have anything I can say to that. After all, it's true that I tend to spoil her," Rom said softly as he ran his hand over his bald head. The way the old man looked when he said that made it clear to Subaru that Rom felt as though Felt was family to him. They probably weren't related by blood, but at least from Rom's side, there was a clear bond between them. "Well, I hope it's not a one-sided sort of thing," Subaru muttered, without being clear on who the subject was. But Rom must have heard, because he whispered, "I don't mind, even if that's the way it is. ...Actually, it'd be best if it were that way." But just then it looked as though their time was up. "What are you two doing, muttering to yourselves? It's creepy, so cut it out," said Felt, annoyed, as she returned. Behind Felt, who was doing a terrible job of putting on a fake smile, was one other person. "I was right, it was for me. We're over here, would you care to take a seat?" Felt motioned, pushing Subaru aside, and turned back to the person behind her while attempting to be courteous. When Subaru looked up, preparing himself to face the next person he was going to have to negotiate between, he was a little bit surprised. Felt had invited in an incredibly beautiful woman. She was very tall for a woman, about the same height as Subaru, and she looked as though she were in her early twenties. The beautiful woman had eyes that angled down toward their edges and she had a certain calmness about her. One thing that stood out about her in the darkness of the loot cellar was the almost sickly whiteness of her skin. She was wearing a black coat, but the front was open and you could see that her clothes underneath were also black and were tightly fit against her skin. While she was fairly thin, she definitely had curves where they should be, and a very nice body overall. Like Subaru, the woman also had black hair, which seemed to be very rare in this world. Her hair was tied in a braid that reached all the way to her hips, the tip of which she was twirling around in her fingers. In short, she was a bewitchingly beautiful older woman. For Subaru, who had no real experience being around women even in his own world, seeing a woman like this was so new to him that he could not help but feel extremely nervous. Having already lost his cool, Subaru followed Felt's directions and gave up his chair without any complaint. Felt took that seat, and Rom took the seat to the left of her. Subaru just stood to Felt's right, unable to hide his nervousness. With so many people awaiting her arrival, the woman didn't seem upset, but she did look puzzled. "I get the feeling that there are a lot of unrelated people here." "I can't just let myself be in a position to be talked down on price, you know? It's the wisdom of the weak. Anyway, Subaru, go fetch us some drinks." Felt motioned to Subaru with her hand, like she was ordering a servant around, but Subaru couldn't bring himself to talk back, and so went behind the counter and picked out some relatively clean glasses, filled them with milk, and came back to the table to set them down. The woman said, "Thank you," to Subaru before looking him up and down. "I understand that old man being here, but who is this?" The woman must have been able to tell by Subaru's demeanor that he was not very used to the place. Rather than being wary of him, she had posed a simple question. In response, Felt smiled her evil smile. "This guy here is your rival. He's come to negotiate as well," she declared, and her process of "sweetening the deal" began. "I see. I understand what's going on now," said the woman before taking a sip from her glass and licking off the milk left on her lips. The woman, who went by the name Elsa, gave off an air of eroticism in every move she made. While Felt was explaining the current situation to Elsa, she turned her glance several times toward Subaru, which made him so flustered he could hardly handle it. "That's the way it is, so now we'll start the bidding. I don't really care who walks away with this badge, so it'll go to the one who can offer me the best deal." "That's a nice attitude you have there. I can't say I dislike it. ...So, how much did that boy over there say he would pay for it?" Elsa originally said that she would pay ten blessed gold coins. If Subaru was going to compete with her offer, she must have thought that he had offered more money. Thinking that it would be better to not take a "wait and see" approach, he took out his cell phone for the third time and demonstrated its use. A flash lit up the inside of the cellar and Elsa's image was captured by the device. Elsa raised her eyebrows in response to Subaru's sudden actions, but Subaru immediately showed her the screen. "What I have to offer is this mitia. It's a rare item, and it's probably the only one in the entire world. According to this muscular man, it should sell for over twenty blessed gold coins." "A mitia..." Elsa said, staring at herself on the screen and slowly nodding. With this, Elsa should have realized that Subaru was looking to barter for the badge, not pay outright, and that his offer was not a bluff. Elsa took a small leather bag out of her pocket and placed it on the table. In the bag was probably the payment she had prepared for the badge Subaru could hear the sound of heavy