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The Butterfly Effect

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Chapter 1: A Chance Encounter

 

 

Natsuki Subaru was, to say the least, having a very strange day. Having walked to a convenience store and purchased a few things to fuel his NEET gaming habits, he'd rubbed his tired eyes. Upon opening them he suddenly found himself standing in the middle of a medieval city. It was complete with demi-humans, swordsmen, dragon-drawn wagons, all kinds of things you'd find in a typical RPG.

After being attacked by hoodlums in an alley, he was saved by a silver-maned beauty. This was when he found out that this strange world he'd been... transported to? Summoned to? Well, this strange world contained magic. He knew this because it was what the girl used to dispatch the thugs. She had used ice magic, to be specific, and hurled frozen spheres at the hoodlums to scare them off. Then, she had used healing magic to get Subaru back into decent shape after the attack. She even had a flying cat that she referred to as a spirit, which can also cast magic.

It turned out that she's had something precious stolen from her; some sort of insignia. She'd described it as a small triangular thing with a red jewel in the middle of it. One good turn deserves another, so Subaru had decided to help her find the thief that had taken it. After searching much of the city for an afternoon he'd learned her name is Satella, and the cat's name is Puck.

He'd also learned something else very interesting about her.

She is a half-elf.

This IS just like an RPG! Subaru thought to himself.

Eventually, they made their way to the city slums, where most local thieves would live. This is when he found out the cat, Puck, goes to sleep at dusk in a green-colored jewel fastened to the front of Emilia’s fancy outfit. After that, he watched her beckon to a bunch of blue firefly-looking things that she described as spirits, which were able to point them in the right direction.

They'd gotten wind that the thief might have taken her insignia to a tavern, or “loothouse” as the person who'd pointed them in this direction had called it. They now stood in front of this loothouse, and Subaru had no idea what to expect inside. It had gotten dark, and the appearance of the building was ominous.

“I'll go in first,” he turned to her and urged, “You stay outside and keep watch. I won't be back too late, but you can have dinner without me.”

“Don't say dumb things like that.” The violet eyes of the beautiful girl shone even in the dark as she followed up with a stern, “Be careful.”

He felt his breath slightly catch in his throat.

She really is gorgeous, he thought to himself before turning toward the door.

“Sure, sure.” Subaru brushed aside her concern. “Don't come in until I say it's alright, Satella.”

He turned back to find her staring at him strangely.

“What?”

“N-nothing, nevermind,” she said. “If you can get my insignia back I'll apologize.”

She'd been expressing up to this point some doubts in his abilities, but he wanted to prove to her that he was up to the task.

Slowly pushing the door open and holding a lamp in his right hand, Subaru entered the tavern.

“Excuse me...” He muttered the traditional greeting when entering another's home. Holding the lantern high, he pointed it around the room; it was dark with no illumination other than his small source of light. He could see odds and ends stacked around the interior such as boxes and a suit of plate armor.

“Now, am I walking into a demon nest or a snake pit? In a fantasy world, either one is plausible.” The light from the lantern passed by a creepy doll, which he found himself doing a double-take at, swinging the lantern past it twice to ensure it wasn't moving.

“This is all stolen loot?” He continued to look around the building, nerves on high alert considering how dark it was.

“Why isn't there anyone here? A place that handles stolen goods can only be so careless.”

He took a few steps forward and stepped into a puddle. Stopping to see what it was, he looked down and pointed his lantern to his right foot.

What met his gaze was a puddle of viscous scarlet.

Blood.

Shakily, he lifted the lantern to get a better look at what lay beyond the puddle.  His gaze landed upon something large and brown...

A severed arm.

Starting to hyperventilate, Subaru pointed the lamp forward to find the source of the arm: a huge brown-skinned man. A violent splatter of blood had come from the stump where his arm had been, as well as a large gaping wound on the front of his throat.

Terrified, Subaru spun around, shining the light in all directions.

Whoever did this could still be here, he thought. Turning on his heels and sprinting back toward the door, he grabbed the handle and tore it open, running outside.

“Satella, we have to get out of here! We need to find a guard or something!” He yelled as he ran to her.

“What? Why? What's wrong? Did you find the insignia?” As she caught sight of his state, a concerned look came to her face.

“No! There's a dead body in there! A person's been murdered!” His eyes were wide and terrified, his breathing erratic.

Satella gasped, placing both hands over her mouth as her eyes went wide from shock.

“Come on, we gotta find help!” Subaru said as he grabbed her hand and began running in the direction they came from. For several minutes they ran together through the slums.

“There!” Emilia pointed. “That red-haired man is wearing a knight's uniform! Let's go tell him what happened!”

 

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Reinhard Van Astrea had a rare day off from his knightly duties, but in the spirit of vigilance, he still wore his uniform. He was enjoying a relaxing stroll through one of the parts of the city he rarely came to, the slums. Sure, it was a little dirty here, and the air smelled slightly foul, but it was nice to get a different outlook every once in a while.

He couldn't help but muse that he would lose perspective if he only saw the well-to-do parts of the city.

Within his field of vision, two young people appear. A black-haired boy wearing a strange black and yellow outfit and odd footwear, and a silver-haired young girl in elaborate white and purple robes. They were running toward him with the boy pulling the girl along by her hand.

“Sir Knight!” the young girl yelled as they stopped in front of him. “Something terrible has happened!”

“Oh?” Reinhard queried.

Evenings in the slums are never boring, the Sword Saint thought to himself.

“There's been a murder!” The boy spat this out between gasping breaths.

His face turning from bemused to serious almost instantly, Reinhard put his hand on the bent-over boy's shoulder.

“Take me to where it happened.”

 

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Several hours later, the boy and girl sat out front of the loothouse, waiting for the knights to wrap up their investigation. Reinhard had called on a few others of his profession to assist with the matter of the murders that had occurred inside.

Murders, plural. Apparently, in addition to the gigantic man that Subaru had found, there was a young blonde girl who was found dead inside as well.

“The description Reinhard gave us sounds like the girl that stole my sigil,” the half-elf next to him said, upset. She wasn't happy with the thief for stealing her precious sigil, but she couldn't abide by the possibility that it was the sigil that had gotten these two people brutally killed.

She's really kind, Subaru thought to himself. He didn't know if he would have the same empathy for someone who had stolen from him.

“So, Sat...er, Emilia...” he said.

That's right. It's Emilia, not Satella, he thought.

When they arrived at the loothouse with Reinhard in tow, he had addressed her as Satella, then found himself dumbfounded when Reinhard whirled and reached for his sword, taking a fighting stance.

“Wait! This is a misunderstanding!” Emilia had said. “I gave him a fake name so that he would get scared and run away! I knew finding my sigil could be dangerous!”

At this, Reinhard studied her closely, then after a few seconds, he seemed to relax.

“My Diving Protection of Wind Reading tells me you are not lying,” he said, “before I begin investigating, what is this sigil you speak of, and how is it related?”

“I'm a candidate in the Royal Selection and the sigil is my proof of candidacy...” Emilia looked down, eyes becoming half-lidded and shoulders dropping as she explained the importance of the missing item.

Reinhard's eyes widened once again, “I see,” he murmured, “this is not a small matter.”

That was when he had called for assistance from the other knights. When they arrived, he'd asked Emilia and Subaru to wait outside. Over a few hours they sat outside and nervously chatted. A few times the Sword Saint had come out of the loothouse to ask them questions. One of the first was their names. This is how Subaru had learned that the pretty girl's name was Emilia, just Emilia.

“So, Emilia,” he said, turning his head to look at her, “What's this Royal Selection thing?”

“This country's ruler has gone into hiding, and a new one has to be selected from among a few candidates who qualify. It turns out I'm one of those qualified people, and my sigil was proof of that. It was so important to get it back, but that might be impossible now.”

She wore sad eyes and a small frown. He felt bad for her, but he didn't feel like he knew her well enough to be able to comfort her. Deciding to change the subject, he resolved to prod a little more. Perhaps another topic might cheer her up a little.

“Are you from this city?”

“No, currently I live in a mansion about half a day from here. It's the home of my sponsor in the selection: a nobleman named Roswaal Mathers.

As she returned his gaze, her forlorn expression deepened, "He's going to be so mad when he hears how badly I messed up...”

Subaru frowned. Now he'd made her even sadder. As he was about to think of another way to cheer her up, Reinhard and the other knights came out of the loothouse.

“We've wrapped up our investigation. This appears to be the work of a killer known as the Guthunter, a famous assassin. You two are incredibly lucky that she wasn't here when you arrived.”

Emilia and Subaru both gasped, going wide-eyed. This didn't sound like the kind of person they would want to cross paths with.

“I need to ask both of you to come with us to the main guard station in order to fill out your statements of the events that have taken place here. We have people coming to take care of the victims' bodies, so there's no need to worry about that. This is extra important since it involves a Selection Candidate and her sigil.” Reinhard had a serious, yet sympathetic look on his face. He'd already asked for a lot of their time, and undoubtedly this had been a bad day for both the boy and the girl.

Just as he had said this, a dragon-drawn carriage arrived with yet another knight as the driver. Reinhard indicated that Emilia and Subaru should get in, and after they did he followed and sat across from them.

 

 

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The ride to the main guards' station hadn't taken long. As they walked up to the large brick building, Reinhard opened the door and stepped aside. He used his free hand to beckon them inside. They walked up to a desk with a city guard sitting behind it, who Reinhard addressed.

“I need a sworn statement form for each of these two.”

The guard complied swiftly and handed him two pieces of paper along with two quill pens. They were then led to a small room with a medium-sized table and a few wooden chairs. Subaru sat down on the far side of the table. As he scratched his head thinking back to the events that lead them here, Emilia seemed to hesitate in choosing where to sit.

“I won't bite,” he joked, motioning to the chair next to him. Emilia looked at it for a second, looked at him, and then sat down next to him. He went back to thinking about the beginning of all this, but Emilia went straight to writing. He looked over and noticed that she was marking the paper with a series of strange, blocky glyphs.

“What are those marks?” He leaned over toward her and looked at her form.

“I-Glyphs, mostly,” she glanced at him, then a look of surprise came to her face.

“Wait, you don't know how to read?”

“I do!” He put his hands out, taken aback. “But it looks like your writing system is completely different from my home country's.”

“You're not from Lugunica? Where are you from? How long have you been here?” Her amethyst eyes had a twinkle of interest in them.

“My home is an island nation to the far east. You wouldn't have heard of it.”

Her brows furrowed. “Laginica is the most Eastern country in the world,” she went from looking confused to skeptical.

“Or so you think. I told you, you wouldn't have heard of it. And today is my first day in this country.”

“THIS is your first day here!?” Now she looked concerned, head rocking back and eyes going even wider.

“Yeah. I'm also broke with nowhere to stay. This bag of stuff and the clothes I'm wearing are everything I own.”

She looked like she was about ready to cry.

Even with everything that's happened, she's still worried about me, Subaru marveled at the kindness of the girl he'd only met a few hours earlier.

He felt a little bad for dumping his desperate situation onto her, but she had asked. She shifted back in her chair and put her finger to her chin, thinking.  After a few seconds, she nodded with a “hmm.”

“Well, first let's write out our statements. It seems I'll have to help with yours since you can't write our language. It's so strange that you can speak it though.” She grabbed her pen and began scribbling more glyphs.

“I thought so, too. Do I have an accent or anything?” He wondered if he sounded funny.

“Nope, no accent at all.” She gave him a small grin and looked back down, continuing to write.

That smile is cute as hell, he thought to himself.

 

 

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Eventually, Reinhard reappeared to retrieve their statements, both written out by Emilia. She had blushed when he had said that he wanted to help her find her sigil because she seemed like a really good person, as he had recounted the events of the day to her.

After reading both of them, Reinhard nodded in approval. He showed them out of the room.

“Thank you for your cooperation on this matter. It's not every day we have to deal with such a grisly incident, especially one involving someone as important as you, Emilia-sama.”

Sama, huh?

Subaru thought to himself, She really must be an important person if a guy like this is calling her "sama."

To the knight, Emilia replied, "thank you for your help, Sir Reinhard.  We wouldn't have had a clue what to do without you."

Just as they emerged from the back area into the large room at the front of the building, he heard that same honorific again, only yelled out by a feminine voice.

“Emilia-sama!!!”

The knight, the half-elf, and the boy snapped their heads around to see the origin of the words.

Standing in front of the guard desk was a pretty pink-haired girl in a maid outfit.

 

 

Author's note 3-25-21: I came back and fixed a lot of the simple mistakes in this chapter, and I plan on going through each one and cleaning them up now that I have a much firmer grasp of correct writing techniques.

This is my first attempt at narrative writing outside of a class, so I hope you enjoyed it so far. I don't have a lot else to say, other than please look forward to more! I'll do my best between this and work and classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Getting to Know You

 

“Emilia-sama! Where have you been!?” the pink-haired girl ran up to Emilia, “I've been looking for you for hours!”

“Sorry Ram, I wasn't careful and lost sight of you while I was exploring,” Emilia cast her glare down and looked like a child confessing her sins, “while we were separated my sigil was stolen by a thief.”

Ram's mouth dropped open as she absorbed this information.

“Were you able to recover it?” She looked at Emilia hesitantly.

“No.” Emilia continued to stare at the floor.

Subaru's gaze had been turning back and forth as he listened to this exchange. He wanted to help Emilia, perhaps taking over the conversation would allow her to lift her head and gather herself.

The poor girl feels cornered, he thought before proceeding.

“Ram, was it?”

The pink-haired maid snapped her head toward him, regarding him with a look of distrust.

“And who might you be?” Her eyes were staring daggers at him.

“Ah, my name is Natsuki Subaru. I ran across Emilia here shortly after her sigil was taken and tried to help her get it back.”

The look on the maid's face softened a bit. She turned toward him and offered a small bow.

“Thank you for trying to help Emilia-sama. Her candidacy in the Royal Selection is important to my employer, Margrave Mathers.” She ended the bow and began to turn back towards Emilia.

“There's more,” Subaru grabbed her attention again, “we were able to find the place where the sigil was taken. There were two bodies there, one of them was the thief.”

Ram's eyes shot open wide, and she turned to Emilia who was nodding.

“It was terrible.”

She looks even more depressed than before, Subaru thought with a frown.

Reinhard chose this as the right time to interject.

“Miss Ram, these two have been through a lot today, I'm sure they're both very tired.”

Dude, you have no idea, Subaru averted his eyes, remembering all of the events of this strange day.

Reinhard continued, “please take Emilia-sama to an inn so she can get some rest. It's far too late in the evening to travel back to the Margrave's domain.”

“Yes, Sir Reinhard,” Ram bowed to him and turned to Emilia, “this way Emilia-sama. Let's get you to the carriage.”

Subaru was unsure what he should do.  Was this when he would part with Emilia for good?  He looked toward Reinhard, then back toward Emilia, watching her make her way out of the front entrance of the guard station.  Neither of the women paid him any mind as they began to leave, and the red-haired knight seemed lost in thought.

Well, I guess it was interesting while it lasted, he thought to himself.

Suddenly, Emilia stopped and turned back toward him.

“Well, aren't you coming?” The look on her face was one of pure innocence, as she cocked her head sideways with a questioning glance.

“Huh?” Subaru was surprised by her question.

“You said this was your first day in this country, you're homeless, you can't read, and you have no money, right?“

Putting his right hand on the back of his head, and looking up toward the ceiling, Subaru was somewhat embarrassed.

“Well when you put it like that, it does sound pretty hopeless.”

“Emilia-sama,” Reinhard had stepped forward, “from what little I know of this young man, he seems to be a good person. I cannot allow what I just heard to remain the status quo. I can take him to my estate and offer him employment and shelter.”

"Bwah!?"  Astounded, Subaru wasn't sure what to say, as he glanced back toward the half-elf.

Emilia shook her head. "I'm the one who owes him a debt of gratitude. It's my duty to ensure that he can stand on his own two feet."

"Well that settles it then," offering Reinhard a handshake, Subaru continues, "I'd be an idiot to choose to go with you over a beautiful girl like her."

Taking his hand and grasping, Reinhard smiled.

“I suppose that much is probably true.”

As he turned back toward Emilia, Subaru caught a glimpse of her pouting face.

“Subaru you dunderhead.”

Her cheeks were turning red.

Taking note of her archaic insult, Subaru replied, “nobody says dunderhead any more, Emilia-tan.”

Her pout disappeared and her head tilted slightly sideways.

“Tan?” She looked both absolutely confused and positively adorable.

“It's a term of affection in my homeland! It means you're very cute!” He smiled his biggest smile and shot her a thumbs up.

“Emilia-sama! We need to get going!” Ram's voice could be heard from outside, so after giving Reinhard a nod, Subaru followed Emilia to the carriage.

Cute?  Is he messing with me?  As they prepared to leave, Emilia found her thoughts wandering to the strange boy's words.

 

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“Good morning, Subaru.” Emilia had just entered the inn's dining area, where breakfast had just been served. She had a nice smile that looked like it might be just slightly forced. Ram had apparently already eaten and was attending to Emilia.

The pink-haired girl had a rather surprised look on her face when he had accompanied Emilia to the carriage the night before.

“Subaru's coming with us,” Emilia told her, “I'll hear no argument to the contrary.”

Ram had simply shrugged and climbed up to the driver's seat. Later, she seemed a little off-put when Emilia asked her to pay for a room for Subaru in addition to their two rooms.

"Roswaal-sama's money is not something to be simply spent on a whim," the maid was souring toward the situation.

“He spent all day helping me and got to witness a murder scene for his trouble. It's the least we can do,” Emilia crossed her arms, making it clear that this was not something she was willing to discuss.

“As you wish, Emilia-sama...” Ram had no intention of fighting an uphill battle. She had sighed, then entered the inn to arrange their lodging.

I wonder if she's gonna take it out on me, Subaru thought as he ate something that was a lot like bacon, but somehow easier to chew. It seems the food in this world is slightly different from home, and breakfast was no exception. He stole a glance toward Ram, who was standing near Emilia and immediately caught her looking at him with distaste.

Hah!” It was barely audible, but she huffed and turned her head to the side, looking away.

Great. Less than 24 hours here and I'm already pissing people off.

Suddenly, a gray cat came floating out of Emilia's hair, landing in front of Subaru.

“Thanks for doing your best to help my Emilia, Subaru!” Puck seemed genuinely happy to see him again, “this morning she caught me up on what happened after I went to sleep. It sounds like you two had a terrible time.”

“I have to admit, it's the first time I've ever stumbled upon a murder scene,” Subaru reached out to pat the cat on the head but changed the trajectory of his hand mid-reach and opted to tickle his belly instead.

"Ah-ha hahaha!" Puck's laughter filled the room and Emilia, who had been lost in thought, suddenly perked up.

“Wow, Subaru. You must be reeeeally good with spirits. Puck never takes to new people like that,” her eyes had gone wide, and the slight smile she had earlier grew just a little bit.

His reply was very matter-of-fact, “I don't know. We don't have spirits where I come from.”

All three of his companions seemed surprised at this statement.  Wondering if he said something weird, Subaru put both his hands up.

“Uh, I think maybe we have something similar, people call them fairies!”

“Fairies are bad, you shouldn't mess around with them,” Emilia's facial expression became notably more serious, and her eyes narrowed slightly.

"Well, I've never actually seen one," Subaru began, "they're just in a lot of our folk tales and old-timer stories, ya know?"

At least I'm not lying about that part. This thought brought him a small bit of comfort.

His reply seemed to make the others relax, so he figured that bringing up fairies was maybe a bad idea.

So no talking about Tinkerbell I guess. I'll have to be careful about stories from home.

 

Home.

 

Why did he have the feeling that what he knew to be his lifelong home was no longer that? So far he'd been very much going with the flow in this strange new world. With everything that had been going on, he'd not had much time to think about it.

What about Mom and Dad? I haven't talked to Dad for days, and when Mom told me to take care I didn't even say anything.

A crushing realization hit him all at once.

I...might never see them again. I have no way to get back home.

He set his fork down, and his right hand slowly went to the upper left side of his chest

What am I even doing here? How did this happen?

His fingers began digging into his skin through his tracksuit. He was compelled to do so as if he were reaching for his own heart.

But why?

“Subaru?”

He looked up to see his companions all staring at him, Emilia, in particular, looked concerned.

“Are you ok? Your face looked so sad just now.”

“Huh?” He was confused.

“Why are you grabbing at your chest like that? Do you have health problems?”

Her first thoughts after seeing him do something weird were of concern for his well-being.

She's so sweet, his thoughts immediately shifted to her.

“E.M.T.,” the words fell out of his mouth.

“Hmmm? What does that mean? Are you ok?” She tilted her head to the side as she leaned forward, wondering what he meant.

He burst forth from his chair.

“It means Emilia-tan is a major angel!” His sudden outburst left everyone agape, and the room fell silent.

“Subaru?”

"Yes, Emilia-tan?"

“What's an angel?” She leaned in ever so slightly once again.

Subaru smiled, “Someone like you who wants to make other people happy.”

At this declaration, Emilia froze. Cheeks turning bright red, arms suddenly waving in the air, she seemed embarrassed by the compliment he pointed at her.

“Y, yo...you don't have to praise me like that! I know who I am! I'm a silver-haired half-elf after all!”

“So?” His response was both blunt and dismantling, “Your ears are what prove you are half-elf, right?”

Silence filled the room.

“I think your ears are cute.”

Emilia's face began to burn a furious red.  She was simultaneously flattered, overjoyed, and aghast at someone being so forward about her most hated feature.

“SUBARU YOU IDIOT!” This was a mix of emotions she was not ready to deal with, and as it came crashing down upon her, she jumped up from the breakfast table and ran out of the room.

“Well. This is a first.”

Puck was floating now, agitated by her outburst.

“Did you mean that?” The cat looked back at him, also bearing a look of surprise.

“Huh? Which part? I think she's beautiful.” Subaru innocently answered back to the spirit.

“Her ears. You think it's ok for someone to have ears like that?” Puck now had an apprehensive look, as if he wanted to be mad but couldn't.

“Yeah. It really ratchets up her cuteness factor. She's like a heroine from one of my JRPG's.”

"Like a heroine, you say?" Puck's eyes widened as he floated over the table, then he looked down in thought.

“I see.”

He started to float away, thinking he needed to find Emilia, but then his mind shifted.

Who is this boy? He seems to harbor only goodwill toward Emilia but his origin and motivations are a mystery, and what the heck is a JRPG? Puck's concerns began to manifest in his mind.

Ram started to gather the breakfast dishes as Puck thought to himself.

Is this boy a threat? He sure doesn't seem to be.

He looked back at Subaru, who had finished eating and started helping Ram.

"Please don't trouble yourself with the dishes, guest-sama," Ram almost spat the words, still offput by the boy's intrusion into their traveling group.  Still, she managed an air of decorum despite her obviously short fuse.

"No worries Miss Ram," handing her a small pile of plates, Subaru smiled, "I can at least do this much to try and pull my own weight, right?"

Blinking, the pink-haired girl hesitantly nodded, "as you wish, uh..."

"It's Subaru."

"Guest-sama."

"I guess that'll have to do for now."

Puck's thoughts were centered on the boy.

He likes Emilia in the way that a man likes a woman? Is that why he's staying with her?

Realization dawns on the feline spirit, as he plops down on the table, eyes going wide.

This isn't good. Or, maybe it is? Outside of me, she's never had any friends. Even the maids in the mansion are cold toward her.

As Subaru finished helping Ram, he glanced at Puck who was sitting on the table. The spirit seemed to be deep in thought. He decided it was time to make his way back to his room, and prepare to leave the city.

Maybe I came on a little too strong, he thought to himself.

But everything I said was true.

Emilia... I like her a lot.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3- The Mansion

 

As a large dragon-drawn carriage made its way down a road, it's emerald green color blended in well with the forested surroundings. A pink-haired maid drove the carriage, with a bored look upon her face.

Inside the carriage, an elven girl sat opposite a black-haired boy. The girl's face was flushed, and she stared at the floor of the carriage as they traveled through the forest. The boy had a pensive, and slightly embarrassed look on his face.

“Emilia, “ he said, “if what I said earlier was too much I'm sorry. My brain-to-mouth filter doesn't work very well sometimes.”

The girl looked up at him and then sighed deeply.

“You just surprised me. Nobody has ever told me that I was beautiful or that my ears are cute. Most people hate me at first sight because of my ears.” Her eyes took on a faraway look, and a small amount of sadness came upon her face.

“Well that doesn't make any sense to me,” his brows furrowed, “I always thought elves and half-elves were the prettiest race. I usually played their routes first.”

She looked at him, confused.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” she replied.

Does he not know about The Witch?  Emilia couldn't believe what she was hearing, even full-blooded elves faced the problem of being shunned due to the actions of the Witch of Envy.

“Subaru,” she asked in a small voice, “do you not fear the Witch?”

Looking toward her, he cocked an eyebrow upward.

“What witch? You know I'm not from this country so I guess I don't know anything about stuff like that.”

“The Witch of Envy,” Emilia began, “400 years ago she went on a rampage and destroyed half of the world. It took the Holy Dragon, the Sword Saint, and the Great Sage to seal her. She's still alive, though she can't leave her prison in the Desert to the far east.”

Holy shit. Magic is a big deal in this world if there's someone who can do things like that, Subaru's eyes widened as he thought about what the girl said.

"Her name is Satella. She's a silver-haired half-elf." Emilia near whispered while looking away.

“WHAT!? Why did you tell me that was your name!? No wonder Reinhard almost panicked!” Subaru was now a little angry at the reckless way she had told him to call her by this witch's name.

“I didn't want you to get involved with my situation! I knew it could be dangerous! I thought telling you that name would scare you off!” With a pleading look, she leaned slightly toward him.

He looked at her for a few seconds, then sighed.

“Well I guess no harm came of it,” he began, “but if we're gonna be friends then we can't be lying to each other like that.”

"Friends?" Across from him, Emilia instantly sat up straight. "You want to be my friend?" Suddenly her face had gone from pleading to having a hopeful look.

“After what we've been through I think it's fair to say we already are.” He gave her another one of his cheesy grins.

Clasping her hands together in front of her, a wide smile came upon her face. “I'd like that very much! Yes! Let's be friends!” She looked so overjoyed that it caught him off guard.

"I've never had a friend before! I mean, the maids live in the mansion but they don't act like they want to be friends with me. Roswaal is my sponsor but he stays at arm's length as well. Beatrice never leaves the library. The mansion has been sooooo lonely except for Puck being there with me." She was suddenly both excited and full of lamentation at how the other residents of the mansion had kept their distance.  If one could look both sad and excited, she managed to pull it off.

“Well then,” still grinning, Subaru said, “allow me to be the very first.”

Then his smile began to turn downward, "I suppose you've been so lonely all because of your heritage. Another silver-haired half-elf did something very bad and you've had to pay the price for it, huh?"

A sad look came upon her face, and she looked back down toward the carriage floor.

"Before Roswaal came and asked me to join the Royal Selection, I lived alone with Puck in the Great Elior Forest. There was a nearby village that I was able to go to and trade crystals for food and other things, but only one merchant would talk to me..." her eyes were sad, half narrowed as she thought about the life she had led before. She looked up at Subaru and gasped.

He looks absolutely furious, did I say something wrong? She worried that she had already driven her first friend away by doing something stupid.

“That's terrible,” he began as he brought a shaking fist upward, “hating someone simply because of their race is one of the worst things a person can do. I'm so sorry that you've had to go through something like that. If I have anything to do with it, it'll never happen to you again. If somebody gets a shitty idea like that about you I'll just have to shut them up.”

Emilia's mouth dropped wide-open. Nobody, not even Puck, had ever told her anything like this.

Can he be real? Is he like this because he's not from Lugunica?  She was astounded that someone could talk to a half-elf like her in this way.

Within her hair, a cat spirit listened to their conversation with great interest.

Just who the heck is this guy?  Puck thought to himself.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

"This place is huge!" Subaru stood in front of the estate that Emilia and her acquaintances lived in, "I know you said it was a mansion but holy crap!"

Emilia walked up beside him, a big smile on her face. "You should see it from the inside, it took me a while to stop getting lost on my way to my room."

Ram joined them, carrying a bag in each hand.

“We should go see Roswaal-sama immediately,” no emotion could be seen on her face, “he needs to be informed of the events that have transpired.”

Suddenly, the large front door was opened, and another girl in a maid outfit stepped out.

“Whoa! She looks just like you, Ram. Except her hair is blue!” Subaru was doing double takes, looking back and forth between the two maids.

“That is my younger twin sister, Rem.” As she said this, Ram began to walk into the mansion.

“Welcome back, sister. Welcome back, Emilia-sama.” Rem offered a deep bow to Emilia as the latter approached the front door.

"Rem, this is Subaru. He was a reeeeally big help to me in the capital and has nowhere else to go, so I brought him here with me. Subaru, this is Rem." Emilia gestured her hands back and forth, making the introduction.

“I see, welcome Subaru-sama. Please enjoy your stay as a guest in Roswaal-sama's estate.” Rem bowed deeply to Subaru.

“Thanks, Rem. It's just Subaru, don't worry about any formalities. I'll do my best not to get in anybody's way.”

He followed Ram and Emilia into the mansion, where they ascended a grand staircase to the second floor. After walking down a long hallway for a little while, Ram stopped in front of a large set of double doors and began to knock.

“Roswaal-sama, Ram has returned from the capital with Emilia-sama. We have brought news.”

“Ohhhhhhh come in Ram. I'm eager to hear what Emilia has to saaaaayyyy.” A voice with an odd speech pattern came through the door.

Opening the door, Ram stepped into the room, followed by Emilia and Subaru. It appeared to be a large study, with many expensive-looking books on shelves and a huge desk in the middle. Behind that desk, sat a man in a purple suit, with clown makeup on his face.

“Please have a seat, Emilia-samaaaaa,” the clown gestured to the two chairs in front of his desk, “and who might this person beeeee?” His gaze turned to Subaru, who felt like he was being stared at by some kind of predator.

After introducing Subaru to the man who was a Margrave and her benefactor for the Royal Selection, Emilia dove straight into the issue at hand.

"A problem has arisen. While in the capital, my sigil was taken from me by a thief."

Once again Emilia looked down-trodden as she delivered the news to the man.

"I seeeeee. That is most unfortunate," still smiling, Roswaal replied with a smirk on his face, as though he were expecting this turn of events, "well, then, what happened after that?"

"I came across Subaru here, who offered to help me find it. We were able to trace the thief to a loothouse in the slums." She continued.

“Oh ho! A little detective wooooork!” His glare had moved toward Subaru, and the smirk he held earlier now morphed into a full-blown grin.

“When we arrived at the loothouse, Subaru went inside to see who was there while I was the lookout,” her voice became quieter as she approached the climax of the story, “Subaru came running outside and said we had to go get help.”

As she said this, Roswaal, who had been leaning forward with a grin on his face, bolted upright and his smile quickly dropped.

"There were two dead bodies in there, a brown-skinned giant man and a young blonde girl. The girl was the one who had taken my sigil. Apparently, they were killed by a famous assassin called the Guthunter, and there was no sign of the sigil. It seems the Guthunter got away with it..." her voice was now very small.

“We found the Sword Saint wandering the slums, and he brought other knights to investigate the murders. They brought us to the main guard station where we filled out statements, then that's when we found Ram.” Both she and Roswaal turned to look at the pink-haired maid.

"Emilia-sama and I became separated before her sigil was taken," Ram bowed to Roswaal, "Ram would have tried to prevent this theft, had she been there."

“Indeed.” Roswaal turned back to face Emilia. He glanced toward Subaru then asked her a question.

“And why have you brought this boy here?”

"He has nowhere else to go. Yesterday was his first day in our country, and he has no money. Also, he can't read or write our language even though he can speak it," she looked at Subaru with warmth, "and, he tried to help me."

She turned toward Roswaal, "plus, he's my friend."

His chin now resting on his folded hands, Roswaal was silent for nearly a minute. Emilia looked to be on edge as the Margrave considered the situation. Finally, he sat back up straight and closed one blue eye as he glared at her with a gold one.

"This simply will not do." He said. "I have given you every advantage that I could in the Royal Selection, and you can't even hold onto a simple thing such as the sigil?"

“Roswaal-sama, I-” he cut her off swiftly.

"I never had much faith in you to begin with but this is simply ridiculous. To think that I had hope that one such as yourself could see this through to the end, only to stumble before it even begins!" The clown was angry, eyebrows turned down and voice rising, "I brought you out of that bleak forest, fed you, clothed you in something better than the RAGS you came here in and had my staff look after your every need!"

Emilia was now shrinking in on herself, taking the vicious words straight to the heart.

The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees, as an ethereal voice spoke, "Mind your words, Roswaal," Subaru recognized the voice to be Puck's, "it was you who begged Emilia to enter the Selection to begin with."

"Nonetheless!  This stupidity, this carelessness, cannot be allowed!" Roswaal stood up and slammed his hands on the desk in front of him.

"Hey! Shitty clown! Take that back! She's not stupid, and it wasn't carelessness, she was robbed!" Subaru stood up as well and leaned forward toward Roswaal as he began to return the clown's malice.

Suddenly a palm hit Subaru in the chest, and he flew backward toward the doors they came in through, slamming into them and causing them to swing violently on their hinges.

“Subaru!!” Emilia shot up and ran to where he lay on his side, coughing up blood.

The maid Ram had been the one to deliver the blow upon him, moving faster than he could react. She now blocked Subaru and Emilia from Roswaal.

“An insect such as yourself is not allowed to speak to Roswaal-sama in such a manner,” fury was etched upon her face, “do not attempt to approach, or Ram will be forced to end you.”

Emilia began casting healing magic on Subaru's chest, as he lay on his side gasping.  He could feel the strange sensation of internal wounds being pulled closed, and his ragged breathing started to even out.

“Looks like I can't sit this one out any longer,” a high-pitched voice once again echoed in the air, as a Grey cat became visible in front of Emilia. It was facing Ram with an angry look.

"That won't be necessary, Ram." The clown now appeared next to the maid, who had assumed a fighting stance.

"Emilia," he had dropped the -sama, "you and your ilk are henceforth expelled from my mansion.  Leave behind the clothes I have clad you in, for they will be burned. Take up the rags you came here with, take your spirit, and take this boy..." six different-colored orbs of flame appeared above his hand, "and leave."

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4- Return by Death

 

As the front door to the mansion slammed behind them, Emilia and Subaru looked at each other.

"I hope my little tirade wasn't what got you thrown out," he had a wounded look on his face as if he might start sobbing, "I told you I'd stand up for you but look how that worked out."

"No," she shook her head, "losing the sigil was a deadly blow to any aspirations I might have had toward making something of myself. This isn't your fault, it's mine."

They began to walk toward the village they had passed through in the carriage on the way here. She was now dressed in a simple brown dress, silver hair no longer in braids. It flowed even longer than before, reaching nearly down to the back of her knees.

"You didn't lose the sigil, it was stolen, there's a big difference," he was determined to keep her from beating herself up over it, "where should we go? I don't know anything about this country other than what I've learned since I met you."

"Well, besides the mansion there is one more place I've called home..." Her answer came rather quickly as if she'd already thought of what she wanted to do, "Elior Forest, it's where I was born and..." she trailed off as she got lost in thought.

"And?" He asked.

As they walked she looked at him. "I don't remember my childhood," she suddenly said, "seven years ago I was awakened from being frozen in ice by Puck.  Anything that happened before that, I'm afraid I can't remember."

"Frozen in ice? How on Earth did you survive that?" Subaru's knowledge of science was certainly ahead of most anyone in this world, but something like that was yet to be achieved in his homeland.

Ah, magic I bet. He thought to himself.

"I don't know for sure.  Elior Forest is in a state of perpetual winter even though it's not far enough north to naturally be that way. Something bad must have happened because I wasn't the only one frozen." Once again, she had cast her eyes downward as they walked.

"There's an entire village of elves frozen as statues. Not Half-Elves like me, but full-blooded. I get little glimpses of memories from a long time ago sometimes. Those glimpses tell me that I might have been the one who froze everything." Her voice was starting to tremble, "That's why I agreed to join the Royal Selection. Roswaal said that the ruler of this country is someone who has access to the Blood of the Dragon, which can bring them back from their frozen state."

Subaru glanced backward at the mansion, which was slowly shrinking away.

"That little tantrum Roswall-sama," he put a ridiculing emphasis on the 'sama,' "just had told me that he had no interest in your goal, so there had to be some sort of motive for him. Do you know what it was?"

His distaste for the bastard clown who had used her was obvious.

"I don't. He only said that the only way forward was for us to work together and achieve both of our dreams." She sounded despondent as they entered the village outskirts. "We should get through the village quickly, if anyone sees me there might be trouble."

As if on cue, from their left came the voice of a man, "Hey! What the hell is she doing here!?" Subaru turned to see a man seemingly in his later 20's pointing toward his companion. "We knew there was a half-devil in the Lord's mansion but she was supposed to stay up there! That was the deal with the Margrave!"

They wouldn't even let her out for a fucking walk?  Subaru was appalled at the treatment of this sweet girl, who as far as he'd seen only wanted to help other people.

"Hey, asshole! You should be happy someone like her even blesses you with her presence!" His words were angry.

"Blessed by a half-devil!?"  The villager's eyes narrowed, "just what are you saying, boy?" 

Subaru made a fist with each hand and shouted, "you should worship the ground she walks on!"

"NO SUBARU!!!" Fear rose quickly as Emilia heard him yell those words, "worshiping a half-elf makes you sound like a witch cultist!!!"

The sound of doors opening, the sound of plodding footsteps began to surround them.

Suddenly there were many more villagers, who exited homes and shacks and shanties seething at the words Subaru had uttered. Many had makeshift weapons such as pitchforks and clubs. Emilia looked around in fear, eyes going wide.

"He didn't mean anything by it!"  Backing up to the wall of a shack, Emilia dragged Subaru by a sleeve, "he's from another country, he doesn't know our history!"

"Silence, devil!"  An old man at the front of the crowd waved a wooden post menacingly, "followers of The Witch deserve only one fate."

Subaru was incensed, how could these people act this way toward such a benevolent girl, who only wanted to help people? She was the embodiment of kindness.

"So what if she's a half-elf!? She's better than any of you racist assholes!" As they began to be surrounded by the angry villagers, Subaru had completely lost control of his emotions. "Fuck anybody that has anything bad to say about her! Come and fight me!"

"As you wish." A brown-haired middle-aged villager charged him with a pitchfork.

Schunk.

It sunk into Subaru's chest with a sickening sound.

What?

Looking down, Subaru was rendered speechless.  He couldn't believe what was happening.

The man had held the tines of the pitchfork horizontally, so it managed to rupture both sides of his lungs. It sunk into the wood of the building behind him.

I can't breathe I can't breathe I can't breathe!  He grasped the pitchfork that had him pinned in place.

"Coublough!!!" Blood erupted from his mouth as he began to panic.

"SUBARU!!!" Emilia was at his side in an instant, but as he glanced down toward her hand which was grabbing the handle of the pitchfork...

<THWACK>

Another villager hit her in the back of the head with a club, making a sickening crack sound. She collapsed, rolling onto her back.  Subaru could see her violet eyes had rolled back into her head as she started to twitch.

Then, they descended upon her with all manner of weapons. Her body lay low as the villagers stabbed her, beat her with clubs, sliced her with blades. A half-elf. A poor, innocent girl.  For tens of seconds the mob sought her blood.

Then, an explosion of cold, freezing all of the villagers who had attacked Emilia. She lay curled up on her side, a bloody mess, writhing in painful death seizures.

"Guh!  Guhk!"  She convulsed, and her voice made pitiful sounds.

As Subaru attempted to breathe, the entire village descended into a visage of white. 

"I appreciate what you tried to do for my daughter," Subaru could hear the cat's voice in his head as his mind faded, "but you failed spectacularly in protecting her."

He could no longer breathe, but Natsuki Subaru felt the pain of both suffocation and being frozen to death.

I just wanted to help her... His last thoughts were for the girl, as they were those of a boy who had been smitten.

 

********************************************************************************

 

"We should get through the village quickly, if anyone sees me there might be trouble."

"Huh?" Subaru looked around, as they stood at the edge of Arlam Village.

What the hell? Was that a dream?  Subaru looked around in a panic.

It couldn't be, I'm wide awake. All of the pain he had been in moments before was gone, but the horror of the situation still clung to him.

"Let's avoid the village," he said, as he began shaking, "I have a bad feeling about going through it." His hands now clung to his arms and he couldn't speak without shuddering.

"Subaru?" Emilia looked at him with concern. 

Why does he seem terrified so suddenly?  As she looked at him with a worried gaze, he turned his shaking face toward hers.

"Let's just go around," he tried his best to put on a brave face for her, "it's a small village so it will only take a few minutes."

They made their way around the perimeter of the village with no problems, steadily heading north toward the forest where Emilia had been born and raised.

Between the two of them, they had no money and no prospects, so the outlook was bleak.

 

***************************************************************************

 

Hours later, as the sun hung low in the sky, they decided to look for a place to sleep for the night. The idea of sleeping next to a beautiful girl had Subaru both excited and embarrassed, as he found himself in a situation that only his game protagonists had been in.

"This looks like a good spot." He'd found a level clearing just off the road. "My family was never much for going camping, but it looks like we'll just have to live with it."

"We should build a fire at least," Emilia suggested, "it will be quite a bit colder once the sun goes down."

They spent about an hour gathering wood and some small sticks for kindling. As Subaru wondered how they'd start the fire without even a flint to spark it with, Emilia pointed both of her palms toward the small pile of wood they had arranged. A small flame leaped from her hands to the wood and just like that, the fire was started.

"Well, that's handy." Subaru was impressed. It seemed there was much more to this girl than he had originally surmised.

"Although my magic is technically fire magic, I don't use the fire part of it very much," she told him, "my control of the spirit-arts is much better when I manipulate the temperature downward and use ice. When I try to use flames it tends to be messy."

"So your ice magic is actually fire magic but it's used to lower the temperature instead of raising it?" He was interested in learning how the magic of this world worked.

"Yeah, and technically it's not MY magic but Puck's." She was staring into the fire, knees drawn up to her with her arms around them. "I'm a spirit-arts user, not a magic-user."

"What's the difference?" Subaru was genuinely curious now.

"I cast spells by sending Puck's mana through his gate, visualizing the magic with my mind. A magic-user sends the mana in their own body through their own gate, which is something I can't do." She turned to look at him and gave a small smile. "You might be able to be a magic user, you know? Have you ever had someone check to see what your affinity is?"

"I might be able to use magic?" The possibility seemed exciting. Maybe he could live the Isekai protagonist life in this world.

"Puck! I know it's after your bedtime, but can you come out?" She placed her hand on the jewel that hung from her neck, and the grey cat spirit appeared, yawning as he floated in the air. "Can you check to see what magic affinity Subaru has?"

"Ok Lia, but I expect some overtime pats for the trouble." Puck lazily floated over to where Subaru sat and stuck the end of his tail against Subaru's forehead. "Let's see here...huh.  It's Yin magic."

"Yin magic?" Subaru asked.

"Oh wow, that's rare! Normally people are geared toward either fire, water, earth, or wind. But Yin and Yang are dark and light magic respectively!" She leaned toward him, excited.

"Dark magic huh?" He put his hand on his chin, musing, "does this mean I have some sort of rare power only seen every thousand years?"

"Not really," Puck told him, "Yin magic is mostly used to blind and confuse opponents, or slow them down."

"So a support class, huh?" Subaru decided he could live with that, support casters could be very beneficial in a party setup.

So Emilia can be DPS and I'll be the debuffer. His thoughts always tended toward looking at his situation as if he were in an MMO.

"Although you didn't get to meet her, there is another spirit in Roswaal's mansion beside me who uses Yin magic, and she was able to create a powerful offensive spell with it." Puck floated over to Subaru again, "do you want me to teach you?"

"Hell yeah!" Subaru was ecstatic, this was the moment he was waiting for, "show me how to vanquish our enemies, Puck!"

"Ok then, close your eyes and visualize a spike made of shadow, and push the mana out of your gate to make it appear." He landed on Subaru's head and put his paws on Subaru's temples, "I'll help you guide the mana. Once you've visualized it, the incantation is called Minya."

Subaru concentrated, once Puck touched his temples he could feel strange energy flowing inside of him, and with Puck's help, he guided it outward.

Ah, so this must be the gate he was talking about. In his mind, a dark sphere appeared which he pushed the energy through.

"Minya!" he yelled suddenly.

A three-foot-long black flaming spike appeared and shot across the campsite, slamming into a nearby tree. A large section of the tree became crystallized, and the trunk shattered in a shower of sparks. The tree started to fall over, thankfully in the opposite direction of where they sat.

<BTOOOM>

Emilia sat staring at the tree, mouth wide open.

"I can't believe that was your first spell! That was suuuuper powerful for a first-timer!" She was excited, as she looked upon the aftermath of his magic. "I've never seen that spell before! Puck what was that?"

"Crystallized shadow magic, something that Beatrice came up with." Puck was floating with his arms crossed, nodding in approval. "Subaru, it seems you have a lot of potential as a magic-user. We'll need to work on training your abilities. The more you use your magic, the better you will get at it. Also, we'll need to push your mana pool to grow, it's not very big right now, but with time you could be able to handle a lot of mana."

Subaru flopped forward on his knees and bowed to Puck, excited about this development. "Yes, Puck-sama! I look forward to your teachings!!!"

Emilia giggled, placing her hand over her mouth.

Maybe all of this is for the best. She had been dejected after the incident at the mansion, but the antics of the boy she had met only yesterday were putting her in a good mood.

I have a feeling that things are going to be ok.

As the night set in, Puck had retreated to his crystal and the two young travelers drifted off to sleep.

As Subaru lay on his side, using his track-suit jacket for a pillow, he wondered.

What was that vision I had of us dying in the village?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5- A Flower of Love Blooms in the Snow

 

The two young travelers stood in deep snow. Neither of them spoke, as they lacked the energy to do so. In front of them was a house carved into a tree, the place where Emilia had lived since as far back as she could remember.

“This is it,” she finally broke the silence with a hoarse voice, “this was my home.”  She was drained to the last ounce of her energy, but thanks to Puck's contract cold weather never bothered her.  She knew that wasn't the case for Subaru, however.

"Shall we go in?" He was shivering, his tracksuit was not suited for a place like this, but it was all that he had. The thin cloth was soaked through in most places and he was having trouble feeling much of his body, "I really want to get warmed up."

Joining hands, they moved forward.  The uncontrollable shivering Subaru was experiencing worried the girl greatly.

I'd better get him warmed up as quickly as possible, or things could get bad for him.  As she glanced at him, she stole a moment to peek at his face.  He had sharp features that some might consider scary, but for some reason Emilia had found herself attracted to his visage.

Not now, Emilia!  He'll freeze to death while you think about how cute he is!

They walked up to the front steps and slowly ascended them, Emilia placed a hand on the ancient wooden door that she had passed through so many times before. Nostalgia began to flood her mind as she thought of the years she spent here with Puck, all alone other than having the company of the spirit.

But this time it's different. She thought to herself, now I have a friend to spend time with.

Pushing the door open, they entered the home she had abandoned almost a year ago.

 

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Flames crackled in the fireplace, and two figures huddled together as close to the fire as they could get.

"Normally the cold doesn't bother me much," Emilia began, "but it seems like not eating for almost a week has weakened my constitution." Her teeth chattered and her voice cracked as she spoke.  She had began to finally feel the burden of the cold once they got inside.

She turned to look at the boy who sat next to her. He seemed to be in even worse shape than she was. His eyes were sunken in, his cheekbones protruding prominently from his face.

“It's ok, Emilia-tan,” he turned to meet her gaze, “at least there was still some leftover food from when you left this place. Even if it was just a bag of nuts, it's better than nothing.”

Her previous preparations had saved them, just when they were on the brink of starvation. There was enough food for a few days if they were careful and rationed accordingly.

This boy is always optimistic, she thought about him, a person she hadn't known for very long but felt she knew him for much longer. He's trying to keep me in good spirits, what a good person he is.

“We need a plan,” he continued to look toward her, “after about three days we're going to run out of food, so we need to figure out what to do moving forward.  Do you have any weapons? Something we could use for hunting?”

“I never did much hunting before, I couldn't stand to skin and prepare the meat from dead animals. I mostly just gathered pyroxene crystals from the forest and traded them for food in the village,” she stared at the fire as she spoke, “do you know anything about skinning animals?”

“No, I was a city boy through and through,” he grinned, “but why don't we ask Puck?”

"You're in luck!" The grey cat appeared once again, emerging from the crystal on her necklace, "if you can bring down some prey, I can walk you through preparing it. I would suggest using Lia's ice magic to do the hunting because your Yin magic will crystallize anything you strike it with."

“But I don't want to kill some innocent animals!” She voiced her concerns suddenly, “can't we just go to the village and trade like we used to!?”

"Remember what happened with the village, Lia?" Puck floated over to her, "they traded your location to a band of slavers to get rid of you, leading to that business with Malaquera. I think that bridge has been thoroughly burned to the ground."

“I don't want to force her to do something she's uncomfortable with,” Subaru turned toward the spirit, “do we have any alternatives?”

Puck thought for a few seconds, then shook his head.

“No crops will grow here as long as the forest is in the grip of this snow and ice. None of the trees that grow in this forest bear fruit. You can't trade with the village because they fear Lia's heritage. I'm afraid that hunting is the only option.”

Subaru looked at Emilia, who had her eyes closed in thought. The amethyst orbs then opened, and she turned to him and nodded.

“I suppose that we have no choice,” she had decided, “I'll use my ice magic and get us something to eat.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

 

“Sneak sneak sneak,” Emilia whispered as she crouched behind a bush.

“Emilia!” Subaru, coming up next to her, whispered, “saying 'sneak sneak sneak' while you are sneaking around is the opposite of being sneaky!”

“I can't help it! It's like I'm compelled to say it for some reason!” She whispered back to him.

They had set off from her house in a random direction, and soon found a set of rabbit tracks. They had slowly followed them for about ten minutes now and were hoping to find the animal that had left them very soon.

Grrrrrbbuuullll- Emilia's stomach growled loudly as she peered over a bush.

“Ignore that!” Her face turned red as she ducked back down, embarrassed, “I still don't see the rabbit!”

“Let's keep following the tracks, then,” he moved to walk around the bush, crouched down low, “surely we're getting close.”

Staying low and walking slowly, they stalked the animal that had left it's track in the snow for several more minutes.

"There!" Subaru whispered as he peered around a tree, "there it is!"

A white rabbit could be seen in a clearing ahead, sniffing at the branches of a bush. Emilia crept up behind Subaru and stuck her right hand out around him.

“Huma,” she whispered this and a small stake of ice appeared, and whizzed toward the rabbit.

<SPLUNK>

That rabbit was impaled by the ice, dying instantly.

“WAY TO GO EMILIA-TAN!!!” Subaru jumped up and shouted, then turned around and held his right hand up in the air. “HIGH FIVE!”

“What? High five?” A confused look came over her.

“Slap my hand with your hand! It's something we do in my home country when somebody does something cool!” His grin was huge, his eyes laughing.

"Oh! Ok!" She raised her hand and smacked his with it, palm-to-palm.

“Ow, shit!” He shook his hand back and forth, “that stings! Just how strong are you, anyway?”

“Uh, well I don't really know,” she said, “Elves are supposed to be the strongest humanoid race, from what I've been told, so pretty strong I guess? Puck told me it was something along the line of ten human men?”