metal objects clanging together as she set it down. Felt fixed on the bag with her eyes like a curious cat, as Rom wordlessly reprimanded her. Elsa placed her white fingers on top of the bag she had placed on the table. "The truth is, I was given a little extra by my employer, in case you happened to have second thoughts about the price, so I do have a little more to offer." "Your employer...? So you're just following someone's directions to pick up the badge?" asked Subaru. "That's correct. The one who wants the badge is not me, but my employer. ...Are you by chance involved in the same sort of work as I am?" "If that were the case, then that would mean you'd have to be unemployed!" "So, this unemployed kid over here is saying he'll pay a much higher price than you offered. Just how much is your master willing to pay?" asked Felt, challenging Elsa. Elsa silently opened the mouth of the bag, and turned it over. What came tumbling out were several shining blessed gold coins. Felt's eyes sparkled as she saw the coins layer on top of one another, and even Rom made a sound in his throat. Subaru was more concerned with the number than the coins themselves. If he counted correctly... "Twenty coins, exactly," said Elsa. "This is all that my employer has given to me. This is what they decided would be enough to pay for the badge, but...am I correct in thinking their estimates may have been a little off?" asked Elsa, directing her question at Rom, rather than Felt. After counting the coins, Rom gazed down at a nervous-looking Subaru, and then smiled. "There's no reason for you to act like such a baby. You should be embarrassed. Aren't you a man? ...It's true that twenty blessed gold coins is an outrageous amount. However, I remember saying that in the worst case, your mitia should sell for twenty gold coins. In other words, it's worth more than that." Rom took his giant callused hand and roughly patted Subaru on the head. "The way I see it, the negotiations lean in favor of the kid. No offense to your employer, but it looks like you're going to have to bring them their money back," Rom said, shoving the coins back toward Elsa. Subaru let out a cry of excitement. Felt threw her hands up in the air to signal that she didn't have a problem with the decision, and Elsa shrugged but did not look all that displeased herself. Subaru followed up with a triumphant pose, but that exaggerated action just made him stand out from the crowd. "W-what? I'm happy, all right? Let me be! This is the first time I've actually accomplished something here! What's wrong with a little celebration?!" said Subaru, embarrassed. "I didn't say anything. If you want to celebrate, then celebrate. As long as I get my money, I'm happy," said Felt. "My employer doesn't actually need that badge, so I don't have any reason to beg you to reconsider," added Elsa. Both Felt and Elsa seemed uninterested in Subaru's antics. However, while Subaru wasn't so mean-spirited that he was hoping for Elsa to beg and plead, he found it strange how disinterested she seemed, despite the negotiations not going her way. "Well, I'm sorry, Elsa. I imagine your employer's going to be angry at you." "There's no helping it. It would be different if I failed because I was the one who made a mistake, but in this case, it's my employer's fault for thinking that they would be able to get away with paying so little for the badge." "But when you plan for as much as twenty blessed gold coins and that turns out to be not enough, that's got to be tough," remarked Rom. "Well, I guess it just means that my luck is in full swing! Does this mean that my era of greatness has finally come?" Felt laughed, oblivious to the mood, in contrast to the two males who were showing sympathy for Elsa. Either way, Subaru had managed to complete one of the goals he had in coming here. Without having to fall back on a plan B, it looked as though there was a glimmer of hope that he would be able to pay Satella back. Normally, it would be best to report to Satella that Felt and Elsa were the ones responsible for the theft, but Subaru didn't have it in him to do anything that might result in either of them getting locked up. It had been simple opportunism. "Well, as the negotiations did not go in my favor, I think I'll take my leave now." Elsa stood up and gulped down the last of her milk. Again, she used her tongue in an erotic way to lick up the last few drops of milk, before looking at Subaru. As she stared at him, it felt as though her eyes were binding him in place. "By the way, what is it that you were planning on doing with that badge?" Elsa asked in a somewhat deep, frozen sort of voice. The sweet ring of her voice threatened Subaru's eardrums and made him feel, by some delusion, as though he couldn't lie. "...Oh, I was planning on returning it to its owner." As soon as he said it he knew he had made a terrible mistake. He had just declared, in front of both the girl who had stolen it and the woman who had ordered the theft, that he was going to return the stolen item to its owner. "I see. So you're with them." Subaru's words were
enough to set Elsa's cold murderous intent into motion. "Wha ?!" Subaru felt a sudden impact from his side. The impact was enough to force him to the side, and unable to catch himself, he tumbled to the ground. From Subaru's perspective there was first pain and shock, his vision spinning as he hit the ground. When he looked up he saw that Felt was clinging to his side. "What do you " "Are you an idiot? Pay attention and get out of the way! You want to die?!" Felt yelled. " think you are doing?!" The last part of Subaru's shout was drowned out by Felt's. Subaru was in shock. From his low vantage point he saw Elsa facing toward him. "Oh, it looks like you managed to dodge that one," she said, her head tilted in surprise. Elsa held in her hand a weapon that glimmered with a dull light. The weapon was, according to Subaru's knowledge, a kukri blade, and it clashed with the rest of Elsa's image. It was easily a foot long, with the body of the blade bent inward as it extended from the handle. Due to the weight of the tip it was a weapon that was often used similarly to an ax to decapitate enemies or prey, and just by looking at it, it was not hard to imagine the weapon's vicious brutality. Despite wielding the blade, Elsa's serene smile was unchanged. From her stance, it was clear that she had already swung the weapon once. Which meant the only reason Subaru was safe was that Felt had leapt up and tackled him out of the path of the weapon. Fear, late in coming, made Subaru's hands and feet shake, and he felt nauseated. However, the situation wasn't going to stop just for him. "Rrrragh!" Old Man Rom let out a roar as he rushed toward Elsa, swinging the club that had never left his grasp since the negotiations had begun. The spiked part of the club came barreling down toward her head. Despite the club weighing at least twenty pounds, Rom swung it as if he were swinging a twig, and it cut through the air before slamming against the floor of the cellar. As the club sprang off the floor it felt as though the entire building had shook. Several stolen articles flew from the shock of the impacts, which continued as Rom and Elsa traded blows in front of Subaru. "This is my first time in mortal combat with a giant," said Elsa. "Go ahead and keep talking, little girl. I'll turn you into mincemeat and feed you to the giant rats!" As Rom threw his insults he swung his club even faster. Before the power of that swing, any untrained attempt to block would be no more effective than a sheet of paper. Inside the cellar, there was very little room to move around, and allowing the swings of that club to corner you could easily be a fatal mistake. However, Elsa's skill was of such a high level it could only be called freakish. While still wielding her kukri, dangling from one hand, Elsa, herself like a black shadow, was able to slip around each of Rom's surely fatal swings. Her movements were precarious, walking a thin line, just barely away from life-threatening danger, and still it was she who was in control of the fight, not Rom. This can't be good, thought Subaru instinctively. Something in his head was setting off an alarm. "This is bad..." muttered Subaru, his lips shaking. "Don't worry. There's no way Old Man Rom can lose! Ever since I can remember, I've never seen Rom lose a fight!" Felt yelled back, putting her trust for Rom in words as if to dispel her own doubts. In Felt's words were experiences built up over long years; experiences that formed her unshakable trust. But even without Felt telling Subaru outright, he could see their trust in how close they were when they interacted with each other. Despite Felt's confidence, Subaru was preparing for the worst. But he couldn't figure out why. "Take that!" Before Subaru could pin down his anxiety, there was a change in the flow of the fight. Rom yelled and kicked over the table, the same small wooden table they had been negotiating around. The table split and splintered from the force of the kick, and for an instant Elsa, who was up against a wall, was hidden behind its fragments, her line of sight cut off. Rom swung his club down with all his might. If the hit landed, it was sure to be an instant kill. However... "Rom!" Felt's distraught scream shook the air inside the loot cellar. Subaru then saw the result that scream had sought to prevent. Something was flying, spinning in the air. It was Rom's right arm, still tightly gripping his club. The arm, which had been severed at the shoulder, flew through the air, spraying blood everywhere before it landed against the wall. The whole room had been showered with blood. Subaru and Felt were no exception. Felt screamed again. "If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me!" Having lost his right arm, Rom was spraying blood out of his shoulder like a hose. Without even trying to stop the flow of blood, Rom leapt forward toward Elsa, to attack her with his one remaining arm. As the splintered wooden table fell to the ground, Elsa stood behind it, still holding the position of the follow-through of her swing. Before Elsa could flip the kukri back around, Rom's giant body would crush her. But in that fleeting moment of Rom's last stand... "I forgot to tell you before, but thank you for the milk." ...he was cut short. With her other hand Elsa struck with a broken shard from the very glass she had been drinking from. On the sharp tip of the shard were droplets of blood blood that had come from Rom's slit throat. His arm severed and his throat cut, blood frothed from the old man's mouth, and as