Subaru's mouth gaped, but only for a few seconds before turning back into a big grin. "Hey, I'm not about to complain about somebody who's on my side being strong, even if it's a girl!"

Walking over to the rabbit, Subaru picked it up by the back legs.

“Looks like we're gonna be eating good tonight!”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

The old cookware that had been left in her home came in very useful after Puck had shown Subaru how to skin and prepare the rabbit.

The two youths now once again sat in front of the fire, both with a satisfied smile.

“That was delicious,” she said, looking toward him, “who knew that it was so easy to make yummy food with just a little bit of hunting?”

“Nobody says yummy nowadays, Emilia-tan,” he smiled, meeting her gaze, “I was surprised how good it turned out, considering that we don't have any spices or salt on hand.”

He continued to look toward her, letting the comfortable nature of the moment guide them toward silence. He found himself looking into her eyes, a set of violet pools with blue centers.

I could get lost in those eyes, they're absolutely stunning. He thought to himself.

He really is pretty handsome. Emilia, likewise, found herself admiring her companion. I guess I haven't noticed, with all of the crazy things that have been going on.

A feeling of warmth and mutual respect had blossomed between the two youngsters. Over the week since they had met, they had found each other to be both capable and resilient. They had surpassed trial after trial to get to this point, where at long last they could rest easy, if just for a little bit.

“Say, Emilia-tan,” Subaru began in a soft voice, “how old are you, anyway?”

“You know you're not supposed to ask that of a lady,” she smiled at him, “but I'll go ahead and tell you. I'm a hundred and fourteen years old.”

“Bwaaugh!!!” Subaru spun 90 degrees toward her, astonished.

“What!? How!?”

"I'm a half-elf, dummy. Everybody knows that elves live for a looooong time," her smile widened, "but a hundred of those years were spent frozen in ice while my body grew. I was seven years old when I was frozen, then spent seven years here with Puck and in the mansion after I woke up. So mentally, I'm fourteen. But my body is that of an eighteen-year-old."

“Uuuuuhhhhh,” he was rendered speechless.

“How old are you, Subaru?” she leaned towards him, curious.

“Well, I just turned seventeen about six months ago.” He confirmed to her.

“Oh!” She looked surprised, “I thought you were probably about twelve, no, thirteen! Thirteen!”

“Hahhh!?” His eyes widened incredulously, “what the heck gave you that impression!? I'm pretty much fully grown!”

"Well," she put a finger to her mouth and looked upward, "you do kind of act like a kid sometimes so I thought you might just be an early bloomer."

"Hey now!" He shot back at her, "I don't need to hear that from somebody with the brain of a fourteen-year-old!"

“It'll be fifteen in about two weeks!” She replied. “So don't go thinking you can treat me like a kid! Fifteen is the age of adulthood in this country, after all!”

Surprised, he leaned back, supporting himself with his arms on the floor. "Oh? Is that right? So I guess that means I'm considered an adult in this country..." he trailed off for a second before realization dawned on him. "Wait, your birthday is coming up? I'll have to come up with something special for you!"

A blush dawned on her face, as she slightly turned away from him, “Y-you don't have to do something like that!”

“I know I don't have to,” he said, “but I want to.”

“Oh.” She turned her face back toward him, “well, I mean, I suppose if it's something you want to do then it can't be helped.”

“Well yeah,” he was grinning again now, and jabbed a thumb at his chest, “leave it to me! I'm going to make sure you have the best birthday ever!”

She blushed even deeper, unable to meet his gaze with her own. “O-o-ok. I'll leave it in your hands then! We should get some sleep! It's getting late.”

Their sleeping arrangement had been quite simple, Emilia slept in her old bed, which was still perfectly serviceable if not as nice as the princess arrangement she'd had at the mansion. Subaru's spot was in a large reclined chair that had just a bit of padding on it. It wasn't so bad, considering that he's been sleeping on the ground as they had journeyed here. He grabbed a large blanket that they'd found in one of the closets when they arrived here, and plopped down on the chair, covering himself. Emilia, likewise, crawled into the bed just a few feet away and lay on her side under the covers facing toward him.

“Good night, Emilia-tan,” he said in a low voice, already starting to drift off into sleep after their long day.

“Good night, Subaru,” she replied with a blush. A small smile crept onto her face as she succumbed to sleep.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Stretching his arms and legs, Subaru stood up from the chair he'd spent the night in.

“I think today is a good day to do some radio calisthenics!” He looked over toward Emilia, who he'd learned was very much not a morning person.

He grabbed her shoulder and gently shook her, “Emilia-tan. It's time to get up. I want to show you some exercises from my homeland that help get the blood pumping in the morning!”

“Fibe more minssszzzzzz,” she replied as she rolled over from her side to laying on her back.

“Naughty Emilia-tan! You need to wake up!” He shook her a bit harder this time.

“Fiiiiine...” she slowly sat up, eyes bleary, and yawned.

After he got her to get out of bed and get some shoes on, he led her toward the front door.

“Let's do some radio calisthenics to get ready for the day, then we can eat the rest of that leftover rabbit for breakfast!” He grabbed the door handle, looking back at her.

“I don't know what that is,” she yawned again, “but whatever.”

As they walked through the door and stepped out into the snow, the cold air had an awakening effect on her. Eyes widening, she was now fully cognizant.

“I was wondering how long it would take for the two of you to wake up.”

A husky feminine voice met their ears, and both of them snapped their heads to the left, where the words had come from.

Before them stood a tall woman, with black hair, wearing a black dress, and brandishing a blade.

“I didn't expect you to leave the Margrave's mansion so quickly, so it took me a few days to find you.”

”Who the hell are you!?” Subaru had no idea who this woman was, but she looked like trouble.

"Ah, allow me to introduce myself." The woman bowed.

“Elsa Granhiert, at your service.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6- Elsa

 

“What do you want?” Subaru stepped in front of Emilia, blocking Elsa from her. He eyed the large knife in her right hand.

“Well, someone who I work for doesn't like that girl very much.” She pointed her knife at Emilia, “and wants her to go away.”

"Well, I'm not gonna just stand around and let that happen. We're planning on living here by ourselves for the foreseeable future, can't you let us be?" Subaru decided it would be worth trying to reason with the woman. "She had her sigil taken in the capital so she's out of the Royal Selection, can you just let bygones be bygones and leave us alone?"

“Were that it could be that way, but I'm afraid not. Once the order has been issued, the job has to be carried out.” She started to step toward the pair, knife dropping to her side.

Shit. I don't know anything about what this lady is capable of. Subaru's thoughts were racing.

Suddenly, the woman leaned forward, and with a tremendous burst of speed covered the ten yards between them in a split second. She swung her blade at Subaru's stomach, but Emilia managed to yank him backward just in time.

The woman, Elsa, landed behind where they had been standing, feet sliding in the snow.

“Hmm, it looks like fighting in this slippery snow might just make things a little more complicated,” she grinned as she brought up her blade for another attack.

“Puck, come out!” Emilia commanded her contracted spirit, who appeared from the crystal he'd been sleeping in.  The gray cat flew out and floated next to Emilia.

“Who's that weird lady?” Puck was instantly at full alert.

“Her name is Elsa, and she's an assassin who was sent here after me,” Emilia replied seriously, “she's fast, and uses that strange blade, but that's all we know right now.”

"Oh?" Elsa's eyebrows raised, "a spirit? This is going to be interesting! I've never seen the bowels of a spirit before!"

“Bowels?” Subaru noticed that she had mentioned that word, “are you the Guthunter?”

“Indeed, some do call me that!” Elsa's eyes took on a manic look, “I love to see the colors of freshly spilled bowels! You look like you must have a nice set yourself!” Once again, she leaned forward, “why don't we open you up and take a look!”

Elsa sprang forward toward Subaru for a second time.

“HUMA!!!” Emilia's voice rang out clear, firing an ice spike at Elsa, who dodged and then jumped sideways.

“Let's go, Puck!” Emilia sprang into action as she and Puck fired off a volley of spikes toward Elsa, who dodge lithely, with continuous movements.

Maybe I can hit her with a minya while Emilia's got her distracted. Subaru darted toward a treeline near where Puck and Emilia were trying to pin Elsa down with rapid-fire huma's.

“You can't hit me,” Elsa dodged another round of huma's and launched off of the side of a tree trunk toward Emilia, “so why not give up and let me see those lovely innards?”

“I think I like my innards right where they are thank you,” Emilia jumped over Elsa as the latter sliced downward where she had been a moment before. Landing on a larch tree branch, she frowned down at Elsa.

“Whoa, Emilia-tan can really jump!” Subaru muttered to himself, noting that she had landed on a branch about 20 feet in the air.

Now if I can just use these trees as cover and get the drop on Elsa, a well-timed minya should be able to take her down. But I'll only get one shot at it since my control is still bad. Eyeing the battle in front of him, Subaru spotted a large tree that he could hide behind and wait for Elsa to come near.

A volley of huma's rocked the tree line to his right as Elsa danced around them, Emilia landing some thirty feet away in the open snowfield. Puck was perched on her shoulder, doubling their offensive power as he cast simultaneously with her.

“Leave this forest! We don't want anything to do with you so just leave us alone!” Emilia pleaded.

“I'm afraid I can't do that, Miss Elf. I told you,” Elsa said, “once a target is given the job must be finished.” She sidestepped another volley of ice, then back-flipped, and launched off of a tree toward Emilia, blade ready to slice.

Dodging to her left, Emilia evaded the weapon, firing more huma's as she retreated. Elsa's blade cut most of them down, and she was able to side-step the rest. She quickly jumped toward Emilia again, who dodged toward the tree-line where Subaru lay in wait.

"I would tell you to quit dodging because it's annoying, but that would be quite hypocritical of me!" Elsa launched herself toward Emila, who once again jumped straight up to land on a large branch, one that was in the tree next to where Subaru hid.

Elsa stood below her, looking up with a perverted smile on her face, “you certainly are an interesting target. Not many can avoid my blade as well as you have.”

Now's my chance while she's distracted! Subaru stuck his right hand toward Elsa, who was half-turned away from him looking up toward Emilia.

“Minya!” A flaming black spike of shadow shot forward toward Elsa, who had started to turn when she heard him behind her. The spike impacted her in the middle of the torso, slamming her into the tree that Emilia was in some fifteen feet higher.

“GAH!” Elsa gasped, then looked down at the spike that had impaled her. “I wondered where you'd gone.” She looked up as Subaru came out from behind his hiding spot and approached her, “I thought after all that big talk you'd just decided to run away and abandon the half-elf.”

Elsa's flesh began turning to purple crystal, spreading out in all directions slowly from where the minya had impacted.

Landing next to Subaru, Emilia watched as Elsa's body transformed, “Who sent you?” She asked.

“Rule number one in this business, girl. I can't tell you who sent me under the force of a contract,” most of her body had crystallized, and she looked from Emilia over to Subaru. “You surprised me, boy. That doesn't happen very often...” As she finished speaking, her face crystallized, and she stopped moving.

Emilia turned to Subaru, “Are you unharmed!? Do you have any injuries?”

“I should be asking you that, Emilia-tan. You were the one she was chasing pretty much the whole time,” he eyed her up and down, looking for injuries and finding none.

"Well, after all of that I've gone and spent most of my mana so I'm going to take a little cat nap," Puck floated toward Emilia, "and Subaru," he turned toward the black-haired boy, "nice job." He smiled at Subaru, then disappeared into the crystal Emilia wore.

Emilia looked at the purple crystal assassin who now sat pinned against a tree, “what should we do with her?”

"Let's leave her there for now," Subaru said, "we have to consider what to do from here."

As the two began to walk back toward the house, Emilia asked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean I don't think it's going to be safe to stay here. Someone sent an assassin after you. So that means that they know where we are, and they will know that Elsa failed if she doesn't come back.”

He turned to look at her and was saddened by her downcast face.

“But we just got back. And we figured out how to solve our food problem...” she said very quietly.

“I know, it sucks. But it looks like we're going to have to go somewhere else,” then he stopped as a thought crossed his mind.

“Emilia, if she's the Guthunter then she should have your sigil!”

He turned around and suddenly found himself being blasted backward as something impacted his stomach. He bounced from the force of the blow and landed on his side.

“Guh, what the hell?” As he craned his head to look toward where he'd been standing, with fuzzy vision he could see Emilia landing on the ground a few feet away.

Spreading out around her was a pool of blood.

"Emilia!!!" he started to reach toward her, then the pain hit him.

"Ackggghhh!" He looked down at his stomach to see blood coming out, staining his tracksuit. His entrails were strung out for about ten feet.

“Bwurgh!!” He vomited blood, staining the snow that he was laying in.

I have to save her! I have to save Emilia! He reached toward one of her outstretched hands, where she lay face-down on the snow, unmoving. Grabbing the hand, he squeezed. His consciousness was fading fast.

“Emilia......tan.” He felt a small squeeze from her in return. Then, just as he began to fade, Elsa's voice could be heard approaching.

“Rule number two, finish the job at all costs.”

She sounded amused.

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

"Gyah!" Subaru sat upward with a start. He looked down at his stomach, which was completely intact. Looking around, he realized he was back in Emilia's house and had been asleep in the chair that he had claimed as a pseudo-bed.

Jumping up, he bolted to where Emilia lay asleep and shook her. “Emilia! Wake up! Emilia!!!”

“Jeeeeez what is it?” She sat up with a sleepy look. “It's too early!”

He looked her over and could see nothing wrong with her.

Again? It's just like that time in the village. Was it some kind of vision?

Or did we really die? A shudder ran through him as he considered that possibility.

As Emilia began to climb out of bed another thought struck him.

Elsa! Is she already outside!?

He bolted to the front door as a confused Emilia made a surprised noise behind him. Flinging it open, he ran out and bounded down the short stairway, looking to his left.

Standing there was a tall woman with black hair, in a black dress, holding a knife.

“Oh my, where are you going in such a hurry?” The woman pointed a question at him.

"Subaru!?" Emilia came running out behind him and quickly noticed the woman who had been waiting for them.

“Elsa!” Subaru spat out, “How the hell did you find us!?”

"Oh? You know who I am? Well, that makes this much easier." She smiled as she replied.

“Emilia, this is Elsa Granhiert, the Guthunter that Reinhard was talking about,” he turned to see a frightened look on her face. “This is the bitch that walked away with your sigil in the capital.”

“What!?” Emilia was dumbfounded, “You! Elsa! Do you have my sigil for the Royal Selection?”

“Oh, you mean this?” Else pulled a small triangular object from within her dress, it had a red jewel in the center.

“I do.”

“Give it back! I need that to free the people of this forest!” She pleaded with the assassin, but Subaru knew there was no point.

"She's here to kill us, Emilia," Subaru growled.

“Acquisition of the sigil was a secondary goal, you know.” Elsa took a step forward, “The point was to get you isolated from both the capital and the mansion. Now you're all alone with no chance of help coming to save you.” She placed the sigil back within the folds of her dress.

Another step.

“Though I admit, my calculations didn't take this boy into account,” she raised the knife to her mouth and licked it, “I wonder what sort of splendid color his entrails will be?”

“Why did you kill the two people in the loothouse?” Emilia had put together what had happened in the capital.

"Huh. You mean you managed to track the thief girl to that place? I'm surprised we didn't cross paths!" Elsa stopped, "the reason I killed them is simple. They got greedy and demanded more money than our agreement had entailed."

Then, slowly, Elsa bent forward and brought up her weapon.

“Well then, let's begin, shall we?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7- Puck

 

Leaping forward, Elsa brandished her weapon and began to swing it at Subaru.

The same move as last time! He jumped backward as fast as he could, narrowly avoiding the deadly blade.

"Come out, Puck!" Emilia yelled and the cat instantly appeared.

“Who's this weird lady?” Puck asked Emilia.

It's the same as last time once the fighting started!  Subaru thought to himself, Does that mean what I think it means?

“Her name is Elsa,” Emilia told Puck, “she's an assassin who came here to kill us.”

“A spirit!” Elsa became excited, “I've never seen the entrails of a spirit before! This is marvelous!”

Emilia and Puck began firing huma's at Elsa as she dodged about in the same manner as the first time.

The last time we both died, so I gotta figure out what needs to be done differently to make it past her this time around. Subaru took off sprinting toward the treeline that he had previously taken advantage of. Even a surprise minya wasn't enough to kill her. But she has to have a weakness!

“Where's that boy going? Doesn't he know that the fun is over here?” Elsa turned her head to watch Subaru run toward the trees, “surely he's not running away to leave you to fight alone?”

It would probably be for the best if he did, Emilia thought.

Over the next several minutes, Subaru watched as the fight played out in the same way as last time. Puck and Emilia, with the spirit clinging to her shoulder, fluidly switched between offense and defense as Elsa did the same. Eventually, they made their way to the treeline again, Emilia landing in the high branch as Elsa looked up.

This is it again! I'll use a minya to stop her for a bit so we can figure out what to do!

He leaped out from behind the tree again, but this time was not as careful to be quiet. As his feet landed, the snow below them crunched. Elsa turned and saw his ambush coming.

"Minya!" The shadow spear rocketed toward Elsa, who smashed it aside with her blade, destroying her weapon in the process.

"Oh, you broke my Kukri! Good thing I have more to spare!" She pulled another blade from behind her back and looked back up at Emilia, "shall we continue? I think that boy just used all of his mana with an attack like that. I'll deal with him after I get you squared away."

"Run, Subaru! Run to the village! You can't fight anymore so you need to run!" Emilia yelled. She then fired off a volley of ice spears at Elsa, who lept away laughing, and Emilia gave chase.

Shit shit shit shit shit! What do I do? Subaru began to panic, I used all of my mana in that one attack, I gotta find a way to help Emilia!

As the battle raged on in the middle of the field in front of Emilia's house, Subaru sprinted back to the dwelling. He ran inside, searching for anything that could be used as a weapon. Frantically he searched.

Does she not own any fucking knives!?

He hastily opened cabinets and drawers, but the home was small and held very little in the way of storage.

Nothing! What am I going to do?  He thought to himself.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

"Puck, we're going to need to change tactics," Emilia said to the spirit as she dodged another swipe from Elsa, “you're going to run out of mana at this rate!”

“Alright, let's try a pincer attack,” Puck confirmed a change of strategy to her, “we can come at her from opposite angles and catch her in the crossfire.”

“Ok, let's do it,” Emilia leaped to dodge another attack as Puck flew in the opposite direction. Luckily they didn't need to maintain physical contact for her to channel his mana.

“A new strategy? I see, the fight was getting boring so that should help keep things more interesting.” Elsa went on the defensive dodging spikes of ice and smashing them with her Kukri blade.

Emilia fired a volley to Elsa's left side, forcing her to leap to the right to avoid it, landing her right under Puck's nose.

“Got you!” Puck yelled as he channeled mana to fire several ice spikes at her.

"I don't think so," Elsa whirled and threw her Kukri blade at Puck, skewering him. With his cry of surprise, the blade and the spirit both flew through the air, landing near the side of the tree home.

Elsa was turned, watching him fly away, confident he'd been dealt with.

It was her mistake to underestimate the half-elf girl.

As Elsa turned back her body was skewered by several dozen spikes of ice, freezing her flesh wherever they penetrated. Frozen like a statue, she slowly fell over and hit the ground.

“PUUUUCK!!!!” Emilia frantically ran toward where he had landed, praying to the Dragon that he would be ok.

 

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As Subaru left the house, he saw Emilia sprinting over to the side of the building with an anguished cry.

Something must have happened to Puck! He ran toward where the girl went, glancing at Elsa as she lay frozen on the ground.

He found Emilia on her knees, attempting to cast a healing spell on Puck, who had one of Elsa's blades buried n his midsection.

“Lia.” Puck struggled out, “healing magic doesn't work on spirits, you know that.”

“Tell me what to do! I don't know what to do!” her eyes full of tears, the poor girl was frantic, trying to find a way to help her spirit.

“There's nothing you can do I'm afraid.” Puck was beginning to become see-through, “the blade she got me with has a curse on it. No magic nor mana can heal this wound. I can sense the curse. If Beatrice were here she might be able to undo it but it's too complex for me...”

Slowly and gently removing the blade from his small body, she threw the cursed weapon aside and picked up the shuddering cat spirit, cradling him as tears splashed onto his gray fur.  His eyes were half-lidded now, as his energy waned.

“My mana's about to run out. That's going to be the end, Lia.” he glanced up at her.

Wracking, tremendous sobs escaped from the girl.

“Lia, before I'm gone there's a few things I need to tell you.” He vied for her attention one last time.

She looked at him, tears streaming like a river from both amethyst eyes.

“After I'm gone, your memories will return. All of them. From before I awoke you, too.”

Her eyes widened, she hadn't known why so much of her past was blank.

"Also, you're not just a spirit arts user, but you're also a magic-user. My contract blocked off your gate because when you were newly awoken you couldn't control the massive amount of mana that you generate. Now that you're older, you should be able to more easily handle it," he smiled as he looked her in the eyes, "you have the potential to be the most powerful magic-user in the world."

She gasped, and simultaneously a sob tried to escape, as she gazed at the little fading spirit.

“Last, I love you, Lia. You will always be my daughter.”

The girl began sobbing again, and Puck turned to look at Subaru who was kneeled next to her.

“Subaru,” he weakly said.

“Yes?” Subaru didn't know what to say.

“Take care of her. But I don't have to tell you that, I can sense what your feelings for her are. In a little while, after all of this is over and she's moved on...you should tell her. You might be surprised at how she responds.” Looking back toward Emilia, again Puck smiled. He was now almost completely transparent.

"Emilia. Maybe one day we'll meet again, in the Od Laguna. But in the meantime, live a long and happy life. Find people who will care for you as that boy does." Subaru could tell the end was here for the little spirit.

“And someday, start a family of your own. One that will love you and you can love in return...”

With that, the Great Spirit of Fire faded away in a cloud of blue-colored mana.

The jewel on Emilia's necklace cracked and shattered.

The half-elf's wail could be heard for miles around.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Subaru did the only thing he could think to do.

He held her.

He held her tight and cried with her. He hadn't known the two of them for very long, but the time he'd spent with them had been both precious and turbulent. The small cat had been an ally to the end, and Subaru had been unable to do anything to prevent his passing.

Useless! Always so fucking useless! I even burned up the one chance I had to be helpful! His thoughts turned inward. If only I had some kind of ability! Anything at all could help! But I can't fight, I can't heal, and I can barely use magic! I'm so fucking useless!

In the corner of his eye, he caught movement.

Elsa had begun to stir once again.

“Emilia, I know this isn't the best time,” he gently told her, “but Elsa's not dead.”

Emilia's head shot up as she looked where the assassin had fallen. Elsa was slowly starting to move again. Standing up, Emilia started to cast more ice magic, then stopped when she realized Puck wasn't there for her to activate any spells with.

"Puck's gone. I can't cast anymore." She whimpered, still thinking about her deceased spirit.

"Remember Emilia? He said you're a magic-user and that you would be able to use your own mana once he was gone." Subaru stood up, "It's just like he taught me, you have to search inward to find your gate, and feel the mana."

Emilia turned her thoughts inward and searched. She didn't remember ever locating the mana this way as she had always just used Puck's, as well as his gate.

But then she found it. Within herself.

A massive, monstrously huge pool of mana was swirling around inside of her.

And there it was.

Her gate.

It felt capable of moving vast quantities of mana, much more than Puck's could.

Her eyes shot open as she felt the power building up inside of her. Raising a hand and pointing the palm toward Elsa, who had just started to stand, she whispered.

“Al Huma.”

A massive ten-meter-long spear of ice appeared and shot at insane speed toward Elsa. As the assassin turned toward them the spear caught her dead square and carried her across the meadow smashing into an embankment on the far opposite side.

Emilia quickly leaped forward and sped toward where Elsa and the ice spear had landed, leaving Subaru standing alone near the old house.

“I wish I could help her somehow,” he lamented the fact that there was nothing he could do. Turning his head toward the sky he yelled. “Why can't I do anything!? Isn't there someone out there who can give me a way to help her fight!?”

Amidst all of the crashing and booms that were coming from the other side of the clearing as Emilia rampaged, the place where Subaru was standing near the house felt surprisingly peaceful. Noticing slight movement, he looked down near his right hand to see a small red orb of light, floating near him in a sort of figure-eight pattern.

What is this? He wondered. He was surprised when he got an answer.

<I am a quasi-spirit of fire. I have answered your call for aid.>

What!? You can hear my thoughts?  He was astonished.

<Your affinity to commune with spirits is the highest I have ever seen in a human. I would be honored to make a contract with you and serve you as your spirit of fire.>

That sounds awesome! The boy was elated. I'd love to make a contract with you if it helps me protect Emilia! But if we're going to do something like that, why don't you tell me your name, first?

<It is the contractor's privilege to honor me with a name.>

Oh! I didn't know that! Um... he glanced across the field to see how Emilia was doing. Elsa was now back to being mobile, dodging Emilia's furious use of ice magic. Subaru knew he'd better hurry up before Elsa pulled another trick and turned the tide on Emilia.

Igni. How about that? It means fire in one of the tongues of my homeland.

<Igni will do nicely. Let us forge a pact.>

 

**********************************************************************************

 

Emilia was raging. Never in her life had she remembered ever being this angry. She directed that fury at the cause of her sorrow, the assassin who had come to claim her life, and instead had claimed the life of her beloved spirit.

"Die die die die! Die you bitch!!!" She manifested dozens of ice spears and fired them at the woman in black, who deftly backflipped and then vaulted off of a tree trunk.

“I'm sorry your spirit got caught up in all this, but you must understand that he stood in the way of me getting to you.” Elsa jumped out of the firing line of another volley of ice spears, landing in a crouch.

“Die die die die die!!!” Suddenly, a vision appeared to Emilia. Before her, was a little girl who looked just like her, repeating those same words. A furious blizzard raged around the little girl as her feet seemed to be encased in ice.

“Wha-” Emilia stammered.

“You lost your concentration! A fatal mistake.”

Emilia's vision cleared as she saw Elsa hurtling at her at great speed, about to swipe her blade across Emilia's stomach.

Oh no! I can't dodge! She shut her eyes and braced for the inevitable.

I'm sorry, Puck.

Goa.”

Elsa burst into flames as she slammed into Emilia, unable to complete her attack. Emilia fell to the side, lightly singed. When she quickly spun around on all fours to see Elsa, her eyes went wide.

Elsa was on the ground flailing, screaming a high-pitched screech as the flames burned her. She began rolling back and forth in the snow, desperate to put out the magical flames that threatened to consume her.

Emilia jumped to her feet and spun around, to see something unexpected.

Subaru was standing a few meters away, index finger pointed at Elsa.

A Quasi spirit of fire was happily zipping around the hand he was pointing at her with.

“Subaru?” She was dazed.

“Ah, Emilia-tan! It turns out that I have a high affinity with spirits!” He seemed pleased with himself. “This is Igni! She's a fire Quasi-spirit and we made a contract!” Then his face broke into a huge, toothy grin. “We know that Elsa can come back from shadow damage and ice damage, but it looks like fire is her weakness!”

Emilia turned back to look at Elsa, who had gotten back to her feet, but had a wild look in her eyes.

“Mother's Gospel said nothing of this!!!” The look on Elsa's face was incredulous. “Mother doesn't send me after targets that wield fire! She knows what it does to me!”

"Fire, huh?" Emilia knew what she had to do. After all, her ice spells were a form of fire magic. She just used the principle of its temperature-altering abilities to create cold. She didn't use actual fire very much because of the danger inherent to her lack of control.

"I guess there's no need to worry that much about control, in this case, is there?" She mused.

Her vengeance was at hand.

“No...” Elsa's eyes widened, and she took a step backward.

Searching inward, Emilia looked to the vast stores of mana within her and began to channel it through her gate. There was no need for an incantation to give it form.

This spell will be raw, unbridled hellfire. She thought to herself.

Elsa crouched, preparing to flee.

“You won't be able to get away from this.” Emilia's hands began to glow as the spell took shape.

This is for you, Puck.

Then, Emilia unleashed hell upon Elsa.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

The people of the village on the outskirts of Elior forest had borne witness to many strange things over the years. There were odd mabeasts who roamed the woods. There were tales of an elven village that used to be at the heart of the forest before it had been frozen. There was even the half-witch who had lived in the woods, but nobody had seen her up there for some time.

As the villagers had started their day today, a frightening thing had occurred. A great deal of crashing and booming could be heard coming from higher in the mountains. As if some great battle was being waged by beings far beyond their scope.

But it was the grand column of fire, that had sent them all scurrying into their homes to hide and pray to their gods. It was a fire that burned so hot as to be white. Dozens of meters in diameter and hundreds of meters high, it was as if three suns had been added to their sky that day, and for several minutes it persisted.

After they had all retreated to their homes, after their terror had reached its peak, the column had suddenly dissipated. No more sounds of thunderous battle came down from the mountain that day. Whatever the great column of fire was, it had been the deciding moment of a titanic clash.

 

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Emilia dropped to her knees.

The bowel hunter had been completely and irrefutably destroyed.

A single tear slid down her cheek.

Behind her, a boy slowly approached.

“That was amazing, Emilia-tan.” He embraced her from behind, tenderly.

On her knees, she spun around toward him and returned the embrace.

“Higg! Highggg!!!” She couldn't form any words. Too much had happened, far too fast. A flood of tears began to erupt from her amethyst eyes.

“It's ok.” He soothed her. “She's gone.” Tears began to pour from his eyes as well. “You made sure of that.”

She leaned fully into his embrace and gave herself over to sorrow. Clinging tightly to him, she laid all of her pain bare. She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, and he cried along with her. Her pain was his pain, and they bore it together.

 

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Some hours later, Subaru watched over her from the chair that had become his makeshift bed. Eyes strained from tear-shed, he supposed he probably looked to be a mess.

Emilia was asleep, dreaming the dreams of someone who had given their all. He'd carried her back to the house after she passed out from a combination of exertion and emotional exhaustion.

So much has happened. He thought to himself. Did Elsa really kill Emilia and me? If she did that was the second time we both died.

He looked at her, watching the girl sleep.

This poor girl has been through far too much in her life.

At least, that much was clear.

Glancing at the table near the bed, Subaru looked at the one thing that had survived Emilia's final assault on Elsa. It was a small triangular sigil with a red stone in the center. He had found it in the smoking crater that Emilia's magic had left in its wake.

She could go back to the mansion?

But what would that mean for me if she did?

He searched his feelings, finding only one conclusion.

I love her. I love everything about her. From her silver hair to her violet eyes. Her innocent demeanor and her strength of will.

This must have been what Puck was talking about before he passed. He could sense how I felt about her.

Subaru hadn't even realized it, but he had fallen completely, madly, and hopelessly in love with the girl in front of him.

A small smile graced his face as he started to drift off to sleep.

Dad, I finally found a girl that I like.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8- Down the Mountainside

 

Reinhard the Sword Saint had become concerned. He sat leaning back in a chair within the main parlor of the Astrea Estate. Word had reached him that Royal Selection candidate Emilia had been expelled from the Mansion of Roswaal Mathers, who had rescinded his support of her in the Selection. He had sent for word of where she had gone, and so far none of his inquiries had borne fruit.

Additionally, that boy Subaru had been ejected along with her.

Neither of them would have had any money, or a way to make a living. This is not a good situation. Having made up his mind, the Sword Saint stood and strode toward the front exit of the manor. One of his butlers bowed as he passed.

“Have a ground dragon prepared,” he stopped and addressed the servant, “I'll be leaving shortly.”

 

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The half-elf girl and the human boy sat side by side on her bed. Her arms were wrapped around his left one, as she leaned on him with her head on his shoulder. They'd been sitting in silence since she had awakened and asked him to come sit with her.

“Emilia-tan...” he finally broke that silence. “We can't stay here.”

“I know.” Her voice was quiet, barely above a whisper, “whoever wants me dead knows where we are. They'll come after us again.”

Subaru mentally called to his new fire spirit, Igni.

<I've come, contractor.>

I just wanted to see how you were doing after our first battle.

<Igni is well. We only cast a single spell after all. My reserves are not so paltry that something of that level would drain me.>

Haha ok, please don't take it as an insult. I just want to make sure that I'm properly looking after you.

<Igni is pleased that her contractor has her well being in mind.>

Turning toward Emilia, who still clung to him, Subaru spoke, “We should get ready to leave. The weather is good and we can be out of the forest by sundown.”

“Ok,” she began, “but there's something I have to do first.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

With her considerable strength, Emilia stuck a large wooden plank into the ground. They were at the side of the house, where Puck had spoken his last. She'd asked Subaru to request that his spirit burn a phrase into the plank, as a marker. She would do it herself, but she lacked the control.

It read:

On this spot, the Great Spirit of Fire, Puck, gave his life to save a Half-Elf Girl and a Human Boy. He was a beloved Father, Companion, and Teacher.

They stood for a few moments looking at the monument. They had already packed everything that could be useful on their journey, including food, blankets, and of course, Emilia's sigil.

The two looked at each other, and in silence, turned and began walking.

Subaru wanted to think that this trip wouldn't be as miserable as their last one.

Then he thought, who am I kidding? This is even worse.

 

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Reinhard rode up to the front of Margrave Mathers' mansion. It had been some time since he'd been here. Typically if a problem arose in this domain, the Margrave himself dealt with it. He was the most powerful magic-user in the country, after all. Reinhard had heard that just a few days past the Lord of the Domain had quelled a mabeast attack on the village that lay not far from his mansion.

Leaving his ground dragon's reins tied to the fence at the stable, he approached the front door and knocked. As the door opened, he found twin maids bowing in front of him. One had pink hair, the other blue.

“It is good to see you again, honored Sword Saint.” The pink-haired one said as they both straightened. “What can these humble maids do for you today?”

“Ram, was it? It's good to see you again.” He offered a courtly bow to the twin beauties, “I apologize for coming here unannounced, but I'm pursuing a matter of the gravest urgency. Might your master be in?”

“Roswaal-sama is in his study.” Ram was the one who spoke, “I shall let him know that you wish to speak with him.”

Stepping into the foyer, Reinhard turned to the blue-haired girl who remained with him.

"I don't believe we've had the pleasure, miss," he smiled at her, "my name is Reinhard Van Astrea, a knight of this kingdom."

“I am Rem, a maid in the service of Margrave Mathers,” she bowed once again, “it is a pleasure, Reinhard-sama.” She did not return his smile.

“To what do I oooooowe this visit, Van Astrea-sama?” At the top of the stairs stood Ram, and a man wearing a purple suit.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“You're not wearing your usual makeup,” Reinhard observed as they were seated in a parlor.

“Forgive me, I dooooo not currently feel that my usual proclivities are necessary.” The Margrave sat straight, holding a cup full of black tea that the maid Rem had brought.”

“I'm looking for someone, and I need your help,” Reinhard cut to the heart of the matter, “do you know where the Candidate Emilia and the boy Subaru might have gone after they...left this residence?”

“Most likely Elior Forest, which is where I fooooound her.” Face unchanging, the man replied nonchalantly.

“I see, the frozen forest,” Reinhard was in thought, “Margrave, why did you eject them from here? That behavior seems very rash, and from what I know of you that seems rather out of character.”

“Because the Elf is no longer of use to me if she doesn't have the sigil.” Bluntly, Roswaal replied, “do you expect me to house and feed a girl who proved that she has no redeeming qualities, and was so irresponsible to even lose something as important as a sigil of the Royal Selection?”

Shocked by his bluntness, Reinhard's eyes went wide. “Surely you could have come to an agreement where the two of them could have at least prepared for the journey back to her home?”

“I care not if the whelp faces death, along with the boy. Her failure is absolute, so shall be her treatment.” Roswaal's face held no emotion, “now, if that is all I'm sure you know that I'm a very busy man. My maids will see you out.”

Standing, the Margrave made his way out of the room. Reinhard sat, shocked, at the words the man had said.

She's still a candidate, he thought, and there's a chance that the sigil can be recovered.

The possible future Queen of Lugunica had been abandoned to fate. This would not do.

“Reinhard-sama, please follow me,” the blue-haired girl beckoned him, “it is time you were on your way.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Trudging through the snow, which was about three feet deep, a pair of travelers were making their way down a mountain.

“Emilia, I have an idea,” Subaru said to her as he walked in front of her. “You can practice controlling your fire magic and make walking easier for us at the same time.”

"What is it?" She looked curious.

This is the first sign of life she's shown since...

He shook his head to clear it, “try using fire to melt the snow in front of us as we walk. As long as you're in front, it shouldn't matter if it goes a little wild.”

She put her finger to her mouth and thought for a second, “Yeah, I can try.”

She trudged around in front of him, pointed her palms forward toward the snow, and closed her eyes. A stream of flames appeared before her, melting the snow for a good three feet ahead of where her feet stood. Walking forward, she continued to emit flames toward the ground as the snow in front of her disappeared in a cloud of steam.

“It's working!” She sounded excited, “let's go!”

Every once in a while the intensity of the flames would increase, or the trajectory of them would widen, but the only consequence was that more snow would be melted. They were making good time now, walking at a normal speed since they no longer had to trudge through deep snow to make progress.

Suddenly, they heard a roar.

Spinning around they saw a beast approaching from behind them. To Subaru's eyes, it looked like a bear, only about 50 percent larger than the grizzlies of his homeworld. This particular specimen also had a horn on top of its head, making it a mabeast.

Igni!

<Igni is here.>

The red Quasi-spirit appeared before Subaru. He pointed his right index finger at the approaching beast.

Let's use a little more juice than we did last time!

“El Goa!!!”

A raging flame burst forth from his outstretched hand, speeding toward the beast and engulfing it.”

"RRAAAHHHGGGG," the bear-like creature thrashed about as its hide and flesh were scorched mercilessly. This continued for the span of around ten seconds when the flames finally ceased burning the beast.

“Shit, it's tough!!” Subaru prepared to run as the murderous gaze of the injured mabeast sought the one who had caused it so much pain.

“Allow me,” a voice like a silver bell appeared beside him. Stretching her hand forward, Emilia concentrated.

A few blooms of ice appeared on the creature, and it stopped to sniff one that had appeared on the back of its forepaw.

<SHUNK-SPLISH>

The beast disappeared in a red mist, as the blooms suddenly expanded at an astonishing speed.

Mouth agape, Subaru turned to Emilia, “Why didn't you use that against Elsa?”

“I didn't know I could do it,” she replied with a small smile, “I'm starting to remember things like certain abilities I have. Little by little they're coming back.”

“Well remind me to never piss you off!” He rubbed the top of his head with an errant hand and grinned.

“Dummy.” She replied, “I would never turn my magic against you!” Her face adopted a pout as she spun around.

“Hey I know that, and I feel the same way,” he said, “I was just joking!”

"Well, it was a crappy joke!" She began melting snow again.

“Don't use words like 'crappy!'” He was mildly disappointed, “you're too ladylike to talk like that!”

"Crappy crappy crappy!" She yelled as she continued to melt them a path. "Poop! Doo-doo!"

“Emilia!” Once again his mouth was wide open.

“Poopy pants!” She yelled.

Suddenly Subaru burst out laughing at her tirade, and she followed suit.

This is good. Her spirits are starting to lift. She should be back to herself soon.

The boy with the black hair and the girl with the silver hair laughed as they made their way down the mountain.

 

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Arriving at the village at the edge of Elior Forest, Reinhard sought out the stables.

“Please watch over my ground dragon and keep her warm. She's not well suited to this cold landscape.” He flipped a coin to the stable-hand.

“You're a knight, aincha, mister?” The man seemed genuinely impressed, “if you're planning ta go up the mountain I'd advise ya ta avoid it.”

“Oh? Why is that?” Reinhard stopped and turned back to the old man.

"Yesterday morning the was a whole lotta crashin' and boomin' comin' from up on the mountainside," the old man told him, "then there was this huge column of flame that was white-hot that went on fer several minutes. After that, all was quiet again. Some kinda big battle was bein' fought up there."

Reinhard turned to look at the mountain, then looked at the position of the sun. It would start to get dark soon.

“I appreciate your concern,” he told the stable-hand, “but it is a knight's duty to investigate matters such as this.

With that, the red-haired young man took the path at the edge of the village that spiraled up the mountain.

Emilia-sama, Subaru, I hope you are well.

 

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Having made it most of the way down the mountain, the half-elf and the boy had walked for quite a while with a comfortable silence. She was still doing the flamethrower act to clear them a path in the snow.

“So,” she began, “where should we go once we get out of the forest?”

“I was thinking the capital might be a good place,” he had been thinking about this since they left, “you didn't seem to face any harassment there, you know, because of the ears and all.”

He was thinking of me when he decided that?

A warm feeling rose in her chest, one that she was unfamiliar with.

“Y-yes! That does sound like a good idea!” She stammered out, “most of these small villages try to drive me away, and in the worst cases do things like throw rocks at me.”

Subaru frowned, thinking of the incident that may or may not have happened at Arlam village.

Those villagers hated her so much they were willing to kill us, and in her case, it was a gruesome way to go.

He shuddered at the memory, wondering if it was real.

“I was thinking,” he said, “between the two of us we could find a couple of low-level jobs and maybe rent a place to live when we get to the capital.”

The circumstances of their flight to Elior forest, and decision to live there together had been one of desperation and necessity.

Emilia suddenly realized that this was no longer the case, as her face turned beet red.

“B-baka!!!” She yelled.

“Huh?” Subaru wasn't sure what he had said that had her so wound up.

“A boy and a girl! Living together like that!” The pitch of her voice was sky-high, “just what are your intentions!?”

“Uh, but we were living together in your old house for the last few days?” He leaned around to see her face as they walked.

Steam was coming off of the top of her head, “That was different! We didn't have a choice!”

"Well, I'm mostly considering the money situation," he said, somehow still calm, "we aren't exactly going to be rolling in dough, you know."

"Hmph!" Emilia continued walking, not quite ready to have this conversation.

“SO, I FOUND YOU.” a booming voice erupted from behind the pair.

Spinning once again to assess this new threat, the couple looked to the sky in horror.

A black dragon flew toward them, and landed on the ground, making the earth around it shake. As the pair looked on, the huge creature began to morph, becoming smaller and smaller.

Before them now stood a young girl with short blonde hair, red eyes, and a ridiculous outfit.

“You were so easy to track down it was laughable,” the girl said in a grating high-pitched voice. “I just had to follow your tracks in the snow. So, can I assume that Elsa is dead?”

“She is,” Emilia angrily replied to the girl, “and I killed her. Are you the one who sent her?”

"I am," a terrifying smile appeared on the girl's face, "and it looks like I have to finish the job myself." The girl gave a slight bow, "Sin Archbishop of the Witch's Cult, representing Lust, I am Capella Emerada Lugunica."

Capella then stood straight.

“I have come for your head, Candidate Emilia.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9- Capella

 

Subaru and Emilia stood together, anger on both their faces.

"Capella!!!" Emilia's fury boiled to the surface, "You sent the assassin that killed my Spirit, Puck! He was like a father to me!"

"And like a good father, he preceded his child in death." Pointing a palm toward the couple, Capella smile evilly. "Let's not drag this out."

Her arm turned into a squidlike tentacle as it shot toward Emilia, who leapt out of the way. Capella then swung the tentacle to her left, bashing Subaru with it as he attempted to flee.

“Gackh!” He was knocked from where he had been standing, landing in the snow several meters away.

“Subaru!!!” Emilia called to him from where she had landed.

Staggering to his feet, he conjured his spirit.

Igni are you there?

<Igni is here.>

Once again the little red Quasi-spirit appeared before him. “Let's see if she's weak to fire like Elsa!”

"El Goa!" He couldn't afford to start with the small spells and went straight to his biggest gun.

A fireball slammed into Capella's left side and she disappeared into the inferno.

“Did you get her?” Emilia landed next to him.

“Fire!?” The screechy voice came from within the blaze, “I'm a dragon and you want to try to hurt me with FIRE?” As the blaze waned, Capella stepped forward, unmarred.

“Shit.” Subaru only had one other option. “I might as well try it! Minya!” Feeling his mana drain, a flaming purple spear flew at Capella, slamming into her midsection.

"Hmmm." She looked down at it, embedded in her stomach as the crystallization started to spread. "Can't have that." She reached down with a hand and yanked the spear out, crystallized pieces of her and all, and tossed it aside.  The hand that had grabbed it came off the end of her arm, as it had crystallized as well. The hole in her midsection rapidly filled in, and a new hand appeared at the end of her arm.

She turned to Subaru, “You've got some pretty neat tricks! Why don't you come work for me? You would come to LOVE me in time! Plus, I'll need to replace Elsa sooner or later. I can teach you all kinds of other...ah... techniques!”

“No way I'm gonna work for a weirdo that dresses like you!” He shouted back at her, “besides! You're after my Emilia-tan and I can't abide by that!”

“YOUR Emilia-tan!?” Emilia turned toward him, glowing red again, “since when am I YOUR Emilia-tan!?”

“Where did this tsun side of you come from?” He turned to the half-elf, “you were a cinnamon roll before but now you're a spicy hot pepper!”

“Don't call me that! I hate peppels!”

“You hate what!?”

“Excuse me.” Capella was standing with her arms crossed, waiting for them to stop arguing, “can we get on with this? If you're not gonna work for me I'll just kill you too, but the elf has to die either way.”

“Why!? Who sent you?” Subaru turned back to yell at Capella.

Smiling, Capella produced a black book. “This is why the elf has to die,” opening the unremarkable tome, she flipped through the pages, “the gospel commands it.”

“A gospel!” Emilia gasped, “I've heard of those, it's the proof that one is a member of the Witch Cult! Each of them has one!”

“This Witch Cult has been a pretty big thorn in our side already,” Subaru thought of the incident at the village, “just what's the deal with them, anyway?”

 

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The sun was half-disappeared over the horizon when Reinhard entered the forest proper. He couldn't move through it too quickly, or he might miss signs of where the two people he sought had gone. It should be simple to find their tracks in this snow, but this was a very large forest. This was a literal needle in a haystack situation.

The stable-hand spoke of a battle yesterday morning, he thought to himself as he made his way up the mountain, it sounds like powerful forces were clashing high up in the forest.

I hope I find them before something else does.

 

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Huma!” Emilia fired a volley of ice spikes at Capella, which passed through her body and exploded behind her.

“Nuisance,” Capella was growing tired of toying with them. “I suppose it's time for me to get a little more serious."

Growing three more tentacles, one from her other arms and two out of her back, she went after Emilia. To her credit, Emilia was doing an excellent job of dodging them, proceeding to back-flip through some and jump over others.

"It seems that you learned some tricks from Elsa," Capella said.

Then another evil sneer came upon the Archbishop's face.

“You might be able to dodge like her,” then she turned toward Subaru, “but he can't.” Another tentacle shot out toward him.

Diving to the side to avoid it, Subaru landed prone and began to scramble away.

“Not this time!” Capella swung the same tentacle in the opposite direction, catching him hard in the chest.

“Bwoof!” Subaru could feel several of his ribs break from the attack, and he bounced hard against the ground banging the back of his head. Sitting up, his vision was fuzzy and he found himself too dizzy to stand when he attempted it.

Suddenly, he was kicked in the chest, breaking more ribs. He was now laying on his back, with Capella's foot planted on his midsection.

“SUBARU!” Emilia flew toward them.

Icy blooms began to appear all over Capella, “Hmm? What's this?”

<SHIINK!!>

The blooms grew at lightning speed, just like they had with the mabeast earlier. They tore Capella to shreds, sending pieces of her across several meters.

Running up to Subaru, Emilia dropped to her knees.

“Are you ok!?” She cast a healing spell as she searched him for injuries.

“I don't think it's that bad,” he looked up at her as he lay on his back. “I hit my head pretty hard, though. I think she broke some of my ribs, too.” He sighed as he could feel the effect of her healing magic knitting together his injured ribcage, and the pain in his head began to subside.

“Oh thank the Od Luguna!” She was relieved that it looked like he would be ok.

“You got her good, Emilia-tan.” He looked up at her pretty face, “I'm proud of you.”

Emilia's face turned red once again, and she turned her gaze to the side. “Dummy.”

“You never answered me when I asked you where this tsun side of you came from,” now he was ready to tease her, “but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it. It's my favorite heroine archetype!”

“I don't know what half of those words mean, just be quiet while I heal you.”

She still refused to meet his gaze.

“You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?”

Both of them turned, horrified, to the source of the shrieky voice.

She stood behind where Emilia had kneeled, almost completely reformed.

Capella.

Before Emilia could react, the Archbishop pointed her hand once again and shot out a tentacle. It penetrated Emilia's back, whose eyes shot wide in surprise.

A large spray of blood covered Subaru, who bolted to a sitting position.

“EMILIA!!!” He grabbed her shoulders and spun her around so she could lay in his lap.

“Su..ba..ru..” Weakly she reached up to touch his face.

“Tha..nk. Y...ou.”

The hand fell limp in the snow.

She was gone.

“NOOOOO!” He shook her, tears welling up n his eyes.

“EMILIA!!! EMILIA!!!”

He kept shaking her, but her arms and neck had gone limp, flopping as he tried to rouse her.

“I told Puck I would protect you! YOU CAN'T GO!!!”

Sobbing, he had lost all hope.

Suddenly, it seemed like her body was growing larger.

No, he panicked, I'm shrinking!

Looking up, a gigantic Capella walked up to him. “How cruel to become a toad when you're laying in snow like this. Toads can't handle snow very well.”

He couldn't move, his body now too cold to be able to function. Capella lifted a foot, preparing to crush him.

Seeing a flash of color, Subaru looked with his toad eyes to see a red-headed knight coming toward them at incredible speed.

Too late, Reinhard. We're done for.

Capella stomped.

And Natsuki Subaru died.

 

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Subaru gasped, in front of him was the back of a head of silver hair, the hissing sound of flames melting snow could be heard. Looking around, he checked how high the sun is. It was about to touch the horizon.

This means that I was right! I've been dying and going back in time! It's like a savepoint!

“Emilia!” He yelled for her attention.

Huh? She stopped shooting flames and turned around.

We have to hide! A Sin Archbishop of the Witch Cult is coming to kill us!” He was frantic, “we don't have much time, Reinhard is on his way but we have to stay alive until he gets here!”

“Whaaaaaat?” her brows were furrowed now, as she turned to him. “How do you know that?”

Because I've di-”

Suddenly, the world grew dark, and Subaru couldn't move.

You can't tell anyone...” The shape of a woman surrounded by shadow appeared before him. Two long, dark arms with claws at the end reached toward his chest.

What the hell is going on!?

The hands passed through his chest as if they were intangible.

Then his heart felt like it was going to explode as the hands grasped it and squeezed.

"It's our secret," the shadow whispered to him.

As quickly as it had appeared, the woman and the shadows vanished, leaving him grabbing his chest and falling to his knees.

“Subaru!” Emilia was with him in an instant, “what's wrong!?”

“Agh...” The pain had subsided. “I'm alive? Holy shit what was that?”

Looking up, he saw a very worried Emilia, with the beginning of tears forming in her eyes.

No time to worry about that right now.

“Emilia-tan, we have to hide. She's coming. She'll be here soon.” He looked around at the snow that surrounded him. “But she'll just follow our trail if we leave tracks in the snow.”

“A Sin Archbishop? Why?” Emilia was confused, rightfully so.

“She's the one that sent Elsa. It's Capella, the Bishop of Lust.” He told her, “Do you know of a way that we can find a hiding spot without leaving tracks?”

“Um,” she thought for a few seconds, “there was a Yin magic spell that allows you to float, we could use it to float over the snow and leave no tracks!”

“Perfect! Do you know what it was called? Do you know how to cast it? Can you tell me?”

She thought for a few seconds, “You'll want to visualize becoming weightless,” eyes closed she tried to recall the incantation.

“Murak!!!” Her eyes opened, “that's it!!!”

“Ok,” he closed his eyes and visualized become weightless, as he did so he felt her grab his hand. “Murak.”

Opening his eyes, he looked down to see that the two of them were floating a couple of inches off the ground.  Searching, he spotted a cluster of thick trees and bushes a few dozen yards away.

There!

Kicking his feet and keeping hold of Emilia's hand he launched them toward the thicket.

Please get there in time, please get there in time!

As they got within a few feet of cover, he could hear the beating of huge wings.

Shit!!!

As they floated over the bushes at the edge, he cut off the flow of mana to cancel the spell. They crashed into the middle of the bushes, prone in the snow. Raising to a crouched position, they peered at the spot they had just vacated.

Right where they had just been, a large black dragon landed, shaking the earth. It looked around, unsure of where they had gone. Walking in circles around the end of the trail, it began searching for them.

“WHERE HAVE YOU GOOOONE TOOOO?” The sickening voice of the girl was amplified when she was in dragon form. “YOU CAN'T HIDE FROM ME!”

Ducking lower, Subaru whispered to Emilia. “If things go south, fire a big flame spell into the sky. That will let Reinhard know where we are and he can come more quickly.  She's immune to all of the forms of magic that the two of us can cast, so we need Reinhard to take her down.”

“Ok.” She nodded, understanding.

Why is he bringing up Reinhard?  Is he on the mountain, too?  And how would Subaru know?  Questions, Emilia decided, that she would have to save for later on.

The dragon returned to the end of their trail once again, and with its long snout began sniffing. It spent a few seconds gauging their scent, then sniffed around the area in their direction. It came slowly their way, following the scent they had left in the air.

“Shit!” Subaru whispered.

As it came within about twenty feet, it stopped and smiled with huge fangs showing.

“I know you're in there, half-elf.” This time it wasn't yelling, “am I going to have to burn everything in there with my flame breath, or will you come out?”

Emilia looked at Subaru.

“She might not know you're here,” she whispered to him, “stay here, and be quiet, I'll take her on.”

“Emilia, no!”

“Well then at least stay here until I get into trouble!” she hissed back to him.

“....fine.”

Even with spirit-arts, I'm still useless, for fuck's sake. He thought to himself.

“I'm gonna count to three! Then comes the fire!” The dragon watched the thicket where they hid.

“One!”

“Two!”

“Thr-”

"I'M COMING OUT!!!" Emilia stepped out of the bushes and walked to within ten feet of the behemoth.

The dragon slowly lowered its face to be at Emilia's height.

"So..." it began, "did you kill Elsa?"

“I did,” Emilia replied with a fearless look, “and I enjoyed it. She killed my Great Spirit, who raised me.”

“I see. I'm impressed, you beat my best assassin.” Then the dragon smiled again, “did you use fire magic? The Gospel only told me that you and the cat possessed the ability to create ice. Now that I think about it, it never said you were incapable of creating fire.”

“I can use both ice and fire.” Still standing defiantly, Emilia replied.

Damn, she has guts. Subaru thought to himself.

Suddenly and swiftly, the dragon moved its fore-paw and grabbed Emilia, slamming her to the ground.

“Agh!” she was dazed after hitting her head when the dragon slammed her down.

“Emilia!!!” Subaru emerged from his hiding spot, “El Goa!!!”

A medium-sized fireball slammed into Capella's face, distracting her long enough for Subaru to try ramming into the massive arm that held down Emilia. It wouldn't budge, however.

"Ah, I suspected another insect was hiding with you. It seemed like there were two scents."

Using its other free hand, it swiped at Subaru's legs, taking off his right foot below the ankle.

“AAAaahhhhHHHH!” Falling on his back, Subaru screamed at the sudden pain in his leg.

“SUBARU!!!” Shrieking with tears in her eyes, yet still pinned by the massive arm, she yelled to him, trying to reach out to him. Then she seemed to remember something Subaru had told her.

He said to send a column of fire into the sky!

Trying to concentrate, Emilia pointed a palm upwards and fired a massive amount of flames upward as she lay on her back under the dragon's paw.

"What was that all about?" The dragon looked back at the girl on the ground for a second, then refocused its attention on the boy.

As Subaru lay there screaming, the dragon began to change form again like it had last time. The blonde girl once again stood over him, with a look of glee on her face.

"I have a special treat for this one!" Her right arm was still in dragon form, pinning Emilia on her back. She raised her left hand, and with sharp fingernails dug into the flesh of her palm, "have some cursed dragon's blood!"

A steady flow of blood began to pour from her hand, which she dripped on the gnarled stump where Subaru's foot had been. The pain coming from his leg increased substantially as she did this.

“GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

Agonyagonyagonyagonyagonyagony!!!

He felt that his mind might break, the pain was too severe.

It hurts! It hurts! It hurts! It Hurts!

It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!It Hurts!

“SUBARUUUUUUUUU!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!!” Emilia cried out for him, her heart breaking as she watched him lose his mind to this awful torture.

Suddenly, the torturer yelped as she, dragon arm and all, was blasted aside, rolling and bouncing in the snow.

Subaru lay on the ground, spasming in agony.

“Emilia-sama, please take him a safe distance away from here and begin healing him. This foe is one that I can handle.” 

A white and red uniform, with black trim.  Fiery red hair.

Reinhard the Sword Saint had arrived.

Emilia scrambled to her feet and quickly scooped up Subaru, sprinting away with him.

“Thank you, Sir Reinhard!!!” She quickly retreated with the gravely injured boy.

Watching them for a few seconds as they made their escape, Reinhard turned to regard the cultist in front of him.

“Who are you?” She spat at him, “you were not noted in the Gospel, and neither was that boy!”

“Reinhard Van Astrea, at your service,” normally, he would bow, but this was not a chivalrous opponent so he decided to forgo that act.

“Van Astrea? The Sword Saint?” her eyebrows perked up as she said this, “I suppose I shouldn't take you lightly.” She began to transform back into her dragon form.

“You won't take me at all, this will be over quickly.” He looked down at the sword which hung sheathed on his left hip, “Dragon Sword Reid, will you allow me to let you face this foe?”

As he pulled with his right hand, the sword emerged from its sheathe.

Reinhard smiled. And pointed the sword toward the sky.

A maelstrom of mana began to form around the knight's sword, as it began to glow pure white.

“What the hell is this?” The dragon took a slow step back, showing the first inkling of fear.

“You will not escape, cultist. This is your end.”

Several hundred yards away, Emilia had laid Subaru with his back against a rock wall. She was using healing magic on the stump where a foot had once been.

She was also crying.

"Subaru...I'm sorry....this happened because you were with me. You'll never get your foot back because of me. She tortured you because of me!"

He couldn't hear her, as there was a roaring sound in his ears. But he could see well enough. As he watched, Reinhard discharged a billion watts of mana into Capella's face, disintegrating her as easily as he breathed.

Subaru smiled.

Then, something suddenly impacted him. An invisible thing, which he felt latch onto his very soul, settling in his chest.

What was that?

Finally, due to the pain in his leg, and the pain in his soul, he allowed his consciousness to drift away.

***********************************************************************************

 

At the bottom of the mountain, in the village, an old stable-hand was making his way toward his home. It was about to turn dark, and he was ready for a hot dinner.

Suddenly, a huge blast of fire erupted skyward on the slope of the mountain.

“God-damn, again!?”

He stood there for a moment, pondering what he's just seen.

As he watched, a white light began to glow in the same area. It suddenly exploded and lit up the entire sky, and for a few seconds it was as light as mid-day.

“That does it!”

As he entered his home, his wife was setting his dinner on the table.

“Ethel!” he said. “I'm gonna retire and we're moving to your sister's village!”

As he plopped down on the chair in front of his plate, he waved his arms in the air.

“This place has gone plumb to hell!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten- Lust

 

Slowly, Subaru's eyes opened. He was laying on his back, with something soft under him.

Sitting up, he noticed that he was in a bedroom adorned with expensive-looking décor. He was in a large bed, in the corner of the room.

He looked down to find a beautiful half-elf sitting in a chair, leaned forward asleep next to him. Also, she was holding his left hand tightly.

“Emilia.” He spoke softly.

Her long eyelashes fluttered open, and she looked up at him.

“Subaru!!!” She crashed into him, squeezing him with an embrace that was just a little too enthusiastic.

“Too tight Emilia-tan!!! Too tight!!!” He croaked out.

She released him and grabbed his shoulders. "Do you feel any pain!? Are you ok!?"

“Nothing hurts right now,” he gave her a small smile, “how about you?”

"I'm fine," she said, "I wasn't hurt at all, thanks to Reinhard showing up." Then a single tear slid down her lovely face. "But you got hurt because of me! Those assassins have been after me this whole time and you keep getting caught in the crossfire and getting hurt! It's because of me!"

“It's ok, Emilia. Look, we made it through just fine,” he tried to comfort her.

“No, remember? Your foot...” she glanced to where his right leg was under the blanket.

Oh yeah, I can't believe I forgot about that.

He reached down to uncover his legs, prepared for the sight of one left foot and one bandaged stump.

What reached his eyes was one left foot and one right foot.

Huh!?

The right foot was black. As black as a moonless night.

“Why do I still have a right foot? It was blown away by Capella's claws!” The look on his face was stupefied.

“It grew back.” She whispered.

He turned to look at her.

“What?”

“While you slept it grew back, your whole leg is black like that up to your knee.” She turned to look at him as she spoke. “Reinhard thinks it has something to do with the blood that Capella dripped onto your wound. Does it hurt?”

"No, not at all." He reached down and pinched the skin of his newly grown foot, which felt normal. He could even feel the pinch with his foot, just like always. "This is weird as hell, but I'm not gonna complain. It's great that it grew back, not like I would be thanking Capella or anything."

"Subaru..." she looked at him again, "I think we should probably not be friends anymore..."

“What!?” His gaze snapped back to her.

“You got hurt because of me. It would seem that my participation in the Royal Selection has garnered the attention of the Witch Cult,” tears were openly flowing down her face now, “things are going to be dangerous moving forward. I can't keep putting you in danger.”

"No." He said, voice firm, "I refuse. I want to be by your side every step of the way. I want to see this through to the end."

She shook her head, silver hair flowing back and forth as she did so. “We got lucky this time, you were hurt really badly and somehow you got fixed, but I can't let that happen again.” She stood up, standing next to his bed.

“I love you.”

Her eyes flew wide open, as he said these words.

“It's true. I'm totally, madly, and deeply in love with you. I want to stand by your side. I want to be your strength.” He was looking her in the eyes.

Both of her hands flew to her mouth, as a fresh batch of tears began to flow. "That can't be true! Don't you understand? I'm a half-elf! A silver-haired half-elf! Nobody can love me!"

How can I make her understand? He frantically thought to himself.

“I don't care if you're an elf, a half-elf, or a damn lizard. I love you.” Subaru could feel a buzzing sensation build up in his chest. An unfamiliar, strange warmth began to grow. “If putting my life on the line is part of the deal, as long as I get to be near you then I can accept that.”

At this point, he wanted to be with her, and to make her understand.

But that wasn't the only thing he wanted.

He wanted her affection in return.

I want her to love me, too.

Inside Subaru's head, it felt like a switch flipped.

He could feel something invisible expand outward from him.

He looked down at himself, unsure of what just happened. While his attention was momentarily back on himself, he felt arms wrap around him.

Subaruuuu.”

“Eh!?”

“Do you reeeealy love me? Her voice was husky now, he'd never heard her talk like this.

Yeah, Emilia-tan, I do!” His reply was somewhat frantic.

Well then that changes everything,” she whispered straight into his ear.

Too much dere! Too much dere! What the hell happened!?

He felt the switch flip in his mind once again. Emilia froze, then leaned back.

"Uh..." her face went beet red, "Sorry! I don't know what came over me!"

“Ahem!”

From the doorway, the pair could hear someone clear their throat, and they both turned to see where the sound came from.

Emilia-sama, how fares Subaru?" Reinhard approached the side of the bed, voicing his concern for the black-haired boy.

"He seems to be in good shape. His foot even grew back!" Emilia, flushed, replied to the knight in a flustered voice.

“Such an odd thing. Surely it is connected to the dragon blood that the Archbishop foisted upon your wound,” the red-haired man placed a hand on his chin, in thought.

That's not the only odd thing that's happened since I woke up. Subaru thought back to when Emilia had suddenly turned into a dere-dere lioness.

"EMT..." he muttered.

“Hmm?” Emilia turned back to him.

“It's nothing.” Turning to get out of the bed, Subaru stood up. He hopped up and down a few times, testing his new foot. “Everything seems to be in order!”

Reinhard smiled, “Good to know. Lunch will be ready soon, Emilia-sama, why don't we let Subaru get changed?  I'll send Josephina to fetch him when it's ready.”

“Josephina?” Subaru queried.

"One of our maids," Reinhard said.

“Welcome to the Astrea Estate, Natsuki Subaru.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

After he'd gotten changed back into his track-suit, Subaru heard a soft knock at the door.

“Subaru-sama? Can I come in?” A soft feminine voice called from the other side of the door.

“Yeah! Come on in!” He replied.

A pretty girl with long green hair entered, wearing a maid outfit. She turned and bowed to him.

“Greetings, Subaru-sama. My name is Josephina. I serve the Astrea household as a maid.”

“Ah! No need for the 'sama.' Please just call me Subaru.” He waved off the formalities.

“As you wish,” she stood up straight, “I have been sent to fetch you for lunch. Reinhard-sama desires your presence.”

He followed her out into the hallway, walking at a brisk pace.

Just what was that weird thing that happened earlier with Emilia-tan?

As he walked, he pondered.

Capella had said she was the Archbishop of Lust. He continued to think as he walked. And I felt something be absorbed into me when she died. Does that mean I 'collected' her power?

No, there had to be something else to it. She hadn't demonstrated the ability to have that effect on a target.

If I did absorb it, did it change to suit my desires? When I felt it activate, the strongest feeling I had at the time was wanting Emilia to love me back.

I need to perform a test.

“Josephina, can I have your opinion on something?” He stopped and asked the maid a question.

“Of course,” she also stopped and turned toward him.

Searching his mind, Subaru found the switch, and flipped it.

“What do you think of my track-suit? Isn't it cool?” He asked her with a grin.

Josephina's hand flew to her mouth and her eyes went wide. “Subaru-samaaaa,” she cooed, “you look...amazing,” she stepped toward him, reaching out, “I hadn't realized how handsome you are.”

“Handsome, huh?” He flipped the switch once again.

The maid stopped, face turning red. “Forgive me! W-w-we should not keep the others waiting!” She turned and swiftly continued walking down the hallway.

This could be a dangerous ability, the power of Lust. Subaru had trouble stifling his grin.

It would be immoral for me to use this on Emilia-tan. So I'll decide right now, I'll get her to fall in love with me the old-fashioned way. He was determined when it came to that.

But it's possible I could use it in other ways. Negotiations, perhaps.

But it needs a name.

He thought for a few seconds as they walked.

Then he decided.

I'll figure out what to call it.

A shit-eating grin appeared on his face, as he walked he was immersed in thought.

I wonder if it works on dudes?

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Reinhard and Emilia were seated at a large dining table when Subaru and the maid walked in.

“Please have a seat, Subaru-kun!” Reinhard was at the end of the table, Emilia sat at the corner to his right. Subaru walked over and sat in the chair on Reinhard's left, opposite Emilia.

He looked over at Emilia, who blushed.

“Ahem!” She averted her gaze.

“I-I will go help the kitchen staff!” Josephina quickly turned and exited the room.

Noticing the actions of the two girls, Reinhard turned to look at Subaru with an eyebrow cocked.

"I, uh," Subaru began, looking down at the plate of food in front of him, "seem to have acquired an ability without realizing it."

"Oh?" Reinhard stopped eating and leaned forward with interest. "And what might that be?"

Emilia was now looking at Subaru with interest as well, her embarrassment forgotten for the moment.

“I think...that I inherited Capella's power,” Subaru stated flatly.

Gasping, Reinhard and Emilia both leaned back slightly.

“A Witch Factor...” Reinhard almost whispered, “not much is known about the Witch Cult, but one thing we do know is that their Archbishops all have strange powers that come from something called a Witch Factor. These Witch Factors power those abilities, which are called Authorities.”

He continued, “Authorities are thought to be something like the opposite of a divine blessing, falling outside of the jurisdiction of the Od Laguna. The wielders of the Authorities are almost always driven mad upon gaining them.”

Reinhard looked Subaru up and down, a look of concern on his face.

“But you seem quite sane,” he finally admitted.

“Subaru do you feel ok!? Do you feel like you're going looney or anything?” Emilia voiced her concern for him as well.

“Nobody says 'looney' nowadays, Emilia-tan.” He smiled at her, satisfied that their usual banter had returned, “I feel just fine, in fact.”

Satisfied, she leaned back forward, “Then if you have one of these 'Witch Factors,' what kind of power did it give you?”

Both of his companions looked at him expectantly.

“Heh heh heh...” he stammered, “promise you won't get mad, Emilia-tan?” He looked at her sheepishly, “I didn't choose the form it took.”

Her eyes narrowed, “I'll make no such promise, because promises are super important to spirit-arts users, and I don't want to risk breaking one.”

"Well, it seems that when I activate this power it makes either the person or people in front of me have a sudden, intense desire!" he blurted out.

“Desire?” She questioned.

“Emilia, it's the Witch Factor of Lust,” he said matter-of-factly, “you know, Lust?”

“Lust?” Her eyes went up in thought.

“Lust...” Reinhard's eyes went wide as he understood the nature of the power.

“Lust...” Emilia was thinking, then suddenly turned beet red once again.

“SUBARU B-BAKA!!!” She stood up and slammed her palms on the table, “DUMMY! DUNDERHEAD! THAT'S WHAT MADE ME ACT LIKE THAT EARLIER!!”

“I'M SORRY EMILIA-TAN!!!” Subaru ran around the table and landed on his knees, bowing in front of her, “Please forgive me! I've vowed never to use that power on you again! It was an accident! I didn't activate it on purpose!”

Calming somewhat, she looked down at him.

“So, you weren't trying to use that power to make me do something perverted?” Her eyes were still narrow, and there was a pout upon her face.

“No! I didn't know that was going to happen! I've sealed it in your presence!” He continued to bow on the floor.

“Subaru,” Reinhard queried, “did you use that nasty power on my maid?”

“Hick!” Subaru's breath caught in his throat, as he stood and bowed to Reinhard, “forgive me, I felt like I needed to test the nature of this ability.”

“Subaru!!!” Emilia blurted at him, “how could you do that!?”

"I didn't know if it was a fluke or not! I only used it for a few seconds!" Feeling like an ant, he whirled to Emilia, "I promise not to use it on you," his voice turned serious, "and I've decided to give it a name."

“You named it?” Reinhard asked.

“I just came up with it. Just now.” Subaru made a fist and nodded.

"I'm going to call it..." Reinhard and Emilia listened with bated breath.

“『Handsome Husbando』. “

“BAKA!!!”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11- The Advent of the Emilia Camp

 

Subaru had escaped the wrath of a certain half-elf by spiriting himself outside to wander the estate. He was now in the stable, where several ground dragons were housed.

Time to test out this ability. Let's see if it works on animals.

Walking up to one of the pens, he read the nameplate on the gate.

“Fina.”

That sounds like a girl's name.

The red ground dragon approached where he stood, curious about this human she didn't know.

"Alright, let's see what happens," he concentrated and flipped the switch.

“『Handsome Husbando』!“

<Bonk>

The dragon placed her head in his hand, obviously wanting to be petted. He obliged her, gently stroking the side of her face.

It works, but it's not as strong, or this ground dragon would be trying to climb the fence to get to me. He shuddered at the possibilities. I'll have to be careful.

A picture of a muscle-bound Onee-San holding him down and having her way with him entered his mind.

Just lie back and enjoy, Subaru-chan,” she said in his vision.

He shivered.

Very careful.

He switched off the Authority and turned to walk away.

Wandering out of the stable, he could see a butler approaching.

“Subaru-sama, “ the butler bowed, “Reinhard-sama is looking for you, he said it's about something important.” He was an older man, graying hair, probably in his mid-50's.

“Ok,” then an idea hit Subaru, “say, what's your name?” He asked the butler.

“Gerard, sir.” The butler genially replied.

“Gerard,” he switched the authority back on, “what do you think of my tracksuit? Is this good enough to wear while serving a Royal Selection Candidate?”

The Butler approached him, putting his hands on Subaru's shoulders, “Subaru-sama,” the butler began, “I know of no finer regalia in all the Kingdom. It is an adornment suited to a King.”

Holy shit!

Switching the authority off, the butler seemed slightly puzzled, then stepped back and bowed.

"Please find Reinhard-sama in the meeting room, Subaru-sama." Gerard then turned and walked back toward the mansion.

Subaru concluded that the Authority worked on men, but not as strongly as it did on women. Otherwise, he might have found the butler attempting to remove said tracksuit.

Very careful indeed.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

He found Reinhard and Emilia waiting for him in a meeting room on the West side of the mansion.

“Subaru, Emilia-sama. I've made a decision.” Reinhard stood, walking over to where Emilia sat.

“Emilia-sama, please produce the sigil that you re-captured from the bowel hunter.”

Emilia stood, and reached into the folds of the white dress that Reinhard had provided her.

She held her right hand out, palm up. In it sat her sigil, the red stone in the center glowed brightly.

“Time to make it official. I called you here, Subaru, as the most suitable witness.” Reinhard dropped to one knee in front of Emilia, and with his right hand took the hand she held out containing the sigil.

"Candidate Emilia, I hereby declare my backing of your candidacy to be the next ruler of this country." Emilia and Subaru both gasped, "you will have my sword and the backing of the Astrea name."

Tears were welling up in Emilia's eyes.

Reinhard continued, “I swear upon the Royal Seat of Luginica, and the name of my Mother and Father, I will do everything in my power to place you on the throne of this country.”

"Sir Reinhard," Emilia began, "in the name of the Royal Selection, I accept your backing as well as your sword, and graciously declare you my first knight."

Reinhard, looked up at her, beaming.

“Also I have a request,” Emilia said, “would you also be my friend like Subaru?”

“Gladly.” The Knight replied, standing.

Subaru felt a twinge of jealousy but quickly decided that he was happy for Emilia since she had gained another friend.

Even if it is a Knight that's bullshit handsome and dashing...

“Also, there's something else, Subaru.” Reinhard turned toward him.

“Huh?” Subaru was confused.

“It is my wholehearted belief that your loyalty to Emilia-sama is iron-clad and without question.” Reinhard gave Subaru a warm smile. “I've discussed the matter with her, and we came to a conclusion.”

“What's that?” Subaru inquired.

Emilia turned to him and smiled. “Despite your recent...shenanigans, we believe you possess the qualifications.”

“Qualifications?” Subaru looked back toward Reinhard.

"To be knighted," Reinhard said.

“....” Subaru stood in silence.

The knight and the half-elf waited expectantly for a response.

Making a fist, and crooking his arm in a victory pose, Subaru declared, “fucking sweet.”

“Subaru,” Reinhard admonished him with a smile, “that wasn't a very knightly thing to do.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

The training yard of the Astrea Estate was a large, flat expanse bordered by walls that appeared to be made of a material similar to concrete.

Built to withstand the power of the Sword Saint, I suppose.

Subaru held a sword in his right hand, it was a pretty standard longsword of typical make.

“Hold your sword like this,” Reinhard stood next to him, holding another standard sword out in front of himself.

“Ah, that's the same as a Kendo stance!” Subaru mimicked Reinhard, holding the sword in front of him.

“Now, close your eyes and look within yourself. Feel the mana within you and slowly push it through your gate.” Reinhard's instructions were clear and concise, “imagine that you are sending it to your arms, to your legs, strengthening them.”

Subaru closed his eyes and did as he was instructed, imagining the mana strengthening his body.

“Now, sword in hand,” Reinhard grinned as he could sense the mana flowing through Subaru, “leap forward as fast and far as you can.”

"KABOUUUU!!!" With a strange and unorthodox battle cry, Subaru launched himself forward, "GYAAAA," crying out in surprise, he flew forward about thirty feet and was unready to stick the landing. Tripping over his own feet, he landed on his face and rolled for another ten feet as the momentum from the leap continued to move him forward. The sword he'd had in his hand went skittering across the ground as well.

"Oh dear." Reinhard rushed over to where Subaru lay.

“Are you injured?” he voiced his concern.

“I don't think so,” Subaru patted himself from a seated position. “I think my mana control still needs work. That leap used way more than I had intended.”

“I see,” Reinhard nodded, “but you show potential. It was a fine first attempt, Subaru.”

“Thanks. That went way better than some of my other first tries at doing things in this world.” Reinhard raised an eyebrow at the words 'this world.'

“That's likely due to my Divine Protection of Training,” Reinhard told him, “It helps me train people in the way of the sword.”

Blinking, Subaru looked at Reinhard, “that sounds pretty handy.” He stood up and retrieved the sword he had dropped.

“Subaru,” Reinhard wondered, “could it be that you are from beyond the Great Waterfall?”

“What's the Great Waterfall?” Subaru replied.

“The edge of our world.” Reinhard was studying him, "occasionally, people appear in this land who have no known origin.  Some of them claim to have been born in another world, which is beyond the Great Waterfall."

“You could say that the world I grew up in and this world aren't the same place.” Subaru was looking off in the distance, and his voice sounded wistful, “the night that I met you and Emilia, that was my first day here.” As he said this he turned to the knight.

“I see. My Divine Protection of Wind Reading tells me you are telling the truth,” Reinhard replied, “how is it that you came to be here?”

“I wish I knew,” Subaru looked down at the ground, “I was standing on a street corner and blinked, and the next thing I knew I was here in the Capital,” He looked up at Reinhard, “I suppose there's not much of a chance I'll ever see my parents again...” Sadness filled the eyes of the black-haired boy.

Reinhard's heart went out to him. He knew what it was like to have family taken away from you for reasons beyond your control.

“Allow me to be indulgent, Subaru,” Reinhard started, “being a knight for a lady is the same as being a part of her family. When you are knighted after you've gained sufficient strength, you and I will be as brothers.”

Subaru's gaze whipped to Reinhard, as he made a shocked face.

“And should Lady Emilia ascend to the throne and choose you as her husband,” Subaru's face began to burn red, “I will also be swearing my fealty to you.”

“Can a knight be married to the Queen?” Subaru faltered, as it was something he had not considered.

"If it's a Royal Knight, most certainly. It has happened before," Reinhard put a hand on Subaru's shoulder, "and I intend to vouch for you and have you sworn in as a Royal Guard like me."

Subaru gasped.

“Your skills are varied and unorthodox, but your loyalty to Emilia-sama is without question. With some training and a little help from my Divine Blessing, I believe we can get you up to the task of standing at her side.”

“You've got lofty goals for this boy, Reinhard! I'm looking forward to seeing if he can meet your expectations!” Subaru and Reinhard turned to see who had arrived.

It was a purple-haired man in a knight uniform, who approached Subaru gracefully.

“Julius Juukulius, Royal Knight of Lugunica, at your service,” the man bowed, then stood and met Subaru's gaze. “I'm told by Reinhard here that you are a spirit-arts user. At his request, I've come to train you in the ways of being a spirit-knight.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

The history of Lugunica and its neighboring countries, matters of the economy, political tactics, and formal etiquette; all of these were things that Emilia had been studying the last few weeks after they had taken up residence in the Van Astrea Estate.

But today she was finding it difficult to concentrate. Her thoughts kept drifting to the black-haired youth who had confessed strong feelings for her.

<BTOOOM>

“Bwaaaugh!!!”

An explosion could be heard from outside, along with Subaru's shout, but she paid it no mind. The training that Reinhard and occasionally Julius had been putting Subaru through was rigorous, but according to Reinhard, it was necessary to bring him to the level of a Royal Knight.

Putting down her pen, she laid her head on the desk she had used to study.

He said he loves me.

A warm feeling built up again in her chest.

How do I feel about him? He's going through all of this suuuuuper hard training just to protect me.

<BWOOOM>

Another explosion.

“Hwaaaaaa!”

Another yell.

He was my very first friend.  And he's putting everything he's got into helping me.

His eyes are harsh, like 'hers.' I really like them.  And he's handsome, and really cool.

Her chest burned as she thought of the young man who had helped her through so much.

I've decided.

She stood up, and walked over to the closet, and began perusing the selection of dresses and robes that Reinhard had provided her.

Something light, and easy to move in should do the trick. It's not like I'm going to a court gala after all.

Then, she paused for a moment

But it needs to be pretty, too!

 

***********************************************************************************

 

It was early evening, and Subaru sat on a bench in the estate garden. He was using the method Julius taught him to call to the spirits which resided there. Dozens of small glowing orbs, each one a spirit, floated around him.

This isn't like when Emilia-tan does it, these spirits are of all different colors.

He could see all six of the different spirit-types. Fire, water, air, earth, light, and dark. He looked down at his right hand, where one quasi-spirit of each type happily floated about.

Easy, girls! He sent his thoughts to them. I know you like the company of other spirits but don't get too excited!

He heard a gasp and turned to his left to find Emilia in a white and purple set of robes, much like the ones she had been wearing when they met.

"Well, this brings back memories," he smiled at her, "you look positively stunning, Emilia-tan."

Having finally accepted that he was being sincere when he said things like this, she returned his smile.

"I see that your training with Julius has paid off tremendously." She looked around at all of the spirits surrounding him, "you can even commune with all six types!"

"If it hadn't been for meeting you I never would have known that I could use spirit-arts." He turned back and glanced up at the cloud of orbs, "they're quite fun to talk to once you get to know them."

She walked over and sat down next to him. “Quite? You never used to use words like that.”

“Julius has been hammering knightly conduct and etiquette into me,” Subaru laughingly replied, “Reinhard has been giving me the business about carrying myself as a knight should as well.”

He looked over at her, to find a glowing smile.

“You've become friends with them,” she was happy, “they're taking care to ensure that you're the best Subaru that you can be.”

Stricken with a blunt truth, Subaru's gaze lost its focus for a moment, then he nodded. "I suppose so. The three of us do like to rib each other quite a bit."

"Subaru," she faced toward the garden, gaze trailing off, "did you mean what you said? After you woke up when you said you loved me?"

“Every word.” He didn't waste a second in his response, “and I still do.”

“I was thinking,” her voice was hesitant, but confidence could be heard as well, “perhaps we could consider courtship?”

His face whipped back toward her, eyes wide, “do you mean it!? It would make my life complete, Emilia-tan!”

Again she was smiling, "you know, I've been thinking about all the things you've done for me since we met. I thought about when you told me you loved me. I thought about when you told me I was beautiful, and when you said that you think my ears are cute. You've told me sooooo much, sooooo many of your feelings. But I haven't told you anything, Subaru."

“I was holding out with the hope that you would slowly fall in love with me, Emilia-tan.” He smiled a smile full of confidence, and love.

“Since my memories started to come back I know my personality changed a little bit. I know I've become a little feisty...” she trailed off.

“Feisty is an understatement,” he was still looking at her, “but I love you even more now that you've got some spunk to you. You're still the kind and generous girl that I met in the city, but now you don't put up with anybody's bullshit.”

“That's not a very knightly thing to say!” she giggled at his remark.

Then, she turned toward him, and grabbing his shoulders, turned him as well, “here's the truth; when you tell me I'm beautiful my heart warms up so hot it almost hurts. When you told me you thought my ears were cute I almost started crying from joy, and when you told me you loved me I was ready to start a life with you right then and there.”

He gasped, taking in her wonderful words.

"But I didn't want you to be in danger anymore, so I rejected it," she pulled him slightly closer, "but I've seen how hard you've been working to become stronger. I also know that you've been doing that because you want to be able to protect both me and yourself. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed."

A small tear ran down his cheek, as she wholeheartedly recognized his hard work. His smile made her heart flutter, and a wanting, aching desire began to arise within her.

She returned his smile and touched his forehead with her own. "Natsuki Subaru, will you be my suitor, with marriage in mind at the end?"

“Emilia-tan, he whispered, it would be my honor.”

He grabbed her shoulders in return as her eyes widened.

He began to move his face toward hers, “I know this might be a little early, but if you don't want this, dodge.”

Slowly he moved in for their first kiss.

Emilia tucked and rolled to her left, lithely gaining her feet and simultaneously fluffing her hair with her hands.

“What is this, Dark Souls!?”

She placed her hands on her hips and humphed at him.

“Subaru! I can't be getting pregnant before the Royal Selection is over!” Her glare was tinged with disappointment.

“Bwa?” He was shocked, “I wasn't planning on taking it that far!”

“Subaru,” she wagged a finger at him, “kissing makes babies and we don't have time to be raising a child right now!”

Dumbfounded, he asked, “did Puck tell you that's where babies come from?”

“There's no denying it!” Her look was defiant, “Puck gave me a thorough education when we lived in the forest!”

Leaning back on the bench and sighing, he thought of the spirit. “Jeez, Puck. You really left me hanging here.”

“Hmm?” Emilia was curious, Subaru seemed to be under an improper impression of the process of babymaking.

“It's true, I would like to have a family one day, and you're the one I'd like to have it with,” he put his hand on his face, “and I want to share infinite kisses with you...”

He trailed off, realizing that he just told her he wanted to do infinite babymaking.”

That comes later!

Standing up, he grabbed her hand, “come on! We need to find Josephina!”

“What, why? He pulled her along sternly.

“Somebody has to explain the birds and the bees to you!” He was insistent.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Emerging from one of the conference rooms, face bright red, steam emerging from her ears was Emilia. Behind her Josephina the maid emerged as well, eyes cast to the side.

“I see. Josephina has enlightened me.” Emilia creakily turned toward Subaru.

Also red in the face, Subaru stammered, "S-see! I wasn't trying to p-plant a baby in you! I just wanted a kiss!"

“Indeed.” Her eyes carried a far-off look.

“WellokgoodnightSubaru!” She took off sprinting down the hallway, hands over her face.

Subaru sighed, exasperated, and turned to the maid.

"So I see how it went," he murmured.

“Her previous notions on the subject were...misguided.”

"Good night Josephina. Thank you for your help." He dejectedly began walking down the hall toward his room.

As he was about to turn a corner, two pale arms reached out and grabbed him, pulling him toward their owner.

Her lips met his, and they smashed together. She reached her hand up behind his head and tried to pull him in deeper. Mind blank, he twined his arms behind the girl's back and pulled her fully against him. Tongue met tongue, as the kiss deepened. Primal pleasure enveloped the two newly-forged lovers, and they sought each other out.

Breaking the kiss, Emilia breathed deeply.

“Now I know where babies really come from,” she declared, “so we can do this as much as we want.”

Smiling at her once again, Subaru nodded, “Yeah, we can.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12- The Knight of Love

 

Subaru, Emilia, and Reinhard walked the streets of the capital. The day was looming when Reinhard would present Subaru to be knighted, and Reinhard had insisted that they visit the best weapon shop in the city.

“A knight must have a fine sword,” he had said as they had breakfast, “nothing we have at this estate is suitable outside of my Reid, but unfortunately I am unable to part with it so we'll have to find your partner weapon in the city.”

As they walked down a merchant avenue, many people glanced at them due to the conspicuous nature of the trio. A strangely-dressed black-haired boy, an ethereal elven beauty, and the Sword Saint himself strode shoulder-to-shoulder.

“This is the place,” Reinhard had stopped in front of a large shop with a sword and shield emblazoned on its sign.

“Need I remind you again, Reinhard, that I am flat broke?” Subaru was having a little trouble accepting Reinhard's generous offer to purchase a high-level sword for him.

"Worry not, as a soon-to-be knight of this country it is my pleasure to ensure that you are suitably armed, as your sword is used in the ceremony itself." The red-haired knight walked into the shop.

“Come on, Subaru,” Emilia grabbed his hand, “you deserve it.” She turned and smiled at him as they walked into the shop.

Upon entering, dozens of swords, shields, and suits of armor could be seen. A large wooden counter was in the back of the front room, where a large bearded man wearing a leather apron could be seen. The trio made their way to the counter, where Reinhard spoke first.

“It has been a while, Logarius-sama.”

“Reinhard-sama! With a gruff voice, the man shook Reinhard's hand, “what can we do for you today?”

“I'd like to take my two friends here to look at your special collection,” he gestured at Subaru, “this one is to become a Knight of the Kingdom, as well as a Royal Guard in the coming days.”

The blacksmith eyed Subaru, “pardon me sayin' so, but he doesn't look like much,” Subaru shrank under his gaze, “but it's your money, so let's go upstairs.”

The man led them up to a locked room. He took out a silver key and used it to open the door at the top of the stairs. As they entered the room he beckoned for the trio to take a seat on the sofa-like piece of furniture against the back wall. As they did so, he took out a larger key and use it to unlock the doors on what resembled a massive wardrobe that filled the opposite wall. As he opened the large doors, many high-quality swords and other weapons were revealed, hanging on various hooks.

Subaru and Emilia gasped, as Reinhard enjoyed their reaction.

“Reinhard! These all look incredibly expensive!” Subaru pleaded with his friend.

“They are,” Logarius replied.

“Are you sure, Reinhard?” Emilia was having doubts now.

"Emilia-sama, if you had seen the growth in your paramour that I have seen in these past months, you would be confident that he deserves this." The smile on Reinhard's face was ear-to-ear. He was quite proud of his protege'.

“I see,” she turned back to Subaru, “Reinhard has every confidence in you so I'm inclined to agree. You've worked very hard.”

She thought back to the times he'd come to her after training and requested healing, to which she enthusiastically obliged. His injuries were never grievous, but among the many healing sessions there were sometimes broken bones, and some nasty cuts and contusions.

That training must have been terribly brutal. Emilia had been busy herself so she hand't been able to watch them train.

Logarius inserted himself into the conversation, “so what's the kid's specialty? Strength? Speed?”

Reinhard continued to smile widely, “he is a Spirit Knight, Like Sir Julius.”

“Hmm,” the blacksmith began to turn toward the collection of weapons.

“But his movements are also powerful, and very fast.” Reinhard was beaming.

Emilia turned to look at Subaru, this was new information to her.

“Heh. Reinhard is a really really good teacher,” the boy had a sheepish grin.

“My student is too humble. He has made tremendous gains in his abilities.” Reinhard waved away Subaru's comment.

Just what kind of training have they been up to? Emilia wondered.

The blacksmith had been busy listening to the conversation, then he nodded, seemingly having a grasp of the situation. After a few seconds, he walked up to Reinhard with a sheathed sword in hand.

“This one was sold to me a long time ago, I've never thought that any swordsman's talents sounded like a good fit for it, until today,” he unsheathed the longsword, revealing a shimmering black blade, “It's supposed to be capable of harmonizing with multiple spirits and accepting them into the blade, almost like a home of sorts.”

Reinhard and Subaru leaned forward, excitedly.

“You mean, the blade can become elemental?” Subaru couldn't hide his excitement.

"I don't know, you're the spirit-arts user, you tell me," the blacksmith handed Subaru the blade. Concentrating, Subaru called to his first spirit, Igni the fire Quasi-Spirit.

Igni, are you there?

<Igni is here.>

Can you tell me anything about this sword?

<Igni will investigate it.>

The little spirit floated down close to the blade and began assessing it, slowly traveling the length of the sword. For several minutes, she traveled back and forth along the length of it, paying particular attention to the crossguard. The trio watched her as she floated back and forth, hopeful for good news.  Then she floated up in front of Subaru and gave him her assessment.

<The cross-guard of this weapon at its core contains a pyroxene crystal of great quality. In addition, the blade was forged with ground pyroxene which allows for the projection of elemental power into the blade itself. The quality of the forging itself is very high. This is a very good sword for a spirit-knight.>

“Igni likes the sword,” turning to Reinhard and Emilia, he repeated her assessment, “she said it can both house spirits in the cross-guard and project power into the blade, and that it's well-forged. She called it a 'very good sword.'”

“Well then, it seems we have succeeded in finding our soon-to-be knight's sword!” Reinhard stood, and placed his hand on Logarius's shoulder, “let's make the arrangements, then.

As the two men walked away to talk shop, Subaru stared at the magnificent blade in his hands.

Emilia watched him, happy for his good fortune, “you'll have to take good care of it, you know.”

He tore his gaze from the weapon in his hand, “almost as well as I take care of you, Emilia-tan.”

The two brought their faces together, meeting with a gentle kiss. It lingered for a few seconds, before Reinhard interrupted, “you two spend all your spare time kissing and holding hands, but you shouldn't do that out in public. We need Emilia-sama's reputation to be that of a pure maiden.”

“I AM pure! All we've ever done is kissed!” Emilia feigned being hurt by his words.

“Careful, Sword Saint, your jabs might make our liege cry,” Subaru shot him a rebuke.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

The promised day had come, and the Emilia Camp Trio was in a dragon carriage headed toward the Palace. Subaru was nervous, as he tugged at the collar and sleeves of the brand new Royal Knight uniform he wore, trying to smooth out wrinkles that weren't there.

Emilia, sitting next to him and holding his left hand, giggled.

“Subaru calm down,” she soothed, “it's going to be fiiiiiiiine.”

“But Emilia-tan! I don't want to look like a buffoon or mess up!” he professed, “that would make you, Reinhard, and Julius look bad! I'm part of your camp and they vouched for me to the Knight-Commander!”

“You've practiced the words plenty of times, relax.” Reinhard was sitting across from the couple, gazing out the window, “and I would go to bat any day for the skills you've acquired these few months. Your growth was simply astonishing.”

“That's all because of your fancy-pants Divine Protection of Training!” Subaru still didn't have much confidence in himself.

"It's not just because of that. You're the first person I've ever seen who was able to grow their mana pool by brute-forcing it to empty every single day," the Sword Saint had a serious face, "if this proves to be repeatable under proper circumstances it will revolutionize the way that knights are trained."

“You were able to do that, Subaru?” The surprised look she gave him made him smile back at her.

“Yeah, that's why I went to bed right after dinner almost every night,” he admitted.

“You're so amazing.” She leaned toward him, and he met her with a passionate kiss, placing his hand under her chin.

“By the Od Laguna,” Reinhard rolled his eyes, “I've never seen two people be so into each other.” But then he cracked a small smile, “Emilia-sama, I'm quite certain he was able to do all of this because of his devotion to you.”

The response he received from her was not what he expected, “hmmmmmyeahhhh,” she moaned out as the couple continued to fraternize.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Subaru stood outside the main hall of the Palace, nervous about the event to come.

Remember the words, and make sure you conduct yourself like a knight, dumbass!

Earlier, Reinhard had told him that the man who would be swearing him in as a knight was his father, Heinkel Van Astrea.

“But you should know, he is not a pleasant man,” Reinhard had warned, “if it could irritate me, he might make this event troublesome for you. But since Lugunica currently has no ruler, this is the only path to become a Royal Knight.”

The huge double doors in front of him began to open, prompting Subaru to stand up straight.

Showtime.

“Enter, Natsuki Subaru, Prospective Knight!” A voice boomed from within.

Subaru entered the hall, sweeping his eyes back and forth as he walked past row after row of men dressed in the same garb he now wore. As he neared the front, he could see Emilia, Reinhard, and Julius side by side in the front row, facing toward him.

Looking forward, there was a man with long, familiar red hair standing on the dais at the end of the hall, placing him higher than all of the other occupants. Subaru arrived in front of him and kneeled on one knee.

“For what reason does a foreigner wish to become a knight of the Kingdom of Lugunica?” The man asked of him.

Reinhard said this might happen.

Raising his head, he spoke upward to the man in a loud voice, "I intend to wield my life to protect Royal Selection Candidate Emilia, who I will help reach her goal of attaining the throne of this country, alongside the Sword Saint, Reinhard Van Astrea.”

"You would wager your life to protect a half-elf? This seems like a pitiful reason to grant you a knighthood."

Keep your cool, Subaru. Emilia watched him closely, Reinhard said he would try to get a rise out of you.

"I have spent a great deal of time with and fought powerful enemies alongside Candidate Emilia. Together with her powerful magic the two of us were able to slay the Guthunter, Elsa Granhiert! We withstood an onslaught from the Witch Cult Sin Archbishop of Lust until Reinhard arrived to slay her!" Subaru's reply was concise but carried great weight.

A murmur emerged among the gathered knights.  Elsa had been an elusive target for many years, and no small number of knights had fallen to her blade.  The mention of a Sin Archbishop as well drew gasps from many of them.

“Two very bold claims, Reinhard can you confirm any of this?” Heinkel, Reinhard's father looked toward him.

Reinhard stepped forward, “I can, these two were able to do just as Subaru says.” He gestured, one hand toward Emilia, the other toward Subaru.

“Still, most Knights train for years before being allowed to take the oath,” Heinkel continued, “why should we let this whelp join our ranks after you trained him for a few months?”

“Because my methods are unorthodox,” Reinhard replied, “and they produce maximum results.”

"Also, Sir Julius has trained him in the spirit-arts and together the two of them have created new techniques," Reinhard concluded.

There was a murmur among the crowd as Reinhard said this.

It was Julius's turn to vouch for the boy, "He is a spirit-arts user like myself, and during training, he invented techniques I had never even considered, many of which I am working to adapt to my own style."

Again a murmur rose, louder this time.

“I propose a test,” the Knight-Commander looked to the crowd, “would one among you like to duel this boy and put him in his place?”

Oh no! He's going to get hurt again!

Frightened, Emilia looked to Reinhard to put a stop to this before Subaru was injured once again. As he turned to look at her, she noticed something.

He was smiling.

“Have some confidence in him, Emilia-sama,” Reinhard whispered to her, “he just might surprise you.”

Nodding, she decided not to intervene just yet.

“I'll have a go at him.”

A medium-sized bald man with a short beard walked toward the front of the gathered knights.

“Sir Millwood, would you kindly put this boy's skills to the test?” Heinkel displayed a sneer.

“With pleasure,” the bald man replied.

“That's one of the knights who kisses up to my father,” Reinhard told Emilia, “He is fairly skilled.”

“However,” he turned to her, “he is no match for Subaru.”

***********************************************************************************

 

Everyone in attendance had moved to the arena at the edge of the palace, with an area containing raised seating for all to watch the match between Subaru and Sir Millwood.

Subaru stood facing the knight, now without the coat that signified a knight of the kingdom. He was still wearing the pants, but up-top was a simple t-shirt.

Ok, remember your training. Keep mana flowing in your body, telepathically communicate with your spirits so that they can direct power with no delay, and stay a step ahead of him.

He looked down at the wooden sword he was given. After his months with Reinhard and Julius, he was intimately familiar with holding one.

Heinkel appeared in the place of honor, with Emilia, Julius and Reinhard seated near him. Emilia had a worried look on her face, but Subaru just gave her a wink and mouth words to her, “I'll be fine.”

She appeared to relax a little bit.

Turning around, Subaru faced his opponent, the experienced knight Millwood.

Heinkel raised his hand in preparation to start the duel.

Ok ladies, it's go-time, we're finally gonna fight for real.

<We are ready.> His six spirits simultaneously replied to him.

Gathering mana and spreading it out within his body, he leaned forward with a stance that Reinhard taught him, which he had slightly modified to resemble the Japanese sword-drawing styles.

Heinkel brought down his hand, “Begin.”

Charging forward, Subaru closed the ten yards between himself and Millwood in less than half a second and executed an upward sword strike at his opponent. Millwood's eyes went wide as he scrambled to meet the blow, sliding back several feet as he barely defended against it.

Don't let up! Keep him on his heels!

Pressing forward, Subaru dropped to a crouch and used mana to accelerate his leg outward in a sweeping kick, and his wind spirit, Venti, added force to the blow.

Slamming his leg into Millwod's front foot shot it out from under him. As he began to tumble to the side Subaru gathered power and mana in his legs and shot up from the crouch. Pushing mana into his arms, he was now two-handing the wooden sword. The swing was another uppercut, and his earth-spirit, Terra, reinforced the blade. The wind spirit Venti sharpened the blow with wind magic as he shot forward slamming his sword into the one Millwood held.

Millwood's sword disintegrated into a shower of splinters as he was blasted backward into the wall of the arena. Bouncing viciously off of it, he landed in a heap on the ground.

Unmoving, he stayed down.

Silence overtook the arena, Millwood was a good fighter, but this boy had dismantled him in seconds.

Turning to his father, Reinhard looked every bit the proud teacher, "well then? Certainly, that should be enough, correct?"

“Oh my God, Subaru!!!” Emilia took off running to her beloved.

He stood with a triumphant stance, looking around at the knights as if to say, “any more challengers?”

Many of them wilted under his gaze.

“My name is Natsuki Subaru!” He loudly proclaimed, raising his right hand to the air and pointing a finger up, he struck a pose, “and I fight for Candidate Emilia!”

"Subaru!!!" Emilia came flying out of the entrance to the arena floor, crashing into him.

Seeing this, the gathered knights began cheering wildly.

“That was AMAZING!!!” she was practically hysterical, with how much he had impressed her, “I had no idea you had gotten that good!!!”

“I appreciate that, Emilia-tan!” He gave her his best smile, “It's my priority to look cool in front of you at all times!”

She put a finger on his mouth and whispered, “I want to kiss you so badly right now!”

“Me too but Reinhard would yell at us with all these knights looking at us,” he gave her a small embrace, “save me some of that enthusiasm for later on.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Once again, Subaru was kneeling in front of Heinkel.

“Do you, Natsuki Subaru, swear from this day forth to uphold the laws, and defend the People, the Nobility, and the Royalty of the country of Lugunica?”

Heinkel looked displeased.

"I swear on the name Natsuki, I swear on the honor of my parents, I swear on my life. I will defend the People, Nobility, and Royalty of Lugunica, and uphold its laws."

“Then as Knight-Commander,” with Subaru's sword, Heinkel tapped Subaru's left shoulder with the flat of the blade, “I declare Sir Natsuki Subaru,” he tapped Subaru's right shoulder, “A Knight of the Kingdom of Lugunica.”

“Sir Subaru,” Heinkel continued, “it is our tradition when we welcome a new knight into the fold, for said knight to choose a moniker. Other titles can later be earned, such as Reinhard's 'Greatest Knight' title. What would you have as your title, newest of knights?”

I didn't know about this, Subaru thought.

What do I fight for?

Simple.

I fight for love.

My Authority of Lust is also related to love.

That's it.

“I fight for love, Knight Commander. I would have that as my title.”

“I see,” Heinkel raised an eyebrow, “rise, Natsuki Subaru, The Knight of Love!”

A cheer arose from the crowd of knights, who had been incredibly impressed with Reinhard's protege'.  Subaru stood up, looking straight over to Emilia. She was clapping and wildly cheering, as excited as a little girl.

Julius and Reinhard, for their part, both wore smiles of satisfaction as they nodded at Subaru.

“We should have a small party at the estate tonight, what do you think, Julius?”

“That's a splendid idea. If we're going to do that, we should invite Felix and Crusch-sama. Though I would understand if you did not wish to invite Wilhelm-sama.”

“Yes, I think I will invite Felix and Crusch-sama. I'm sure they would love to meet Emilia-sama and Subaru.”

The carriage ride back to the Astrea estate was uneventful. Reinhard had chosen to ride at the front with the driver and make small talk. The main reason for this was what was going on inside the coach.