the light from his eyes vanished, he collapsed on the ground. Though his body convulsed there was no strength left in it, as Rom's life was dragged away even as it clung to his body. Elsa bowed once gracefully toward the body, as if paying her respects. While Rom's body continued to twitch, Elsa gently placed the remains of the glass down by his feet. "I'll give this back. I don't need it anymore," she said coldly, before twirling her kukri around in her hand and pointing its red-stained tip toward Subaru and Felt. However, Subaru, still collapsed the floor, was unable to say anything. All of Subaru's thought processes had been arrested by the slaughter that had taken place before his eyes. Someone that he had been talking to just a few minutes ago was now dead. Dead not by sickness or an accent, but killed by the actions of another, plain and simple. "Ah, I see that you're the one with the courage," Elsa said, impressed, and Subaru, still unable to move, looked up. While Subaru was still in a state of shock, Felt had stood up and was slapping her legs to keep her knees from shaking. She then pushed back her blood-soaked hair. "How... How dare you..." Subaru was behind Felt, so he could not see her expression. However, it was clear from her voice that she was not choking back tears. "If you put up too much of a struggle, you will only end up hurting more," said Elsa. "I bet you'd still plan on killing us even if we didn't fight back, you psycho...!" "If you move too much I won't be able to make a clean cut. ...I'm not all that skilled with a blade." As Elsa said this, she twirled the kukri around and pretended as if she were practicing the proper cuts to butcher Felt. But Felt was empty-handed. There was no way that she could win. In his mind, Subaru had reached the conclusion that he should cry out. He needed to distract Elsa, even if only a little bit, to allow time for Felt to escape. If he could just give her time to call for help, or even just escape on her own... But even though Subaru had made his decision, he couldn't stop his body from shaking. "...I'm sorry for getting you wrapped up in all of this," Felt said to Subaru in an apology little above a whisper. "I-I..." In response, Subaru's face jolted up toward Felt, and forgetting the words he should have said to her, he could only manage a choked mutter as though pleading for her forgiveness. But Felt left Subaru's sentiments forever behind her as she dashed forward. There was a loud sound as she kicked off from the ground, and it was as though a gale had suddenly blown through the cellar. Just when Subaru thought that Felt had vanished from his sight, he saw Elsa's body twist. A high-pitched sound rang out, and Felt clicked her tongue from Elsa's side. In Felt's hand was a small knife, and with Elsa's overwhelmingly fast reaction she was able to dodge Felt's attack. Felt leapt back, riding the gust of air she made as she flew. With Felt's irregular movements, even the walls of the cellar became like ground to her. Even Elsa seemed to be surprised by Felt's acrobatic feats. "So you have the protection of the wind. Oh, how wonderful. The world must adore you...I envy that." Elsa's ecstatic smile suddenly turned, and her eyes were filled with hatred as her arm bent back. "Wha " Felt was cut down in midair by a slice that extended across from her shoulder, and unable to catch herself, she hit the ground and entered a roll. The opening of the wound cut across her chest, from the left shoulder to her right underarm, and it was so deep it cut through bone and into her organs. Ending her roll faceup, with every beat of her heart Felt spewed blood like a fountain, and it was clear that she had already lost consciousness from the pain and shock of the cut. She didn't move an inch. In just a few seconds the flow of her blood lost its pressure, silently signaling the end of her life. Subaru could not move. He wanted to go to Felt's side and try to stop the bleeding. If it was too late for that, then he at least wanted to close her eyelids. But Subaru's arms and legs rejected his plea, and he could do nothing but shiver, shamelessly. "The old man and the girl are both down, but you won't move. Have you already given up?" Elsa said in a tone as though she pitied him, with eyes that looked bored. All she had to do was walk a little closer and strike a single time with her knife. That much was obvious to her, hence her bored look. In Elsa's movements was not even the slightest hint of hesitation. It even seemed as though she was trying to hold back a yawn. In response to Elsa's attitude, Subaru felt an uncontrollable anger welling up inside him. The two people fallen in front of him were people he had met just under an hour ago. But they had not only talked, they had bared emotions to one another. To take those two people and kill them, and feel no guilt whatsoever, was to Subaru absolutely unforgivable. Furthermore, he could not forgive himself. He had just watched as both of them were slaughtered by this vile woman. "So you've finally gotten to your feet. It certainly took you a while. I doubt you'll entertain me much, but it could be worse." The anger welling up inside Subaru, though far too late, finally gave him the power to move his arms and legs. His

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