At least they waited until they got in the carriage to pounce all over each other like that. Doing that in front of the knights would have caused quite a scandal.

If one were to be walking by as this particular carriage rolled past, if they were paying attention, they might notice that the carriage's windows were fogged up.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Reinhard had thrown a small party and invited a few friends, including Julius. When he had first met Subaru, Julius hadn't thought much of the boy's capabilities and wasn't sure what Reinhard had seen in him. But Subaru had proved to him something that had been taught to him since he first took up the sword many years ago.

A warrior's greatest weapon is his mind.

Julius had set out to teach Subaru his style of spirit-sword combat, hoping the boy could at least grasp the basics before their training time ended. But he found himself soon bombarded by questions that suggested whole new ways to apply the spirit-arts to combat, which Julius had to admit he'd never considered.

Subaru didn't view the spirits as an avenue to cast spells to augment attack and defense, instead, he saw the spirits as an extension of himself which allowed for lightning-quick action and reinforcement of movement.

Adding low-level wind magic to a sweeping kick to amplify its power, it was so simple yet so effective that Julius couldn't believe he had never thought to try it himself. Combined with the mana manipulation that Reinhard's Divine Protection had been able to bring out of him, Subaru's speed and the power of his blows were truly impressive.

He looked over where Subaru and Emilia had become fast friends with Felix and Crusch-sama. That was no mean feat considering how difficult it was to impress Lady Crusch.

Julius himself had given her a bad first impression when they met.

She had thought him pompous.

He smiled at the memory.

Subaru excitedly talked to Felix about something, then stretched out his hands in front of him and concentrated. A blue glow spread across the table.

He's casting spirit healing magic!!!

Felix had taught him healing magic and was looking rather smug.

Emilia clapped and praised him as everyone at the table laughed and smiled.

Just who are you, Natsuki Subaru?

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“I want to get this itchy uniform off as soon as possible!” Subaru complained to Emilia as he tugged at the collar.

“No way mister! You look incredibly dashing in that uniform! It stays on until the guests have all left!” Emilia had crushed his objections with facts and logic.

“Myew DO look pretty good in it, Subaru-kun,” Felix agreed with Emilia. “You know, I was at the Knight-Gathering today for your swear-in, as was my dyuty. The way you handled thyat bully Millwood was amazing! I never syaw that coming!”

“Felix told me about it when he got home,” Crusch leaned forward in her chair, “I'd love to see you in action sometime, 'Knight of Love,'” she teased. “Also, Sir Wilhelm, the Sword Demon, is a part of our camp and he very much wants to meet you as well.”

The four of them sat in one of the Astrea Mansion meeting rooms, it was one of the more intimate ones with room for about six people to meet. Reinhard had asked the four of them to meet here but he was running late.

Opening the door at the edge of the room, Reinhard and Julius stepped in.

“My apologies,” Reinhard bowed, “I had to reject a marriage proposal from one of the Nobles I invited, he wanted me to marry his daughter. I had to let him down gently.”

“HA! It sure is hard being the Sword Saint isn't it!?” Subaru said this and everyone burst out laughing.

"He wanted to marry his other daughter to you, Subaru," suddenly the laughter stopped, "you made a big splash at your Knighting Ceremony today. Naturally, I turned him down in your stead. I think we all know where your heart lies."

Subaru's head whipped around to gauge Emilia's reaction, eyes wide.

She looked at him, then sighed.

“I guess I have to expect that if my Subaru is going to be soooo coooool. You better not let any of those noble girls get their claws in you, Mister!!!” She mimicked a cat clawing at him.

“Oh now it's 'My Subaru' is it? I remember a time when you flipped out on me for saying 'My Emilia-tan!'”

“Huh? I don't remember that.” She looked at him, confused.

Oh shit, that was from the time when we died to Capella!

“Ah, maybe I dreamed it,” Subaru waved off the remark, “I see you in my dreams all the time, you know.”

“Subaru, don't act like such a pervert in front of our guests!” Emilia turned red once again.

Crusch burst out laughing, “I don't know what it is about you two, but you put me completely at ease. I haven't had this much fun in years!”

As she made this comment, Felix turned and looked at her, then a happy smile came upon his face.

“I'm afraid I have to end the pleasantries, there's a bit of business I'd like to get to regarding the Selection.” Reinhard hated to spoil the mood, but this was important.

"We have two of the three candidates gathered in this room who I believe would be most beneficial to the country. The third's knight is here in the form of Julius, a close friend of mine." The Sword Saint turned to Julius, "I would like all of you to consider this confidential, as it could drastically affect the future of Lugunica."

“What do you have in mind?” Crusch had switched into serious mode.

“A three-way alliance between the Emilia Camp, the Crusch Camp, and the Anastasia Camp, “ Reinhard declared.

“An alliance...” Emilia considered, “what do you see being the benefits of an arrangement like this?”

“Threefold,” Reinhard had obviously put a lot of thought into this, “First, we will share the same friends and the same enemies. My gifts are considerable in regards to martial power, but I cannot be everywhere at once. The same sentiments go to Julius, and the same sentiments go to my Grandfather and Subaru, as well as Lady Emilia and Lady Crusch. Anastasia also has a small army of mercenaries, and Felix's healing abilities should also come into consideration. The three camps, if entered into this agreement should share the burden of defending these candidates at all cost. I am committed to putting Emilia-sama on the throne, but I will accept the results if the ruler is either Anastasia-sama or Crusch-sama.”

"Second, should one of the camps fall or withdraw, its remaining members will come under the protection of the other two camps, and the same applies should that happen to two of them. The remaining camp or camps would gain the support and fighting power of the dissolved camp or camps, in exchange for mutual protection."

“Third, there can be no smear campaigns, no degradation, and no conspiracies between the three camps. That goes double for you, Julius. I trust you, but your mistress is another matter in this regard. Present this proposal to her, and tell her that under no circumstances is she to use underhanded tactics to gain an advantage if she wishes to enter into this alliance.”

Julius was shocked, but not entirely surprised at his friend's words.

“Anastasia-sama has her ways, but I will convey your words to her.”

"There is one more thing," Reinhard continued, "each of the other two candidates who do not win the Selection will have the opportunity to be given cabinet positions by the new ruler. For example, if Emilia wins I would suggest making Lady Anastasia the Economic Minister, and Lady Crusch the Commander-in-Chief of this country's army."

Everyone's eyes widened at this proposal.

Crusch leaned back and put her hand to her chin in thought, "It does seem like a good deal."

“We all want our candidate to be the one to succeed,” Reinhard continued,” but mighty forces are working against us.”

He turned to Emilia, “The kingdom's spies have alerted me that the Witch Cult is on the move,” then he turned to Crusch, ”and the White Whale will appear soon. I don't know where and I don't know when for sure, but when the Witch Cult shows up so does the Whale. My investigations have confirmed this.”

He paused for effect, "If we join the considerable might of these three camps, we can rid our country of several entities who have sewn chaos, death, and destruction for the last 400 years."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13- Scientific Method

 

Subaru was standing in front of a thick tree at the far back end of the Astrea Estate. It was about four feet in diameter and stood tall and strong. In his right hand, he held the grip of his new sword, which was sheathed. He was bent, right foot forward, left foot back.

“Speed, power, control, these points form the pyramid of swordsmanship.” Reinhard was standing behind him. “Gather mana, distribute it to your muscles. In your arms, in your legs, in your core.”

Julius was next to Reinhard, “Send your thoughts to the spirits residing in your sword's cross-guard. Ask them to extend their power to the blade.”

A white glow began to emanate from within the sheathe. Deepening his stance, Subaru prepared for the blow.

Reinhard narrowed his eyes, “ATTACK!”

The sword left its sheathe approaching the speed of sound. The six elements had turned the shiny black blade an ethereal white, as it glowed with power. Pouring mana into his muscles, Subaru screamed as he swung the blade at the tree, rotating his body to the right to add weight to the blow.

“YYYEEEAAAAAGGGHHHHHH!!!”

There was an explosion of power as the attack made contact, sending smoke and shards of wood in every direction. As the smoke cleared, Subaru and the tree reappeared in the vision of Reinhard and Julius.

His black blade was buried two-thirds of the way into the tree, making Subaru grimace.

“Not bad, Subaru,” Julius praised him, “this time you almost made it all the way through.”

Foot on the trunk, and yanking on the sword, Subaru lamented, “either of you two would have cut all the way through!”

"I'm not too sure about that," Julius replied, "that's a hardwood and those are very tough."

<SHUNK>

The sword finally came out of the tree, and Subaru cradled it lovingly as he gazed at the shining black of the blade.

“If you keep looking at your sword like that Emilia-sama will get jealous,” Reinhard teased.

"Emilia-tan does not need to ever be jealous, as there is room for only her love in my heart!" Subaru sheathed the sword.

They began making their way back toward the mansion, taking a leisurely pace. This was their weekly day of rest, so there was no need to be in a hurry.

“Anastasia-sama has accepted the terms of your proposed alliance,” Julius turned his head to look at the two other knights, “she seemed to be pleased with your idea. Especially regarding the White Whale, as it has been an especially dangerous thing for traveling merchants.”

“Very good, then we have an accord, Crusch-sama and Emilia-sama have already accepted as well.” Reinhard was pleased. This was a chance to extend the protection of these powerful people to the citizens of Lugunica, in the form of their formidable camp members, and in the case of Emilia and Crusch, themselves. “We should arrange a meeting between all camp members soon.”

“Agreed,” said Julius.

“Isn't there supposed to be another candidate that's already been discovered?” Subaru was curious, “why didn't you ask her as well?”

"That would be Priscilla Barielle," Reinhard's tone had softened, "I do not think she would have agreed to the terms, she believes that the throne is hers by birthright and by virtue of her divine luck."

“Any word on the final candidate? The start of the Selection has already been postponed twice,” Julius sounded slightly frustrated at this.

“The Sage Council has consulted the Dragon Stone several times, nothing has changed,” Reinhard lamented, “five Candidates were foretold, so it seems that five Candidates there will be.”

The three knights arrived at the common ground of the estate, and the two residents bade farewell to Julius.

“Stay well, friends. We're formally allied now,” he smiled, “I'm looking forward to working with you!” Julius turned to leave, and Reinhard clapped Subaru on the shoulder.

“I can't help but feel like I've become part of something much bigger than myself,” Subaru said.

“That's what it is to be a knight, my friend,” Reinhard understood precisely how he felt.

“I'm going to head to the stable, there's a little project in there that I've been working on,” Subaru turned to head toward the stable grounds.

“Oh?” Reinhard was curious, “what kind of project?”

“I'm not ready to reveal it yet!” Subaru replied as he walked away.

“Curious,” Reinhard muttered as he headed toward the mansion.

***********************************************************************************

 

The Sage Council sat in session, and its leader, Miklotov, was wishing for this abysmal meeting to end. For hours now the old men had bickered back and forth about matters of state. Even now, a representative from Priestella, the Water Gate City, was arguing semantics with a representative of the Barony of Barielle.

Abysmal. Abysmal. Abysmal. He thought.

Suddenly, one of the castle pages came barreling in, almost out of breath.

The Priestella counsel member glared daggers at the boy, “HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT A MEETING OF THE SAGE COUNSEL!”

Miklotov was delighted for a change of pace to arrive, “Hold up now, boy, have you brought news?”

“Sage counsel! It's the Dragon Stone! There's been a change!” The boy revealed.

An explosion of activity came upon the old men as they all jumped out of their seats and hurried to the room where the stone was stored.

As they poured into the room, Miklotov shoved his way to the front to read the stone's prophecy. But as he read its etchings, he could detect nothing different from what it had read since it declared the Royal Selection.

He gestured the boy over, pointing at the tablet, “are you daft, boy? Nothing has changed!”

Pointing, the boy indicated a certain part, “read the passage where it speaks of the candidates!”

Straining his old eyes once again, Miklotov read the Candidate passage.

And he gasped.

What once had read, “Five Dragon Maidens will appear,” now said, “Five Dragon Candidates will appear.”

“What in the Od Laguna does this mean?” the old man wondered.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Emilia, Reinhard, and Subaru sat in the mansion's guest parlor as Josephina served them tea.

"Thank you, Josephina," Reinhard was polite as always, "we're going to be discussing some top-secret business so I would appreciate your discretion," he trusted the maid to perform her duties in the room while they had a meeting.

“Of course, Reinhard-sama,” she bowed warmly to him.

“I've been thinking about something a lot lately,” Subaru began, “I feel like we need to gather more allies.”

Emilia almost choked on her tea, “Subaru, we have the Sword Saint, you, me, and all of the fighters in two other camps pledged to stand with us! For what reason could we possibly need more fighting power?”

"Because of this," Subaru stood and walked to an easel he had place against a wall before their meeting began. He grabbed a large piece of stiff parchment that sat upon it, and turned it around so they could see what was written on the other side.

 

It read:

 

LUST- KILLED

GREED- UNKNOWN

GLUTTONY- UNKNOWN

WRATH- UNKNOWN

PRIDE- UNKNOWN

SLOTH- UNKNOWN

ENVY- SEALED

WHITE WHALE- UNKOWN

GREAT RABBIT- UNKOWN

BLACK SERPENT- UNKNOWN

 

"I finally had time to sit down and read about the Witch of Envy, by the way, thank you for the reading lessons, Emilia-tan!" He gave her a small bow.

“Oh yes, no problem!” she was happy to have been able to help him. Her smile disappeared as she gazed back at the parchment.

“It stands to reason that if Capella was after us due to what her gospel told her, that the gospel will also send the other Archbishops after us,” Subaru tried using a logical argument.

"He makes a good point," Reinhard nods, "like I was saying the other night, I can do a lot but I can't be everywhere at once. If the five remaining Archbishops mount a coordinated attack, it could be a very perilous situation. We know nothing about their abilities, save the Bishop of Sloth, who has some kind of invisible hands that can do things like maiming his targets, as they possess incredible strength. We know that much about him simply because he's the most active among them."

“I see,” Emilia wasn't hard to convince, “so what should we do? Where do we look to seek out more strong allies?”

“I have a starting point that I would like to suggest,” Subaru interjected, “but you might not like it, Emilia.”

Emilia narrowed her eyes, “surely you don't mean who I think you mean. He left us to die, Subaru!!!”

Putting his hands flat on the table and leaning forward, Subaru said seriously, “he's the most powerful magic-user in the kingdom, Emilia.”

“You can't be serious,” Reinhard was mystified, “how do you even know he'll show his face to you, much less join you, after what he did?”

“Because I intend to charm him,” Subaru sat back in his seat at the table.

“What?” Reinhard sat forward, “you intend to charm Roswaal Mathers? A man who's so far out of a normal person's comprehension that he wears clown makeup wherever he goes?”

“You're forgetting one very important thing,” Subaru retorted.

“No,” Emilia was becoming annoyed, “you're not talking about that gross authority you have?”

"The same," Subaru replied.

“How do you even know that it works on men?” Reinhard didn't like where this was going, “and don't you dare try testing it on me!”

Subaru suddenly looked very sheepish, "eh heheheheh, about that, I've confirmed that it does work on men, but differently from women."

“Subaru what have you done?” Reinhard sounded displeased.

“I sort of tested it on your butler, Gerard.”

“For God's sake man, will you quit testing your sexual predator superpower on my staff!?” Reinhard was now standing with his palms on the table.

“I had to know! And it was harmless, I just asked him what he thought of my track-suit!” Subaru attempted to calm the angry knight, “he put his hand on my shoulders and declared it the finest raiment he'd ever seen, and that it was an outfit befitting a king!”

Reinhard fell back into his chair, “I trained this man. I got him knighted. What would Grandmother think?”

“There's more you two should know,” Subaru continued.

“What!? Subaru this has to stop!” Emilia was getting upset now.

“I've learned to apply a greater degree of control to it. Specifically, I can now direct it at a single target, or use it in an area of effect. I can also raise or lower the power between three different levels. The one you experienced, Emilia-”

“HMPH!!!” she turned her head to the side.

He continued, “that would be the medium setting.”

“Are you serious!? THAT was MEDIUM!?” She was incredulous at his words.

“Wait,” Reinhard interrupted, “then what does the high-level version do?”

"It...causes the target to experience a certain release," Subaru replied, averting his eyes.

“Your language is vague, Natsuki Subaru,” Reinhard narrowed his eyes.

"Um," Subaru attempted to be diplomatic with his language, "you know, it brings them to a certain climactic moment."

Reinhard's eyes went wide, “you can't mean...”

Subaru put his hand behind his head and rubbed his hair, “yeah, it gives them an orgasm.”

Reinhard held his face in his hands. How had it come to this?

“Excuse me,” it was Emilia, “what's an orgasm?”

“Josephina!?” Subaru spun around, “that was part of your job! You were supposed to teach her about that stuff!”

The maid held her hands over her face, “it was too embarrassing!”

***********************************************************************************

 

Once again, Emilia and Josephina shuffled out of a private room, after having given Emilia her second lesson on 'the Birds and the Bees.' Emilia was as red as a mato, and Josephina's face was ghastly pale.

“Reinhard-sama, I'm not feeling well, may I have your blessing to go to my room and lay down?” The green-haired maid seemed under the weather.

“Of course, Josephina,” he replied.

“So, Subaru,” Reinhard picked up where they had left off, and his eyes narrowed, “just who did you test this on to learn how to control it?”

“Not who so much as what,” Subaru replied.

“Meaning?”

"The red ground dragon in the stables," Subaru said nonchalantly.

Reinhard jumped back to his feet, "FINA!? That's the mount I ride into battle! I raised her from the day she hatched!"

"I didn't do anything bad to her, she quite enjoyed it, in fact. I also discovered that prolonged exposure to the effects of the authority produces genuine feelings of affection. She reeeeeally likes me now." Subaru's assessment was clinical.

Reinhard flopped down again in his seat, “Fina...forgive me.”

Reaching in her robe for something to throw at Subaru for being a dunderhead again, Emilia's hand finally caught something, so she hurled it at him.

"Baka Subaru!"

Her aim was a little off as it clattered against the wall

“Hey, you shouldn't be throwing important things like this, Emilia-tan, remember how hard it was to get back?” Bending over, he picked up the object. Turning back toward her he held it on his palm.

The other two gasped, and Reinhard jumped to his feet again.

Upon the palm of Natsuki Subaru, the Candidate Sigil glowed a deep crimson.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14- The Royal Selection

 

Reinhard had immediately gone to the palace with the news that the fifth Candidate had been found, who was now under the protection of House Astrea. He had opted not to take Fina as his transportation, claiming, “I can't bear to look her in the eye.”

Subaru and Emilia remained in the room where the discovery had been made that he possessed the qualifications to rule. Both had been silent for a while now, with downcast looks upon their faces.

Finally, Subaru broke the silence, “Emilia, I...don't want to be a Candidate. The whole reason I'm even here is to support your efforts for the throne. Aren't all of the Candidates supposed to be women anyway? I'm not the least bit interested in being another stone on the path to your dream.”

“I understand,” she lifted her face, “but the Dragon has chosen you. It's a destiny you must face, even if that means you would be competing against me.”

“I can't do it,” he moved to sit next to her on a loveseat-like piece of furniture, “I love you, and I've promised to help you. Hell, I swore to do so on my life and parents' honor!”

Taking his hand, she leaned over against him, putting her head on his shoulder, “every time things start going our way some insane obstacle pops up, don't you think?”

He placed a gentle kiss on top of her head, “there's a saying where I come from, it goes 'God never gives you a problem that you can't handle,'” another kiss on her gorgeous hair, “we'll find a way past this, no matter what it takes.”

“You think so?” She looked up at him.

Meeting her gaze, he smiled, “the Knight of Love guarantees it.”

“MY Knight of Love,” she moved her face to his, and they kissed gently, as he placed his hand under her chin.

Subaru's eyes widened, and he broke the kiss, grabbing her by the shoulders.

“Subaru?” She was confused.

“Emilia! I have an idea!” He had an excited look on his face, “we'll combine our campaigns into one, under one banner of two Candidates who the Dragon has deemed qualified, it's an advantage that nobody else can claim in the Selection!”

“But we can't both be King, Subaru,” she sounded sad.

“We won't be, I'll be the King, you be the Queen! Do I even have to explain that? Jeez, Emilia-tan.” He was gently shaking her shoulders and her occasional ditziness could get to him, “five candidates, four campaigns. Ours will have the advantage of being the only one where it would install both rulers as candidates chosen by the Dragon. If any of the other candidates were chosen, the person they married to rule alongside would not be a chosen! Our strength in the Selection will be unique!”

Realization came upon her, “Subaru, that's a reeeeeally good idea!” Then she blushed just a bit, “but you know, that means one thing. I-I don't mind, but soon after the Selection ended, we would be married.”

“Emilia,” he wore a huge grin, “I got my first payday as a Royal Knight a few days ago, do you remember that shopping trip I made? The one I wouldn't let you accompany me on?”

She nodded, unsure where this was going.

“I had intended to set up some super-duper romantic situation for this, but the best time for it seems to have landed right in my lap,” he reached into a pocket of his jacket, “good thing I decided to wear my uniform today! My track-suit wouldn't do for this!”

Subaru moved to put one knee down on the floor, and holding up one hand, he produced a small black box. Then he opened it.

Within, was a diamond ring.

She gasped.

“Emilia, just Emilia, will you marry me, and become Natsuki Emilia?”

Her heart was bursting with joy, and there was only one response she could give him.

“Yes! With every fiber of my being, yes!”

She cried tears of joy, and taking her hand gently, he slid the ring into place on her left hand. The half-elf girl flung herself at him, giving a tight embrace that she wanted to never end.

A half-elf girl who thought no one would ever want her. To have comrades, to have friends, to have a HUSBAND. These were things she had never thought possible, and never even bothered to wish for. But now, she had friends. Crusch, Felix, Reinhard, Julius. These people could be called comrades as well. And best of all, this boy...no this was no boy. He was a powerful knight now.

This is a man.

A man who wants to marry her, and not because of some Royal Selection, and her social station resulting from it.

But because he loves her.

Because he's in love with her.

And she loved and was in love with him.

This man had changed her whole world.

Puck, Mother Fortuna, Geuse, I hope you can see me!

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“The Dragon Stone has reflected the change in the Selection,” Reinhard reported, “it seems we will have some difficult decisions to make.”

He'd arrived back at the Estate expecting the two lovebirds to be moping over the discovery of Subaru's qualifications but instead found the two of them happily embracing, on the floor both in tears.

“Reinhard, we're getting married!” Emilia showed her left hand to him, where a ring now was.

Mouth dropping open, Reinhard quickly composed himself, “I see. Congratulations to the happy couple are in order, then.”

These two move fast! He thought.

“But if I may delay the celebrating for just a little while, we have a problem. A noble house is allowed to only sponsor one Selection Campaign.”

“Subaru already came up with a solution!” Emilia patted him on the head, “He's sooooo smart!”

"Really? What is it, Subaru?" Reinhard was prepared to hear what might be a terrible idea or a great one. Subaru was capable of both.

“Simple. Five candidates, four campaigns,” he pointed to Emilia, “we run together as a package deal, both chosen by the dragon. As of about twenty minutes ago we're engaged to wed, so it's a perfect solution!”

Reinhard was again shocked. This method would simultaneously circumvent an arbitrary rule of the Sage Council and boosted their chances at actually winning.

“Then there's only one thing left to do!” Reinhard went down on one knee, facing the couple,” I will need to amend my oath to Emilia-sama. Emilia-sama and Subaru-sama, I hereby pledge my sword, my backing, and my life to your service. As candidates to rule this country I will do everything in my power to see you to the throne.”

The couple looked at each other for a second, nodded, and turned back to Reinhard.

“We accept!” They nodded together.

“Here, Subaru, the Sage Council gave me this so I could deliver it to you,” he handed Subaru a sigil identical to the one Emilia kept, it glowed as soon as Subaru's outstretched hand touched it.

"As of now, your identity as a candidate remains a secret," Reinhard's face was serious, "but I believe I have an idea that will make a rather large impression at the Selection, should the two of you be amenable."

Josephina, having caught enough of the conversation to understand the gist of it, entered with a bottle of Champaign in hand as well as three glasses.

“It seems congratulations are in order, don't you think, Reinhard-sama?”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

With the discovery of the fifth mysterious candidate, the timetable for the Royal Selection had once again been set in motion. Emilia and Subaru, with assistance from Reinhard, had planned and practiced how they would present themselves. The idea is that they would try to be the last two to present, Emilia going before Subaru. As allies, Crusch and Anastasia had been informed of who the final candidate was, as well as the engagement. The reply from Crusch had been one of congratulations, with a bouquet of roses. Anastasia's had been a box of choco-covered flugelberries with a card that simply had a smiley face drawn on it. Discretion had been requested of them regarding Subaru entering the Selection.

Today was the day, and the Emilia/Subaru camp trio was rapidly approaching the palace in a carriage. The couple sat side-by-side, as always. They leaning toward each other, resting their heads together in quiet contemplation. Both of them were looking down at the diamond ring on her hand, held by his, and both of them were wearing a small smile.

Soon they arrived and disembarked from the carriage. Subaru was wearing his knight uniform, sword at his side, while Emilia wore the white and purple robes with the sigil of House Astrea upon them. Walking toward the great hall, much activity could be seen on the palace grounds as servants, knights, and politicians scurried around. Soon, they encountered Julius, who was with a short purple-haired girl.

“Julius! Good to see you!” Reinhard greeted his friend, “I don't think these three have been properly introduced!”

“Indeed, let us remedy that,” Julius turned to the girl, “Anastasia-same, may I introduce Emilia-sama, and a person who I suppose I should now address as Subaru-sama.”

“I'm charmed ta meet ya! And don't worry, Julius is the only one I told about Mr. Dark Horse over here!” Gesturing toward Subaru, the girl seemed friendly, with a strange accent.

That sounds like Kansai dialect. Subaru thought.

“It's very nice to meet you, Anastasia-sama, thank you for agreeing to our proposal for an alliance!” Emilia greeted the short girl warmly.

“None of that 'sama' stuff! We're equals, ya know!” Anastasia smiled as she said this.

“Be that as it may, it's still a pleasure to finally put a face to the name,” Subaru gave her a graceful bow, in the way Julius had taught him.

A warm smile came upon Julius's face as he saw this.

He's come a long way, he thought to himself. He's a proper knight now.

“Well if it isn't three of my four favorite knights!” Crusch, Felix, and a large man in a butler suit approached the group.

“Ah! Crusch! I've been looking forward to seeing you again!” Emilia was radiating happiness at the thought that she was making so many friends.

The butler strode forward, walking up to Subaru, glaring down at him.

“Grandson,” he looked over to Reinhard, “is this the knight Felix spoke of? The one you trained?”

“Honored Grandfather,” Reinhard seemed slightly startled, “yes, along with Julius who also trained him, this is the one.”

Grandson? Subaru thought.

The butler eyed Subaru for a few moments, then bowed, "Wilhelm Trias, at your service. Felix would not stop singing your praises after he witnessed your bout at the knight-gathering. I must apologize to you for the shameful treatment you endured at the hands of my son, Heinkel."

Subaru put his hands forward, overwhelmed, “ah! Wilhelm-san! There's no need to apologize! I'm sure Heinkel had his reasons to do what he did!” Then he relaxed a bit, “plus, giving me the opportunity to show off a bit made my teachers look pretty good, I like to think.”

“Indeed. Should the opportunity arise,” a small smile graced the old man's face, “I hope to stand beside you in battle and see your skills for myself.”

Pleased with the exchange, Crusch interjected, “It's almost time to get started, we should take our places in the hall. I look forward to hearing about your stances for the direction of this country.”

The group began making their way toward the Great Hall, where the future awaited. The camps intermingled and laughed as they walked.

One could get the impression that no matter the outcome of the Royal Selection, these people were all destined to be friends.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As they took their places in the front row, Crusch, who was next to Emilia, leaned over to whisper as she nodded toward a strawberry-blonde woman in a red dress, "That's Priscilla Barielle, the other candidate. Her personality is...strange. I'm sure you will understand what I mean when she pleads her case."

Subaru was looking around, awestruck at the number of important-looking people who had gathered in the Great Hall. Even the knight-gathering hadn't held a candle to this. A flash of purple to his right caught his attention, as as he looked his breath caught in his throat.

Striding toward them with a blank face was Roswaal Mathers.

Subaru nudged Emilia, who turned to him, he nodded and she followed his gaze. A small gasp escaped from her as Roswaal stopped in front of them.

"Emilia-sama, Subaru-kun," his words seemed slightly forced, "I have heard that your sigil has made its way back to you, this is good news."

"It didn't make its way back to her," Subaru chided, "she killed the assassin that took it."

Roswaal crooked an eyebrow, "Is that so?" He regarded Emilia, "then perhaps there is more to this girl than I thought," Subaru thought he might have detected a faint hint of remorse in Roswaal's voice.

Time to plant the seed for the plan to add to our combat strength, Subaru decided.

『Handsome Husbando』, Setting 1! He flipped the switch in his mind and directed it at Roswaal.

“You're lucky Roswaal,” Emilia pointed at him, eyebrows furrowed, “Subaru decided to forgive you for what you did, and eventually I did as well with his urging.”

Roswaal's eyes slightly widened, and his breath seemed to hitch ever so slightly.

“I see,” the clown seemed genuinely surprised at this.

“Roswaal,” Subaru caught his attention, “I want to schedule a visit to your mansion. There is a proposition that I'd like to make. Unfortunately, we can't discuss it here. But make no mistake, it's very important.”

Turning back to Subaru, a slight smile crept onto the Margrave's face, “so be it, Subaru-kun. I shall have my staff make the arrangements. Emilia-sama, I look forward to hearing your address. And Subaru, congratulations on your knighthood. I hear you made quite a splash at your ceremony.”

“Well I was trained by Reinhard, after all,” Subaru nodded at him.

“I must be going, the time is upon us,” giving a slight bow, Roswaal turned and headed to the gallery of nobles.

As his form shrank, Subaru flipped the switch in his mind, cutting off the power of his Authority. Roswaal's gait seemed to stutter ever so slightly, but it was barely noticeable.

An old man wearing robes took the stage, and clearing his throat, waited for the crowd to become silent.

“Welcome, everyone, to the first gathering of the candidates of the Royal Selection for the Throne of Lugunica!” His words echoed off the walls, “I am Miklotov McMahon, a member of the Sage Council, which has been guiding this country in the absence of a ruler, as well as administrating this Royal Selection!”

He looked at the candidates and their camps gathered in the front row. "Which among the candidates chosen by the Dragon Volcanica will be the first to make their case for the throne?”

The strawberry blonde woman, Priscilla, moved to ascend the stage. Arriving next to the old man, her voice began to ring out loudly. “This event is pointless, for mineself wishes to ascend to this country's throne, and mineself has the luck of the gods behind me,” confidently, she addressed the gathered people, “whatsoever mineself wishes for comes to me without fail, and becoming this country's Queen shall be no different.”

“Priscilla-sama,” Miklotov said, “please present your proof of candidacy to all gathered here.”

Reaching between her ample bosom, she took out her sigil and held it high for all to see. The red stone in the middle glowed brightly. Murmuring swept across the crowd, having seen proof of candidacy for the first time.  Satisfied, Priscilla stepped down from the stage and returned to her place in the front row.

“Which candidate shall speak next?” Miklotov looked expectantly at the various camps.

"I suppose I'll get up there and take a gander at this crowd!" Anastasia ascended the stage and turned to face everyone present. She reached into her coat and produced her own sigil, which also glowed brightly as she held it high.

“People of Lugunica, I am Anastasia Hoshin, of Kararagi!” She began, “I have single-handedly turned around the economy of that entire country, which was previously in shambles! I have adopted the name Hoshin, a moniker that I earned in performing this endeavor! Should you elect me, I can promise that every child will go to bed with a full stomach, and every man and woman will have gainful employment! Y'all vote for me! Have a nice day!”

The crowd was impressed with the girl and decent applause sounded out.

Anastasia returned to her place next to Julius, who leaned toward her.

“Well done, my lady.”

“Thanks a bunch, Julius,” she replied with a smile.

“Who among you will go next?” Miklotov queried.

“I shall!” Crusch strode to the stage with a confident gait.

"Citizens! Nobles! Knights! Too long have we relied on higher powers in the defense of this country! The dragon has lent us no aid in any of the conflicts we have found ourselves in during the last several hundred years!" Her tone was that of a military commander speaking to her troops, "as ruler, I would dissolve this covenant, and strengthen our military to levels not seen since the age of heroes, 400 years ago! It would be tantamount to the return of the Lion King Fourier Lugnica!" She raised her glowing sigil high, "a vote for me is a vote for secure borders and peace with our neighboring countries! The name of Lugunica will be spoken with fear by other nations! My name is Crusch Karston! Thank you!"

There was healthy applause as she exited the stage.

“Crusch-sama,” Felix whispered as she returned to his side, “that was magnificent!”

“Now let's see what sort of spectacle Emilia and Subaru have prepared for us,” she replied eyes wandering to the duo.

Miklotov looked to Emilia, who began to move to the stage. As she climbed it, whispers began forming among the crowd.

“Is that an elf!?”

“I heard she was a half-elf.”

"A silver-haired half-elf? Is she serious!?"

Some of the words being whispered by many in the crowd.

Subaru narrowed his eyes slightly.

Keep it cool, Subaru, stick to the plan, he chastised himself.

“My name is Emilia, I am a half-elf from Elior Forest, and my campaign is sponsored by none other than the Sword Saint, Reinhard Van Astrea!” She started strong.

The crowd grew quiet at the invocation of the Sword Saint's name.

"How does a silver-haired half-elf think she can waltz in here and take part in the selection for our next ruler?” One of the nobles in the gallery was shaking his fist in anger, “this is preposterous!

“I am here because the Dragon Volcanica chose me to be!” Emilia produced her glowing sigil, and the crowd grew noisy once again.

Another noble piped up, “Sir Reinhard, are we to expect that you endorse this abomination!?”

Ascending the stage, Reinhard stood next to Emilia, “I more than endorse her, I fight for her as well,” the crowd grew silent once again as Reinhard turned to Emilia, “I believe Emilia-sama is the best choice for ruler of this country based on the fact that I know she possesses many traits which would make for a great ruler.”

“Reinhard is correct!” Now Subaru was also at Emilia's side.

"It's the Knight of Love!" Murmurs in the crowd, many of the gathered Knights had seen Subaru's duel and induction to their order.

“The young swordsman who uses spirit-arts!” Many heads turned to regard the black-haired knight.

“Emilia possesses a kind heart!” Subaru began, “one that will show mercy when required!”

“She possesses a stout sense of justice!” Reinhard added, “and punishes those who deserve it!”

“I possess a love for all the people of this country!” Emilia took a step forward, “I would see that everyone be safe, secure, and free of threat from those who would do them harm! That goes for the lowest common thug, to supernatural menaces such as mabeasts, and Great Mabeasts like the White Whale, Great Rabbit, and Black Serpent! We will deal with them all!”

An exciting air began to grip the crowd, as they spoke of the possibilities of a country without these threats to everyday people.

"I witnessed the extermination of the Guthunter at Emilia's hand!" Subaru looked at her, "as an incredibly powerful magic-user she did it with one shot!"

“Her and this knight, Natsuki Subaru, as well as myself were involved in the slaying of the Witch Cult's Sin Archbishop of Lust, Capella!” Reinhard omitted Capella's surname, as that would only be a distraction.

Some in the crowd were now shouting with enthusiasm.

Emilia pointed to the sky and struck a pose she had learned from her beloved. "My name is Emilia! Just Emilia! It is my intention as ruler to keep the citizens of this country safe from threats of all name and shape! From common thugs to the Witch Cult itself!"

Miklotov chimed in from where the Sage Council sat, “But Reinhard, you were to bring the fifth candidate as well, but I see no more among the ones gathered!”

“The fifth candidate is here, right where they should be.” Reinhard smiled.

“Where?” Miklotov gestured wildly, “I see no other candidates!”

“As I said, right where he should be, next to Emilia-sama's side.”

Subaru took a step forward, putting him next to the half-elf girl.

The room went silent as he reached into his knight uniform's jacket, and brought out a sigil, holding it high.

It was glowing a fierce crimson.

An explosion of voices filled the hall, as until now all of the candidates had been women.

Miklotov stood and made his way to where the trio stood on stage and waved for the crowd to be silent. "Reinhard, you cannot support both of these candidates! The rules state that a noble house can only back one candidate, and you officially support Emilia!"

“The rules state that I can only support one campaign, Miklotov-sama,” Reinhard responded.

“We intend to run a single campaign with two candidates!” Emilia addressed the crowd, “we will both ascend to the throne, as King and Queen, both chosen by the Dragon Volcanica!”

Subaru added, "after the Selection, we intend to wed! It was going to happen whether we participated in the Selection or not!"

Emilia smiled at him when he said this.

“Vote for us!” Emilia drove it home, “the only King and Queen selected by the Dragon itself!”

As the three descended from the stage, thunderous applause filled the Great Hall.

Within the gallery of nobles, a purple-clad clown smirked.

Veeeery interesting, he thought.

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 15- Shonen Battle Training and the Mathers Domain

 

Emilia and Subaru stood at attention, like soldiers in formation. Emilia wore baggy white canvas pants and a simple short-sleeved gray shirt. Subaru was dressed similarly, but all in black. Reinhard, ever in his Knight uniform, paced back and forth in front of them. They were on the wide training ground of the Astrea Estate.

“The enemies we will be facing in the future are ruthless, powerful, and difficult to combat,” he spun to face both of them, “therefore you will have to endure special training until we receive word from the Margrave that he is ready to receive you at his Manor.”

“Both of you possess exceptional combat strength,” Reinhard continued, “and you are to be commended for being as strong as you are now, Subaru especially. But my Divine Blessing of Training allows me to see the chinks in your armor, so to speak.”

He stopped in front of Emilia, and turned to face her, "elves and half-elves are exceptionally strong, one of the strongest races overall. You possess immense physical strength, agility, and speed. Also, your pool of mana and gate are massive, giving you a high level of offensive power."

Making a serious face, Emilia nodded.

“However, your potential is much greater,” Reinhard began pacing again, “your offense is sufficient, for now, but your defense is lacking. The dodging abilities you picked up by observing the Guthunter are admirable, but your body is completely untrained, so your true potential has yet to emerge. For the foreseeable future, Emilia-sama will train her body in the afternoons.”

"Yes, Sword Saint!" Emilia was going all-in on the military-style feel of the situation, she seemed to be enjoying herself, for now at least.

I won't have to spend my afternoons reading those stinky old books! She thought to herself.

"Subaru," Reinhard moved in front of him, "your main weakness is the opposite, ironically. Your body has been trained to near its upper limit, and your defense is about as good as it's ever going to be, however you still have room to improve your offensive power."

Subaru was surprised, he thought he had reached his limits and was mostly satisfied with the capabilities he currently had.

“Your spirits, they remain quasi-spirits and have yet to evolve to full-spirits,” a smile graced his lips, “this is a problem that Julius has faced as well. Luckily, my Divine Blessing has brought me a solution.”

Oh? Does he know how to make them evolve? Subaru was in awe of Reinhard's cheat-engine Divine Blessing.

"You will split your training each afternoon," Reinhard was pacing once again, "physical training first, then mana manipulation after that. Spirits evolve by increasing the amount of mana they can both control and contain, and much in the same way we increased your mana pool, we will train up your spirits to become stronger, that they might evolve into full-spirits."

“Does Julius know of this method to strengthen spirits?” Subaru wondered, “I would feel bad if we withheld this training method from him.”

An approving smile came upon Reinhard's face, "I am pleased that you are considering our mutual friend. I intend to send a message to Julius informing him of the methods my blessing has uncovered."

Reinhard stepped in front of them, between the two candidates and pointed an index finger at each of them, “Your strengths will be complimentary, Emilia-sama can fight long-range, and Subaru can act as vanguard,” then he crossed his arms over each other, pointing to each of them with the opposite hand from before, “you will become a nigh-unbeatable fighting force, protecting each other's blind spots and exerting great offensive power.”

Uncrossing his arms, he placed a hand on each of their shoulders, "but a powerful body is built not only in training but in the kitchen. I have designed a meal plan which will help to maximize our efforts. The kitchen staff has received this plan and will act accordingly,” turning around, he walked a few paces away, then turned back to them with his hands clasped behind his back, “I hope you like chicken breast.”

With that, the two candidates began training to optimize their capabilities in earnest. Subaru trained his body in the first half of each afternoon to keep it in tip-top condition, then he communed with his spirits in the second half of each afternoon. As they worked to manipulate and increase their control over mana, they slowly increased their capacity to use it. Emilia, for her part, participated in agility drills, honing her already considerable athletic ability toward its absolute sharpest point. She also had the benefit of a gymnastics instructor, who Reinhard had hired to teach her to move with cat-like precision and agility. Strangely enough, this instructor was a female demi-human with cat features not unlike Felix, named Lynx.

A training area for Emilia's gymnastics had been erected in a matter of days, offering several ways for her to exert herself.

Now, as she was doing parallel bar training, her instructor was just as ruthless as Reinhard had requested she be.

“Put more power in your wrists! And bend your legs at a sharper angle as you come around for the dismount!” Wearing an outfit not unlike a blue leotard, the demi-human watched as Emilia twirled around the high bar once, twice, then flew spinning through the air and somersaulting as she came to land on her feet.

“Wow, Emilia-tan! You're a natural at this stuff!” Subaru watched her as he paused from a round of pushups.

“Less talking, more pushing!” Reinhard was having no laziness from his student.

Groaning, Subaru resumed his exercise, eager to get to the part of the day when he could begin communing with his spirits.

 

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I am sooooo exhausted, Emilia thought as she shuffled toward her room in the manor. Another grueling day of training had drawn to its conclusion. Both Reinhard and Lynx were hard on their students, but their efforts were showing after five weeks of training.

In her room, Emilia arrived in front of the mirror that was part of her vanity. The mirror was covered with a sheet, as Emilia had always been averse to looking at her reflection.

But Subaru always tells me I'm beautiful-this and gorgeous-that. Truth be told, she hadn't seen her reflection for many years now.

Gathering courage, she pulled the sheet off of the mirror and gazed at the girl who now met her eyes. Looking back at her was a silver-haired half-elf in baggy workout clothes. Looking behind her to ensure that the door was shut, she began to undress, stripping down to her undergarments.

Again she regarded herself in the mirror.

On her stomach, her abs had begun to show. Her legs were toned, showing small amounts of powerful muscle. She flexed her arms and saw that they had become quite toned as well.

My body's changed, she thought to herself, I look like an athlete now.

Leaning in, she looked at her face. Unsure if she was ugly, pretty, or somewhere in-between, she gave up trying to assess this part of her.

She decided it was time for a bath before dinner. Donning a large fluffy robe, she made her way down the hall toward the bathing area, coming to a halt as she passed Subaru's room, noticing the door was cracked just a bit. She could detect movement from inside, so she drew close and looked through the small opening.

Subaru won't mind if I check in on him, she told herself.

But what greeted her eyes was more than she had expected.

A black-haired man stood before her, only wearing an undergarment. He was stretching, bending back and forth to work the knots out of his muscles.

And oh, what considerable muscles they were.

He was faced somewhat toward her, so she could see his chest, where strong pectoral muscles flexed as he moved. Pronounced abs could be seen below this.

Ohhhh woooooow! A strange feeling began to stir in her, beginning in her stomach.

Subaru turned, she could see his back now, incredibly well-toned and full of pronounced muscles.  His legs bore powerful muscles as well, rippling as he moved.  The feeling in her increased, as she could feel her heart rate starting to shoot up.

He's soooo seeexy! A term she had learned from Josephina sprang to her mind.

Lost in her thoughts about the display before her, she leaned forward a bit too far, and the door creaked slightly as she accidentally pushed on it.

“Huh?” Subaru turned toward the sound.

"Eep!" Trying to flee down the hallway, Emilia tripped on the bottom of her oversized robe and went down to the floor in a fluffy heap.

Opening the door, a still shirtless and pants-less Subaru emerged from the room.

Looking down at the pile of fluff before him, Subaru could spy silver hair within the mess.

"Emilia-tan?" He lifted the top of the robe, seeing her face peering out from within.

She was incredibly flushed.

"Baka Subaru! Put some clothes on!" She jumped to her feet and began to scurry away.

He looked down at his state of dress as she retreated, his face grew red and he bolted to his room. Closing the door, he wondered to himself.

Was Emilia-tan being a pervy-peeper just now!?

 

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Dinner that evening was an awkward affair, Reinhard noted, as Emilia and Subaru were both red-faced the entire time. No conversation was had as the couple timidly chewed on yet another meal of chicken breast, rice, and vegetables. Reinhard sat at the end of the table, as usual, while Emilia was to his left and Subaru was to his right.

“I expect that we will hear from the Margrave soon,” Reinhard attempted to break the silence, “what is your plan to bring him and his house's fighting power to our side?”

“I'm going to use my Authority at low power,” Subaru stated, “to try to convince him that being part of our faction would be to his advantage.”

“I see,” Reinhard leaned back, “I can't say that I condone the use of that questionable ability to manipulate a member of the nobility, but you are the candidate, not me. Also, speaking discreetly, I have never been much of a fan of Roswaal Mathers. I find him to be...offputting.”

“You can say that again,” Emilia joined the conversation, “normally I would be against it, but Roswaal deserves to be put in his place after what he did to us.”

“It was incredibly rash, to be sure,” Reinhard had been shocked when he learned that the Margrave had abandoned the duo to possible starvation or worse.

"One variable that I'm concerned with is the maids," Subaru was thinking out loud now, "the pink one, in particular, is completely loyal to Roswaal. She blasted me across a meeting room into a wall when I approached him to yell at him."

“They shouldn't pose much of a threat to us as we are now, Subaru,” Emilia smiled softly, “a lot has changed since we left the Mathers domain.”

“I'm just worried that if they figure out that I'm influencing Roswaal with my power that the two of them will go berserk,” Subaru continued, “the maids strike me as being hot-headed.”

“We can handle them,” Emilia was confident.

Subaru gave her a grin, “you've changed, Emilia-tan. You're a lot stronger and more confident now.”

“I have the two of you to thank for that,” her voice was quiet, “I owe the both of you so much.”

“You owe me nothing, Emilia-sama,” Reinhard was smiling now as well, “I have chosen to back you of my own volition, as I believe you and Subaru to be the best people to ascend to the throne.”

“You don't owe me either,” Subaru told her, “being by your side is the only thing I wanted from the start. I came to this country with nothing, no money, no knowledge, no prospects. You saved me in that alley the moment we met,” he took a deep breath, “to be honest way back then that was the moment I started falling in love with you.”

“Subaru...” Emilia wasn't sure what to say.

"I have a request, Reinhard," Subaru turned to the red-haired man, "we can handle Roswaal and his maids. I'd like you to start investigating the location of our targets. The Whale, the Great Rabbit, and the Black Serpent in particular. I'd prefer to target them first, as I believe their elimination will be more straightforward than hunting the Witch Cult. The Archbishops are a particularly big mystery, and I feel that we need more information before we attempt to tackle that problem."

“Are you sure you don't want me to accompany you to the Mathers domain? The Margrave can be a very dangerous man, after all.” Reinhard was hesitant to let them go alone.

“I think he learned his lesson after the last time,” Subaru said, “we'll bring his fighting power to our side, along with those who serve him.”

 

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The next afternoon, Subaru was at the training ground, preparing to do weighted squats as Reinhard looked on. Subaru had drawn up plans for a weight-lifting power rack, as well as barbells. Reinhard found the concept intriguing and had the devices made immediately.

Sliding several custom-made iron plates onto each side of the barbell, Subaru nodded with satisfaction.

“225 pounds should be a good starting point!” He mused, “I've already gotten warmed up so let's give it a go! It's been a while since I've done this!”

As Reinhard watched, Subaru stepped under the bar, and placing it on his shoulders, lifted it off of the rack. Keeping his back straight, he bent his legs and descended to a squatting position, then he began to straighten his legs and stood up with the weight, re-racking the bar.

“Too easy!” Subaru was pleasantly surprised, “we need more weight!”

He repeated the process several times over, stepping up the amount of weight each time. 315 pounds, 405 pounds, 495 pounds, then finally 585 pounds had been placed on the bar.

By this point, Emilia and Lynx had taken a break and wandered over to watch him.

“Subaru are you using mana to lift that weight?” Emilia was curious.

“Not so far, it's been all me to this point!” Subaru was excited that his strength had developed this much. He never would have dreamed that Reinhard's harsh training would have brought him this far.

Stepping under the bar, he once again descended with the weight. Reaching the low point of the maneuver, he began to stand with it.

Fuck this is heavy! His lift began to stall about halfway up, so he channeled a small amount of mana into his legs to complete the squat. Standing fully, he re-racked the weight once again and turned to Reinhard.

“Building up your body like this is essential,” Reinhard said, “it is the vessel through which your abilities will flow. A weak vessel cannot withstand much power, but a strong vessel such as yours can convey more power many times over.”

Satisfied, Subaru turned to Emilia, “so did I look cool, Emilia-tan?”

“You looked suuuuper cool!” She clasped her hands in front of her.

Unable to resist, Subaru approached her, and their lips met in a passionate kiss. He wrapped his arms around her back, and she laced her fingers into the hair on the back of his head.

Lynx was unsure how to behave in this situation, so she half turned and tried to direct her attention elsewhere as a blush formed on her face.

Reinhard was used to their shenanigans by now, so he simply waited for them to decide they'd had enough.

I hope I will not be waiting here all afternoon, the Sword Saint mused.

Gerard, the butler, could be seen making his way to where the group stood. He carried an envelope in his right hand. Giving it to Reinhard, he bowed.

“A message, sir. From Margrave Mathers,” the butler then turned and walked back in the direction of the mansion.

Opening the envelope's seal, Reinhard took out a letter and read it swiftly.

Emilia and Subaru, hearing what the butler had said, broke off their kiss and now waited expectantly for Reinhard to convey its contents. Their hands were still intertwined as they looked at the Sword Saint.

"To Royal Selection candidates Emilia and Natsuki Subaru, salutations," Reinhard read the letter out loud. "I would cordially like to invite you to the Mathers estate to discuss matters regarding the Royal Selection, and the subjugation of threats faced by the people of the Kingdom of Lugunica. We will be prepared for your arrival in two days' time of your receiving this letter. Signed, Roswaal Mathers. P.S. Congratulations on your engagement, may the Od Laguna favor your union."

“Very cordial, let's hope he can be trusted,” Emilia's eyes had narrowed slightly.

“About that, I have a suggestion regarding how to handle the Margrave, should he pledge assistance to our cause,” Reinhard had a confident look, “a contract should be levied with him, one of the soul-binding nature. To ensure he stays true to his word.”

“I'm not terribly excited about the concept of a soul-bind with that person,” Emilia said, “but if it keeps him on the up-and-up I see no other alternative.”

 

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Subaru was looking out the window of the dragon-drawn carriage as they sped toward the Mathers domain. The last time he made this trip, he'd been ensnared with trying to figure out why he had been brought to this world, and by whom.

But now he had a purpose, and that purpose sat next to him in the form of a beautiful half-elf, whose head now lay on his shoulder as she dozed. They would arrive at Roswaal's mansion in a little while, but he wanted to let her rest a little longer. Looking back out the window, he spied a massive tree retreating in the distance, a monolith in the middle of a wide plain.

Flugel's tree, Reinhard said we'd pass near it on the way here, the Sword Saint had begun his inquiry into the possible locations of the Great Mabeasts shortly before Subaru and Emilia left for Roswaal's mansion this morning. The two of them wore the same outfits they'd worn to the selection, as Subaru had grown accustomed to the knight's uniform. He had to admit that wearing it gave him a sense of confidence, one that perhaps he was no longer a nobody.

Bringing his sword in front of his face, he unsheathed it a few inches. His visage was reflected in the shiny black blade. He'd been trying to think of a proper name for it, but most of the ideas he had were chuuni as hell so he'd yet to name the amazing weapon.

I'll be forever grateful to Reinhard once all of this is over, he pondered. Not only did he gift me my sword, but he's also done so much for the two of us. We'd be dead and left to rot on a mountainside if not for him.

He turned to look at the face of his intended, a slight blush spreading across his cheeks.

Mom, Dad, I wish there was a way for me to let you know that I'm ok. That I'm doing great. I even have a beautiful and kind girl who I love, and she loves me back.

A single tear slid down his cheek as his thoughts strayed to his parents, and how ungrateful he had acted toward them. He'd truly been a waste of a son, wiling away his hours in his room as he retreated from the world outside.

But I've been given a second chance.

His conviction became strong at that moment. He was determined to become the type of person who could make a difference.  Someone his parents would be proud of.

As they entered the forest at the edge of the plain, he decided it was time to wake her up.

It won't be long, now.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Disembarking from the carriage, Subaru offered his lady a hand as she stepped down.

“Thank you, sir knight!” She smiled widely as she used his title.

Thanking Reinhard's carriage driver, they turned to find not two, but three maids in front of them. The blue one, the pink one, and...a tall blonde?

The three bowed, and simultaneously said, “Greetings Emilia-sama, Subaru-sama.”

Rem, the blue-haired one, stepped forward, “please allow us to convey your luggage to your guest room.”

"Room? Singular?" Subaru noticed this right away, "not to be a choosing beggar, but even though we are courting and engaged, I feel it might be improper for us to stay in the same room. As candidates, we have a certain image we must maintain. Right, Emilia-tan?"

He turned to look at her, but she was blushing and rubbing the tips of her index fingers together. Her eyes gazed down at her hands. “I don't mind if we stay in the same room, Subaru. We don't get to spend very much quality time together, after all.”

“Eh!?” Subaru was flustered.

What is this development!?

Rem looked back and forth between the two of them.

“One room will be fine,” Subaru squeaked out.

“Then please follow me, Frederica and my sister will take care of your things,” Rem turned and walked toward the mansion.

Frederica must be the blonde, thought Subaru.

As they followed her through the large building, Emilia and Subaru began to tense up slightly. This could go very smoothly, or it could go terribly wrong very quickly. They would simply have to wait and see how things played out. Subaru patted the hilt of his sword, which gave him some comfort.

Arriving at a familiar set of twin doors, Rem knocked, “Roswaal-sama, your guests have arrived.”

“Ooohhh I see, please bring them in!” A voice called from the other side.

Entering the room, the duo could see that nothing had changed, and once again a clown in a purple suit sat at a large desk.

“Please do have a seeeeeaat Emilia-sama and Subaru-samaaaaa.” A small smile graced the clown's face as they moved to once again sit in the two chairs in front of his desk.

Before they could say anything, the doors opened again as Ram entered, bearing a tea set. She sat it down on Roswaal's desk and began preparing tea for them. Subaru glimpsed at Rem and thought he caught her glaring at him, but the angry face dissipated as quickly as he saw it.

This is exactly the setting that I didn't want to find ourselves in, Subaru thought to himself, the twin maids and Roswaal, this room could turn into a powder keg.

“So what can I dooooo for you two?” Roswaal started the conversation, “it has beeeen quite a while since we last spoke.”

“You heard our speech at the Royal Selection,” Subaru began, “we intend to take on some powerful enemies. The reason we came to you is that we want to add your fighting strength to our own."

“And not just you,” Emilia picked up the conversation, “but also those who serve you. Your maids, for example, also have some fighting strength.”

“I refuse,” Rem suddenly entered the conversation, “Roswaal-sama, you should know that that one over there,” she pointed at Subaru, “smells of The Witch! I refuse to fight at the side of a FILTHY WITCH CULTIST.”

“Oh ho?” Roswaal looked from Rem to Subaru, “why would Subaru-sama smell of the witch?”

Standing, Subaru put out his hands, “hold on, there's a reasonable explanation for that.”

Emilia also stood, "that's right! After we left here, we were attacked by one of the Cult's Sin Archbishops, who was defeated by Reinhard. The Archbishop's power then went to Subaru, that would explain why you smell The Witch on him."

"That is a lie," Rem spat, "he had the smell upon him when he first arrived with you and my sister from the capital."

The rattle of chains could be heard as a large morning star flail appeared in Rem's hands.

Shit! This is deteriorating quickly! Subaru was starting to panic. It didn't make sense when she said that he had smelled of The Witch before Roswaal had expelled them. I didn't get the Lust Witch Factor until after Capella died!

Raising his hands, Subaru tried to placate the blue-haired girl. "You have to understand, I'm not involved with the Witch Cult in any way, other than them trying to kill us several times."

“More lies,” Rem prepared to throw her morning star at him, but as she started to toss it, Emilia intervened. Lightning quick, she appeared between Rem and Subaru, punching the blue-haired girl in the face. Rem was sent crashing against the far wall.

“Rem!” Ram moved to go after Emilia, but Subaru leaped in front of her.

“Payback is a bitch!” He gave her the same palm strike to the chest that she had once delivered upon him, sending her crashing through the window behind her.

Emilia had moved to where Rem had fallen and now held her dangling in the air by her neck with one hand. As Rem kicked and struggled in Emilia's grip, Ram reappeared in the window, having jumped back up to it from outside. Blood was running down her face, which had several cuts from the window's shattered glass. Quickly drawing his sword, Subaru spun around and leaped to Emilia's side, and with a sweeping motion brought his sword to Rem's forehead, where a pink glowing horn had appeared.

They're onis!  He thought, no wonder they're so quick to anger.

“Stand down!” Subaru bellowed, “or she loses her horn!”

Ram stopped in her tracks, fury evident in her eyes, “leave Rem alone! We've suffered enough at the hands of you Witch Cultists!”

“I told you I'm not a-”

<SQUELCH>

Something had struck Subaru from behind. He looked down, to see a bloody white-gloved hand protruding from his chest.

In his left ear, he heard the clown murmur, “nobody attacks my staff. Not even Selection Candidates.”

"SUBARU!!!" Emilia flung Rem in a backhanded motion, and the blue-haired girl crashed into her sister, both of them crumbling to the floor.

Roswaal delivered a front-kick to Subaru's back, sending him careening into the panicked Emilia. As he crashed into her, she deftly grabbed him, then gently lowered him to the ground.

Crying, she started a healing spell where Roswaal's hand had ruptured his chest.

“SUBARU!!! STAY WITH ME!!! DON'T LEAVE ME!!!”

Eyes half-lidded, and going into shock, Subaru looked up at her as she was calling to him. A purple-clad leg swiftly swung by, and empty space now occupied where Emilia's head had just been.

EMILIA!!! NO!!!

Having lost the ability to speak or move, much less cry out, a look of incredible pain came upon Subaru's face as the realization hit him.

His beloved had been murdered by that fucking clown.

And very soon, he would be dead as well.

Tearing up, regret washed over the fledgling knight as his life washed away.

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16- The Negotiator and the Spirit

 

 

“So what can I dooooo for you two?” Roswaal started the conversation, “it has beeeen quite a while since we last spoke.”

Subaru blinked. Then, looking around he took in his surroundings.

I died again, he thought, trying not to panic.

He looked at Emilia, whose gaze was pointed back at him.

“Subaru?” She seemed a bit worried about him.

“Ah, sorry, let's get to it,” he tried to recover the conversation.

Thank God she's ok, he tried to shove what had happened to her to the back of his mind.

Quickly calculating the state of things, he realized that nothing was as it seemed. Roswaal was currently a lot more unhinged than he had believed, and the same seemed to be the situation with the twin maids.

Why is Roswaal so deranged right now? It was a question he'd have to save for later.

Time to use my trump card.

『Handsome Husbando』- Level one- Activate!

He flipped the switch, sending the invisible power at the Margrave and his two maids.

Rem's hardened face softened somewhat, as she stole one or two small glances at Subaru.

One down.

Ram's indifferent look seemed to warm slightly.

Two down.

He looked to Roswaal, who now had a small smile on his face.

Maybe three. It doesn't work as well on men.

“First we should clear the air. I don't know if any of you can detect it or not,” Subaru made a gamble, “but the scent of the witch lingers upon me. It's something that I know about even though I can't smell it myself. I don't know why I have this scent, and it's caused me problems in the past when someone was able to detect it, so if it's something that any of you can detect, please accept my apology as there is nothing I can do about it.”

Emilia was looking at him with surprise, she hadn't known this about him.

A few seconds of silence passed before a feminine voice chimed in.

“It's true, Roswaal-sama, I can smell it on him,” Rem confirmed what Subaru had said, and this time her voice was much softer.

“I seeeee Subaru-sama. What an interesting peeeerson you are,” Roswaal seemed to hang on to his sanity for the moment, at least.

"It's because of an encounter with a SIn Archbishop," he crafted a clever way to reinforce his message without tipping off Rem, "the bearer of the Lust Witch Factor was killed while I was nearby, and her ability passed to me."

"You possess a Witch Factor..." Roswaal seemed fascinated with the prospect, "I am quite familiar with a former bearer of one of these Authorities.  In the right hands, the power they bequeath can be very useful."

"We wanted to have a meeting with you because we seek allies to fight powerful opponents. We intend to kill the Three Great Mabeasts as well as hunt down the Witch Cult."

Rem and Ram emitted very small gasps at this declaration.

"We hope that you, along with the combatants you employ, will ally with us. The plan is to stack up enough achievements to comfortably ensure our place at the top of the Royal Selection.  Our speech at the Palace impressed the nobles, Sage Council, and the knights. Now we need to win over the common people," Emilia finished this statement with an assertive nod.

“We would also like your assistance in gathering other capable fighters,” Subaru continued, “it's true that we have the Sword Saint on our side, but he can't be everywhere at once. On the off-chance that the Cult attacks en masse, we need the strength to counter such an attack.”

Leaning back in his chair, Roswaal seemed to fall into thought. His maids also watched him, interested in what he would say.

After an agonizing amount of time, the clown leaned back forward, “if I agree to this arrangement, what's in it for me?”

Time to ratchet up the trump card!

Mentally pointing a change in the Authority's hold on Roswaal, Subaru turned up the juice.

『Handsome Husbando』- Level two- Activate! Enthrall the clown!

“You would have the favor of a King and Queen, Roswaal,” Subaru smiled as he felt the power take hold of the Margrave.

A broad smile came across Roswaal's face, as he considered the implications of having two monarchs personally indebted to him.

"Also, a contract of mutual protection would be set in place, soul-binding, of course."

“Oooooohh HOOOooooo!” Roswaal seemed thrilled at the idea.

"You might not know this Roswaal, but both of us are a loooooot stronger than we were when we left here, so having our protection could be very beneficial," Emilia added, "Subaru is a very powerful spirit-knight now, and my magic and physical fighting abilities have expanded greatly."

If one didn't know any better, they would think Roswaal's eyes were about to roll back in his head.

I was wrong about these two! The clown was excited. They will make for wonderful allies!

Subaru's smile was slightly smug, he was about to drive the deal home.

『Handsome Husbando』- Level three- Activate! Subjugate the clown!

“Of course, there's one more thing, after we are crowned,” Subaru went for the kill, “your noble rank will be raised to that of Duke.”

“BOHAAAHHHH!!!” the clown fell out of his chair, in the throes of ecstasy.

“Roswaal-sama!” Both maids rushed to help him back to his chair.

Oops, turn it down a little now, Subaru decided. I don't want the maids to get suspicious.

『Handsome Husbando』- Level two- Activate! Calm down, clown!

Panting, Roswaal slammed a hand on the table, “I agree to your terms! Let us make the contract post-haste!”

“Actually,” Emilia began, “there is one more thing we would like to request.”

“Name it! Name it and you shall have it!” Roswaal jumped from his chair and leaned forward with his hands on the desk.

Emilia and Subaru looked at each other and smiled.

Emilia then turned to Roswaal and said a name.

“Beatrice.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Having forged the contract with Roswaal, Subaru had slowly turned down the effect of『Handsome Husbando』until he relinquished its hold on Roswaal and the maids, the latter of which he never hit with anything above level one. Roswaal had given them information on how to find Beatrice and the method to get her to form a contract.

The duo now wondered the mansion in search of her.

Subaru didn't know his way around this mansion but Emilia did, so she led the way as they opened door after door in search of the great spirit.

“So what's this spirit like? Is she anything like Puck was?” Subaru hated to dredge up painful memories, but he wanted to know what they were in for.

Emilia thought for a moment, “not really, she's a little more quirky than Puck was. And instead of a flying cat, she has the form of a little girl. Also, she doesn't require a pyroxene crystal to house her at night, as she stays manifested all hours of the day.”

“I see,” Subaru said.

Suddenly, his feet stopped, as he could feel a presence behind the door they just passed.

Emilia stopped and turned back to him, “Subaru?”

“This is it,” he could feel it, “she's in here.”

“It can't hurt to check,” she walked up to the door and turned the knob, opening it slowly, “let's take a look.”

“Whoa!” The door opened to reveal a huge library, with thousands upon thousands of books neatly filed away on huge shelves. Subaru was astounded, “this is amazing!

“The Forbidden Library,” Emilia's voice was barely above a whisper, “I've never seen it for myself.”

"Why are you back in this mansion, elf-girl?" A high-pitched voice caught their attention, "I thought Roswaal removed you from here, in fact."

“Beatrice,” a small smile came to Emilia, ”it's been too long.”

A little girl, who looked to be around ten years old, sat before them on a small stepladder. She had an elaborate red dress with white trim, sky-blue eyes with butterfly-shaped pupils, and a tiny crown sat on top of her head. 

But her most distinguishing feature was her elaborate blonde hair, which was fixed into a set of twin drills.

She held a large black book in her hands, which she closed and gently sat on the table next to her.

“You didn't tell me we were looking for a drill-loli!!!” Subaru was excited at this amazing find.

Beatrice turned to Subaru, “who is this prattling nincompoop who spouts words Betty has never heard before, in fact?”

“This is Natsuki Subaru,” Emilia, with a gentle voice, replied to the girl, “he's a spirit-knight who's going to be my husband one day.”

“That could be a bad idea, I suppose,” Beatrice admonished the half-elf, “he seems strange, in fact.  He smells of the witch as well, I suppose.”

“He is strange!” Emilia giggled, preparing herself internally for what had to be done next, "but I can't smell the witch stink on him so that doesn't bother me."

“Where is Bubby?” The girl was asking after someone, “tell him to come out and play.”

"He...won't be coming to visit anymore, unfortunately."

Hold it together, Emilia!  She told herself.

“What do you mean by that?” Beatrice made an angry face, “Bubby loves his big sister, I suppose!”

“Something bad happened, Beatrice...” Emilia's head hung down, and she knelt on one knee, “we were attacked by an assassin.”

Realization dawned on Subaru as he understood now who 'Bubby' was.

Oh no. They must have been close. Averting his eyes, Subaru considered leaving the library so the two girls could talk.

No. I need to be here for Emilia. This is a big deal for her.

“So Bubby defeated this assassin, I suppose?” The girl approached Emilia, then kneeled as well, wanting answers, “Emilia, where is he?” Beatrice had rarely used her name before.

“Hik-hik...he died Beatrice,” tears started streaming freely from Emilia's eyes, “he was taken from me by that assassin.”

A shattered look came upon Beatrice's face, as a full understanding of the situation came to her. Tears began to flow down the little girl's face as well, and she seemed to have lost the ability to hold herself up as she fell forward onto her hands.

"B-but Bubby was so strong! How is that possible!?"

“The assassin was strong, too,” Emilia's voice was just a whimper now, “but I got her, Beatrice, I destroyed her right then and there.”

“How did it happen?” Beatrice tilted her head up to look at Emilia.  She was beginning to shake as she fought to hold herself together.

“She threw a sword at him,” Emilia lamented, “it was a cursed blade that sapped his strength,” Emilia raised her head to meet Beatrice's gaze, “it didn't take long after that.”

“Bubby is truly gone then?” the little girl's eyes shimmered as she pleaded with Emilia.

“P-Puck is gone. It's true.”

Beatrice crawled to Emilia, and slowly put her arms around the half-elf, and began to wail. Soon Emilia returned the embrace joined her, as the two girls mourned the loss of Puck together.

Time to give them some privacy. Subaru walked to the other end of the library, so as not to disturb the grieving girls. A single tear rolled down his face as he sat down in a corner, head held low, wishing he could do more.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Head raising slowly, Subaru cleared the sleepiness from his mind.

I guess I fell asleep in the corner.

Standing up and brushing himself off, he made his way over to where the two girls had been. He found Emilia sitting and stroking a sleeping Beatrice's hair.

In a low voice, a red-eyed Emilia greeted him, “Hi.”

“Hey,” he kneeled in front of her, “she took it pretty hard, huh?”

“Yeah,” Emilia took a deep breath, “she cried herself to sleep.”

“I see,” he sat down next to her and pulled her head to his shoulder, “are you ok? That's the first time he came up since we left the forest. I don't think you ever got to properly grieve for him.”

“I feel better now,” she leaned into him, “but stay here for a while.”

In her lap, the head of the little spirit began to stir. Beatrice sat up, bleary-eyed, and took in her surroundings. Then her eyes opened all the way as what had transpired came to her mind.

“Betty fell asleep, I suppose,” she looked at the two young lovers in front of her, “you two are awful chummy, in fact.”

“Hello again, Beatrice,” Emilia gave her a small smile, “do you feel better now?”

“Betty feels a little better, I suppose,” she began to get to her feet, “but it still hurts Betty, in fact.”

"Me too, Beatrice," Emilia's eyes drifted downward, "me too."

“So now what will you do?” The Spirit asked the two in front of her.

“There's something I want you to do, Beatrice,” Emilia sat up, then kneeled in front of Beatrice, “I want you to ask me the question.”

Beatrice's eyes went wide, and for a few seconds, she was speechless. Then, she presented the question.

“Are you That Person, in fact?”

“Tell me who That Person is, and I can answer you,” Emilia's voice was gentle, soothing.

“A person who can free Betty from her 400 years in this library. A person who will love Betty, and treat her well.  A person who can make Betty number one in their heart, I suppose.” Beatrice took on a sad tone, as she replied with the requirements to contract with her.

"Then, I want to free you from this library," Emilia began, "and I promise to love you and treat you well," then Emilia turned to look at Subaru, "but I've already made this man number one in my heart. That's not something I can change."

Beatrice's visage became downcast.

“But,” Emilia continued, “I am a half-elf, meaning that I will live for a very long time, much longer than the 400 years you've been trapped here,” Beatrice looked up at her words, “and our children will also be long-lived,” Emilia took Subaru's hand with her right, ”and if we make a contract I would request that one of the rules be that our family line will take care of you and love you for the rest of your days. Beatrice, will you trade a few thousand years of happy memories in exchange for being my number two?”

Conflicted, Beatrice thought for a few moments. She paced back and forth over the space of a few feet. Then, she walked over to the table where she had placed the black book, and opened it, flipping through the pages.

"Still blank.  Still empty," she placed the book back on the table, "Betty wonders if Mother intended for her to be here forever, in fact."

Then, she turned back to Emilia and approached her.

"Mother told Betty to guard the library until 'That Person' appeared, then I was to contract with them and take up their cause."  Her face blank, the little girl regarded Emilia, "you fulfill two of the three requirements, in fact."

"I want to make you happy, Beatrice." Emilia slowly nodded, looking at the girl, "you deserve to be loved and taken care of, that much I know."

Beatrice stood unmoving, studying the silver-haired girl.  Then finally after what felt like an eternity, she spoke.

“You would compliment Betty when she does a good job, in fact? You would tell Betty that she is cute? You would feed Betty tasty sweets?” Her requests were simple.

“I will compliment you when you do a good job, I think you're wonderfully cute, and we will put a rider in the campaign budget to make sure that Beatrice has all the sweets that she wants.”

“Then Betty has made up her mind.”

Emilia listened to her intently.

“You are that person. Let us form a contract.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17- Sanctuary

 

Subaru lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

Next to him, Emilia was sleeping soundly with a small girl in her arms, a great-spirit that she had recently contracted with.

Beatrice.

This isn't the hentai protagonist moment that I imagined. He looked over at the two girls, secretly lamenting that he and his beloved weren't alone. But she's gained something wonderful, so I guess I can't complain.

He smiled, as a feeling of contentedness washed over him.

All of the songs about being in love, he'd once thought them to be cheesy. Love had been an abstract concept, one that had felt far-off and unattainable as he'd wiled away his hours playing visual novels and watching anime. Real-life girls were cruel and whispered to each other about him as he walked by. They spread rumors about him, regarding how strange he was and how he rarely left his home.

But at this moment he felt it. Strongly.

Love.

Rolling over on his side, he looked at the half-elf girl who lay next to him. She was illuminated by moonlight, which streamed in through a window next to the bed. Her silver hair took on an ethereal glow as she was bathed in lunar illumination.

His breath caught in his throat, and he found himself fighting back tears as he gazed at her.

What did I do to deserve a wonderful girl like this?

His mind puzzled over how he had gone from a shut-in otaku to a knight who was fighting for the crown of a country while being engaged to marry the most beautiful girl in the world.

Mom and Dad? Would you be happy to see how things have turned out?

Turning to look at the ceiling once more, his thoughts went to the events of the day.

I died again, but I came back. Just like the other times. Emilia died too, thanks to that shitty clown.

And Rem mentioned that I smelled like the witch when we first came here, before Roswaal exiled us.

Furrowing his brow, Subaru considered the nature of the strange way that he'd died several times in this world and returned to a starting point that was previous to when those deaths had occurred.

He'd returned.

After death.

I don't know where this awful ability came from, but I'm going to give it a name, just like my Authority of Lust.

He thought for a moment, considering the nature of the power.

I return to the past, via death.

Return by Death.

That's what I'll call it.

He thought about when he'd tried to tell Emilia why he knew that Capella was coming to kill them. He'd been stopped by a shadowy woman with phantom hands who'd grabbed his heart, it was an incredibly painful experience.

His eyelids grew heavy, as he thought of the things he'd seen since coming to this world.

We need to get stronger.

Sleep began to overtake him, and his thoughts drifted back to Emilia.

MMmmmmmm I love Emilia-tan...

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Early the next day, Subaru and Emilia once more found themselves in Roswaal's study. The great-spirit sat in Emilia's lap, as they regarded the Margrave, his two Oni-maids stood slightly behind him, on either side. Each of the girls' faces harbored a slight blush.

Subaru had activated his Authority of Lust at level one and directed it at Roswaal and the twins the moment they entered the room, as an insurance policy against any potential mishaps.

No reason to take a chance of things going south again, he had reasoned.

Roswaal leaned forward in his chair, his cheeks a rosy color, “Subaru-samaaaaaa, I have considered your and Emilia-sama's goal and a few possibilities have come to mind.”

“We're all ears,” Subaru sat back in his chair, eager to hear the ideas that the clown had.

He may be a creep, but he's a creep with a lot of resources and connections, Subaru thought.

“To the northwest of here is a section of my domain known as Sanctuary,” the clown began, “there youuuuuuuuu will find a village of demi-humans. Among them is a boy who possesses immense strength, and would be a worthy addition to your cause. He is the half-brother of my maid, Frederica, and his name is Garfiel.”

“Ok, what else can you tell us about him?” Subaru was interested in this potential new ally.

“He is very headstrong,” the pink-haired maid Ram answered for the Margrave, “and the only thing he respects is strength. The best way to bring him to your side is likely to challenge him to a duel, and defeat him.”

“Perfect. I'll fight him myself, then, and add his strength to our own,” Subaru was confident that one way or another, he could best this boy in a fight.

“There is more to consider, however,” once again Roswaal spoke up, “Sanctuary is protected by a magical barrier, ereeeeeected 400 years ago by the Witch of Greed, Echidna.”

Emilia and Subaru sat forward at the mention of a witch.

“The Witch of Greed?” Emilia was surprised, “I've never heard of any witches besides the Witch of Envy.”

“Echidna was my creator, in fact,” Beatrice spoke up from Emilia's lap, “she was Betty's mother, I suppose.”

Shocked, Emilia took in this new information.

The 'Mother' who told her to guard the library was this witch, Subaru realized.

“What was she like, Beatrice?” Emilia was curious.

“She possessed an intellect unmatched by any person Betty has ever encountered,” the spirit seemed to swell with pride at the opportunity to speak about her creator, “and she gave me many important tasks to perform, I suppose.”

"There were maaaaaaany other witches besides Satella," Roswaal evoked a terrifying name, "while much of the story has been lost to history, it is the truth that there were at leeeeeeast nine of them at one point, each representing one of the seven cardinal sins, in addition to two others. The Sin Archbishops you intend to hunt doooooown are the inheritors of the Witch Factors that these witches possessed."

Taking in this bombshell, Emilia and Subaru looked at each other, both thinking that things just became more complicated than they had originally thought.

Roswaal looked at Emilia, “the barrier of Sanctuary will not affect Subaru-samaaaa, as he is a full-blooded human. But once you enter Sanctuary, Emilia-sama, you will be trapped there, as the barrier does not allow half-bloods to escape.”

“Then I'll just go by myself,” Subaru interjected, “and bring this Garfiel guy back with me.”

“Absolutely not,” Emilia almost shouted, “if you're going to fight a strong guy like that, I'm not letting you go alone! What if you get hurt? Who's going to heal you?”

"On that matter," Roswaal replied, "I will be sending Rem with youuuuuuuu, should you decide to go to Sanctuary. She and Garfiel know each other, and having her at your side wiiiiiiill lend credence to any attempt to bring him to your cause. Rem also possesses heeeeeealing magic, should the need arise."

Rem stepped forward and bowed, “I look forward to working with you, Subaru-sama, Emilia-sama.”

"Huh," Subaru was a little leery at bringing Rem with him after what had happened in his last loop, but if it made things easier then it should be fine, "I guess that Rem and I can head there shortly and try to co-opt the strength of this Garfiel guy."

“Didn't you hear what I said, dummy?” Emilia's voice was high-pitched, “I'm not letting you do something dangerous like that without me!”

Sighing, Subaru once again leaned back in his chair, placing a hand at his eyebrow, “But Emilia-tan, you heard Roswaal, if you enter Sanctuary you'll be trapped there! It's pretty tough to run a Selection Campaign when you're stuck in a forest in the middle of nowhere!”

“There is a soluuuuution,” Roswaal offered, “as a half-blood Emilia-sama is qualified to take the Trials of Echidna.”

“What are those?” Emilia asked.

"A series of chaaaallenges which, once surpassed, will deaaaaactivate the barrier," Roswaal said, "the nature of these challenges are unkoooown even to me."

“I'm not afraid of a few little tests,” Emilia crossed her arms, “if Subaru is going, so am I!”

“That matter aside, I have some information to conveeeeeey,” Roswaal interjected, “Ram, Rem, Frederica, and myself will be joining you on your journey back to the capital.”

“Why?” Subaru became suspicious of the clown once again.

"Because I intend to hooold up my end of the cooontract," Roswaal stated, "we will be reloooocating to my mansion in the capital, while I will hire a few villagers to take care of this estate in our aaaabsence. If we are in the caaaapitol then we can move at a moooment's notice to support you with our strength."

"Fine, that will work nicely with our intended goal," Subaru thought it did make sense.

“Then it's settled,” Rem stepped forward once again, “we should prepare to leave for Sanctuary within the hour.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Once again, Emilia and Subaru found themselves in a carriage, sitting next to each other with their hands intertwined. But this time three things were different; a little blonde spirit sat in Emilia's lap eying the pair, a blue-haired maid drove the carriage, and this particular carriage belonged to Roswaal, not Reinhard. They'd sent Reinhard's driver back to the Astrea Estate with the news that they had succeeded in negotiations with Roswaal, and that they were headed to Sanctuary with the goal of bringing back another powerful combatant.

Rem turned to address the passengers, “we're nearing the barrier, it won't be much further now!”

“Ok!” Subaru replied.

They'd been warned that Emilia will likely lose consciousness once they reached the barrier, and wake up around half an hour later. Subaru squeezed her hand.

"You sure you want to do this?" He asked, "last chance."

“I'm not letting you out of my sight if something dangerous is going on,” she was determined.

“Fair enough,” he turned to Beatrice, “Beako let's lay her down in preparation to cross the barrier."

“Indeed, that is-...what did you call me?” The girl looked at him after she hopped down from Emilia's lap, brows furrowed.

“It's an affectionate nickname I thought up just for you! It means I like you!” He gave her his best winning smile, along with a thumbs up.

“Betty has a name and you should use it, in fact!” The girl pointed a finger at him, “it was given by Mother, I suppose! Contractor! Chide this nasty man for calling Betty foul names!”

Laying her head down on Subaru's lap, Emilia smiled at the girl, “I think it's pretty cute, to be honest, just like you, Beako.”

Beatrice wore a look of horror for the span of about a second, "Contractor, you and I will be having a long conversation about this later. Hmph!" She turned and sat on the opposite seat, "but Betty is indeed cute, in fact."

“Subaru, I think we're crossing it,” Emilia got heavier in his lap as she started losing consciousness.

“Sshhhh,” he gently stroked her hair, “I'll be here when you wake up.”

Emilia closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep.

The carriage continued for a while. After some time had passed, looking out the window Subaru could see that they were approaching a small village.

It really is tiny, he thought.

Rem brought them to a stop in front of one of the homes that dotted the small hovel. Coming around to open the door, she poked her head in.

“Is she still unconscious?” Rem asked.

“Yeah, I'll wait here with her until she wakes up,” Subaru replied.

Rem nodded, “I will go get the town elder, she will want to know what's going on.”

Subaru nodded, then Rem disappeared and shut the door.

After a couple of minutes, Emilia began to stir, then her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at Subaru.

“Good morning, gorgeous,” he smiled down at her.

“Good morning, handsome,” she returned his smile.

“Stay there as long as you want, I'm enjoying the view,” he was still stroking her hair.

“You two flirt too much, I suppose,” Beatrice said, “I do not understand the mating habits of humans and elves, in fact.”

"Beako, for a couple of young healthy lovers like us it's natural to act like this," as Subaru said this Emilia nodded from his lap enthusiastically as if he'd just uttered the wisest words in the world.

“I told you not to call Betty that slander word!” She pointed at him again, “is Betty going to be forced to teach you a lesson, in fact?”

“You're adorable, Beatrice, but please don't hurt my fiance'.” Emilia still had a small smile on her face.

“Betty is unfamiliar with this word, 'feeyonsay,' but her contractor needs to put a leash on this scary-eyed man before Betty is forced to take matters into her own hands, I suppose!” A pouty frown adorned the little spirit's face.

“It's a word from Subaru's homeland, it means someone who has agreed to marry you,” Emilia replied.

I'll stop teasing you for now,” Subaru was grinning, “but don't think you'll escape my affection forever!”

“Betty does not need the affection of a blasphemer who has a deranged way of mispronouncing her beautiful name, in fact!”

“Quite a lively group ya brought this time, Rem,” the coach dwellers turned to see a small pink-haired girl in a black robe had popped in through the door, and Rem once again stuck her head through the opening.

"Ryuzu!?" Beatrice jumped to her feet and ran to the girl that had just entered.

Hands clasped together, with a hopeful look, Beatrice waited for an answer from her.

“Ryuzu is my name, but I'm afraid I don't know ya, young lady?” the girl, Ryuzu, replied.

“It's me, Beatrice! You helped me and Mother here in Sanctuary over 400 years ago!” Beatrice looked like she was on the verge of tears.

A surprised look came upon Ryuzu, followed by one of understanding, “I'm not the original Ryuzu Meyers, I'm afraid, I'm one of a group of her clones, created by the Witch of Greed to steward Sanctuary.”

As her hopes were dashed, Beatrice became downcast. Emilia moved behind her and gently wrapped her arms around the little spirit.

“I don't know who you were hoping for, but I'm sorry this isn't her. Your contractor is here for you, for whatever you need.”

Beatrice nodded, “It would seem that Betty chose well when she decided to contract with you, in fact,” her voice was low and shaky, but she was able to compose herself.

Ryuzu looked at Subaru, “would ya be the leader of this group?”

Subaru pointed at Emilia, “me and her, together.”

“Why don't we all head inside and have a nice chat with some tea? It'll be a bit before Garf gets back ta town.”

 

***********************************************************************************

"Is everybody but me several hundred years old?" Subaru was off-put, everyone around him was some kind of granny, "Ryuzu, check. Beatrice, check. Emilia-tan, check," Emilia gave him a pouty look at this assessment. Subaru turned and looked at Rem with questioning eyes.

"While it's true that the Oni race lives much longer than humans," Rem answered his silent question, "I am merely 18 years old."

The maid was serving tea to everyone, who were all seated around a rustic wooden table.

The cabin they were in was simple but serviceable, with a tidy bed in the corner, an old stove near a window, and modest cabinetry.

“Did Rem fill you in on why we came to Sanctuary, Ryuzu?” Subaru started the conversation.

"She only told me ya wanted ta find Garf," but then she looked at Emilia, specifically her ears, "but I wonder if there might be more ta yer trip than just that. Emilia was it? Ya wouldn't happen ta be a half-elf like me, would ya?"

"You're a half-elf!?" Emilia was almost shouting again, "I've never met another of my kind before!"

"Neither have I, other than tha other clones," Ryuzu shook her head, "I'm told half-elves have a hard time in the outside, and since ya have silver hair I imagine it's been even worse for ya."

“Yeah...it can be pretty tough sometimes...” Emilia trailed off.

Subaru put a hand on her shoulder, and Beatrice turned around to regard her contractor.

She hadn't known that this girl had faced such prejudices.

“Now that Betty is your contracted spirit, you have nothing to worry about,” the little girl firmly stated, “she will punish anyone who slanders you, I suppose.”

“Between you and Subaru,” Emilia's mood lifted, “I feel like maybe that's something I won't have to worry about as much anymore.”

“I'll sing your praises to anyone that wants to badmouth you, Emilia-tan,” Subaru comforted her, “and if that doesn't work I'll beat them senseless.”

“Ok ok I get it,” Emilia was beaming, “you two will beat up anybody that's mean to me.”

“Ryuzu, there's a very important reason we came here,” Subaru figured it was time to get down to business, “we would like to ask Garfiel for his help, specifically we want to add his strength to our own.”

“Oh? What kinda nasty beasties might ya be fightin' that ya want somebody as strong as Garf ta help?” Ryuzu asked Subaru.

“Specifically, the three Great Mabeasts and the Witch Cult,” Subaru put it bluntly.

“Ya don't mince words, do ya? I suppose I can respect that. I can't say what Garf would say ta that, he's always been fascinated with stories about knights and big battles and that sort of stuff,” seeming to recall old memories, Ryuzu's gaze became far-off.

The door to the home they were in was roughly opened, and everyone turned to see who had entered.

It was a young-looking man with wild blonde hair, a black vest, and torn black pants. He wore no shoes.

“Yo, Granny did I just hear ya talkin' about me?” As the youth spoke, sharp fangs could be seen in his mouth. He noticed the blue-haired girl, “Rem? Hey if you're here did Ram come with ya?”

"Sister has remained at the mansion, but if our goals here are met you may see her soon, Garfiel." Rem gave him a small bow.

“Yo, who're these three weirdos?” He pointed at Subaru, Emilia, and Beatrice.

“Betty is not a weirdo, in fact!” Beatrice shot a glare at Garfiel, “She is a respectable spirit, I suppose!”

Subaru stood and walked over to Garfiel, giving a bow as Julius had taught him, he then met Garfiel's distrustful gaze.

"Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Natsuki Subaru, I am a Spirit Knight who serves in the order of Royal Knights of the Kingdom of Lugunica," straightening, he then offered Garfiel his hand, "word of your strength has reached our ears, and we have come to request your assistance in matters of battle."

"Ehhhhh," eyebrow twitching, Garfiel looked at the offered hand, "fuck it," he grabbed it tightly and shook.

Subaru nodded at him, “It's no stretch to say that the fate of the kingdom will be determined by the battles that lay ahead.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“So yer tellin' me, ya wanna fight the Witch Cult?” Garfiel looked incredulously at Subaru from across the table.

"Yes," Subaru replied.

"AND the fuckin' White Whale?" Garfiel's voice rose higher.

"Yes," Subaru replied.

“AND the Great Rabbit?” Higher it rose.

"Yes," Subaru replied.

“AND the goddamn Black Serpent!?” Garfiel's voice almost reached falsetto.

"Yes," Subaru replied.

“.......” Garfiel had gone silent, mouth hanging slightly open, staring at Subaru.

After several seconds, “Uhh...” Subaru wanted to break the uncomfortable silence.

"Granny, oi, this guy's got fuckin' BALLS," turning to Ryuzu, Garfiel offered his assessment.

Emilia blushed as she heard this, and stifled a giggle.

Rem sighed as she stood at the end of the table.

“Vulgar, in fact,” Beatrice interjected, “nasty, I suppose.”

“I suppose you're right young Gar,” Ryuzu agreed with his assessment, “he must be very brave.”

At hearing this, Emilia felt she should speak up, “He is! My Subaru is sooooo brave and handsome!”

“YOUR Subaru, eh?” Garfiel grinned, “you two some kinda' item?”

“Something like that,” Subaru grinned back, “she's MY Emilia-tan.”

“Tan? What kinda' cutesy shit is that?” Garfiel raised an eyebrow.

“It's my super-doki nickname,” Subaru nodded sagely and crossed his arms while he closed his eyes, “for the girl of my dreams.”

“Subaru!” Emilia was getting flustered, “you shouldn't talk like that with so many people around!”

Beatrice added, “Revolting, in fact.”

“Garfiel,” Subaru tried to steer the conversation back on course, “there's another thing you should know.”

“Eh?” Garfiel was curious, “wazzat?”

“Emilia and I are joint candidates in the Royal Selection, and if we pull off the elimination of these threats...” Subaru paused for effect, “we'll almost surely become the King and Queen of Lugunica.”

“Fuckin' shit! Y'all are way up the Gaibou tree and shakin' the nuts!” Garfiel was astounded.

“Uhh...I'm not sure what that means, but that sounds like you liked what you heard,” Subaru slowly nodded, “but I would like to make you an offer, Garfiel.”

“Eh? What kinda offer?” He really had Garf's attention now.

“If you lend us your strength, and we make out it alive through all of this and win the Selection,” a confident grin came to Subaru, “We'll make you a Royal Knight, and a Royal Guard as well. In fact, I'll knight you myself.”

“You gotta take the Willard Bird if you want the shiny bauble!” Garfiel jumped up in excitement.

What fucking language is this guy speaking? Subaru didn't understand a word that came out of his mouth that time.

“Ahem, indeed,” Subaru nodded, “so what's your decision, Garfiel? We can give you a while to think about it, but time is of the essence.”

"Well, see now, there's a hitch," Garfiel made a fist and frowned, "as long as that Witch's barrier stands Granny here can't leave Sanctuary, and I'm not about ta run off and leave her alone."

“Garf...” Ryuzu's voice was soft.

“About that, we came prepared, as it would happen,” Subaru had a confident look, “Emilia is qualified to take the trials, and we intend to have her free Sanctuary.”

“Ya'd do that?” Garfiel looked to Emilia, voice serious “they ain't no walk in the woods, ya know.”

“I knew when we came here that it would be a requirement if I ever wanted to leave,” Emilia nodded, “so there's not much choice.”

"The plan would be, if you'd be amenable, for you and Ryuzu to come to live with us, at the Astrea Estate in the capital," these are considerations Subaru had to arrange, "we can build training facilities on-site to suit your needs."

“Astrea? You live with the fuckin' SWORD SAINT!?” He'd managed to surprise Garfiel once again.

"We do," Subaru had a shit-eating grin, "he's the one who trained Emilia and me."

“Bloody hell, then there's one last thing ta consider,” Garfiel's voice lowered.

“What is it?” Subaru asked.

A clawed finger swiftly pointed at Subaru, “you and me, we gotta have ourselves a tussle.”

Subaru sighed, I thought that our conversation went well enough we might be able to skip that part.

“What are your wishes in that regard?” Subaru asked.

God, I'm starting to sound like Julius.

“Tha rules are we gotta go all out, no lolly gaggin' bullshit. A proper fight 'till one o' us can't go no more. But try not to kill. Them's tha rules,” Garfiel nodded, “I wanna see if the guy I'd be followin' is strong enough ta back up his aspirations. Plus, I've always wanted ta fight a Royal Knight.”

“Garfiel, you should know, Subaru's not a typical knight,” Emilia warned the beast-man, “he's one of the strongest knights there is.  He was trained by Reinhard, after all.”

A huge grin came across Garfiel's face, “good,” then he turned to look at Subaru again, “that's exactly what I wanted ta hear.”

 

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A crowd had gathered at the wooded meadow where Garfiel had brought the present Emilia/Subaru Camp members. It seemed the whole village had heard that Garfiel was fighting a knight in a 'friendly' duel. Garfiel had gone back to get something he said he needed.

"You're gonna find out why they call me "Tha Shield of Sanctuary," he'd laughed.

Subaru was doing radio calisthenics to get his body prepared for the exertion of a good old knock-down-drag-out fight. As he did this, he noticed some of the villagers had begun copying him, especially the children.

I better focus on the fight, gotta stop getting distracted, he thought.

Looking down to the sword hanging at his hip, which housed his spirits, he beckoned to them.

Ladies, are you there?

<We are here.> They voiced in unison.

This fight is going to be the toughest one we've had yet.

One by one, he commanded that they appear.

Igni? Fire.

<Yes.>

Venti? Wind.

<Yes.>

Terra? Earth.

<Yes.>

Aqua? Water.

<Yes.>

Luxi? Light.

<Yes.>

Teni? Dark.

<Yes.>

The six quasi-spirits floated in front of his face, dancing happily.

I'll be keeping my sword sheathed, as the intent here isn't to kill our opponent but to have him join our cause. The usual principles should apply to our attack and defense, though. So we'll fight like we trained, understood?

<Yes.> Once again in Unison.

Thank you, ladies, you are my strength in battle. I couldn't do this without you.

<Thank you for being a wonderful contractor, and for helping us grow.> Again, they replied in unison.

Subaru tied a leather strap to his sword's handle and cross-guard, then looped the strap through a ring on its black scabbard twice, and bound it with a knot. He wanted to ensure that he didn't accidentally unsheathe his sword with a swing. It would do no good to kill the guy he was trying to recruit.

Garfiel appeared, swiftly leaping from the bottom of the small slope that the meadow rested upon, and landing near Subaru. He now wore two slim shields, one on the back of either arm. They had handles for him to grip them, and two leather straps each to attach them to his forearms. He banged them together, making a horrendously loud clanging noise.

“Well, mister knight? Ya ready ta do this?” His smile was contagious.

"One second, I have to talk to Emilia real quick," Subaru turned and strode over to the half-elf.

“Subaru, I love watching you fight, but be careful,” she put a hand on the side of his face, “and make sure he doesn't beat your face up too much, I like your face.”

“I like your face, too, Emilia-tan! Reinhard said my defense is really good, so I'm sure it'll be fine,” after saying this, Subaru pulled her close for a passionate kiss.

“WOO-WOO!” many of the gathered villagers cheered on the kissing couple.

Stepping back from Emilia, Subaru gave her a wink and mouthed the words, “Love you.”

The smile she gave him made the whole trip worth it.

Subaru approached Garfiel, “I'm ready now.”

Garfiel nodded, “OI! ALL Y'ALL BETTER BACK UP!! THIS COULD GET WILD!!” The villagers, as well as Rem, Beatrice, Ryuzu, and Emilia put some space between them and the two warriors.

Exasperated, Garfiel yelled again, “I SAID FUKKIN' BACK UP!”

Some of the villagers broke out in a run, but finally, Garfiel was satisfied with the distance between themselves and the onlookers.

"Alright," Subaru regarded Garfiel, "on your mark." He held his sword in the Japanese drawing stance.

Might as well start big.

Pushing mana into his entire body, he called to Terra to strengthen his blade and its sheathe. A green aura began to emanate from the sword.

Garfiel noticed this, "heh," was his only reply, grinning.

Neither fighter moved, as Garfiel had assumed a similar stance. Left foot back, right foot forward.

Then, it started.

Simultaneously they darted forward, Subaru sliced upward with the sheathed sword, Venti increased its speed with the power of wind, while Luxi, Teni, and Igni added magic power to the blow. Garfiel brought his left shield down to meet it.

<BTOOOM>

An explosion of air pressure rocked the meadow. Many of the villagers screamed.

Emilia shielded her eyes, the shockwave carried dust as it blew past them, she'd never seen anything like this before.

“Amazing...” she muttered to herself.

Beatrice's hair drills were whipping around, smacking her in the face, “these two idiots and their fight are annoying Betty, in fact!”

As their weapons bounced apart, the duelists immediately began their next attack. Garfiel's left arm bounced backward, adding momentum to his right arm, which swung at Subaru's head. Subaru surged his mana and Venti accelerated the sword downward, the other spirits added magic power to the swing as it slammed into the top of Garfiel's right-handed shield, knocking it downward loudly.

Another shockwave shook the area.

Subaru let go of the sword with his left hand swiftly moving it toward Garfiel's face while he chanted an attack, “Fula!”

Fuck he's fast! Garfiel thought.

Garfiel flung his torso backward to avoid the wind spell, landing in a bridge pose as he caught himself from hitting the ground with his arms.

He's open! This was Subaru's chance.

Gripping the sword with both hands, he accelerated it downward with mana and wind, adding power with spirit magic, intending to land a debilitating blow on Garfiel's midsection. Before it could land, Garfiel pushed hard with his legs, rocketing backward horizontally. He twisted in the air as he flew, feet coming underneath him as he landed, skidding to a stop some 20 feet away. He looked up to find Subaru rocketing after him, sword raised over his head.

Tenacious bastard!

Raising both shields, Garfiel accepted the blow, which threatened to break his defense.

"Gk!" Managing to withstand it, Garfiel gritted his teeth.

Rem was astounded, as they stood watching an incredible fight unfold before them.

“I was under the impression that Subaru-sama was a normal human?” She looked at Emilia.

Emilia's eyes refused to leave Subaru as she answered, “he was, once. But then the Sword Saint found us and trained him,” she had a blushing smile as she watched him, “he's incredible, isn't he?”

Rem turned back to the spectacle, “he is. He really is.”

This man, who had been nothing special six months ago, now had Garfiel on his heels.

After Garfiel received his overhead blow, Subaru could tell he had struggled under it. He dropped to a crouch as he had with Millwood and used the sweeping kick again, accelerating and sharpening it with wind and mana. Garfiel swiftly moved his front foot out of the way, but was thrown off-balance, pitched forward.

Deciding to increase his speed, Subaru spiked the mana in his legs as he spun to the right while lunging upward, swinging toward the side of Garfiel's head while he was off-balance.

The blow connected, and Garfiel's surprised face squished up in slow-motion to Subaru's accelerated perception. Careening away from Subaru, he bounced off of the ground as the force of the blow sent him slamming into a tree at the edge of the clearing.

Mah fukkin' head's fuzzy as shit! Garfiel knew this was bad for his chances of winning. A battered brain is bad in a fight.

Strength, speed, incredible perception, and instincts. I could fight for this guy. Hell, if he hadn't sealed his sword in that sheathe I'd be missing the top half of my head right now.

But I wanna see this through to the end, the rules are that one of us has gotta drop, and I ain't done yet.

Subaru approached Garfiel, stopping when he was ten yards away. Garfiel slowly stood, legs shaking.

“Are you done yet?” Subaru knew what the answer would be.

He's got incredible natural talent. Subaru admired his opponent. He knew raw ability when he saw it.

Strength, speed, lightning-quick perception, and instincts. It was worth coming here to find him. Most people would have almost died from the blow I just gave him, but he's still standing.

Garfiel straightened, trying to recover despite his concussed state.

“Nah, Cap'n,” he smiled a fangy smile, ”rules are one of us has ta be beat completely, right?”

“Cap'n?” Subaru was confused, maybe it was a common pet word like 'Bro' or 'Bud', “well, suit yourself. Let's finish this.”

Assuming a fighting stance, Subaru once again plunged mana through his body, this time at the razor's edge of what he could push without experiencing poison-like drawbacks. It had taken a lot of vomit-fueled training days and healing sessions from Emilia for him to find the peg on the meter, so-to-speak. But he knew that a cornered and wounded opponent was dangerous, so he was cautious. A blue aura began to emanate from him, as he prepared to attack.

Garfiel could sense a rise in Subaru's power, so he decided that he would try to be just a little bit tricky. It wasn't his style, normally, but this was not an opponent he could fight normally. Besides, his head was still a jumble after that sledgehammer blow he'd taken.

“Here I come, Garfiel!” Subaru lept forward at superhuman speed, closing the gap in a fraction of a second.

Simultaneously, Garfiel evoked his divine blessing of Earth-spirits and crumbled the ground beneath Subaru, hoping to mire his feet in unstable soil. But it was too late. Subaru's feet merely skimmed over the ground as he closed the gap, no longer needing solid contact for purchase.

Subaru raised his sword with his right hand, feinting a downward swing. As Garfiel raised his shields overhead to meet the sword, Subaru swung a haymaker left hand, bullseyed on Garf's nose. Garfiel had been expecting a sword swing, and the swift punch caught him defenseless. He took the blow full-force, as his nose crunched under the impact.

As he flew through the air, consciousness fading, his thoughts were joyful.

This guy's a fuckin' badass. I can't wait to see what else he can do.

Hitting the ground and skidding to a stop, Garfiel lay motionless.

Subaru walked over to check on him, as the girls came running over with the villagers not far behind them.

“Emilia, Rem, Beatrice,” Subaru turned toward them, “do you ladies mind using some healing magic on him? I can contribute as well. Beatrice, could you concentrate on his face? I think I broke his nose.”

“Barbaric, in fact,” Beatrice was not impressed, “but Betty will help him, I suppose.”

Subaru had his water-spirit, Aqua, to channel healing magic like Felix had taught him.

And so the four cast their respective heals on the beast-man, who quickly regained consciousness, and sat up with help from Ryuzu.

"Feels like I got hit by a fuckin' Galarean Buffalo," Garfiel was recovering quickly, "my Divine Blessing's kickin' in, so I should be tippy-top pretty soon."

Emilia was curious, “what does your blessing do?”

"When I have contact with the ground it heals me," Garfiel replied, "and I can manipulate soil to a degree. Make slabs of the earth rise up, shit like that."

“Ooohh that sounds handy,” Emilia was nodding in approval.

Subaru offered Garfiel a hand, “you fought well.”

Taking the offered hand, Garfiel stood up and looked over at the meadow where they'd traded blows, noting several craters that had been created. Letting out a low whistle, he turned to Subaru.

“I'm a man of my word, and ya beat me fair and square,” he nodded, “I'll help ya fight the nasty cultists and beasties.”

Nodding in approval, Subaru replied, “I can't wait to see what you can do once Reinhard gets ahold of you.”

“Whatcha mean, Cap'n?” Garfiel sounded a little excited.

“He's a strict teacher,” Subaru pointed at Garfiel, “but he'll pull every shred of your potential out of you.”

“Garfiel,” Subaru whirled, pointing up in the air, striking a pose, “you're going to be trained by the Sword Saint!”

"Oi," Garfiel's eyes sparkled, "fuckin' cool..."

 

 

Author's note: The next chapter will contain the trials, but I don't intend to write them as Emilia experiences them because let's face it, they'd be exactly the same as they are in the novels and the show. At that point, I might as well copy and paste it from a translation and I ain't doing that. Most of the next chapter will focus on the rest of the gang waiting for her to complete them, then move on from there.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 18- The Witch of Greed

 

“So this is the tomb of Echidna, the Witch of greed...” Subaru gazed at an ancient structure, built of stone. There were elaborate carvings on an arched entryway, which led into the dark interior tunnel.

“Yep,” Garfiel replied, “that's where the trials are,” he gestured at Emilia, “Princess here has ta go in that tunnel to a room in there, and the Witch's magic'll do the rest.”

“Princess?” Emilia inquired, “I might be a candidate to become a Queen, but I'm not a princess, Garfiel.”

“It's a nickname, Emilia-tan,” Subaru replied to the half-elf, “like the one I gave you. And how he calls me Cap'n.”

The Emilia/Subaru camp members all stood in front of the tomb, as well as Ryuzu. Leering at the foreboding structure, Rem offered her assessment.

“It certainly looks like something a witch would build,” a shiver ran through her, “this architecture is unlike any I have ever seen.”

"Princess," Garfiel turned to Emilia, "like I said earlier, this ain't gonna be easy on ya. Tha trial drags up yer worst experience of yer past," he pointed at the x-shaped scar on his face, "I got this when trying ta take tha trial drove me nutty and I went ta smackin' my face on that wall right there," saying this, he pointed at the side of the archway.

Becoming concerned, Subaru turned to Emilia, “you sure about this, Emilia-tan? Maybe we can find another way for you to leave Sanctuary.”

Steeling her resolve, Emilia shook her head, “I have to be strong. Even if it's something sad or scary, it's my job to face it. My memories are all back now, so I have a pretty good idea of what it will consist of.”

Beatrice offered a bit of encouragement, “if it's Betty's contractor, Mother's trials should be no issue. You will do well, Betty is sure of it, in fact.”

Stepping toward the archway entrance, Emilia paused. Coming up behind her, Subaru wrapped his arms around her.

“I'll be right here,” he soothed her, whispering in her ear as he sensed her nervousness, “you're going to be ok, because I will never, ever let anything happen to you, got it?”

“Ok,” she relaxed, his presence immediately made her feel better and she put her brave face back on, “it's not that far into the tomb, and with how fast you are you can be there in a second. Here we go.”

Releasing her, he watched as Emilia walked the dark hallway that led into the interior of the tomb, eventually disappearing into the darkness. A sound was heard, and even here in the light of the afternoon, one could see that the tomb had begun to glow.

 

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About an hour had passed, and Subaru sat at the entrance upon the stone floor, waiting for Emilia to return. As the tomb continued to glow, he could hear the others chatting behind him, most of them sitting upon the stone stairs. Garfiel was telling Rem a story about her sister, something about a boxing match, and laughing loudly. Rem seemed to be enjoying the story and Ryuzu smiled at the memories. Beatrice was poking her fingers at the nearby plants, making 'hmm' noises. The sun was now low on the horizon as everything was taking on an orange hue.

Suddenly, the tomb went silent, and the glow receded. Scrambling to his feet, Subaru strained his senses for any sign of Emilia. Peering into the darkness, he couldn't see anything. Then he thought he heard something. It was quiet. He strained his ears as much as he could. What was going on inside the tomb?

Sobbing.

“EMILIA!!!” Gathering mana in his body, he shot forward.

“DON'T GO IN THERE!!!” Garfiel whirled and yelled after him, “If you're not qualified to take the trials!!! The tomb will attack you!!!”

Subaru couldn't hear any of it as there was a roaring in his ears at the thought of Emilia being hurt. He quickly arrived at an area where the tunnel opened up into a small room. To his right, he found Emilia sitting on the floor, a sobbing mess.

"Emilia! I'm here!" He knelt in front of her, putting his arms around her.

But then he started to feel very strange. His sight began to shimmer in front of him, and dizziness overtook him. Then, he heard a voice.

<Someone interesting has arrived. Very well, I invite you, to a Witch's tea-party.>

As he spun to look around, a vast green field appeared before him. Gentle rolling hills, bright sun, and a gentle breeze touched his senses. Then, he saw her.

A beautiful white-haired woman was sitting at a small table, under a parasol.

She was smiling at him.

Simultaneously, back in the tomb, Subaru's body went limp, as he collapsed on the floor where Emilia was on her knees.

“SUBARU!!!” Her own plight forgotten, she searched him for injury, finding none.

“Is he in the trial!? What's going on!?” A frantic half-elf desperately wanted to know what had happened to her lover, who had just come to her rescue.

 

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Hesitantly, Subaru climbed the gentle slope at the top of which the white-haired woman sat. As he approached, she beckoned him to have a seat.

“Who are you?” Subaru remained standing near the table.

“Echidna, the Witch of Greed,” placing her chin in her hands, elbows resting on the table, she replied with a gentle voice.

“But you're supposed to be dead. Long dead,” he replied as he raised an eyebrow.

“What you see before you is a manifestation of my soul, within my dream castle. This is not a true reality, but a magical construct which I created that I might continue to garner knowledge after my demise,” still wearing a gentle smile, she sat up straight in her chair.

“I was expecting that the Witch of Greed would be someone...scarier,” Subaru was anxious, but the woman seemed harmless.

“Well when most people stand before me they do things like vomit, or sometimes die,” she intoned, “you must be special. Have a seat, before your tea gets cold. You must have many questions.”

“You'd be right about that,” cautiously moving to sit in the provided chair, Subaru kept his eyes locked on the witch, “ how did I get here?”

“When you entered the tomb to rescue your wailing girlfriend, I whisked your consciousness away here to my dream castle,” she answered, “worry not, your body is safe in the arms of that half-elf. She watches over you, somewhat aware of where your mind is.”

“Why me? I'm not a half-breed so I can't even take the trials.”

“Because I find you fascinating,” her smile widened, “do you know how long it's been since a human harbored not one, but two Witch Factors?”

“Two Witch factors? I'm afraid you're mistaken, I only possess the Authority of Lust,” Subaru refuted her claim.

“Oh no, young man,” she seemed giddy now, “it's plain as day to me, you also carry within you the authority of Envy.”

“Envy!” He cried out, at the mention of the Witch of Envy's power, “lady I don't know where you got that idea but I sure as hell never killed Satella.”

“Killing the bearer is not a requirement of gaining an Authority,” she had a dreamlike look in her black eyes, “tell me, did you suddenly find yourself one day in an unknown land surrounded by strange people who you'd never seen before?”

“Grk!” Subaru couldn't hide his shock.

“My Greed Witch Factor grants me great knowledge, which is something that I desire above all other things,” she motioned at his teacup, “it's going to get cold if you don't drink it.”

“Fine,” grabbing the cup, Subaru chugged down the tea in one go, and plopped the cup back down on the table, “anyway, how do you know that I'm not from this world?

That tasted weird, he thought.

“My Authority allows me to learn many of the things I desire knowledge of. I sensed your entry into this world and have witnessed your travels and adventures as an observer," giggling, she added, "your Authority of Lust is quite interesting, to be sure,” then she slowly leaned forward, “but your authority of Envy...now that one is truly powerful.”

A shudder went down Subaru's spine at the tone she had used to describe this so-called Envy Authority, "if you believe I have the Authority of Envy, then what is its ability?"

“Think on it for a moment, and I believe the answer will come to you.”

Think on it? Well, authorities are supposed to come with strange abilities. My Lust Authority can force positive emotions for me on a person, and more. What other strange ability do I have that-

Gasping, he looked up at Echidna.

“You have realized it,” rising, she crossed over to stand next to where he sat, “THAT...is the Authority of Envy, shared with you by the Witch of Envy herself.”

Return by Death...

Shocked, he voiced a question, “why would the Witch of Envy give me her power? I've never even met her.”

"You have," Echidna replied, "did you not once try to tell the elf-girl how you knew that the Archbishop of Lust was almost upon you?"

Subaru thought back to that moment in the snow and remembered.

He remembered a shadowy woman, who had reached out with impossible shadow hands and threatened to crush his heart.

“Hik!” Terror threatened to overtake him, “THAT...thing was Satella!?”

“It was probably the Witch, not Satella,” Echidna mused, “Satella, as much as I despise her, is actually quite kind. The Witch, however, is thoroughly mad.”

“Aren't they the same person?”

"Two different personalities, fighting for control of a single body," Echidna told him as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Shit. This is way more complicated than I thought. Tell me Echidna, was it Satella or Envy who brought me to this world?”

“I cannot say, my gaze did not fall upon you until I felt you being brought here. By the time I synchronized my Authority to you, any trace of who had summoned you was gone.”

“Damn. Ok then, what can you tell me about Roswaal?” She had returned to her chair, and shifted forward when he said this, “will he stay loyal or will he break his contract with Emilia?”

“He will remain loyal, despite the fact that your actions fall outside of the book of knowledge I gave him.”

Subaru was puzzled, “Book of Knowledge that you gave him? Haven't you been dead for 400 years?”

“There are ways to live for a very, very long time in this world,” she replied.

“What does this book do?” He wanted to know it must have something to do with the way Roswaal acted when they returned from the capital.

"It predicts the future, as long as certain guidelines are followed," Echidna began "but you broke the prophecy when the elf's sigil was lost to the assassin. It would seem that fate had other plans. Roswaal would have been highly distraught at this turn of events, but I have seen that his book has changed since you last left him, what was once written is not so anymore. A new prophecy has replaced it. One that puts him back at your side, because if he follows you and the half-elf, he can achieve his dearest wish."

“And what's that?” What could the clown be up to?”

“To resurrect me, of course.  He was my prized student in magic.”

Mouth hanging open, Subaru didn't know what to say, she seemed nice enough. She was quite helpful as well. But would it be a good idea to resurrect the Witch of Greed?

“I leave it to you whether to allow this plan of his to come to fruition,” she followed, “either way, my curiosity will be satisfied regarding your decision. However, it would be much easier to continue gaining new knowledge were I to live again.”

I guess that's something I'll have to think about, Subaru decided.

"My resurrection is inevitable whether you help Roswaal or not.  In fact, I expect that it will occur very soon."

Ok, now she's talking in circles.  I should get back to Emilia.

“Echidna, thanks for answering so many questions,” he stood from his chair, facing the witch, “I shouldn't make Emilia worry any longer. It's time for me to go back.”

"Indeed, but before you do leave, there's one other thing I would like to discuss with you," the witch smiled at him, "I would like you to consider forming a contract with me."

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Outside the tomb, Garfiel was frantic.

"Calm down, Garf," Rem tried to soothe him, "he's probably in there talking to Emilia."

“I can sense my contractor, and she is in no danger, I suppose,” Beatrice offered, "but she is awfully worried about that nasty-eyed man, in fact.”

“You see, that's bullshit, Rem!” He paced back and forth, “Cap'n is a pureblood, the tomb woulda attacked him for not bein' qualified! He might be layin' in there bleedin' out right now!” Turning to face the entrance, he made a decision, “I'm gonna go get 'im out!”

Ryuzu grabbed the hem of his shirt, “Young Gar, no! You remember what happened last time!”

Looking back at her, he reasoned, “I reckon I got about a 50-50 shot on whether you can only take the trial once, I'm hopin' that's the case. But I can't stand here while my new Cap'n might be layin' in there dyin'.”

He walked into the tunnel, peering into the darkness but seeing nothing.

"Aaagh fuck I gotta go further," he continued walking for several seconds, struggling to see the man and the half-elf girl.

“Shit shit shit shit.”

He was nearing the chamber, where the trial overtakes your consciousness. “No stoppin' now, gotta see this through.”

Peering around the corner where the chamber opened up, he saw Emilia on her knees, with an unconscious Subaru on her lap.

“Cap'n!” He rushed to their side, trying to see if his Cap'n was hurt.

"He's okay," Emilia looked up at him, "I think he might be in the trial."

"Hmm. Looks like you're right," Garfiel stood up, only to find himself getting dizzy, his vision wavering, "ah shit it's taking me too! Goddammit, I didn't wanna see this shit again!"

As he fell first to his knees, then forward, Garfiel thought ahead to what he was about to see.

Mom. Don't abandon us.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Subaru was deep in thought, “what would this contract entail, exactly?”

“All of my considerable knowledge would be at your disposal, “ she began, “your problems would become our problems, and I would offer you comfort should you need it with either my companionship or my body.”

"Ah, hold up on that last part," Subaru put both hands in front of him, "you might totally look to be my type and I think you're mega-cute and all, but Emilia is the only girl for me. So that won't be necessary."

"Have it your way," she seemed a little wounded, "but the offer remains on the table. Regarding the tribulations you will face in the future, I believe my knowledge could be a great boon in helping you succeed."

“What's the catch?” He knew there had to be more to it, “what's in it for you?”

“Access to your experiences,” she didn't miss a beat, “I will be able to see what you face, how you feel, and how you react. I find you terribly interesting, so an arrangement of this nature will do wonders to satisfy my greed.”

“It does sound like a win-win situation...” Subaru was willing to give it a go, “so how do we form the contract?”

“We join hands, and I will connect our souls, forming the agreement,” she offered him her right hand.

"Ok, but I want to throw in a stipulation," he decided to be cautious because there was still a lot he didn't know about this woman, "if I deem this agreement harmful to myself, or my friends, I can dissolve the contract."

A slight frown entered her face for the first time, and she closed her eyes and sighed, “very well. Let us join hands, then,” she opened her eyes and stepped forward.

At that moment, a contract was formed between the Witch of Greed and Natsuki Subaru.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Emilia had gently laid Subaru down, so she could see to Garfiel. Dragging the beast-man to the wall so she could put him in a sitting position, she arranged him in a comfortable pose and went back to Subaru, putting his head back in her lap.

After she waited for what seemed like close to an hour, Subaru's eyes popped open very suddenly. He looked up to find her face looking down at him, and both of them smiled.

"Good morning, handsome," she brushed away a lock of hair that had fallen onto his face.

“Good morning, gorgeous,” he reached up and brushed her cheek.

“So, did you take the trial, too?” She wondered what it had been like if he did.

"I was invited to a Witch's Tea party," he explained, "I met Echidna and she answered a lot of questions for me."

Emilia gasped, “you met that mean woman? Was she awful to you as well?”

"Huh? No, she was really nice," he shook his head, "why was she mean to you?"

“Yeah! She called me all kinds of nasty names,” Emilia had quickly learned to ignore her insults though, “but I managed to pass the trial.”

“Good job Emilia-tan! Now we're one step closer to heading back to the capital!” Subaru sat up reluctantly, but he wanted to tell Emilia about their new ally. Then, he noticed Garfiel laying propped up on the wall.

“What's he doing here?” Subaru poked a thumb at him.

"He came in to save you like you came in to save me," Emilia looked a bit sheepish, "I think he's in the first trial right now."

“Hmm, then we should stay here until he wakes up,” Subaru decided, then he turned back to Emilia.

“Listen, I got us another ally while I was in there,” he was beaming.

“Oh? Who?” Emilia tilted her head.

“Echidna! I formed a contract with her, she's going to use her vast knowledge to help us when we're in tricky situations,” Subaru puffed out his chest, proud of finding another powerful ally.

“You formed a contract with Echidna!?” Emilia's tone was not one of happiness.

“Yeah it's a pretty good deal, I get access to her knowledge and she gets to experience our adventures, I think she's pretty bored in that dream castle thing,” he used a cautious tone, not wanting to further rile the girl.

“This can't be a good idea, Subaru,” slowly shaking her head, “that woman is not a very good person.”

"It'll be fine," he replied, "we just have to make sure that Roswaal doesn't know because he might go bonkers if he did. Her words, not mine."

As he said this, both of them heard rustling and looked to see Garfiel awakening.

They went to him, checking him over.

“Garf!” Subaru put a hand on his shoulder, “you alright, man? I didn't mean to make you have to come in here again.”

“'s okay, Cap'n,” finally fully awake, he turned to look at Subaru with a sad smile, “turns out all these years I was wrong about my mom. She didn't abandon us like I thought she did.”

“My trial was about my mother, too,” Emilia placed a hand on his other shoulder, “if you'd like to talk about it, it might be good for both of us.”

“Maybe another time, Princess, I still gotta get my head sorted out after all that. Cap'n, you wuz knocked plum out, did you take the trial, too?”

“I had a tea party with Echidna.”

"Ha! I'm glad ta see my Cap'n has a sense of humor. But really, what did ya see?" Garfiel leaned toward Subaru expectantly.

“A table, two chairs, some cups, some snacks, and Echidna,” Subaru replied.

“Wuh,” now Garfiel's face was dumbfounded, “are ya pullin' my leg, man?”

“No, he's not,” Emilia sounded irritated, “this dunderhead even made a contract with her.”

“Ya fuckin' wot, Cap'n!?”

“Yeah, I've brought the Witch of Greed to our side,” once again Subaru seemed proud, “she's going to support us with her knowledge.”

“Well this can't be fuckin' good,” Garfiel put a palm to his face, chiding his new boss.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As the three of them exited the tomb, Ryuzu, Beatrice, and Rem ran to meet them. It was full-on night outside now. Emilia explained that she had passed the first trial, and had two more to go. Garfiel also explained to Ryuzu what he had learned about his mother, and how wrong he'd always been about her. For her part, Ryuzu seemed genuinely thrilled for Garfiel. Subaru explained that he had met the witch, but left out the part about the contract.

Beatrice seemed to sense something though, as she had an interesting look on her face as she stared at Subaru. For the moment, she said nothing about it.

Emilia had decided to keep going with the trials, and so she returned to the tomb to complete the second one. Half an hour later she came out again, this time there were no tears to be seen at all. After a high-five from Subaru, which Beatrice also wanted to try, which then Garfiel also wanted to try, Emilia returned to complete the final trial.

This time she was in the tomb for a little over an hour, but once again she emerged after the glow had subsided for a while.

“The trials are complete, but there's something all of you need to see," beckoning for everyone to follow her, she walked back into the tomb for one final time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19- Back to Roswaal Mansion

 

As the group followed Emilia into the depths of the tomb, Subaru asked her what she had found, to which she replied, “I'm not sure, but I think it's Echidna's body. Maybe.”

“You can't tell? Is she mummified or something?”

"No, it's just, well, you'll see."

As they entered the chamber where the trials had taken place, Subaru noted that the door at the far end of the chamber had opened. Following Emilia through it, they came upon a strange sight. There was a large crystal...coffin? Sarcophagus? It was transparent, and within was a familiar-looking white-haired woman wearing a black funeral dress.

But something was different. This woman looked very similar to Echidna, but slightly different and possibly a little older. It was as if he were looking at Echidna's older sister if you compared her to the one he had spoken with in the dream castle.

“She looks...different?” Subaru noted.

“Yeah, I thought so too,” Emilia nodded.

“Betty is unsure of what her contractor and the nasty man mean,” Beatrice caressed the smooth surface of the crystal coffin lovingly, “this is Betty's mother, in fact,” the little spirit placed her forehead on the crystal, a tear trickled down her face as memories of her mother began to surface.

“Let's give her a moment alone,” Emilia gestured for the rest of the group to head back outside. Before leaving the tomb, Emilia patted Beatrice on the shoulder a couple of times, then whispered to her, “just call if you need me,” before turning to exit.

Beatrice simply nodded.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Outside the tomb, the group waited for the Great Spirit to return. Subaru mulled over his newly forged contract with Echidna, then suddenly remembered something. Reaching into the right pocket of his uniform, he felt around for something she had said would be there. His fingers latched onto it, and he pulled it out and looked at what was in his hand.

A silver necklace, with a black crystal.

Putting it on, he then pinched the crystal between his thumb and forefinger, gazing at the dark gem.

See? I told you it would be there.”

Echidna's voice rang out in his mind as if she was right next to his ear speaking to him. Nodding to confirm that their connection seemed to be working, he allowed the crystal to rest in its place against his chest.

“Subaru? What's that necklace?” Emilia had turned to regard him as she sat next to him on the steps, she tilted her head, “I've never seen you wear anything like that before.”

“This is how I communicate with Echidna,” he pointed to the gemstone, “it allows her to see what we're experiencing, and I can speak to her and vice-versa with it.”

Cheeks puffing out, Emilia pouted, “I think this is a bad idea! That lady is not bringing good intentions to whatever contract you made with her!”

“She just wants to add to her knowledge, she's greedy for it and she's been stuck in that dream castle thing for 400 years,” he tried to calm her down.

“But she was such a... such a...b-b-bitch!”

“Naughty language doesn't suit your cute mouth, Emilia-tan.”

Tell that loose woman that I'll show her a bitch when I get the chance.”

Shut up, Echidna! Not now!”

It's a good thing there's some distance between us and the others, he thought, I'd rather just me, Garf, and Emilia know about the contract for now.

“What!? Is she talking to you right now?” Emilia spat, “what did she say!?”

“Don't worry about it, she was just taking issue with you calling her that b-word,” he tried to defuse the rapidly escalating situation.

“I'll call her a lot more than that! Hey Echidna! You smell like ground dragon poop, and your dress looks like something a grandma would wear!”

Tell that slut that if her skirt were any shorter, she would have two more cheeks to powder!”

Fuuuuuuuck,” Subaru was starting to regret the contract he had made.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

After Beatrice had emerged from the tomb, the group made their way back to the village and arranged lodging for the night. Subaru caught Beatrice sneaking glances at him, and the black crystal he now wore around his neck. It was getting very late, though, so any explanations would have to wait for tomorrow.

Emilia, Rem, and Beatrice were staying in a spare cabin that Ryuzu had arranged for them. Subaru wound up in the small church in the middle of the village, laying on the floor with a couple of blankets and a pillow.

This isn't so bad, he thought.

Echidna had gone quiet after he told her and Emilia that under no circumstances was he going to facilitate an argument between them and that they would just have to put up with the situation.

It didn't take long for him to drift off to sleep, as the roller-coaster events of the day had left him worn out.

The next morning, they had completed their preparations to travel back to Roswaal's mansion. As Garfiel was getting ready to depart Sanctuary for the first time, he'd summoned a small army of Ryuzu clones in white robes, and left instructions to them for the care of Sanctuary.

“Well, I guess Ryuzu did say she was a clone. I had no idea there'd be so many though!” Subaru was surprised by the dozen or so half-elves.

The clone in black, who stood before Garfiel now, spoke to him, “I had ta give it a lotta thought, Young Garf, but I don't think I'm ready ta leave Sanctuary just yet. We gotta make sure the clones can properly do their jobs without you here ta boss 'em around.”

“Are ya sure, Granny? I mean, they did just fine for a long time before I ever even came ta Sanctuary,” Garfiel lamented that Ryuzu would not be leaving with him.

"Maybe, later on, we can meet back up, but for now ya go out there and help Young Su beat those nasty beasties and that Witch-Cult," she nodded in approval at him, "you've gotten so strong, and these people are too. I'm sure you'll do great."

"Alright then, Granny, I hope ta see ya soon then." Garfiel hugged the tiny pink-haired girl, then jumped on top of the carriage, and moved to sit next to Rem.

“So, tell me what Ram's been up to these days,” he didn't waste time.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Far at the back edge of Sanctuary, a young-looking girl emerged from a cave wearing makeshift rags. Pink hair flowed from her head. Making her way into the forest, she sought knowledge.

“I knew the loose woman would get through the trials quickly. It appears Roswaal will miss his chance at resurrecting me.”

Disappearing into the woods, Echidna walked the world once again.

Around her neck, she wore a necklace with a black crystal.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

 

As they rode in comfortable silence, Subaru once again noticed Beatrice stealing glances at him and his necklace. Deciding to finally bring the little spirit into the loop, he turned to where she sat in Emilia's lap.

“Beatrice, I have something I want to tell you,” he caught her attention, “it's about Echidna.”

“Betty knew something was going on, in fact,” she regarded Subaru, “your witch-scent has shifted slightly, I suppose. It somewhat reminds me of mother now.”

“I hadn't realized that you could smell it too, Beatrice,” Emilia was surprised.

“My contractor's 'feeonsay' smells like burnt hair and diapers, in fact.” The girl was ruthless.

Wanting to steer the conversation back to Echidna, Subaru spoke up. "Let's forget about that. Regarding Echidna, instead of a long explanation," Subaru removed the necklace with the black crystal, and handed it to Beatrice, "I'll just have you talk to her."

“Talk to her?” Beatrice seemed puzzled for a second, then her face went dumbfounded, “Mother!?”

Echidna spoke to her through the crystal, just as she had with Subaru.

“Mother! Beatrice has been a bad daughter! I contracted with Emilia even though she can't make me her number one!” Tears began welling up in her eyes as Echidna silently spoke to her through the crystal.

“You're not angry?” she asked.

“I did well!?” Once again a look of surprise was on her face.

She looked at Subaru, Echidna must have been talking to her about him.

“I understand. Betty will do as Mother has asked.”

“...yes.”

“...yes.”

“Very well. I look forward to speaking with Mother again soon,” Beatrice handed the crystal back to Subaru, who put the necklace back around his neck.

“Mother has requested that I make a special exception for that man,” she pointed at Subaru, “and protect him alongside my contractor. Betty has agreed.”

Steam was shooting out of Emilia's ears, or rather, it would be, were that possible right now.

“Subaru!” She whirled on him, “why is that woman asking my spirit to look after you !?”

Subaru was shrinking against the wall of the carriage, “You don't want Beako to protect me?”

“I want her to protect you because I asked her to! Me!!! ” She pointed a finger at herself to emphasize the point.

“It's the results that matter, right?” Subaru gazed to the side, unable to meet her glare.

“NOT IN THIS CASE!” Emilia began climbing out of the carriage, and soon Garfiel vaulted into it, with a scared look on his face.

“Oi, Cap'n. I think Princess is a wee bit peeved,” he sat down next to Subaru as Beatrice took a seat opposite to them, “she kicked me outta my spot, said somethin' about choppin' yer tallywacker.”

“Shit,” Subaru hadn't bargained for this, “I'll have to talk to Echidna about not doing things that might upset Emilia.”

They rode in silence for a few seconds.

“This sucks.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Arriving at the mansion at mid-day, they were met out front by Roswaal, Ram, and Frederica. Emilia stomped into the mansion without a word, slamming the front door shut behind her.

Garfiel slowly approached Frederica, as they eyed each other up and down.

“Sis? 'zat you?”

“Garf, it's been too long,” she smiled, seeing that her little brother seemed healthy as could be.

“Oi.....yer fuckin' huge!” His assessment was blunt, as always.

Frederica's smile flipped upside down, and she placed her hands on her hips, “perhaps it's not me that's huge, but you that's a runt! Runt runt runt!!!”

“'Ey now! Don' be like that!” He waved his hands in front of him.

“Hmph!” Frederica whirled, and stomped into the mansion without a word, slamming the front door shut behind her.

Roswaal watched all of this unfold, amused with the antics of the two women.

“Beatrice-sama, I truuuuust your trip was pleasurable?”

“Don't talk to me, clown-man! Your fetishes creep Betty out, in fact!” Beatrice stomped into the mansion without a word, slamming the door shut behind her.

“Roswaal-sama, you might need a new door soon,” Ram addressed her master, “Ram and her sister will get the luggage.”

“Indeeed, Ram. This abuse of my property is mooooost disconcerting,” Roswaal turned to Garfiel and Subaru, “welcome, Garfiel, you've grown a great deal since we last spoke. I trust that since you are here that Subaru has brought you over to our cause?”

“That's right,” Garfiel made a fist, “I'm super excited ta fight side-by-side with Cap'n. He thrashed me good in Sanctuary.”

“Is that sooooo?” The clown regarded Subaru, “Subaru-sama, you seem to be a man who is fuuuuull of surprises.”

“Nothing special,” Subaru replied, “it's all thanks to Reinhard's training.”

“Indeed,” smiling one of his creepy smiles, he approached Subaru, “I'm very much looking forward to seeing what you can do,” with a low voice he spoke, then looked down at the black crystal that hung from his neck, “a most interesting individual, to be sure.”

Then Roswaal turned, “Garfiel, consider this your home until we depart for the capital in the morning.” Turning, he went to the mansion, stopping briefly to examine his recently abused door.

Most disconceeeeerting, indeeeed ," he could be heard in the distance, then he disappeared into the mansion.

“That guy's a fuckin' weirdo, man.” Another blunt observation from Garfiel.

“Dude, you don't even know the half of it,” Subaru replied.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Emilia hadn't made an appearance at dinner time, worrying Subaru. Soon after, he made his way to their room but stopped at the door. On it was a sign that said, "NO DUNDERHEADS."

He rapped on the door, “Emilia! Are you in there?” He tried to open it, but it was locked, “Emilia! Come on! Open the door!”

She yelled from inside the room, “are you still wearing that crappy necklace???”

He looked down at Echidna's jewel, “yeah...”

“Then you're not coming in here! You and your new girlfriend can go sleep in the garden tonight!”

Wincing at the barb, he replied, “she's NOT my girlfriend! She's agreed to help us if we find a problem we can't solve!”

“Then have her help you find a place to sleep because you're not bringing that THING in here!”

Defeated, Subaru turned to walk down the hallway. Head hung low, he looked at the floor as he walked. As he passed one of the doors in the hall, he sensed Beatrice was inside.

She must have gone back to the library.

He opened the door, stepping into the huge repository. Beatrice was in her usual spot, looking at him.

“Betty did not call for you, in fact,” she didn't sound quite as annoyed with him as usual, “why are you here, Mother's Contractor?”

“I was wondering if you would help me out, Beako,” he wasn't sure what to do, “Echidna and Emilia hate each other, but I don't want to throw away Echidna's offer for help just because they can't get along. I was wondering if you could talk to Emilia about that.”

“It is inconvenient for Betty that her Mother and her Contractor are at odds, I suppose,” Beatrice hopped down from her small ladder, setting a book down as she does, “but you will have to speak with Mother and convince her of the same. Betty loves her Mother, in fact, but Betty holds little sway over changing her mind once it's made up.”

“I see. Do you mind if I stay here for a bit while I talk to Echidna, then? That will ensure that nobody bothers us.”

“Betty is not opposed to that.”

“By the way, the door to our room is locked and Emilia won't open it,” he told her.

"Then Betty will use her door-crossing, in fact," the spirit walked up to the exit of the library and opened the door.

“Beatrice!?” Emilia's voice could be heard from the next room.

Closing the door behind her, Beatrice disappeared.

Now then, time for a talk.

Turning away from the door, and g rasping the jewel in his right hand, Subaru called to her, “Echidna! We need to speak!”

A moment passed.

What can the Witch of Greed do for you, dear contractor?”

I need you to get along with Emilia. The way things are right now isn't going to work. Full-stop.”

“I see no reason to be friendly toward that girl.”

“Here's a reason. If you don't agree to be nice to her I'll end our contract right now.”

“...I see.”

"Don't get me wrong, your help is important, and I'd like to have you onboard, but everything falls apart if Emilia and mine's relationship is compromised. It's the number-one most important thing. Also, you can't order Beatrice around anymore. She's contracted to Emilia now, so you'll have to live with it."

What do you see in that girl? Being near her has brought you nothing but pain and death.”

Subaru scowled, “She's brought me a hell of a lot more than that, Echidna.”

“She's brought me the warmth of a sincere smile. She showed me what it's like to have a person who I would both live and die for. She unfroze my heart that had hidden from the world for a long time. I learned that a laugh can sound like a silver bell. I realized that the scent of the person you love can bring many different emotions all at once. I found out what it's like to ache for the presence of someone else, to feel like part of you is missing when they aren't there. For the first time, I decided that someday I'd like to have children. And just today, I learned that if you love someone truly and deeply, and you hurt them, that hurt comes back on you even stronger, making you hate yourself for what you've done.”

“Subaru...”

Whirling, Subaru looked back toward the door that Beatrice had exited through.

Emilia was standing there, with her hands over her mouth, tears streaming.

“Echidna,” he spoke once more, “get your shit together or this contract is done.” Taking off the necklace, he dropped it on the table next to Beatrice's ladder. He strode up to Emilia, grabbing her hands.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I did. Sometimes I can be a real dumbass so I might need you to keep me in check now and then."

She nodded, starting to smile.

“I put Echidna in her place. If she gets out of line the contract is over.”

Once again, Emilia nodded, seemingly satisfied.

“Uh, how much of that did you hear?”

“Starting at the part about the warmth of a sincere smile,” she replied, her eyes laughing and happy.

“Wow, um. So...”

“Did you mean it? What you said when you were chewing her out?”

He gave her a sheepish smile.

“Yeah. My life is a thousand times better than it was before you came along.”

Wrapping her in an embrace, he whispered in her ear.

“Thank you. You've made me truly happy for the first time in my life.”

“I feel the same way,” she squeezed him back, “I've always been so lonely, but when you came along everything changed.”

She leaned back to look at his eyes.

“Thank you, Natsuki Subaru.”

She put her forehead on his chest.

Her voice whispered.

“Thank you so much.”

They stayed this way for a while, entwined in a loving embrace.

On the other side of the door to their room, stood a twin-drilled girl.

The girl had a smug smile on her face.

Someone finally chewed mother out, I suppose.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Subaru decided to banish Echidna's crystal to the library until morning.

Maybe that'll give her a taste of what Beatrice had to deal with, he thought.

 

The next morning, the mansion was a flurry of activity, as its inhabitants all prepared for the journey to the capital. Two carriages were laden with all manner of luggage. A few villagers listened intently to Rem as she instructed them on matters of watching over Roswaal's estate while they were gone. As everyone met out front to depart, travel arrangements were made.

Subaru, Emilia, Beatrice, and Garfiel, would ride in one carriage with Rem driving. Roswaal and Ram would ride in the other with Frederica driving. As they departed, they headed for the Lifaus plain, home to the Great Flugel Tree.

As they were still traveling through the forest, Subaru took Echidna's necklace out of his pocket.

“Emilia-tan, I'm going to put this back on, but only if you say it's ok.” He turned to look at her.

“It's ok,” she nodded, “if you say that she's agreed to be nice then that's enough for now.”

Putting it on, he grasped the gem once again.

“Echidna.”

“...Yes.”

Do you agree to what we talked about?”

Yes.”

No hesitation, he thought, good.

“Then we can continue this little experiment, for now. No more trash-talking Emilia. I mean it.”

As you wish. I will tolerate the girl.”

“Ok, I'll call for you if we need your wisdom. That's all for now.”

Letting go of the pendant, he turned to Emilia and gave her a thumbs-up.

“Ok then, I'm glad to see that things seem to have worked out,” relief was visible on her face.

"Cap'n," Garfiel asked for his attention, "I'm gonna hop over to the other carriage. I haven't seen my sis in forever."

“You should probably apologize, too,” Subaru said, “women don't take well to being called huge, as a general rule.”

“Yeah, I learned from tha best about that, apologizin', that is,” he nodded at Subaru and crawled out the window. A loud thump could be heard as he launched himself off of the roof of their carriage toward the one behind him.

Subaru could hear Frederica yelp as he landed next to her.

When they entered the plain, it was still late morning. They should be able to reach the capital early in the afternoon.

As the two carriages began to near the Flugal Tree, they entered a heavy fog.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20- Hakugei

 

Rem had slowed down the carriage, careful to navigate the thick fog the travelers had encountered without incident.

“This will delay our arrival, but it shouldn't cause any major issues as long as we are cautious,” the maid had told them through the window at the front of the coach.

Subaru turned to Emilia, who had Beatrice in her lap. He put an arm around her shoulder, and leaned toward her, enjoying the feeling of closeness. As he did this, Beatrice hopped out of her lap and went to a side-window, opening its sliding glass. Sticking her arm out into the foggy air, Beatrice had a concerned look on her face.

“Something is amiss,” the spirit spoke ominously, “there are traces of mana in this fog, in fact.”

Simultaneously, Roswaal was staring out the window of the other carriage, as Ram worked to prepare his mid-morning tea.

“This fog is noooooot a natural occurrence,” he mentioned to the Oni girl as she handed him a teacup, “I believe we may be in for a bit of troooooouble.”

“We will deal with any threats swiftly,” Ram was unmoved, “the amount of martial strength in these two carriages is significant.”

Setting the teacup down, Roswaal pulled a black book out of a hidden pocket in his cape. Flipping through the pages, he came to the newest entry.

As he read the newly-formed writing on its pages, a manic smile suddenly appeared on his face.

“Ram, tell the others to prepare for battle,” the clown quivered with excitement, “and make haste.”

Swiftly, Ram put away the traveling tea-set she had been using and climbed out to the roof of the carriage. Making her way up to the driver's seat, she interrupted the two laughing siblings who sat there.

“Something is coming,” the two blondes turned to listen, “we need to make ready for battle.”

Turning to look at each other, the siblings nodded, faces becoming serious.

“I'll go and let the Cap'n know. Sis,” he put a hand on her shoulder, “whatever's goin' on, be careful.” He then crouched, and with a leap flew forward toward the other carriage.

Sighing at the interrupted reunion, Frederica looked back at Ram, who now had her wand out and was crouched down, scanning the area around them with her eyes. Resigning herself to the situation, she reached into the folds of her maid uniform and pulled out a set of twin caestes, with studded knuckle-guards. Fitting them onto her hands, she began scanning the landscape around them as they slowly traveled forward.

“Have you tried your clairvoyance?” The blonde asked the pink-haired girl behind her.

“Yes,” Ram replied, “unfortunately all wildlife has evacuated the area. Something has frightened everything away.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

A loud thud resounded from the roof of their carriage, as Subaru and Emilia looked up, startled.

“Garf must be back,” Subaru surmised.

Climbing back in through the window, Garfiel looked to be in a state of alertness.

“Rem, can ya hear me!?”

“Yes,” Rem looked back at him through the window slot at the front of the coach.

“All of us, we need ta get ready ta fight,” Garfiel opened a cabinet in a corner of the carriage, pulling out his twin shields, “Roswaal said something is coming and from the sounds of things it ain't friendly.”

“Shit, never a dull moment!” Subaru held up his sword, then his mind reached out to his spirits.

Ladies, are you there?

<We are here.> They replied from within the jewel embedded in his sword's cross-guard.

Get ready, it looks like a fight is coming.

<Yes, contractor.>

Grasping the jewel hanging from his neck, Subaru sent his thoughts to Echidna.

“Echidna, are you there?”

Yes, I am aware of your situation via our contract. I believe you will soon encounter the Hakugei.”

"Hakugei? What's that?" He replied. As he said this the others in the coach turned at him with looks of horror.

“The White Whale, one of the three great Mabeasts you seek to vanquish.”

Damn it! He thought to himself, It's too early! We don't have a plan in place to fight it yet!

“What can you tell me about it, Echidna?”

The White Whale was created by Daphne, the Witch of Gluttony, some 400 years ago. It is very large, around fifty meters in length. Its body is covered in hairs that disperse mana, making it practically immune to magical attack. In addition, it can split itself into three 'copies' each of which is not as strong as the original. It has the ability to emit a roar that incapacitates some who hear it, even driving a portion of victims mad. Lastly, its most dangerous ability is its fog of erasure. A blast of fog can be emitted from its mouth, and if a person is hit by this fog, they die and their very existence is erased. It will be as if they never lived in the first place, all memories of them are erased and any traces of their lives are removed from existence."

“Son of a BITCH!” then, after thanking Echidna for the info, Subaru turned to where Rem drove the coach.

“Rem! Bring us to a stop! We need to get with the others and make a plan!”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Subaru, Emilia, Beatrice, Garfiel, Rem, Ram, Frederica, and Roswaal stood in a circle, attempting to quickly hash out a battle plan to combat the Great Mabeast that would soon be upon them. Subaru had just finished recapping to the gathered fighters what they faced, and the extent of the whale's capabilities.

We should have brought Reinhard! He was chiding himself for leaving their most powerful ally in the capital.

“Ranged damage dealers! Roswaal, Beatrice, Emilia, Ram!” Subaru began to formulate a plan, “try to keep it distracted! Especially you, Roswaal, since you can fly I need you to hassle the shit out of it from above. Keep it off of us close-range attackers. That would be Rem, Garfiel, Frederica, and myself. Everyone here except for Beatrice is capable of great foot speed, so Emilia, carry Beatrice on your back. Do any of you have any crazy tricks or abilities that I need to know about?”

After a moment, Garfiel spoke up, “Uh, Sis an' me can both transform into a beast form. Her's is like a big orange leopard, mine is an even huger angry-ass tiger.”

"I see, you two use that at your discretion. I might call on you if an idea comes up," Subaru continued, "We CANNOT get caught grouped up in a tight formation, one blast of fog could wipe us all out. Try to stay dispersed, and hit it in turns, staying away from its front. That goes for both the ranged attackers and the vanguard fighters."

“Barusu,” Ram spoke up, “I will be able to fight for a little while, but my mana pool is very small, so I can't keep up a prolonged assault.”

"What did you do to my name just now?" He replied, then shook the strange nickname from his mind, "anyway, then stay on standby with the carriages. If we need you specifically then I'll call on you. If we all do our jobs, then we should keep its attention well enough that you'll be safe."

Ram looked at Roswaal, who nodded, approving of the Knight's plan.

Abruptly, the area they were standing in darkened, as a huge shadow passed by overhead.

“Roswaal! Disperse the fog around us with some wind magic!”

“As you wiiiish, Subaru-samaaaaa! AL FULA!” As Roswaal yelled this, a mighty blast of wind drove the fog back from the group, giving them a couple hundred yards of clear sight in every direction.

Looking up, Subaru's eyes widened in terror.

The monstrous white whale flew overhead. It had a strange pinkish-colored sigil on its back, presumably being the thing that allowed it to fly. A large horn protruded from its forehead. As it gained distance from them, it banked around, pointed toward them, and swiftly began flying in their direction.

"Scatter! Remember the plan!" Subaru yelled as he sent mana pouring into his body, and took off running perpendicular to the direction the great beast was flying. The fighters all scattered in many other directions.

Rem was the first to attack, running parallel to the length of the whale's body, she jumped on its pectoral fin, then leaped high on its back. She swung her flail downward, slamming it into the skin of the beast, eliciting a shower of blood from where her weapon struck.

The whale let loose a mighty bellow, unhappy that the victims it sought to consume were fighting back.

<WHAM> Garfiel slammed into the right side of its mouth, swinging his right hand into it as hard as he could, knocking the whale to the left.

<WHAM> Frederica followed up her brother's assault a few feet to his left.

“Tuff fucker, ain't ya!” Garfiel now ran beside the whale, matching its speed.

As Rem lept off of its back, Roswaal began pummeling it from above with fire magic. Banking to go after the clown, the whale made a wide turn to its left.

“El Minya!”

“El Huma!”

Beatrice and Emilia fired a multitude of purple and white icy spikes at the whale's unguarded right side, and with a satisfying shower of blood, the spikes met their marks.

Again the whale howled, defiant at the petulant beings who dared to challenge it.

Subaru came alongside the whale and finally drew his sword. It glowed white as his spirits sent elemental power through the blade.

“Take this you fucker!!!” Accelerating, he aimed toward the beast's pectoral fin, then jumped toward it and simultaneously sliced downward. The blade cleanly cleaved through the fin's flesh, severing it from the whale's body. As the fin crashed to the ground, a huge spray of blood erupted from the stump it had left behind.

The monster roared with pain and anger.

Garfiel and Frederica came alongside Subaru as the three sped next to the whale.

“Way to go, Cap'n!” Garfiel had a huge smile on his face, “you took a piece of 'im!”

“We should go for its eyes. It'll be a sitting duck if we blind it!” Subaru relayed.

"Alright, I'll get over on the other side of 'im and pummel the shit outta the one over there," Garfiel jumped up on the whale's back and disappeared to the other side.

“He seems excited,” Subaru grinned at Frederica.

“My little brother has always had a certain talent for violence,” returning him a fangy smile, the maid leaped to follow her brother.

Looking backward, Subaru could see Roswaal once again winding up to bombard the beast from above.

“AL GOA!!!”

<BTOOOOM> A mighty cascade of fire repeatedly battered the whale's back.

The whale roared, seeking the perpetrator it this latest assault. Just as it began to turn again, it slowed and began shaking its head quickly left and right, as if trying to dislodge something.

On the other side of the beast, Garfiel had slammed a shielded fist into the whale's eye, and then grabbed it, putting his feet against the bony skull at the edge of the organ, he pulled.

"RRRRRAAAAAGGGHHHH!!!" The massive eye came free of its socket, and the connecting tissues snapped as Garfiel viciously flung it away from the whale. The eye made a loud thud as it landed and rolled for a distance before stopping.

Screeching in pain, the whale began to ascend, climbing swiftly to several hundred feet in the air. Garfiel clung to the eye socket, gritting his teeth. Looking back toward the body of the creature, he could see several rows of odd holes had opened upon its skin.

"Tha fuck is that?" Leaping onto the whale's back, he landed near one of the holes to examine it. As he leered over the strange cavity, a blast of fog suddenly erupted from it, as well as the others along its body.

“So that's where all tha damn fog comes from,” Garfiel concluded.

The whale made an abrupt turn, and Garfiel lost his balance, falling through the air. As he neared the ground, he put his feet under him, landing with a crash, he rolled forward and came to a stop on his feet.

Fog began to once again descend over the area, making it difficult to know where their allies, as well as the whale itself, were at.

“Emilia!” Subaru stood in the blinding fog, frantic to find her, “EMILIA!!!”

"Here!" He heard her voice to his left and began running, soon she appeared within the mist, Beatrice still riding on her back.

“Where's Roswaal? We need him to clear this fog again,” Subaru concluded.

“He was above the whale before,” Emilia searched the fog, “but I lost sight of him when it ascended.”

<SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECH>

An unholy screaming sound sounded across the plain.

Both of them falling to their knees, Subaru and Emilia, as well as Beatrice, covered their ears in pain.

Reeling from the sound, Subaru moved his hands to his face and began scratching it.

It's inside me! Must get it out! Must get it out!

Losing all sense, he rolled on the ground frantically scratching at his face.

“Subaru! Stop!” Emilia jumped to his side, grabbing and pulling his arms away from his face.

“Heal him, Beatrice, I'll keep him from hurting himself!”

“Betty will heal him, in fact,” from Emilia's back, Beatrice pointed her hands forward and began casting healing magic on Subaru. This seemed to help calm him, and the wounds on his face began to close.

Within a minute, Subaru had regained himself and sat up, “What the hell was that?”

“An attack on the mind, I suppose,” Beatrice replied, “facilitated by this mana-infused fog, in fact.”

A scream could be heard somewhere in the fog, and jumping to their feet, the trio whipped around toward it.

"That sounded like Rem," Subaru said, "Hey, do you hear that?"

A faint rumbling came from the direction of the scream. They strained to hear it.

“Does it sound like it's getting closer to you?” Emilia asked him.

“I can't tell,” he replied.

The rumble abruptly grew louder as something appeared in front of them.

It was the whale's mouth, wide open, and headed right for them. Subaru shoved Emilia out of the way, she flew backward with a hand outstretched, in a futile attempt to grab his.

“Subaru! No!!!” She landed out of the whale's reach, but Subaru wasn't so lucky.

The whale's bottom jaw was scraping the ground, picking up soil as it moved forward, making the rumbling sound they had heard. The dirt under Subaru's feet was already crumbling, and he became trapped up to his knees. As the whale's bottom jaw collided with Subaru's shins, it forced them toward his rear, snapping his knees backward in the process.

“Gyackh!” Searing pain shot into his mind and he felt his legs crunch, and his body pitched forward, his chest landing on the bottom row of teeth. Feeling his ruined legs tear off below his knees, he screamed in agony. Turning to look behind him, Subaru saw the top row of teeth moving down toward him.

<crunch>

The whale bit down, crushing his chest between its teeth.

“Blurgh!” Organs crushed, blood began erupting from Subaru's mouth, as he began spasming inside the pitch black of the whale's mouth. His neurons overfired and sent him overwhelming amounts of pain. Seizure overtook him, and breathing became impossible.

And then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“An attack on the mind, I suppose,” Beatrice replied, “facilitated by this mana-infused fog, in fact.”

“Wha-” Subaru found himself sitting, looking a Beatrice as she spoke of the whale's fog.

His hands flew to his chest, clutching at where his heart and lungs were. He began shuddering, gasping as he recalled the agony of being crushed while still alive. Beatrice's brows furrowed, and healing magic again flared from her hands.

Shaking, his mind was awash with the traumatic experience he'd just gone through.

Pain. Pain. Pain.

I died again.

It hurt. It hurt so bad.

The powerful spirit knight flopped over onto his side, trembling, as the awful memories assaulted him. His arms were now crossed, each hand holding onto a shoulder as madness threatened to consume him.

I can't. I can't. It's coming. Pain. It hurt so bad.

Pale arms pulled him back up to sit and embraced him.

“I won't let anything happen to you.”

The girl held him. She cooed words of encouragement into his ear quietly.

“I know it's been hard. It seems like everywhere we go, enemies are at our doorstep. But we're both still alive, and we have many friends who fight by our side now.” She stroked his black hair gently.

His trembling decreased, as he leaned into her embrace and relaxed.

She's here. We're alive.

Taking deep breaths, he focused his mind. He reached up to caress her face briefly, then he began to stand up.

This time the checkpoint's close, Subaru recalled, no time to mess around and feel sorry for myself.

Grabbing Emilia's hand, Subaru told her, “thank you Emilia-tan. I lost myself for a bit there. But we gotta move, the whale is coming this way!”

“How can you tell?” She asked as they began to run, Beatrice clinging to her back.

A scream could be heard ahead of them.

Just like last time, he thought.

Turning to move at a 45-degree angle to where the scream had come from, he ran with Emilia and Beatrice intending to get out of the whale's path. Once he was satisfied that the beast would pass them by, he turned to run toward the source of the scream they'd heard.

They found Rem unconscious on the ground, bleeding profusely from an abdominal wound.

“We gotta get her some help!” Picking her up in a princess carry, he spun around, “which way to the carriages!?”

Stirring slightly in his arms, Rem opened her eyes, “I can feel my sister's presence,” she pointed to their left, “that way,” then she closed her eyes again.

Sprinting through the fog, they needed to get the Oni girl to safety so she could be healed. He examined her wound with his eyes as he ran, concluding that the whale tried to bite her but she managed to glance off of the assault. Soon, they came upon the coaches.

“What happened to Rem!?” Ram was standing in front of the carriages waiting expectantly when she saw Subaru carry a wounded Rem out of the mist.

“I'm not sure, I think the whale almost bit her,” laying her down inside the front coach on one of its long seats, he stepped back, “we all got separated in the fog.”

“Beatrice, can you stay here and heal her?” Emilia asked her spirit, “the two of us can go help fight.”

“Betty will stay with her, in fact,” the girl nodded and began to cast a healing spell.

Ram watched as the magic flared to life, healing the person she held dearest in the world. Her emotions were a jumble, and a single tear streaked down her face.

I've been nothing but terrible to these people, but here they are, helping my little sister regardless of the way we've treated them. Her face turned to see the pair, satisfied smiles were on both of their faces.

“Emilia-sama, Subaru-sama,” hearing this, Emilia and Subaru turned to see a bowing Ram, “I must apologize for myself and my sister. We have never been anything but cold to you, but you have saved dear Rem. Ram is grateful to the both of you.”

“Ram, raise your head,” Subaru said softly.

Ram straightened to listen to what the knight had to say.

"We're all on the same team now. That means we all have a responsibility to watch each others' backs. We'll look out for you and your sister, while the two of you look out for us. It's the same for Garfiel, Frederica, and even Roswaal. When it comes to keeping everyone safe, nobody here is more important than anyone else, I and Emilia included. Although..." he turned to look at Emilia, "I do probably put more energy into making sure that Emilia-tan is safe than anyone else."

Emilia smiled at him, “you're such a hypocrite, you dummy.”

“That I am,” he turned back to Ram, “so rely on us, Ram. And we'll rely on you.”

A surprised expression adorned the Oni-girl's face, then she relaxed and smiled.

“As you wish, Barusu,” she pointed at the carriage door, “if the others are relying on you, it would be best if you returned to the battle. Big sister will watch over Rem and Beatrice.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As the couple headed back into the foggy plain, the whale's roars could be heard, but it sounded like they were coming from multiple directions.

“Emilia, we'll have to be extra careful now. I think it's split onto three from the sounds of things.”

“AL FULA!” A blast of wind once again removed most of the fog, blowing it away to reveal Roswaal in the epicenter, floating 50 or so feet in the air.

Looking around, Subaru could see that there were now three whales. The one nearest to them was chasing Frederica, who was having trouble staying ahead of it.

“We need to help Frederica! Let's go, Emilia!” Darting forward, the couple sped toward the fleeing beast girl. Drawing his sword, he yelled to Emilia, “Hit it with a big spell to take some heat off of her!”

"AL HUMA!" A huge ten-meter spear of ice appeared, and rocketed toward the whale, crashing into its side and impaling it, the point sticking out the other side.

“Damn, Emilia-tan.”

Subaru looked at the whale she had skewered. It was missing its right pectoral fin.

Is that the original?

He looked at the next closest one, about a hundred yards away. It was missing its left eye.

Looking at the last one, which flew high above, he could see the fin was missing.

And the eye?

As it turned its other side toward him, the left eye was gone.

So two are just copies, if we kill the original will it stop all three?

Subaru sprinted forward, and gathering mana in his body jumped onto the nearest whale's back. Sword glowing white, he slammed it down into the whale's flesh and took off running from the front of its back toward the rear, cutting a long gash near the length of the entire creature, before he reached its tail. Stopping there, he once again gathered mana and had his spirits reinforce the sword, slashing downward, the blade cleaved the tail from the creature, immobilizing it.

Emitting a pained cry, the whale clone crashed into the ground, pushing up a hill of dirt in front of it as it skidded to a stop. Dashing toward the front of the creature, Subaru stopped on top of its head, where he could now see Frederica had escaped and had turned around to regard the creature that had been chasing her. Looking up, she saw Subaru on top of the downed beast and bowed.

“Thank you, Subaru-sama!”

“All in a day's work, Frederica! I'll finish this one off, go see if your brother needs help!” He replied.

As the maid sprinted away, Subaru pointed his sword straight up at the sky. He commanded his six spirits to ramp up to maximum output, and his sword flared, a boom sounding out as it began to emit massive amounts of pure white light.

A hundred or so yards away, Garfiel,'s eyes were promptly narrowed as he sprinted alongside one of the other whales. A booming sound, then a second sun seemed to have appeared in front of him. As he ran he shielded his eyes until they adjusted to the brilliant spectacle. There he saw Subaru on top of one of the other whales, sword held aloft emitting a mighty glow.

Garfiel's eyes sparkled with admiration, "Oi Cap'n! That's cool as fuck!" Deciding he didn't want to be outdone, Garfiel slammed a shielded fist into the nearby whale's midsection, sending its path awry.

As soon as he'd done this, Roswaal bombarded the whale once again from above, then turned to take in the spectacle of Natsuki Subaru's swordsmanship.

Let's see what you can doooo, Subaru-samaaaaaa, he watched with interest.

Turning the sword downward, Subaru stood straight above where the creature's brain would be, and stabbed the sword straight down. Burying it to the hilt, he commanded the spirits to release their power into the whale's cranium.

The beast began to spasm, and smoke started rising from it. It gurgled a cry as the remaining eyeball exploded. As the whale flinched violently, Subaru couched to keep a low base of gravity and not be flung from the creature's back.

“Die, you fucker!!!” He yelled at the writhing monster.

Then at last it went still, smoke still rising from its corpse. Then, Subaru, felt a falling sensation as the whale simply dissolved, ceasing to be.

Landing in a crouch, Subaru sheathed his sword, then considered the situation.

That one was probably a clone and not the original.

Emilia came running up to him, “so far so good! Now what?”

“We should try to figure out which one is the original. This one was a clone, and not as tough as the first one we were fighting.” He looked up at the one who remained high in the sky.

“That's got to be the one,” he pointed, “it's hanging around up there making its clones to the dirty work.” He looked over toward the one he believed to be a clone. Garfiel, Roswaal, and Frederica were fighting that one. It was bearing down quickly on Garfiel, who was standing in front of it, facing it.

"Move out of its way Garf!!!" Subaru prepared to come to his new friend's aid at maximum speed.

But as he watched, Garfiel began quickly growing in size, as he turned into a huge bipedal tiger, when the whale was about to collide with him he reached out with huge arms and caught it, feet skidding on the earth. The whale ceased its forward movement, unable to free itself from the tiger's grasp.

“He stopped it!” Emilia was flabbergasted.

“I'm glad that dude is on our side.” Subaru nodded, satisfied that the other three seemed to have that one under control.

Looking back up at the one in the sky, Subaru decided.

“I'm going after the boss.”

Bending his knees, and gathering power, Subaru evoked a yin magic spell.

“Murac.” He felt the effects of gravity leave him.

With all the force he could muster, he jumped. Rocketing into the sky.

“Subaru that was soooo coooool.” Emilia watched as he blasted upward toward the original whale.

The main whale was circling above when it caught a particular scent.

Something near, Its primitive mind deduced.

Looking down it could see a human flying upward, straight in its direction.

Witch scent.

Turning and diving toward the human the whale opened its mouth.

Subaru saw it do this and grimaced as the whale had seen him coming. Canceling the effect of Murac, he arced and began to fall. But it was too late.

The whale was now upon him. Diving faster than he could fall, he flipped around toward the beast, looking for a course of action. An abrupt buildup of white fog began to boil up from the creature's mouth.

The fog of elimination!

Terrified, Subaru flipped around and straightened his body to dive down as quickly as air resistance would let him. The whale was still gaining on him, however, and soon he heard a blast from behind him as his world became a sea of white.

Then, nothing.

Natsuki Subaru had died.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“AL FULA!” A blast of wind once again removed most of the fog, blowing it away to reveal Roswaal in the epicenter, floating 50 or so feet in the air.

Gasping, Subaru bent forward, putting his hands on his knees.

“Subaru! Are you ok!?” Emilia placed a hand on his back, stroking it.

At least that death didn't hurt nearly as much as the one before, he thought.

Straightening, he patted her on the head.

“Sorry Emilia-tan, I think I inhaled too much nasty whale-fog.”

Subaru whirled to look at the clone whale that still lived, just in time to see a transformed Garfiel once again catch it, stopping it in its tracks. Frederica and Roswaal mercilessly assaulted it while Garf held it immobile.

They might finish that one off before we even get the main one dealt with at this rate.

Contractor, you must not allow the clone whale to die before its main body. If you do then the original whale will flee."

Hmm?”

I have arrived at a solution which will offer optimal results.”

Echidna's voice rang out in his mind. Reaching to grasp the crystal, he looked at Emilia.

“Echidna has a plan.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Ram sat on the bench inside the carriage, with her sister's head in her lap.

A steady flow of healing magic streamed from Beatrice's hands, as she finished helping the blue-haired maid.

Looking down at her twin's pretty face, Ram felt grateful to her new benefactors.

Suddenly, a knock sounded out at the carriage door.

Beatrice and Ram turned to look at the door, then Ram gently laid her sister's head down as she went to open it, wand in hand.

She cracked the door open slightly, peeking out with one eye.

“Who's there?”

“Forgive me, miss! I was traveling from the Mathers domain and seem to have encountered some sort of great battle! I came upon your coaches and wanted to check and see if anyone was injured!”

Opening the door fully, Ram gestured at her sister and Beatrice.

"We have one injured, but she is being healed as we speak," Ram replied.

Sounds of the battle could be heard even from here, as the whale roared and explosions rang out. They could see none of the conflict from here, due to the whale's fog.

Wringing his hands together nervously, the young man in front of Ram spoke, “I see, then I hope you won't mind if I shelter here with you until things settle down?”

Sighing, Ram stepped aside to let the man in. “Very well, but keep quiet and be sure to keep your hands to yourself, or Ram will be forced to exact vengeance upon you.”

"Of course." Entering the coach, their visitor plopped down on the bench across from Rem and gave a sigh of relief.

He was a young man with shoulder-length grey hair, clad all in green, with a green hat.

He bowed his head at Ram, “if there's anything I can do to help, do not hesitate to ask.”

He raised his head, offering Ram a smile.

“Otto Suwen, at your service.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“Don't kill it!?” Frederica was dumbfounded. Emilia had just told her that they couldn't kill the whale they were fighting.

“If you do, the main body up there will run away, and we'll just have to track it down and fight it again.” Emilia was relaying their part of the plan so that Frederica could bring the others into the loop.

"Subaru is going to deal with the main body, and it's a pretty amazing plan."

Even though it came from that Baka-Echidna, Emilia thought.

Looking behind her, Garfiel in his transformed state had his claws sunk into the whale, each time it tried to take flight he bashed it in the snout and Roswaal bombed it from above.

"AAAARRROOOOOOOOO," the clone whale let forth a pitiful noise as if asking for mercy.

“Subaru said to have Garf grab him by the tail and smack him against the Flugel Tree if the clone tried anything funny.” Emilia nodded to Frederica.

“With an incredulous look, the blonde maid shook her head, smiled a fanged smile, and bowed, “as you wish, Emilia-sama.” She then bounded off to relay the information to Garfiel and Roswaal.

Now we have to do our part. Emilia began sprinting with elven speed back to her beloved, who had crouched, studying the original whale's movements as it circled high in the sky.

Arriving at his side, she crashed into him in a haphazard embrace.

“Emilia?” He hadn't been ready for this.

“You better make damn sure to be as careful as possible, Natsuki Subaru!” There were no tears this time, but her emotions were laid bare, and her voice cracked, “this plan is dangerous, mostly for you. Make sure you come back to me! Do you hear what I'm saying, you nincompoop?”

"Nobody says nincompoop anymore, Emilia-tan."

He reached down where her face was buried in his chest, and lifted her chin. Caressing her lovely face, he smiled.

The most beautiful girl in the world.

The most wonderful girl in the world.

“Believe in me, Emilia-tan. I don't love you because I believe in you, I believe in you because I love you. If you can believe in me, then I'll do what it takes to make sure that those beliefs aren't lies. I want to make those beliefs as solid as the mountains, and as clear as the sky.”

“Subaru...” she was left speechless.

“It's time to fulfill our promise to the people of Lugunica. One of the promises we made at the Selection. As of today, the Hakugei will no longer terrorize anyone, ever again.”

Lifting her flushed face, centimeters away from their lips touching, her eyes became half-lidded.

“Come back to me, Natsuki Subaru, when this fight is over.”

“I intend to, Emilia-tan.”

They then melted together in a heartfelt kiss. It was a kiss that defied description because within it was fear of loss, heartfelt love, hope for the future, and... intense desire.

As the kiss was reluctantly ended, the two lovers stared into each others' eyes for just a few moments. Understanding of a mutually desired future had blossomed between them when they began this journey, and now the roots ran deep.

Knowing now what he had to do, Subaru stood. Looking upward at the whale's original body, his resolve was complete.

Venti, I'll need your help specifically this time.

<Venti will do what she can.>

Thank you, Venti. And the rest of you as well, thank you for everything.

<We are happy to serve, Contractor.> The spirits answered in unison.

“Are you ready, Emilia-tan?” His face showed a look of iron-clad resolve.

“I will do my part. Please...be careful.” She nodded to him with a reflection of the same resolve.

He nodded back to her, then turned, looking up at the whale that was so very high above them. Once again he bent his knees and forced power into his legs, as he'd done in the previous failed attempt at striking down the whale.

“Murac.”

With a boom, he leaped upward, flying toward the whale.

“Soooo coooool” Emilia watched him take off, then began to sprint once again.

I need to get the placement exactly right! She watched him as he flew upward, attempting to gauge where he would come down.

As Subaru reached the halfway point, he canceled the effect of Murac, arcing through the air once again, he began to fall.

I can't let it get too close, not while I'm in the air and can't maneuver.

Now it was time for his secret weapon, one that only he and Echidna knew about.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“You want me to use the Witches' scent to attract the whale?” Subaru stood next to Emilia, as Echidna explained her plan to defeat the whale.

Indeed. As a mabeast, even the White Whale will be driven to seek one who emits the miasma inherent to the bearer of a Witch-Factor. I would suggest further that once you come into range, you evoke the wrath of the Witch of Envy by attempting to speak of your Authority of Envy. This will significantly increase the amount of miasma you are emitting."

I see. Do you think the power me and my spirits possess will be enough to complete the final step? That thing is bigger around than anything I've managed to cut through up to this point.”

If you use the absolute maximum output of both your mana and your spirits, I believe you will be up to the task."

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“Hey! You big white bastard!” Subaru began to fall downward, “because of you I've died twice and-”

Time froze.

Everything within Subaru's sight became dark, as a shadowy woman appeared before him.

“Our secret,” she spoke as a shadowy arm reached out to grasp his heart, and gently squeezed.

“Grrk!” Pain exploded in his chest, but Subaru knew he had to bear it, to make the next step in their plan bear fruit.

"Witch of Envy," he spoke to her before time began to move again, "what do you want with me?"

“Love you. Love you. Love you. Love you.”

Before he could react, time began flowing once again. Miasma was now flowing out of him so thickly that it was visible.

Do your thing, Venti!!!

A tremendous wind blew up from underneath him, carrying the witches' scent upward, straight to the white whale. Roaring, it swiftly shifted direction and dived downward, chasing the man that emitted a scent which intoxicated any mabeast it found.

It's up to you now, Emilia.

Sprinting along the ground at incredible speed, a silver-haired half-elf watched the man she loved free-fall from several hundred yards in the air. Finally arriving under him as he plummeted straight down, she began to cast.

“You've seen how I use my spirits to channel magic without incantation,” he had told her, “ you can do the same thing, use your gate to push the mana through and visualize what form you want the magic to take. Then command it to adhere to that form, and it will take shape.”

She thrust her hands out in front of her and commanded the mana with her mind. Power flowed freely as in front of her, the magic took on physical form. Concentrating, she poured power into the spell, bringing it to completion.

Before her, there was now a massive ramp constructed of ice. It was designed to catch her beloved knight and slow down his descent, shooting him forward parallel to the ground.

She looked up, hoping that she had gotten the placement right.

Subaru spun in the air, satisfied that there was enough distance between him and the whale. He saw the ramp Emilia had constructed, and flipped his feet downward, accelerating to terminal velocity. He steered as best he could, aiming to land at the top of the ramp and slide down it.

This is just like when mom and dad took me to Barnacle Bill's water park! That's all it is! Easy peasy! Gathering his courage, he prepared for impact.

"OOOOF!!!" He landed near the top of the ramp, which had a near-vertical angle. Sliding down it on his backside his speed began to diminish as the ice offered a tiny amount of friction. He craned his neck to look behind and saw that the whale was nearly upon him.

“Grk!” As the ramp began to run parallel to the ground where he slid upon it, the whale slammed into the top of the structure, destroying it in an explosion of ice shards, as it pursued the bearer of the miasma.

"Ul Huma!" Emilia cast at the whale, and a large pillar of ice erupted from the earth beneath the whale, slamming into its open jaw, forcing its mouth shut, and slowing the whale down.

"So far so good!" Subaru neared the end of the ramp and whirled to get his feet under him. Just as he was about to hit the soil, he jumped forward and rolled, finally coming to a stop in a crouched position. He spun around, sending mana into his body as the whale bore down on him.

Its mouth was open again now, and a blast of cursed fog erupted forth from it. Subaru lept over the deadly mist, aiming for the top of the whale's head. As he fell he drew his sword and spoke to his spirits.

This is it, ladies! This one's for all the marbles! Please! Give me everything you've got!

<Yes.> They replied.

<BTOOM> The sword flared to life once again, teeming with power.

Ramping up his mana output to the absolute maximum, Subaru fought back nausea as mana poisoning threatened to overtake him.

Gotta keep it under control!

Rocketing forward, he held his sword down to his left side near his hip, gripping it with both hands. He twisted so that he could rotate his body with the blow as he neared his target:

The massive horn that jutted from the top of the whale's head.

Colliding his blade with the horn, it began to cut through the bony extrusion.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

If a person were to break off the horn of any mabeast, they would then come to be the beast's master. The White Whale is no exception in this regard.”

“You're telling me that we can bring the fucking WHITE WHALE under my control!?”

“I am. This would be the optimal outcome you seek, am I correct, Contractor?”

“I won't deny it, the strength of a beast like the White Whale would be a welcome addition to our cause. Thank you, Echidna. Your wisdom has been a boon to us. We'll carry out your plan as directed.”

Indeed, Contractor, luck be with you in its execution.”

Letting the crystal once again rest against his chest, Subaru spoke to Emilia.

“We're not just going to kill the whale.”

She listened, as he declared that they were going to attempt the impossible.

“We're going to add its strength to our own.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“YEEEEEEEAAAARRRGH!!!!!!”

Sparks flew and the air around them vibrated violently as Subaru struggled to sever the whale's massive horn. His sword had cut two-thirds of the way through it.

The whale screeched in protest, as the assault on its horn vibrated its very being.

Gotta turn it up a little more! Subaru increased his mana output beyond what his body could normally handle. The sword started moving again, cutting through the hard material.

Pulling slightly and twisting his body to maximized his leverage, Subaru gave everything he had to the blow.

“GYYYAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!”

His blade swung free, as it cut through the last remnants of the horn's base.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As Garfiel held the tail of the clone whale, it screeched in protest. Still in his beast form, he had little patience for the creature's lamentations.

“RRRRAAAGGGHHHH!” He roared, swinging the whale like the world's biggest baseball bat, and slammed its body against the Flugel Tree.

Suddenly, the whale he held in his paws began to evaporate. Panicking, he transformed back into his normal form and yelled to Frederica, who was several yards away.

“Shit, Sis! Did I kill it!?”

Looking back and forth as the creature dissolved, Frederica could offer no answer.

“I don't believe thaaaaat to be the case, Garfiel.” Roswaal floated down to land between the siblings, his gaze fixed toward where Subaru and Emilia had been fighting.

“Look, oooover there.”

The other two turned, looking where their allies were.

A creepy smile came upon Roswaal's face.

“The creature seems to have lost its horn.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“Cap'n!!!” Garfiel landed next to the two candidates, concerned for the man he had pledged to follow. “Princess! Is the Cap'n okay!?”

Emilia had Subaru laying on his back, as she kneeled on the ground giving him a lap pillow.

“Shhhh,” she brushed a lock of Subaru's hair from his face, “he used too much mana and overextended his body. He's in mild shock, but he should be ok in a little while.”

As Roswaal and Frederica arrived, they all turned to regard the now docile creature that floated nearby.

The White Whale hovered, its remaining eye gazing at its new master, waiting for him to awake.

“Fuckin' unreal.” In his fourteen years, Garfiel Tinzel had read many stories of chivalry and great battles against powerful foes.

But never in his young life had he read about anything like this.

“He actually did it. Subaru-sama tamed the White Whale.” Frederica regarded the vast creature with astonishment, as it hovered unmoving, gazing down at the unconscious knight.

The fog had now completely lifted, and hearing a noise with his keen ears, Garfiel turned to find the source of it.

“Ram is coming,” he squinted in the distance, “she's bringing one of the coaches.”

Barreling toward them, Ram could be seen in the driver's seat of a carriage, urging the ground dragon that pulled it on at high speed. As she pulled the carriage up near them, she brought it to a stop and hopped down. She looked at the whale cautiously, as she walked up to the group. The door at the back of the coach opened, and Beatrice, Rem, and an unknown man in green filed out.

Bowing to Roswaal, she then turned to regard Emilia and Subaru, who still lay unconscious on her lap.

“What is the current status?” Ram turned to her master.

“Subaru-samaaaaa and Emilia-sama have defeated the White Whale, and taaaaamed it in the process.”

Eyes going wide, the newcomers looked at the massive beast, then they turned to where the two candidates were on the ground.

“This is unprecedented, in fact,” Beatrice summed up the situation, “but if Betty's contractor is involved, it is to be expected, I suppose.”

“Please allow me to introduce myself, Otto Sewen, traveling merchant.” The man in green bowed to the gathered group, “Miss Ram allowed me to shelter in place with them as your battle was happening.” He turned to Roswaal, “am I to understand you are Margrave Mathers?”

“Indeeeeed I am,” Roswaal replied.

“Then I owe you my gratitude.” He turned to look at the hovering whale, “and it seems that the whole world owes your group a great deal of gratitude as well. This thing has been a menace to all of humanity and beyond for hundreds of years.”

Subaru stirred, as Emilia stroked his hair. The gathered group all moved to watch as the knight began to awaken.

Slowly opening his eyes, he saw many faces gathered near him. Looking around, he groggily recounted all of the people who had been traveling with them. Then, he turned his eyes up, to meet two deep pools of amethyst, which returned his gaze.

Ah. We did it.

“Good morning, handsome.” She gave him a beautiful smile.

“Good morning, gorgeous.” He croaked out weakly, returning her sentiment.

“Everyone made it? Is everyone ok?” He tried turning his head to look around at the group.

“We're all ok, thanks to you.” Emilia cooed down at him, still stroking his black hair, “everyone made it.”

“You've accomplished something quite graaaaaand today, Subaru-sama.” Roswaal intoned, bowing to the candidates.

“Cap'n, that was tha coolest fuckin' thing I've ever seen.” Garfiel hopped about excitedly.

"Thanks to you, many lives have been saved." Frederica was in awe and bowed as well.

“My life was one of them,” Rem bowed, “thank you Subaru-sama, Emilia-sama, Beatrice-sama.”

“You helped my sister, Ram is forever grateful.” Ram also bowed deeply.

“It seems Betty chose her contractor well, in fact.” Beatrice approached Emilia, “as did her contractor in choosing a mate, I suppose.”

Hearing all of the praise for her beloved, Emilia turned to look at him, then leaned down and gathered him in an embrace. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“I'm so proud of you, Subaru! You did such an amazing job!”

Enjoying the positive attention from the gathered group, Subaru weakly returned her hug.

After a few minutes, he shakily got to his feet, Emilia standing next to him.

“I suppose there's one thing left to do, then.”

He approached the whale, its gaze fixed upon him. Placing a hand on its rough skin, he attempted to communicate with it.

Hakugei. He sent his thought to the great mabeast.

< Yes, Master.> It replied.

I would have you cease your attacks on humans and demi-humans from this day forth.

<Yes, master. Hakugei will no longer attack humans or demi-humans.>

If you find yourself stricken with hunger, you will hunt mabeasts and consume them, from now on.

<Yes, Master. Hakugei will eat mabeasts from now on.>

You may go, but in the future, a time will come when I will call upon you to aid us in battle. When that day comes, I expect that you will answer the call.

<Yes, Master. Call Hakugei when it is needed. Hakugei will answer.>

Go then, and bother humanity no longer.

As he stepped away from the massive beast, it ascended to the sky, flying northward in search of mabeasts to consume. Soon its monstrous form was no more than a dot on the horizon.

Turning to the gathered group, he spoke, “The White Whale will hunt humans and demi-humans no longer. For the rest of its days, mabeasts will be its target and source of food.”

The group collectively gasped. Voices of great relief could be heard among them as many of them clapped each other on the shoulder, some embraced their siblings, and others offered a prayer of thanks to the Od Laguna. Among many of them, tears of joy were shed.

A stranger with grey hair, wearing all green approached Subaru and bowed.

"Great Knight, you have my thanks. As a traveling merchant, the menace of the White Whale is a danger I have always had to be wary of." Ending the bow, he extended a hand.

“Otto Suwen, merchant extraordinaire.”

“Natsuki Subaru, Spirit-Knight.”

“NATSUKI SUBARU!?” The merchant was flabbergasted, “the man who campaigns to rule lagunica alongside the half-elf Emilia!?”

“Yep,” Subaru pointed, “that's my Emilia-tan over there.”

Sensing that he had mentioned her, Emilia smiled sweetly and waved.

Contractor, a word.”

Ah, one second, Otto.” Subaru turned around, grabbing the jewel hanging from his neck, and speaking to it.

What is it, Echidna ?”

“That young man, Otto. I have assessed him with my Authority of Greed, and I believe you should offer him a place among your ranks. His skills in negotiations and bartering would be a good fit within your campaign. He would be a worthy opponent to even Anastasia Hoshen.”

“I see. What do you believe we should do with him?”

“It is my advice that you offer him the position of Internal Affairs Minister.”

Ok, I'll talk it over with Emilia, but I see no reason not to do as you've advised. Thank you, Echidna.”

It's my pleasure.”

“Emilia!” The girl turned to look at him.

“Come over here! I want to ask you about something!” Subaru waved her over.

As Emilia came jogging over to them, Subaru discreetly filled her in on what Echidna had said.

"Well, her plan to conquer the whale worked like a charm, so I don't see why not," Emilia replied.

Wow, her opinion of Echidna has shifted a bit, Subaru thought to himself.

“Otto,” he looked at the grey-haired young man, “how would you like a job?”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

In the halls of Lugunica palace, a great clamor had arisen. The Dragon Stone had once again changed, adding to the prophecy written upon it. As the various ministers and nobles yelled in shock and surprise, they gazed at the new passage that had appeared on the stone.

It read simply:

"Candidates Emilia and Natsuki Subaru have subjugated the Great Mabeast, the White Whale."

400 years of terror had been brought to an end.

 

 

 

 

Note from the author: Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, it was a ton of fun to write! I wanted to drop a line because starting tomorrow I'll be spending about a month away from any internet access or access to electronics, so I'll be unable to update for a while. PLEASE do not think that I am abandoning this story, as I have had tons of fun writing it. I intend to pick it right back up once I return home. Until next time, thank you all for reading and commenting! I love hearing your thoughts on the story!

-bigdanrog

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 21- Accolades

 

Two carriages entered the outskirts of the capital city, moving at a gingerly pace. They were followed by a third wagon, which was driven by their new Internal Affairs Minister, Otto Suwen.

Inside the lead carriage, Emilia looked at her companions one-by-one with admiration. Beatrice and Garfiel each snoozed in a relaxed fashion, tired out from their exertion during the battle with the whale. Subaru had entered a deep slumber for most of the remainder of their journey, having given more than anyone to win the battle with the monstrous beast. The first real test of power for the Subaru and Emilia camp had gone extremely well, with only a single notable injury, which they were able to quickly negate.

Emilia thought about the history she had studied. Several times in the last 400 years entire armies had fallen under the assault of the whale, most recently the Sword Saint previous to Reinhard had even been defeated, lost on the field of battle as another victim of the Great Mabeast.

Yet their eclectic band of seven had done the impossible. Not only had they defeated the whale, but they'd also turned its immense power into a force for good. For the perceivable future, it would prey upon the dangerous mabeasts that dwell in the varied landscapes of this country.

And it's all thanks to him. Subaru brought all of these people together under one banner, s he thought warmly of him. He is the kind of person that draws people to him and inspires them. The maids, Garfiel, herself, even Roswaal were all examples of that.

These are the qualities of a leader. Of a great leader.

Of a King .

Emilia, at that moment, made a decision. This man, this knight , had grown so immensely in the months that she had come to know him and fall in love with him.

She was determined to be a woman worthy to stand beside him.

Flashes of movement could be seen outside. Emilia looked out the window.

She gasped at what met her eyes.

As they passed a residential street, people were running out of their homes and cheering as they passed. Then she remembered something.

At Roswaal's suggestion, they had placed the Whale's severed horn on top of the lead carriage, tying it down with some rope Otto had on hand. The coach's suspension had creaked ominously at the weight of the thing, but it seems to have held together long enough to get them to the city.

They were now headed to the Palace to present the horn to the Sage Council.

But it seemed word had already traveled through the city that the whale had been dealt with. Mothers, fathers, children, old folks, all gathered in front of their homes to cheer the ones who defeated the first of the Great Mabeasts.

“Subaru, everyone! Wake up!”

Her companions stirred at her shout, beginning to rouse from slumber.

“What is it, Emilia-tan?”

“Oi wazzat about?”

“Betty was having a nice dream about sweets, in fact.”

“Look out the window!” Emilia bounced excitedly in her seat.

The three others looked out the window closest to each of them, respectively. Collectively, they gasped.

Dozens... no, hundreds of people were taking to the street as they passed, cheering at them.

Subaru looked at Garfiel, who sat across from him, and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Things are gonna be pretty exciting from here on out. You sure you're ready for all this, country boy?”

“My amazin' self deserves ta be cheered, ya know! I'm tha strongest there is! Well, maybe 'cept for the Cap'n.”

“I'll ask you about that some more after you meet Reinhard,” Subaru again looked out the window, a huge grin on his face.

In the second carriage, Roswaal stared out the window as well.

“It would seem woooooord of our candidates' first joint achievement has reached the ears of the people of the capitoooooool.” He mused.

“It was a great accomplishment, Roswaal-sama.”

“It's a good thing I held baaaaaack quite a bit, so they could garner the credit for the beast's subjugation,” he turned to Ram, “wouldn't you agree, Ram?”

“If not for her sister being injured, Ram would say things went perfectly.”

“Indeeeed. It also seems apparent that Subaru-sama is a genuinely brilliant tactician, as well as a veeeeery competent leader,” losing interest in the crowd, the clown faced straight forward, “his arrival in Lugunica is mooooost fortunate for us.”

Bringing up the rear in a covered wagon, Otto was bewildered at the sight before him. People were swarming out of their homes and cheering them as far as the eye could see toward the center of the city.

A rotund woman in an apron tossed something at him, which he flinched and caught.

“Nanners?” In his hand was a nanner bunch, filled with a half dozen of the elongated yellow fruit.

Suddenly, as he regarded the nanners, a tato landed in his lap.

“Eh!?” Soon an appa joined the tato, followed by a multitude of other fruits and vegetables.

“What the hell!?”

“May the subjugators of the accursed whale feast on this joyous evening!” Someone in the crowd yelled as they chucked a pepple in his direction.

Wondering if agreeing to take the new job as Emilia and Subaru's Interior Minister was the right choice, Otto was pelted with a steady stream of fresh fruit, gifts from the people of Lugunica City to their saviors.

Thus, Otto Suwen's Fresh Produce Capitol Tour of Benevolence had begun in earnest.

 

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As the three dragon-drawn vehicles neared the Palace, madness ensued. A crowd of thousands had gathered, cheering wildly as soon as the small convoy came into sight. Given the giant horn tied to the top of the lead carriage, there was no doubt to the gathered spectators that these were the people who had defeated the monstrous White Whale.

Subaru and Emilia, for their part, leaned out a window on either side, smiling and waving to the crowd. Emilia had suggested they do this, to make their visages more familiar to the citizens.

The Palace Guards struggled, moving people out of the way of the coaches and wagon, eventually making enough room to get the gates open, so the camp could enter. The convoy slowly rolled into the Palace Ground, gates closing behind them.

As the camp disembarked their carriages, Roswaal spoke with the guards about having the horn moved to the great hall. But when a group of six of them attempted to lift it from the top of the carriage, it didn't budge an inch.

“Fer fuck's sake! You guys are s'posed to be the muscle around here?” Garfiel jumped on top of the lead carriage, picked up the horn, and placed it on his right shoulder. He jumped down from the carriage, causing it to rock wildly as its suspension sprang up and down. He carried it as the group made their way toward the great hall. Once they neared the entrance to the chamber, a group could be seen waiting for them.

Crusch, Felix, Wilhelm, Anastasia, and Julius stood as some of them smiled, and others had bemused looks. But there was also another person standing in the middle of the gathered group.

Reinhard.

With Emilia and Subaru walking the lead, hand-in-hand they stopped in front of the Sword Saint.

The red-haired man bowed, “Subaru-sama, Emilia-sama. I was apprehensive when you declined for me to travel with you, but it seems my fears were unfounded.”

<BOOM>

Garfiel sat the horn on the ground and clapped his hands together to get the dust off of them.

Wilhelm once again approached Subaru and lowered himself to one knee.

“Subaru-sama, I thank you. For slaying the foul beast that killed my wife, Theresia Van Astrea, I thank you.”

“Wilhelm-san. There's something you should know. I didn't kill the whale, I subjugated it.”

Wilhelm's eyes widened in shock as he looked up at the young knight.

"It follows my orders now. I've ordered it to never again hunt humans or demi-humans. From now on, it will hunt only Mabeasts."

The old man was speechless, and the members of the two camps behind him made a collective gasp.

“Subaru turned a force for evil into a force for good,” Emilia stepped forward, “the whale will dedicate the rest of its life to reducing the mabeast population in Lugunica.”

“Truly?” Wilhelm looked up at the black-haired knight. “This old man never thought such a thing possible,” he bowed his head once again to Subaru, “with all that I am, I thank you.”

“You're very welcome, Wilhelm-san.”

"I would like to have battled the beast myself, in the interest of revenge," Wilhelm continued to marvel at the youngster, "but I would never have thought to attempt to bring it under control for the good of humanity.

You've gone far beyond such petty notions as vengeance, young man. It seems I still have much to learn."

As Subaru and Emilia regarded Wilhelm warmly, Julius stepped forward.

"Subaru, I am thrilled to have had one such as you as my protege in spirit-arts. Not only did you act in a knightly manner by stopping a Great Mabeast, but you also furthered your deeds by using it to protect the weak," Julius bowed to him, "truly, I am humbled by your actions. The end of the whale's reign of terror has long been a wish of all Royal Knights."

“I couldn't have done it without all of them,” Subaru gestured behind him, “and of course Emilia-tan managed one of the hardest parts.”

Blushing, Emilia giggled and squeezed his hand tighter.

“The two of us aren't going to stand a chance if we don't get busy soon,” Crusch chimed in, glancing at Anastasia with a smile.

“Yeah,” the purple-haired candidate feigned offense, “why do you two keep hoggin' all the glory for yerselves?”

"Nyow we need to do something even bigger than this, Crusch-sama!" Felix was wiggling as he grasped Crusch's hand, "we can't let them outdyo us!"

“You should have seen Subaru when we found out the whale was coming!” Emilia couldn't contain herself anymore, “he was soooo coool. He started making a plan to attack it, and it was reeeeally good! Then he changed the plan on the fly when the whale split into three! And the way that he got it to come to the ground was suuuuuper neat! And then-”

"Hold up, Emilia-tan! We'll tell the whole story when we get inside," Subaru squeezed her hand as he smiled at her, "speaking of which, are you guys coming?" Looking at the friends who had been waiting for them, he grinned.

Everyone nodded, looking forward to the tale of the whale's subjugation.

At the back of the Emilia and Subaru camp, Otto trembled.

The Sword Saint! The Sword Demon! Anastasia Hoshin! Crusch Karston! What the hell have I gotten myself into!?

 

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An hour later Subaru and Emilia stood on the raised stage once again in front of the Sage Council, Nobles' Gallery, and Knight Garrison. They had taken turns telling the tale of the fight against the whale, and its horn had been placed in front of them on the stage by Garfiel. The way they weaved the story had kept the crowd enthralled, with Subaru's matter-of-fact recounting being bolstered by Emilia's enthusiastic recollections of Subaru's "coolness."

Silence filled the hall.

“You're saying,” a fat nobleman stood from the gallery and questioned with a shaky voice, “that the White Whale now hunts mabeasts only!?”

“And only mabeasts forevermore,” Subaru turned and replied to him, “no human or demi-human will be harmed by it ever again.”

The noble, plopped back into his seat, eyes glazed.

“It seems a celebration is in order!” Miklotov approached the two candidates, “but first, if all the persons who participated in this battle would please step forward, and take the stage behind your candidates!”

Some seconds later, the participants were all lined up behind Emilia and Subaru, facing the crowd.

“Bring forth five Stars of the Sage Council, and two Royal Medals of Lugunica!” Miklotov declared.

Shortly, a paige ran to the stage bearing a small wooden box which he handed to Miklotov.

One by one, the old man pinned a star-shaped pendant on the collars of Roswaal, Rem, Frederica, Beatrice, and Garfiel. For his part, Garfiel was beside himself, grinning wildly and wiggling like he was trying not to piss his pants.

Miklotov addressed the crowd, "the Star of the Sage Council is the second-highest honor we can bestow on a citizen of this country! These five brave souls were instrumental in ending a reign of terror that has lasted for over 400 years! This honor comes with several benefits, including free movement around the Palace, their names will be placed upon a plaque in the city square commemorating their victory, and never again will any of them pay the Royal Tax!"

“Fuck yeah!” Garfiel made a fist, and his declaration sprang forth.

As if Garfiel ever paid taxes, Subaru thought.

“Ahem,” the old man continued.

Moving to Subaru and Emilia, Miklotov draped a large gold medallion over each of their necks.

He moved to address the crowd once more, “the Royal Medal of Lugunica is our country's highest honor! Typically it is awarded only once every few generations!”

The crowd murmured, astonished, as even none of the knights had heard of this award.

"It comes with all of the benefits of the Star of the Sage council, in addition to one other!"

Fuck yeah, no taxes! Subaru rescinded his judgment of Garfiel.

Silence washed over the crowd, as they waited expectantly.

"These two heroes will be granted the title of Baron and Baroness respectively, and be raised as nobles of the cloth! Should they win the Royal Selection, they can pass their titles to whomever they deem worthy!"

Cheers erupted, and thunderous applause filled the Great Hall.

Being demi-humans, Garfiel and Frederica were astounded. No demi-human had ever been raised to noble rank in this country, much less a half-elf. Both of them considered the implications the silver-haired girl might have for all other half-bloods and likewise in Lugunica. The siblings gave each other a pair of fang-filled grins as they witnessed history being made.

Turning to watch Subaru from behind, Garfiel felt his admiration swell for the man that had convinced him to leave Sanctuary.

I made the right choice, Cap'n is gonna change the world, the blonde boy thought warmly.

Subaru and Emilia regarded the crowd, hand-in-hand. Smiling down at the cheering mass of people, they looked at their friends in the front row.

Crusch, Felix, Wilhelm, Julius, Anastasia, and Ram looked back at them, all smiles. Their friends were happy for them.

Next to Ram, Otto looked bewildered.

This is fine, he thought to himself as he looked around, wide-eyed.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

That evening, a gala had been thrown at the Palace in honor of the Emilia and Subaru camp's victory. Garfiel stood at the massive food table, where he'd spent most of the evening. Tugging at his formal outfit's collar for the 57 th time, he cursed to himself.

Fuckin' itchy-ass bullshit. I oughtta wring that Roswaal's fuckin' neck for making me wear this fuckin' bullshit. Clown-ass!

Otto approached Garfiel, offering a hand. “Apologies, I don't think we've been properly introduced, things happened too fast earlier. I'm Otto Suwen, Emilia-sama and Subaru-sama hired me to be this campaign's Minister of Internal Affairs.”

“...the fuckin' wot, now?”

“Ah, haha. It's mostly a formal position, consisting of logistical arrangements and paperwork.”

"Logistical. Right." Garfiel shook his hand and gave him a toothy grin.

Then the beast-man seized the opportunity to brag, "my job's ta be a bad sumbitch! An' I'm good at it!"

“I see. Please look out for me as well, Garfiel-san.”

“None of that 'san' shit. My friends call me Garf.”

“Your friends...right then! Garf it is!”

As they chatted, Subaru walked up to sample a cream-puff.

“Hey, I see you two are getting along!” He interjected.

"Yeah, seems Otto here gets ta do all tha bullshit jobs nobody likes!" Garfiel pointed a thumb at Otto, shaking his head as he felt sorry for him.

“What? No, that's not it at all! I'm just good at clerical work!” Otto replied.

“Yeah, that stuff kinda sucks, Otto,” Subaru added, “I'm just glad that I don't have to do it.”

“What do you mean!? I haven't even started yet! Why are you telling me this!?” The pitch of Otto's voice was rising.

“This certainly is a noisy group,” two men in knight uniforms identical to Subaru's appeared.

“Ah, Reinhard and Julius! Allow me to introduce two of our newest camp members!” pointing at Garfiel, he said, “Garfiel Tinzel, an incredibly strong fighter from Sanctuary who could benefit loads from your training, Reinhard. I'm hoping you would allow him to stay with us at your estate.”

Garfiel's eyes were damp jewels after Subaru's description of him.

"Certainly, there is much room to spare at the estate. I'll make the arrangements." Reinhard stepped forward, shaking Garfiel's hand, "Reinhard Van Astrea, at your service."

Garfiel, for his part, couldn't contain himself, "IzzthafukkinSwordSaintholyshit!"

"Oh my," Reinhard replied.

Julius introduced himself to Garfiel once the beast-man calmed down a bit.

Then, Subaru introduced both of the knights to Otto.

“He's our new Internal Affairs Minister. That means he gets all the shitty jobs, like paperwork.”

“Hey! Just what are you planning on having me do!?” Otto's arms began flailing as he protested his treatment.

“Subaruuuuuuuu,” whirling at a sudden sultry voice, Subaru was caught off guard as Emilia approached him, wineglass in hand. Her cheeks were flushed, and there was a very slight stumble in her step.

Could it be that Emilia-tan is bad with alcohol?

Putting a dainty hand on Subaru's cheek, Emilia looked at him with a big smile, eyes half-lidded.

“Soooooo coooool yeahhhhhh.”

“Uh-oh.” Reinhard stepped in.

“Subaru,” he whispered, “we need to get her to a secluded location before very many people notice her state! Reputation is everything in these situations!”

Subaru nodded, taking Emilia by the hand.

“Let's go for some fresh air, Emilia-tan! It's a nice night outside!”

“Okeeeeeee dokeeeeee!”

 

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Subaru sat on a balcony with a snoozing Emilia's head in his lap. Reinhard sat across from him on another bench. Subaru stroked the girl's hair, as she dreamed happy dreams of her black-haired knight.

“Things are going well,” Reinhard nodded at Subaru, “your efforts are bearing fruit, and popular opinion is swaying quickly in our direction. Subaru-sama... well done.” The Sword Saint was recognizing the talents of his protege.

"Roswaal told me in great detail how you quickly created the tactics to use against the whale, as well as how you re-formed the plan on-the-fly as the situation changed. Not many people are capable of tactical planning or leadership, but you would seem to possess both qualities. In my estimation, you would be well-suited to rule." Smiling at his fellow knight and friend, Reinhard was thrilled with the progress the once-defenseless boy had made.

With a satisfied smile, Subaru looked up from the beautiful girl to his fiery-haired friend.

"Thank you, Reinhard. Not just for your praise, but everything. You saved us from Capella. You took both of us under your wing and made us stronger. You gave us a place to live when we were homeless. You introduced me to the man who would teach me how to harness spirit-arts. You advocated for Emilia when the whole world was against her, I mean for God's sake, they just made her, a half-elf, into a noble!"

Tears began to form in the corner of Subaru's eyes, as he thought about the persecution his beloved Emilia had gone through.

"Her entire life before the three of us started this, it was nothing but loneliness and heartache! Villagers would throw rocks at her, spit on her, and much worse!"

The dam had given, and a stream of sad droplets could be seen reflected by the moonlight as they began to cascade down the black-haired knight's face. He thought of their doomed loop in Arlam Village, when he had stupidly told the ignorant villagers that they should worship a half-elf. He and his love-to-be had been killed brutally for it.

"People would yell slurs at her! For nothing! Just because of the way she looks! Because of some woman that lived 400 years ago!"

Reinhard's face had softened, as he listened to his friend's painful lament. Subaru cried not for himself, but for the pain of the one he loved.

Truly, I was fortunate to cast my lot in with these two, the Sword Saint thought as he admired the man in front of him.

“She's the kindest person I have ever known! And that makes it hurt even worse!” Subaru's regret at not always being there to protect her was eating at him. This much was obvious.

Thinking of the humble forest home she had led him to after they were ejected from the Mathers Mansion, Subaru considered the lonely years she must have spent there. It was so cold, so deep in the forest, and so utterly isolated.

“She never once retaliated against any of the hatred! She has the power to punish damn near anybody for hurting her!”

Subaru looked down at the beautiful girl sleeping soundly on his lap. Her face bore a peaceful smile, as she seemed to be having good dreams.

“But she never did...” he continued to stroke her hair gently, “she only ever tried to help people...”

Composing himself, Subaru faced back toward his friend.

"But you saved us and helped us, Reinhard! It's thanks to you that we've gotten this far. Together we changed everything today."

The red-haired knight could only listen, feeling as if the flow of destiny was guiding them to some yet-to-be-seen fate.

“It was thanks to you, I feel the amount of hate in this world was reduced by at least a little today.”

Subaru gently placed Emila's head on the stone bench as she slept, his uniform's jacket acting as a pillow for the ethereal girl who glowed in the moonlight.

Subaru kneeled, his body facing toward the rising moon.

Drawing the sword that Reinhard procured for him, he stabbed it into the marble he knelt upon. Then, Subaru made a declaration.

“If I am crowned King of this country, I vow that for the rest of my days I will work to see that all citizens of Lugunica are seen as equal. Human, Demi-human, Half-elf, everyone.”

"Subaru-sama," Reinhard's face began to pale. This was not something to be taken lightly. Even with the progress Emilia and Subaru had made lately, old hatreds ran deep. It would be incredibly difficult to see such an aspiration to its end.

Raising his head to gaze at the silver orb in the sky, Subaru smiled, "for everyone who's suffered as she has, I'm going to end it. All of the hatred. All of the bigotry. All of the violence."

Rising to his feet, the young man continued gazing upward. Reinhard could only watch, as admiration filled his heart.

Several yards down the path, a pair of blonde siblings had made their way to the area of the garden where their candidates had gone to get some air. Intending to thank both Subaru and Emilia for what had happened today, they managed to overhear Subaru's vow.

Shaking slightly, Garfiel watched with amazement at what had just unfolded. He glanced over to his sister, noticing her face.

For the first time in many years, Garfiel watched as tears streamed from his sister's eyes. Making slight hiccup sounds, Frederica suddenly grabbed her little brother in a tight embrace.

Surprised, he slowly smiled and closed his eyes, returning the gesture.

“They're lookin' out for us, Sis.” He reached up and stroked her blonde hair.

“Princess and the Cap'n are lookin' out for all of us.”

“We have to do whatever we can to support them, Garf.”

Blinking the tears from her green eyes, Frederica looked down at her brother and softly smiled.

"Those two are going to change everything."

Gazing upon the spectacle of the Sword Saint, the half-elf, and the black-haired knight as they glowed in the light of the moon, Garfiel found himself awash in emotion, as well as hope for the future.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 22- Inspiration From the Life of a NEET

 

Communing with elemental spirits can be a rather interesting endeavor. Of the six quasi-spirits that had contracted with Natsuki Subaru, each one of them had a very distinct personality.

Igni, the fire spirit, was straightforward and passionate about helping her contractor.

Venti, the wind spirit, would aggressively do her best to vanquish his enemies.

Terra, the earth spirit, was concerned with making sure he was well defended and equipped to continue battle.

Aqua, the water spirit, was a wee bit of a crybaby. In fact, she reminded Subaru of a certain goddess from one of his favorite anime before he came to this world.

Luxi, the light spirit, was somewhat of a prima-donna, favoring flashy techniques and enjoying attention.

Teni, the dark spirit, could be a bit moody, but when Subaru needed her she could always be counted on to stand with him.

Teni, you're a total tsundere, you know that? Sitting cross-legged on the Astrea training ground, Subaru was having his daily afternoon conversation with the six spirits. They had become like a group of best friends who all vied to impress their contractor.

Well, except for Teni.

<Teni's contractor is making up words again. Teni's contractor should do a better job of communicating with his spirits, as a matter of fact.>

'As a matter of fact?' You know you're starting to sound like Beatrice.

<The Great-Spirit Beatrice shares an affinity for Yang magic with Teni. It is only natural that we also share other tendencies, I believe.>

'I believe?'

Bursting out laughing, Subaru smiled as he looked down affectionately at the six orbs of light circling his right hand. The dark purple orb was moving erratically as if signifying its displeasure at a hopeless contractor.

I thank the six of you, for everything you do. Igni, Venti, Terra, Aqua, Luxi, and...

Looking down, he gauged the reaction of the Yang spirit with a mischievous grin. She stopped circling his hand and floated expectantly, awaiting his gratitude.

...and Teni. Please, all of you absorb as much mana as you need from me to nourish yourselves. I want you to all be happy, healthy, and strong.

<Yes, contractor.> They replied as one. When it was time to bolster their mana reserves, Teni became strangely demure. If a glowing purple orb could blush, Subaru thought this might be the time one could see it happen.

Feeling a gentle pull, mana began to trickle from Subaru to the spirits. But there was also something very important that Julius had taught Subaru early in their training, soon after he had contracted with the six beings.

"For your spirits to be happy," Julius had explained to him, "you must also send them your emotions. Each one of them will be different. While one might require reassurance, another could be looking for a bit of joy. You'll have to focus on each of them individually, and do your best to meet their needs."

To Igni he sent confidence and a burning desire to protect.

To Venti he sent a thrilling memory of their past conquests.

To Terra he sent feelings of steadiness and diligence.

To Aqua he sent gentle feelings of contentment.

To Luxi he sent a desire to shine brightly in the eyes of the girl he loved.

To Teni he sent a resolve to vanquish those who would threaten the ones they held dear.

And to all of them, he sent love. Julius had taught him that this was the most important thing and that they would reciprocate his feelings in kind. The link he shared with them first became binary, as their feelings washed back into Subaru. Then, opening up further it became multi-directional, with six spirits and one spirit-knight sharing their emotions as one.

Joy. Confidence. Resolve. Affection.

As the emotions washed over him, Subaru closed his eyes and enjoyed the intimate connection with his beloved spirits. After several minutes had passed, the six had absorbed all of the mana they needed and received his honest emotions. Satisfied, they slowly circled his hand as he came out of the trance that allowed him to commune with them.

Thank you, ladies. I look forward to next time!

<Yes, contractor. Please continue to watch over us.>

Replying in unison once again the six spirits slowly faded from view, happy to serve a considerate contractor. Returning to the jewel in the cross-guard of his sword, they rested until he called them next.

“Now then, time to see how the others' training is coming along.”

Standing and brushing off his backside, Subaru began to make his way to the newly constructed wing of the training grounds where collisions could be heard, and a large cloud of dust was continually whipped into the air. Wearing his baggy training clothes, he tugged at the drawstring on the linen pants he wore.

I think it's time to get her to try that technique, Subaru gathered his determination and strode forward.

 

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Concentrate! Emilia stood with her hands pointed, palms up, toward a wooden training dummy.

“Firepower isn't a problem for you, Emilia-sama,” Reinhard had told her several days ago as he evaluated her magical aptitude, “but you still need to bolster your control.”

“Control...” she muttered to herself, “control the power, channel it into the spikes...”

An array of a dozen ice spikes appeared around her, and she commanded them to obliterate the dummy in front of her. Slicing forward with great speed, they sped toward the hapless wooden effigy of a soldier. Half of them hammered into the dummy, tearing at its wooden frame as a crashing sound rang out. The other half, however, had missed their mark entirely. The plank fence which had stood behind the dummy now sported a gaping hole where the errant ice spears had obliterated it.

“No good...” Emilia's shoulders drooped, her eyes downcast at the lack of progress in her casting.

While in the beginning her offensive abilities had been considered sufficient, the enemies they would face in the future were some of the most dangerous in the world. Reinhard had urged her to develop her firepower in a more controlled, concentrated manner. Eventually, she knew that the Sword Saint wanted to develop her defensive abilities... but she had stalled out on her attacks.

She could feel the vast amount of mana within her, screaming to be released through her gate. Even releasing a small amount required great concentration, and an attempt to create three ice spears inevitably conjured a dozen, as the huge store of power leaked out and her mind gave shape to the magic in an attempt to prevent wasting it.

Looking on, a small blonde girl with hair styled in twin drills approached the half-elf.

“Betty's contractor worries too much about wasting mana, I suppose. Emilia, you should concentrate more on the desired result of the power that you are releasing, and less on being efficient, in fact.” The great spirit regarded the newly created hole in the fence behind the now obliterated dummy.

It had been about a month since the battle with the whale, and the subsequent festivities. Emilia had grown frustrated with her lack of progress in the meantime, still unable to exert fine control over her offensive magic.

“My ice attacks are this uncontrolled, which means that I can't even consider using fire yet,” the silver-haired girl lamented, “at least the ice is solid once it takes shape, but fire is so much harder to get a handle on. It has no solid form, so containing it is like trying to catch fog with a net!”

Kicking a stone near her feet, she voiced her frustration at the situation. Flying through the air, the stone suddenly exploded in a shower of dust as a blade of wind slammed into it.

Whirling to see who had cast the spell, Emilia caught sight of her beloved spirit-knight, who was walking toward them.

“Emilia-tan,” Subaru approached her with a grin, “I think I might have an idea.”

As Emilia and Beatrice watched his approach, Subaru made a fist and gave his fiance' a winning smile.

"There's a legend from my homeland about a mage who could conjure a limitless number of weapons to fire at his enemies," feeling nostalgic at the memory from before he came to this world, he struck a trademark pose and pointed at Emilia, "I think you might be able to reproduce his technique!"

 

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“Soooooo, this King Gilgamesh could fling an endless number of weapons through this 'Gate of Babbeelon?'”

“Yep, and under normal circumstances he was unbeatable. But the weapons he used were part of a pre-existing collection, so even that technique had its limits,” Subaru's chuuni streak was beginning to surface, and his eyes grew starry as he explained the idea he had for Emilia's magic.

“Those weapons had to be essentially gathered and teleported through the gates he created, which was the weakness of his ability. He could attack with an incredible amount of offensive force, but he was limited by the ability to create the gates and transport the weaponry that he used.”

Subaru had a stick in his hand and had scratched the rough image of a sword into the ground as the three sat in a circle. Stabbing at the dirt drawing with the stick, he continued, "but a challenger appeared who could not only replicate the King's weapon firing technique, but could create with magic exact duplicates of the King's arsenal. Since he was creating them with mana and his mind, he was able to meet and exceed the firepower of the King. But that was only half of what enabled him to defeat the king."

Listening intently, Emilia and Beatrice were enthralled by the tale of a wondrous battle from another land. Satisfied that he had their attention, Subaru continued.

“The King had all of the greatest weapons at his disposal, but he used them as fodder, hurling them at his enemies en masse. No enemy had ever been able to approach him through such a deadly onslaught of blades. But the man who could duplicate his technique also had another card up his sleeve... swordsmanship.”

"Swordsmanship?" Emilia tilted her head to the side and placed a finger on her chin.

A look of realization came upon Beatrice's face as she considered Subaru's words, “the King had no need to learn close combat arts, as no foe had ever been able to approach him, in fact.”

Smiling at Beatrice, Subaru nodded, “correct. But the man who challenged him was able to get close because he could neutralize the King's ranged attacks. Being skilled at swordsmanship gave the man an edge that the King could not overcome, and the King was defeated.”

As Subaru was explaining his idea, Reinhard and Garfiel approached. The beast-man wiped sweat from his brow with a towel that was already completely soaked.

“Rein here put me through a hell of a workout!” Garf plopped down next to Subaru, “fucker strapped a buncha weight onta me and made me run tha new obstacle course!”

Looking around, he sensed he'd interrupted something, “whatcha doin?”

“Subaru was just about to tell us the name of a new magical attack strategy he wants me to try,” Emilia clapped her hands together in excitement, “it combines a continuous ranged bombardment with swordsmanship!”

“Oh?” Reinhard quickly became interested in Subaru's new strategy, “what's it called, Subaru?”

“Well... the original name isn't one I'd go with because it feels like we'd be copying a little too much...” Drawing a circle in the dirt with his index finger, Subaru suddenly sounded sheepish now that the gathered fighters were interested in hearing about the technique.

“C'mon, Cap'n! What's it called!?” Leaning forward, Garfiel knew that Subaru's naming sense was both keen and cool.

“Unlimited Blade Works.”

A collective gasp arose from the other four, at a name that evoked incredible power and sustained offensive capability.

Mouth wide open, a toothy smile slowly enveloped Garfiel's face.

“That's the coolest fuckin' thing I ever heard!”

“Easy Garf, like I said I don't want to blatantly copy the original name, just borrow the concept behind it. I had another idea for what to call Emilia's special variant, should she be able to make it work.”

Turning to Emilia, Subaru nodded, “I think the best way to help you gain more control over your magic isn't to make it easier to cast... I want you to try making it harder.”

“What? That doesn't make any sense Subaru!” Cocking her head to the side again, Emilia's eyes pointed up as she thought.

“My contractor's 'feeyonsay' is a nincompoop, in fact!” Beatrice wore a disappointed look, after all of the big talk that Subaru had made about his idea.

"Hear me out!" Placing his hands in front of him, Subaru attempted to placate his companions, "when Emilia attempts to cast a small number of ice spikes, they often triple or more in number, right? When she tries to fire them her control is spread out and many of them fly off course. But think about how simple that the spikes are, their creation involves no fine-tuning or nuance."

Standing up, he beckoned Emilia over to where he stood at the range's firing line, as he pointed at another training dummy.

“Create three spikes and fire at that dummy, Emilia-tan.”

Concentrating, Emilia glared at the target as she formed the magic in her mind. Ten spikes appeared around her and fired off rapidly toward the dummy. Of the ten, four hit the target as the rest crashed into the fence, once again creating a hole.

“Poopy!” Emilia exclaimed. Looking somewhat downcast and a fair bit frustrated, Emilia spun back to face Subaru, wondering what he had up his sleeve.

“Now, Emilia, try making a replica of this,” pulling his sword from its sheath, Subaru held it out toward her so that she could get a good look at it.

Nodding slowly, then looking downward at the blade her beloved treasured so much, Emilia noted the intricate etching of filigrees along the cross-guard as well as the base of the blade. She studied the large jewel that housed his spirits, as well as the slight serration of the blade toward the base of the main cutting edge. Concentrating and closing her eyes, she began to imagine the form of the sword within her pool of mana, then pushed that form through her gate to give it shape.

<Schhhhick!>

Opening her eyes, Emilia gasped as a perfect ice replica of Subaru's weapon now floated between them.

Gazing down at the reproduction, Subaru turned to look at the target dummy across the range.

“Fire it.”

<Ziiiing!>

Shooting forward, the frozen sword slammed into the unfortunate dummy, as an explosion of ice obscured their vision for a few seconds. After it cleared, the group all looked to see what damage the weapon had wrought upon its target.

Only, the dummy was gone. Instead in its place were hundreds of tiny wooden shards and a few shreds of cloth.

“Wow, Princess! Ya clobbered it!” Garfiel hopped around excitedly.

"The target was totally annihilated, with increased damage and perfect control," Reinhard gazed at the dummy, then looked at Subaru, impressed.

The black-haired knight crossed his arms and nodded, satisfied that his theory had been correct.

“Subaruuuuu!!!” Emilia slammed into him and gave him a crushing hug, lifting him in the air, “how did you know that would work so well! Doing it like this was waaaaay better!”

“C-hu-hant breave! Emilia-tan!!!” Starting to turn blue, Subaru struggled in the elven girl's Hulk-like grip.

“Oh! Sorry!” Gently setting him down and stroking his back as he recovered, Emilia glanced back at the spot where the target dummy had once stood.

"I think I understand," Reinhard stepped toward the couple, working to deduce the nature of Subaru's new concept, "since forming more detailed weaponry requires increased amounts of mana, when you use it to create a single item the minimum amount you can use is already spent on that projectile, therefore no further ones are accidentally created."

“That's the first part of the idea, anyway,” straightening, Subaru had now caught his breath, “she was working so hard to control the amount of mana that she was releasing that it was messing with her accuracy. Essentially her mana pool is so huge that creating and firing those spikes was like trying to drive a nail with a sledgehammer.”

Looking at Emilia with a mischievous grin, he continued, “we just gave her a much bigger nail to hit with it, so that all of that power can be delivered accurately.” Subaru took a step toward Emilia, “now for the true test, we'll see whether my idea will bear real fruit. Emilia, create three of those replicas and fire them simultaneously.”

With a look of slight hesitance, Emilia quickly shook her head to clear any doubt. She pointed her palms at the first dummy, which she had missed with most of her spikes the last time. Rapidly, three ice swords appeared around her and screamed toward the dummy.

All three hit their marks exactly where she had wanted, and a much larger explosion than the last rocked the far end of the firing range.

“Hell yeah!” Garfiel whooped.

Beatrice paced up next to Emilia, a look of astonishment on her face, “Betty cannot believe it! With such a simple adjustment Subaru has managed to greatly increase her contractor's offense!”

Looking down at the spirit, a huge grin spread across Subaru's face, “Beako! That's the first time you called me by my name!” Picking up the girl, he held her out in front of him and spun around laughing.

“THIS IS EGREGIOUS, IN FACT! YOU WILL PUT BETTY DOWN THIS INSTANT!”

 

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"So, you believe that I can train this ability to the point that I'll be able to deliver a sustained assault with these projectiles, like the two people in the story you told earlier?" Stroking Subaru's hair, Emilia had his head in her lap. His shenanigans with Beatrice had earned him a black eye, as well as some bruises from the concussive spell the spirit had hit him with.

Worth it! He thought to himself. Between the joy of teasing Beako and Emilia's lap pillow, these injuries were nothing.

Finally sitting up, he faced Emilia, “that's right, with your mana pool and some practice, I think you could even bring the technique to its final conclusion. A continuous ranged assault which opens the enemy up for close combat. You'll have to begin training with your ice swords for melee combat, but I'd be willing to bet Reinhard is more than up to the task.”

Glancing up at the Sword Saint, Subaru saw him give a nod, “it would be my honor to take on Emilia-sama as a student of the blade.”

“Cap'n, this whole idea o' yours is cool as shit,” Garfiel was crouching near the two candidates as they sat on the ground, “but yer forgettin' the most important part.”

“Hmm? What's that?” Subaru looked at him quizzically.

“Ya said ya wanted ta come up with a name for it, so what's it gonna be?”

"Ah, that. Well, I had something in mind. But only if Emilia-tan likes it since it'll be her technique!"

Scooting to kneel next to Garfiel, Emilia waited with bated breath to hear what Subaru wanted to call it.

“How about...”

Everyone leaned forward to hear.

“Ice Brand Arts.”

Eyes widening, Emilia placed her hands over her mouth, “So coooool!”

Once again, Garfiel's green pupils were awash with manly tears as he appreciated his Captain's incredible naming sense.

“Tha's so badass! I'm jealous! Ya gotta name an ability for me, Cap'n!”

Reinhard and Beatrice glanced at each other and shrugged, neither feeling strongly one way or the other about the new name.

“Ice brand arts...” Emilia liked the way it sounded as she murmured it for the first time.

"For extra effectiveness, you'll want to yell it out when you use it in battle, Emilia-tan!"

Subaru couldn't help but indulge himself a little by offering this piece of advice.

“I think if you practice at it, you'll be able to conjure many, many projectiles en masse. This could be a game-changer for our camp, you know. Also, I have some ideas for ways you could further develop the concept, but let's take it one step at a time.”

“Hmm, hmm!” Emilia nodded enthusiastically.

 

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Emilia and Beatrice had run off to the Astrea armory, with the half-elf intending to soak up the designs of many different weapon types to be used in her new technique. Garfiel, Reinhard, and Subaru were left standing near the ranged course to watch as the sun dipped low on the horizon. An orange cast bathed the three warriors, and a comfortable stillness had settled over the estate.

"Garfiel," Subaru turned to regard the blonde-haired boy in front of him. In place of his usual vest and pants combo, Garfiel was wearing an identical black workout suit to the one Subaru was clad in.

“I have an idea for you as well.”

“Eh? What d'ya mean, Cap'n?”

”It's from another story the comes from my homeland. One where the hero, like you, can transform between a colossal beast form and their normal humanoid form.”

The trio began to slowly make their way toward the manor, as Subaru explained his concept to Garf, “your normal form has tremendous speed and a great deal of strength. Yet your transformed state increases that strength at the cost of agility as well as your higher brain functions.”

Stopping, Subaru turned to Garfiel and placed his hands on the blonde's shoulders.

“I'd like you to try combining the two.”

“C-combining them? Why, Cap'n?”

"Think about it. A hybrid form that has the best of both; incredible agility, massive strength, and a tactical head to guide them. In the stories from my home, the hero calls this powered-up form a 'Super Saiyan,' after his ancestry."

In for a penny, in for a pound when it comes to the weeb ideas, I reckon, Subaru decided.

Nodding enthusiastically, Garfiel soaked up this new information, “I ain't never tried ta do anything like that before. Do ya think it could work?”

“Hard to say, until you try. But we've got plenty of time for that later on. We've all had a long day so let's get washed up and ready for dinner.”

Subaru and Garf gingerly headed to the mansion, eager to fill their grumbling stomachs. Slightly behind them, the Sword Saint took a more leisurely pace back to his home.

This young man never ceases to amaze me, Reinhard mused to himself, with a sense of satisfaction.

What an amazing ruler he'll make.

Stopping to glance at the setting sun one last time before heading in for the night, the red-haired man smiled. Lately, a sense of peace and gratefulness he'd never known had begun to wash over him little-by-little. He found himself no longer troubled as badly as he had been by the sorrow of his past. He supposed that the friendship and faith of a certain young spirit-knight had begun to relieve the burden of his lineage to a degree.

Thinking back to his father and grandfather, Reinhard found that his heart felt a little lighter today than it usually did.

I'll forever be in your debt, Natsuki Subaru.

You and that girl are going to change the world.

 

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Laughter could be heard coming from the corner dining hall within the Astrea mansion, as the members of the Emilia and Subaru camp heartily downed another meal of chicken breast, vegetables, and rice. At this point, they had all gotten used to the repetitive yet perfectly nutritious meals.

Otto, for his part, was the exception. Being the token non-combatant of the group, he did not need to stick with a strict diet, but he hadn't had the heart to ask the kitchen staff to make special meals just for him. So, he shared the same foods each day as the others did.

Downing a large glass of wine in a few gulps, the former merchant poked at a pile of rice with his fork. Today had been another day filled with paperwork and letters. He'd been spending a great deal of time drafting requests for audience with nobles all around Lugunica. Together, Reinhard and Otto had devised a series of visits which the two would undertake to plead the case for these nobles to place their support behind the Emilia and Subaru campaign in the Royal Selection.

Such an undertaking would require a great deal of travel, and Otto knew that once he and Reinhard left they would be gone for at least a few months. But this was necessary, as the throne could not be won without the support of the nobility. Plus, the influence of the Sword Saint would be invaluable to such an effort.

Reinhard was slightly concerned at the notion of leaving the candidates without his sword to defend them, despite their growing power. So he'd confided in Otto that he discreetly communicated to Margrave Mathers a request for additional security in their absence.

As the alcohol warmed his mind like a cozy blanket, Otto noticed the butler Gerard had entered the dining room and approached Reinhard, who sat in his usual spot at the end of the table. Whispering to Reinhard, the butler nodded a few times then swiftly exited the room. The maid Josephina remained in her typical spot behind the side of her master.

Shortly, the butler reappeared, holding the door open for someone to follow behind him.

First entered a short blue-haired maid that Otto recognized from the carriage where he had taken shelter during the battle with the White Whale.

Ah, it's that girl Rem, he thought, I'm glad to see that she is back in good health!

Taking her place at the edge of the table, the blue-haired girl bowed. Behind her, another person entered.

Towering above the butler and other two maids, Otto gasped as a golden-haired goddess strode through the door.

She had a cute face, gorgeous blonde hair with a wild look, and the deepest green eyes Otto had ever seen.

<Gulp.> The sound his throat made was audible.

The statuesque beauty bowed next to Rem, then as they both straightened she began to speak.

“Pardon our intrusion, Sir Reinhard, Emilia-sama, Subaru-sama...” Her eyes passed along the gathered inhabitants, catching on Garfiel as she began to smile.

A smile that contained sharp, pointy fangs.

Many men might shy away from such an intimidating sight despite the beauty of the girl in front of them, but those men weren't like Otto.

Because Otto Sewen's divine blessing allowed him to speak with animals, he had gained great affection over the years for many different types of beasts... particularly cats.

And the girl before him obviously had a partial cat-like demi-human lineage.

“G-g-gorgeous...” in a dazed, somewhat drunken state, Otto mumbled lowly.

Looking to his left, Garfiel had heard the slightly slurred word. An eyebrow cocked as he considered his new friend's muttering, then both eyes went wide as he looked back and forth between the new arrival and the former merchant.

Possessed of hearing above the normal abilities of a human, the blonde girl also had a look of surprise on her face, which quickly began to turn beet red.

"G-greetings, Otto-sama! Unfortunately, we weren't formally introduced after the battle with the whale, my name is Frederica Bauman!"

“Fredericaaaa...” Otto drawled, a dumb grin spreading across his face, “such a pretty name.”

As everyone in the room now gazed between the maid and the merchant, their reactions varied greatly.

“Oi oi oi, what's all this?” Garfiel growled.

Reinhard simply blinked.

Emilia tilted her head and placed a finger near her chin.

Rem remained still, except for her eyes, which quizzically looked back and forth.

Beatrice ignored them all as she chewed on a piece of chicken.

Frederica was now an even deeper shade of red.

And then there was Subaru, who wore the biggest shit-eating grin of his life.

“Hey Otto, you look tired!” Jumping to his friend's aid, Subaru swiftly slung Otto's arm over his shoulder and began dragging him from the room.

“Natsuki-san! I'm not done with my wine!”

“I'd say you're good to go for now! Let's get you to bed, you look tired!”

Otto's soles made a high-pitched screeching noise as Subaru used his enhanced strength to slowly slide the green-clad boy toward the exit.

<Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...>

Every eye in the room followed them as Subaru attempted to shove Otto through the doorway.

“Hey! Unhand me!” Grabbing the doorjambs, Otto ceased movement as he dug into place.

Fuck it, I gotta get him out of here before he does anything else embarrassing, Subaru thought.

Channeling mana into his right arm, Subaru discreetly hammered Otto in the stomach in an attempt to knock him out. As the merchant's fingers came loose from the doorjamb, Subaru swiftly dragged him into the hallway.

But the stomach blow had unintended consequences, as Otto suddenly unloaded the contents of his stomach into the hallway just out of sight of the inhabitants of the dining room.

“BLEEEAAAHHHHHGGHH!”

“Ah shit, dude! You got some on me!”

Awkwardly, all eyes in the room continued to stare at the empty doorway as more sounds came from the hall.

“Hold my hat! BLURRGHP!”

“DUDE! MY SHOES!”

“It's in my hair!”

"For fuck's sake, man! This uniform is white! WHITE, Otto!"

<Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...>

Once again the sound of shoes being dragged on the floor made its way down the hall until it finally faded away.

Silence remained in the dining hall, finally to be broken by Rem.

“Sir Reinhard, Roswaal-sama has sent us to lend aid in the defense of Subaru-sama and Emilia-sama in your upcoming absence.”

"Are you going somewhere, Reinhard?" Emilia turned to question the red-haired man.

"Ah, yes. Otto and I will be departing soon to visit a number of noble houses in an attempt to sway them to our cause. Margrave Mathers will be joining us on the journey along with his remaining maid, Ram. He's a powerful ally and his influence will be invaluable in gathering support."

Still staring at the empty doorway, Frederica had yet to regain her sense of decorum.

Did he say I was gorgeous!? Nobody had ever said something of that nature to the beast-girl before.

Finishing her tiny pile of rice, Beatrice daintily removed a napkin from her lap and placed it upon the table. Then the spirit stood and made her way to the open doorway where Subaru had dragged Otto. Looking into the hall, she shrank in revulsion, then decided on an alternate route back to Emilia's room.

“Disturbing, in fact.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

A purple-haired maiden sat with her brows furrowed as she read an intelligence report from her militia network. Her chest was tight, as she poured over the information provided.

The snow-white fox pelt she wore around her neck stirred, then moved of its own accord as it took the shape of a gorgeous fox. Standing on the table the girl was propped upon, the fox studied the report her mistress was agonizing over.

“Do you intend to call for your allies? Both camps have powerful warriors who could be instrumental against a foe such as this.” The fox turned its face to regard the white-clad merchant girl.

“Tha village of Mill-Gray's been wiped out,” looking at the map next to her report, the girl pointed to the location of the doomed town, “it's less than half a day from tha capital, with only tha village of Fleur between us.” Tracing a finger northeast, she pointed, “all wildlife northeast of Mill-Gray has disappeared as well, meaning that's where tha thing is headed.”

“This is where we'll have ta make our stand. We'll have ta gather every soldier at our disposal, and call in favors from Russell as well as tha rest of tha merchant network.”

“My lady, do you think that is wise?” The fox had a concerned voice as it considered the foe they likely faced, “this is no mere bandit camp or slaver group.”

Looking at her right hand, which pointed at the village of Fleur on the map, Anastasia Hoshin could feel herself begin to shake.

“This is our only choice. We'll have ta do something big ta catch up with Subaru and Emilia. And what could be bigger than saving tha capital city itself? All of the intelligence indicates that it's headed toward tha city.”

Putting on a brave face, she looked at the fox, “if we call for their help, we'll have ta share tha credit. If we do that we might as well withdraw from tha selection right now, because we'll never catch up ta those two otherwise.”

Returning to rest upon her mistress, the white fox whispered, “I hope you're right about this.”

A few minutes later, Julius and Ricardo had responded to her summons, and stood before her. Both of their eyes were wide, as they had received the news of Anastasia's intentions.

“Gather everyone we can muster. Try ta keep this quiet, because we don't want tha other camps getting wind of what we're up ta.”

Nodding, the knight and the mercenary looked at each other. Despite that fact that these were two seasons warriors, fear could be seen in their eyes.

“My Lady, might I suggest that we enlist the aid of the Royal Knights for this endeavor?” Julius inquired.

“We can't. It has ta be our camp, and our camp alone. Otherwise it would be pointless.”

“I see. Then we shall do as you request,” turning to exit, Julius paused, “we should put a fail-safe in place, in the event our forces are... defeated by this enemy. It would do no good to leave the capitol defenseless in the wake of such a foe.”

“Ever tha chivalrous knight. Then find our fastest rider and fastest ground dragon, and have them make ready ta deliver tha evacuation notice ta Luginica City.”

Her eyes shined in the candle light as she considered her next words.

“In case we fail.”

Standing, she walked up to her knight and placed a small hand on his shoulder.

“It's time ta go rabbit-hunting, Sir Julius.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 23- The Days That Mean the Most

 

Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle.

Efficiency. I am efficiency.

Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle.

All other paper pushers shall bow before me.

Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle. Stamp...shuffle.

As Otto cleared a stack of invoices for the newly constructed training equipment within the Astrea Estate, he hummed to himself. Placing the final stack into the outbound pile, he nodded with satisfaction.

Good job, Otto! He thought to himself, tonight's booze was well-earned!

Pushing away from the desk within his custom-outfitted study, he looked around with a sense of satisfaction. Reinhard had the room built exactly to Otto's request, with nary an eye batted. He's even been generous enough to include the hidden wet bar with a well-stocked selection of spirits and wines.

Glancing toward the window, Otto noted that it was still early afternoon.

Still a bit too early to be cracking open a bottle just yet, I'll wait a little bit longer.

Reinhard's butler Gerard would be along sometime soon to see that his finished paperwork was delivered to the outgoing mail. This meant that he'd finished early for the day, a rare yet welcome circumstance Otto intended to take full advantage of.

Shutting the office door behind him, Otto sauntered into the hallway. Making his way toward the front exit of the mansion, he gingerly stepped out into the clean, crisp air and took a deep breath.

“Ah, I could get used to this.”

Since joining the Emilia and Subaru camp, Otto had mostly kept busy with his new-found duties. At first, he'd been unsure if this had been the right decision, with the insane circumstances surrounding both his recruitment and initial employment. But once he'd settled in and gotten used to the new routine, he'd become glad at accepting the position.

The other members of the camp, outside of the mansion's servants, were almost exclusively incredibly powerful fighters. Having seen his fair share of bar-room tussles and bandit encounters, Otto was no stranger to your run-of-the-mill fisticuffs.

But these people were something else entirely.

Almost daily, massive explosions could be heard from the direction of the training ground. Often this would be accompanied by yelling, more explosions, clouds of dust, and the frequently destroyed implement which Otto would have to re-order and have replaced.

How many training dummies have they gone through in the last month, anyway? Otto mused.

“OTTO!!!” Hearing his name, the green-clad youth looked to find Subaru jogging in his direction, Garfiel in tow.

Uh-oh. Hesitantly, he greeted the young knight.

“How goes your training, Natsuki-san?”

"About that! I convinced Reinhard to let us have an afternoon to do some non-combat sports training. But we need your help! We don't quite have enough people to play just yet!"

“.....play?”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

As soon as he'd been dragged to the training ground, Emilia and Subaru had snatched up Otto and started strapping makeshift cushioning to him. Across his chest, on his arms, and upon his legs. Beatrice sat on a bench watching them, curious about the strange display.

“What's the meaning of this, Natsuki-san!?” Completely caught off-guard, Otto flailed his hands in the air.

“We're gonna play a game from my homeland,” Subaru shot him a grin as he tightened a strap, “it'll be great training for all of us, as well as a lot of fun!”

"Why did you drag me into this!? I don't need to train!" Slapping at the hand Subaru was using to entomb him in cushioning, Otto found that he had too much padding on his hand for the blow to be effective.

“We just need somebody to be the catcher,” Subaru stood straight and patted him on the shoulder, “the rest of us will do the running around, don't you worry!”

In the corner of his eye, Otto could see Garfiel and Reinhard approaching, along with Rem and...

Frederica.

It's her! Horrified, the merchant grew stiff as the four new additions arrived.

After the drunken display he'd put on a few nights earlier, Otto had done his best to avoid the blonde maid. The embarrassment was still fresh in his mind, and as she glanced in his direction his face grew red-hot.

“Is that some new kind of training dummy?” Tilting her head, Frederica regarded the upright pile of cushions and straps that greeted her sight.

“Nah, that's Otto! We needed to make sure he was well protected, so we wrapped him up good and tight with these cushions.” Laughing, Subaru swatted Otto on the back, who couldn't feel a thing through his padding.

Swinging a club around gingerly, Garfiel seemed excited, "we put tha playfield together like ya said, Cap'n. Let's get this show on tha road!"

 

***********************************************************************************

 

"Time to get limber!" Subaru was bouncing up and down on his heels as he warmed up his legs. Watching him, Emilia emulated his moves, with a happy smile on her face.

Regarding her as she copied him, Subaru shouted happily, “my Emilia-tan is a sporty-chick!”

“Yeah, I'm a sporty-chick!” shouting, Emilia asked him quietly, “what's a sporty-chick?”

“A hot girl that's a great athlete, like you, Emilia-tan!” The adoration was as plain as day upon the young knight's face as he began to jog in place.

“Oh! Then I like being a sporty chick! This is fun!”

Looking down in front of him, Otto regarded the folded burlap sack that Subaru had designated "home plate." Then, gazing outward he could see Subaru at the "first base," Emilia at "second base," Frederica at "third base," and Rem far back in the "outfield." They each had a strangely oversized leather glove on their left hands, which Subaru had said he'd spent a few nights using his sewing skills to put together.

Looking down at his own hand, the two candidates had fastened a bulbous monstrosity of a leather mitt to it. Emilia was happily going along with Subaru's scheme, seemingly feeding off of his enthusiasm.

“Growing up and living alone in the forest, I never got to play games like this!” At her innocent declaration, as well as her excitement, Otto had found himself surrendering completely to the tide of oddity that he'd been swept up in.

The poor girl... well I suppose I can lend them a hand just this one time, Otto nodded as he had resigned to assist in their effort.

Reinhard stood in the middle of the bases, another makeshift glove on his left hand. Garfiel still held the club as he swung it repeatedly, muttering something about a "knocking the shit outta that fuckin' ball," as he stood a few feet off to the side of Otto.

Beatrice was standing behind Otto, wearing a less obtrusive version of his padding. She had vehemently argued against Subaru putting the pads on her until Emilia had inserted herself into the effort.

“Subaru says you get to be the one in charge! You'll be something called an 'Umpire',” the half-elf had made a convincing argument to the small spirit, “you get to decide whether everyone is following the rules!”

Finally submitting, Beatrice had nodded, “it only makes sense that Betty would be the boss, I suppose.”

Her twin hair-drills sticking out of the padding, Beatrice was now quite the sight.

Otto crouched as Subaru had explained, cueing Garfiel to approach the plate.

“Play ball, I suppose!”

Subaru had instructed Reinhard to pitch fairly hard, but not too hard as his tremendous strength might cause issues if he were to use too much power. The 'ball' they had come up with to play the game was something Subaru had found on a shopping trip to the city. He'd been mum about the origin of the objects, of which he'd procured three. They were round, weighty, and white, fitting comfortably within one's fist. But there was an odd wrinkly texture to them that was tough to place.

Grimacing, Otto prepared for Reinhard's throw. As the Sword Saint wound up, he targeted the glove that Otto held slightly forward.

This was a bad idea! Grimacing, the Internal Affairs Minister prepared to receive the knight's toss.

A slight wind whipped up around Reinhard as he cocked his arm back. Flinging it forward, the red-haired man let loose the ball.

<THOOM> A boom erupted as the ball blasted forward toward Otto's glove.

“BYAAAAAAAA!!!!” Grimacing, the merchant prepared for the destruction of his arm as the

projectile neared.

“I got you, you fucker!!!” Swinging with all his might, the blonde boy honed in on the rocketing object.

The club, which Subaru had called a 'bat,' collided with the ball at near-supernatural speed.

<BTOOOOF>

Erupting into a white cloud, the ball shattered and exploded. The dust swirled in the wake of Garfiel's swing, covering Otto and Beatrice in a layer of fine white.

“It's in Betty's hair, in fact!” Flailing around as she tried to remove the offending particles, Beatrice tripped and splatted onto her face. Running over, Emilia picked her up and began to dust her off.

“You're ok, Beako, it's just a little bit of dust. Right, Subaru?” Turning to ask the boy who came running, Emilia watched as Subaru averted his eyes and nodded.

“Yep! Just a little bit of dust! No problem!”

Garfiel turned to look at Otto, cocking an eyebrow at his appearance. Their Interior Minister was frozen in place, unmoving. Unsure if he was white-faced due to being covered in dust, or from shock, Garf hollered toward Subaru.

“Oi, I think Otto's broken,” waving his hand in front of the crouched figure, he received no response in return.

“Hmmm. Let me see if I can bring him around,” conjuring his water spirit, Subaru instructed her to splash Otto with some cold water.

Give him a little wake and wash, Aqua.

< Yes, contractor! Aqua will do her best!>

Even though she was a bit of a crybaby, the little water spirit was always eager to please. Using a rush of mana, she began to summon a globe of chilled water over the top of the frozen catcher, which rapidly grew in scale.

“Uh oh,” Subaru didn't like how rapidly the mass of water was expanding, but it was too late.

Several hundred gallons of near-freezing water descended upon Otto, simultaneously rousing him from his stupor and carrying him away in a frothing torrent.

I'm gonna die! Heeeeeeelp!!!

The life of a merchant could be harsh, but as he was now resigned to his doom, Otto thought back to his days on the road warmly. As he was carried toward the bordering woods by an artificial river, the other members of the camp began to give chase.

“Otto-saaaaaan!”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Shivering as he once again crouched in front of home plate, Otto noted that the batter had changed. They had given Garfiel a “Home Run,” since he had hit the ball hard enough to destroy it. This meant the demi-human was now manning first base, with the players having rotated to new positions.

Holding the bat over her shoulder as she stood next to him, Rem gazed at Reinhard, ready for his next pitch.

“Play ball, I suppose!”

Rearing back, the Sword Saint made to throw the replacement ball at Otto's glove once again. Shooting forward, this time the object remained at subsonic speed as Reinhard had reduced the strength of the effort.

Narrowing her eyes, Rem swung the bat at the ball and missed. As the object made contact with his glove, Otto felt himself begin to fly backward with the force of the toss.

“Murak.”

Beatrice shot up into the air as gravity lost its hold on her, avoiding the flying catcher.

"NOOOOooooo!!!!!" Landing on his butt and rolling backward, Otto veered into a fence several yards behind him, smashing into it. The padding he wore absorbed the lion's share of the impact, fortunately. But alas, once again Otto found himself dazed.

“Hmm,” Subaru pondered, “I guess we should switch pitchers.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Reinhard was running on third base.

Subaru was running on second base.

Emilia was running on first.

Forgoing a show of strength, Reinhard had “bunted” the ball. As soon as Subaru was able to grab it as he sprinted from the pitchers' mound the Sword Saint had basically blinked into existence at first base.

Subaru opted not to use mana in his swing as Emilia pitched for him, but was able to knock the ball far into the outfield in a respectable showing. After Garfiel's destruction of the first ball, they had decided that runners could only take one base at a time to keep it fair and preserve the remaining balls.

Emilia, on the other hand, had gotten too excited and smacked their second ball far away into the city somewhere. Everyone had hoped that some hapless citizen hadn't been hammered with the flying object as it came down to the ground.

Looking around, Otto noted that the bases were now loaded. Approaching the home plate, bat in hand, was a tall blonde girl in a maid's outfit.

Oh shit, Otto thought to himself.

“Good day, Otto-san. Are you enjoying Subaru-sama's game?” With a slight blush, Frederica made small talk with him.

“More like a game of death! I don't know how I keep getting dragged into these circumstances!” Otto looked up at her as he couldn't hold back his complaint.

When she looked down toward him, he could see a very slight frown come upon the blonde girl's face.

< !!!>

“Ah,” he quickly added, “but it seems everyone is having a good time, no? I suppose I am having quite a lot of fun after all!”

A gentle smile graced her pretty face as she hefted the bat up to her shoulder.

“It's finally my turn! I can't wait to try batting!” A fang-filled grin erupted on her face as the girl turned to face the pitcher:

Garfiel.

“Wait... no,” it was no more than a croaking whisper. Otto's pupils dilated, as he stared forward into the Eldritch Horror of the person standing on the pitcher's mound.

“Oi, Sis. Been a long time since we played a game like this. Why don't we make it interesting?”

“If you say so, Garf,” a glint reached the eye of the maid, as she slightly lowered her stance to afford a more powerful swing.

Suddenly, orange fur erupted from her arms as they grew to twice their previous size, and a tail sprouted from below the hem of her dress.

“Frederica...san?” Otto stared in disbelief.

<Sproing> Two cat ears appeared on the top of Frederica's head.

“H...hey.” Torn between fear and arousal, Otto stared as he came to be acutely aware of his cat-girl fetish for the very first time.

Nyaaaah, Otto-sama! Otto's imagination ran wild as he could hear the maid's voice in his head. Stars danced before his vision as he daydreamed.

Suddenly a low growl erupted, and waking from his momentary stupor Otto shakily turned to see its source.

A red aura had begun to swirl around Garfiel, his eyes glowing with an unreal amount of raw power.

“Two can play at that game, Onee-chan.”

With sheer terror, Otto watched as Garfiel's form began to swell. Orange fur grew all around his body as monstrous muscles swelled. His head morphing into that of a giant tiger, his body that of a huge bipedal beast.

“Wait...” Beginning to look left and right for an escape route, panic started to grip Otto.

“Whenever you're ready, little brother .”

The monster on the pitcher's mound reared back to throw the last remaining ball.

“Remember, Garfiel! You're supposed to be practicing control!” Subaru chided from second base.

What control!? Nothing about this situation is controlled! As he resigned himself to his fate, Otto put everything he had into the arm he held in front of him, preparing to receive the deadly pitch.

If nothing else, I have to look cool in front of Frederica-san!!!

Roaring, Garfiel flung the ball forward with all of his monstrous might. Though aiming at the glove Otto held, the amount of power he used slightly compromised his control.

The ball was now rocketing toward Otto's head. With every once of agility he could muster, he began to move to the right to avoid the oncoming projectile of death.

“Murak.”

Once again Beatrice escaped into the air, not taking any chances this time around.

Facing down the oncoming threat, time seemed to have slowed to a crawl for Otto. Just as the ball was about to impact the left side of his face, his peripheral vision picked up movement. Moving his eyes to the left to see the new threat, his vision filled with something made of wood.

It was the end of the bat, traveling at tremendous speed. It made contact millimeters from his face, rendering the ball into another explosive cloud of dust which continued forward, bowling the hapless catcher over backward once again.

Tumbling, Otto came to rest on his back. His mouth was full of dust from the ball and he hacked and coughed as he tried to sit back up, the world spinning from the concussive blast of the cloud.

“Otto-san!” He heard her voice as she came to him, and felt his head being gently lifted and placed on something soft. A heavenly feeling came over Otto Suwen, as just before he lost consciousness, he could see a lovely face looking down at him.

A face topped off with a set of cat ears.

“Magnificent...” the padding-clad man drifted off to sleep, dreaming sweet dreams.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

A gentle breeze upon his face was the first thing he could feel as his mind began to stir. Slightly opening his eyes, Otto looked up to see Frederica's face once again.

“Otto, you're awake?” She smiled down at him, “thank goodness, I'm so glad.”

As his eyes shot wide open, Otto began to look back and forth.

“I'm lying down, and Frederica is kneeling. And considering our distance and the heavenly sensation under my head...”

“You don't have to go through all that,” the blonde girl cooed, “your head is on my lap, it isn't uncomfortable, is it?”

“I know of no finer, more divine pillow...”

“Oi!!! Get off my sis ya fuckin' wobbler!”

Grabbing the merchant by his boots, Garfiel began to drag him off of Frederica's lap.

“Hey! HEY! Let go!!!” Struggling under Garfiel's iron grip soon proved to be futile as Otto was deposited on the ground several feet from the maid.

“That was a close one, Otto. Good thing Frederica managed to hit the ball before it nailed you in the melon,” looking to his side, Otto could see Subaru and Emilia sitting together as they waited for him to revive.

“You! I have a bone to pick with you!” He pointed at Subaru, “and you, too! How could you throw that thing at my head so hard!?” He whirled on Garfiel, who now kneeled next to him.

“Yeah... sorry, I got a little carried away. Me an' Sis used ta play games like that when we was kids so I kinda overdid it.” Looking sheepish, Garfiel drew circles in the dirt with his index claw.

"Anyway, are you ok, Otto?" Frederica had stood and now offered Otto a hand. He grabbed hold of it, and she easily pulled him up. Then, as he stood facing her they both smiled, chuckling at the strangeness of the afternoon. Her transformation had reverted, except for the conspicuous ears.

Garfiel watched the two with a suspicious face, eyes narrowing.

As he regarded the girl in front of him, Otto turned to address Subaru once again.

“Just what the heck were those balls made of, anyway!? I've never seen anything explode like that when it gets hit, much less turn into a caustic cloud!”

“Uh... I'd rather not say.” Once again averting his eyes, Subaru began to whistle off-key as if to act innocent.

“They were most unusual,” Rem chimed in from the nearby fence where she sat. Beatrice could be seen sitting next to her, with Reinhard leaning against the barrier nonchalantly.

“Rem has never seen anything quite like them before,” she put a finger to her chin and looked upward in thought.

“Subaru, you're acting awful suspicious...” Emilia leaned forward and her eyes took on a skeptical look, “what were those things, Mister?”

“...testicles.”

Now blinking innocently, Emilia remained in her forward stance.

“Testeekals?”

Straightening, Subaru spoke loudly for the gathered members to hear, “I told a merchant what I was looking for, and said that it had to be small, round, heavy, and tough,” then, sheepishly, he continued, “so he sold me some dried wulgarm testicles.”

“BETTY HAS BEEN DEFILED, IN FACT! I WAS SHOWERED IN THAT DUST, I SUPPOSE!!!”

“It- it got in my mouth...” beginning to wretch, Otto bent over at the waist, “uulp. Uuuulp!!!”

“Now Otto it's not so bad, they-” Subaru was cut off.

“BLUUURRGGHHHH!!!”

Leaping back to avoid the splatter, Garfiel was incredibly amused.

“Oi, Cap'n! Is that why you called it a BALL game!? HAHAHAHAHA!!! Otto inhaled a bunch of dog-nut dust!!! AHHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

“Wow,” Emilia was blinking again, “he sure does throw up a lot.” Turning to Frederica, her innocence once again steered the conversation, “anyway, what are testeekals?”

“Damn it, Josephina!!!” Subaru shook a fist in the air, incensed that Reinhard's maid had left out another important detail in Emilia's sexual education.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

 

“Are you ABSOLUTELY sure that you didn't leave anything out this time?”

Red-faced and near tears from embarrassment the green-haired maid, Josephina, nodded, "Yes, Subaru-sama."

Sitting on a couch in one of the mansion's parlors, Subaru grilled the maid, who three times now had to explain the Birds and the Bees to Emilia. Each time she'd had to delve into further detail. Next to her sat the silver-haired girl, who also blushed as Subaru waved his arms in exasperation.

“Emilia,” his tone became soft as he turned to her, “do you have any questions? Are there any gaps that Professor Subaru can fill in regarding your knowledge?” Long past any embarrassment of his own, Subaru was ready to lay it all out.

Hesitantly, Emilia nodded.

“Subaru, so you have...um,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “testeekals?”

"Testicles, yes," he replied clinically, "pretty much every male has them. But it might be easier for you and less embarrassing if you use one of the common slang terms for them."

“Slang terms?” Emilia perked up, as this was a new concept for her.

“Yeah, they're kind of like nicknames for things besides people,” then he grinned mischievously.

She's crazy innocent, but a few bits of slang won't hurt.

“Another name for testicles is balls, Emilia.”

Suddenly Josephina snorted, then gasping she quickly covered her mouth.

Blinking, Subaru and Emilia both looked at her with a bit of surprise.

“So are these nicknames considered funny then?” Beginning to grin, Emilia turned back to Subaru with a bit of excitement.

“Oh yeah, totally. Some other examples would be chums, the twins, the beans below the frank-”

"Ah hahahahaha!!!" Josephina was no longer able to stay composed and began cackling at the uncouth terms.

“Uh, there's also nicknames for other parts, like the male penis-”

“Bffft!” Getting up to leave, Josephina bowed as tears streamed down her face, unable to mutter a dismissal for herself. As soon as the door shut behind her, Subaru could hear her guffawing down the hallway.

“Do you have a nickname for your, uh, penis? Subaru?”

“I'd rather not say.”

“Awwwww. Please? I want to know!”

“That's a man's closely guarded secret, Emilia-tan!”

Suddenly smiling in a manner that Subaru hadn't seen before, Emilia slowly made her way across the small distance between them. Sitting beside him, she grabbed his right arm with both of hers and leaned the front of her torso against him.

<badump>

Oh my God! She's touching my arm with her chest!

Frozen, Subaru looked at Emilia wide-eyed. Against his arm, he could feel it...no... them.

<badump badump badump>

As his head became fuzzy, he looked down at her beautiful face. It looked sort of pouty, with luscious lips stuck out slightly.

“But I want to knoooooow, Subaruuuu.”

“Whazza, umph...” as his higher brain functions ceased, animal instincts began to take over. The control center rapidly switched from the brain in his head to the backup command center, located just below his torso.

Leaning toward him, Emilia softly whispered in his ear, “I want to know everything about you, Subaru... and I want you to know everything about me, too.”

Backup Command began issuing orders, and he turned to nuzzle the crook of her delicate jawline with his nose. She breathed in softly at this new sensation, then returned the gesture to him. As she did so, electricity flew through his skin at the sensation of her touch. His breath picked up as he kissed her tenderly in the same spot, flicking his tongue against her bare, salty skin.

She began to breathe more quickly as well, shifting her weight and releasing her arms to wrap them behind his head, guiding him down into a kiss. As their lips met, she ran her fingers through his black hair, kneading it gently as she pulled him to her, hungry to taste him deeper. Her tongue flicked into his mouth, giving him a shock. But he quickly began to respond in kind, returning the gesture with his own as they fell deeper into the kiss.

Instinctually, he reached down toward her chest with a free hand as the other stroked her back. As he hesitantly squeezed, she gasped.

Freezing for a moment, he pecked his lips against hers, letting her decide whether to continue any further. With one hand she pulled him back into another deep kiss, and with the other she grabbed the hand on her chest and pulled it toward her, inviting the exciting new sensation. Gently, he began kneading the soft flesh, noticing that there was nothing under the layer of cloth that made up her training outfit. He could feel a certain part of her become taught under the material of her shirt. Moving his hand, he softly pinched the rapidly stiffening spot.

“Gaahh!” She gasped in a way he had never heard her do before. She slowly began to writhe as he took the hand from her back, and placing it under her jaw, gently grasped and guided her back into the kiss. Without breaking it, she lithely climbed on top of him, straddling her hips upon his.

“Is... ahhhh... is that what I think it is?” Raggedly, she asked him as she looked down.

Her flushed face, her small gasps, her half-lidded eyes, each gave away the state she was in.

“It is,” he replied, “Emilia...we're getting close to the point of no return here...” Subaru wasn't sure how much longer he could hold back, “how far do you want to take this?”

“I don't know, but it feels reeeeally goood...” Leaning toward him for another kiss, their lips met.

The door to the parlor burst open unceremoniously, as Otto entered.

“Natsuki-san! Have you seen...” as his mouth dropping open, Otto froze in his tracks.

“Eep!” Emilia squeaked out as she fell backward onto the floor, silver hair flying.

“Otto... nice to seeee youuu!” Subaru's stared at him, teeth grinding together, “ you know, it's often considered polite to KNOCK before you enter a room!”

“Indeed...” Unsure how to proceed, Otto simply bowed, “dinner is ready!” Scurrying from the room, he shut the door behind him as he fled down the hall.

Looking up at Subaru from the floor, Emilia then swiftly attempted to compose herself by fixing her hair and flattening the wrinkles from her clothing.

"Its nickname," Subaru now leaned forward on the loveseat with a casual pose.

Stopping what she was doing, Emilia looked at him once again.

“It's Mjolnir.”

Subaru grinned.

Emilia continued to stare at him, uncertain of the meaning of the word.

“It's the name of a legendary hammer, wielded by the ancient God of Thunder from another country in the realm that I come from.”

“The realm that you come from?” She looked at him quizzically, as he'd never spoken much of his home.

“Sometime soon, I want to tell you about where I'm from. It's a strange story, one that I'm not even sure that I believe myself,” he helped her stand up, locking his eyes with her own, “but I want to know everything about you, and I want you to know everything about me. Just like you said.”

Her face softened, and a gentle smile spread across it, “yeah, I have a lot I want to tell you, too. It seems we both have strange stories to tell.”

Sharing a gentle kiss, he smoothed her hair down a tad before they walked out of the room hand-in-hand.

Hungrily, they looked forward to another shared meal of chicken breast, rice, and vegetables.

As they arrived in front of the door to the dining hall, Emilia blushed furiously, turning to him.

"We'll have to pick up where we left off some time, Mr. God of Thunder," she giggled, placing a hand over her mouth.

Turning beet red as well, he met her gaze, “any time, Emilia-tan. But we should probably find somewhere besides one of the parlors to do that sort of thing.”

Leaning to whisper in his ear once again, she spoke, “like one of our bedrooms. I'll ask Reinhard about installing some locks.”

Subaru shuddered.

“You're so naughty, Emilia-tan.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Early the next morning, Otto kneeled at the edge of the circular driveway in front of the mansion. The maids were finished loading his, Reinhard, and Roswaal's luggage onto the carriage they would be taking on their journey. Frufoo was hitched to it, and the ground dragon seemed eager to be underway. Ram would also be accompanying them, and she fussed over the Margrave's items as everything was secured for transport.

Meanwhile, Frederica and Rem would stay behind with the remainder of the Subaru and Emilia camp in case trouble popped up.

Too bad Frederica couldn't come with us, Otto thought as he admired a small patch of dew-covered wildflowers. They had yellow petals with white centers, and the yellow reminded him of the demi-human maid's hair.

Hearing someone approach behind him, Otto reached forward and gently plucked one of the flowers. Standing, he turned to see Frederica.

“I hope your journey goes well, Otto-san. Your carriage is loaded, all that is left now is for you to depart with Reinhard-sama and Roswaal-sama.”

Have courage, Otto!

“Frederica, I was wondering...” He looked at the pretty blonde, “when we get back, would you like to take a trip into the city with me?”

“Otto-san?” Returning his attention, she cocked her head slightly.

“I thought maybe we could go shopping, and the two of us could dress up just a bit and make a day of it.”

“You want to go on a shopping trip?”

“I believe Natsuki-san would call it a, uh, date... Frederica-chan.”

As he said 'chan' the girl's eyes widened ever so slightly, then she smiled gracefully.

“I'd love to, Otto-san.”

Otto reached a hand forward, yellow flower in his open palm, “Just call me Otto. And it's a promise. Take care of those two crazy candidates while we're gone, and please stay safe.”

Taking the flower gently between her fingertips, Frederica looked at him happily and nodded.

“A promise, then.”

Simultaneously, Subaru and Emilia stood facing Reinhard and Roswaal in front of the steps to the mansion.

Reinhard regarded the couple, “be sure to practice caution. We'll be too far away to offer any assistance should something happen again.”

“No problem, Reinhard. Keeping Emilia-tan safe is my number one priority!” Subaru nodded in agreement with his red-haired friend.

Emilia-samaaaaaa, the same goes for you as welllllll. Make sure he doesn't go looking for trooooouble,” with a wry smile, the clown addressed Emilia.

“Of course. We'll be very careful,” she nodded at the Margrave.

As the carriage rolled away, their first destination was the Water-Gate City of Priestella at the far western end of Lugunica. The four travelers would go northwest via the Mathers domain, then slowly work their way back east visiting noble houses throughout the kingdom.

Those who remained at the Astrea Estate watched as the carriage disappeared in the distance. One by one, each of them wandered back into the mansion to eat breakfast. Eventually, a single person remained watching the horizon with a smile.

Lifting a tiny yellow flower to her face, she inhaled its fragrance.

“Come back safe, Otto.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

Southwest of the Village of Fleur, a thick morning mist blanketed the woods surrounding a hastily assembled military encampment. Early morning activity could be seen among a large contingent of soldiers, as they doused campfires and finished preparations. At the rear of the installment, a large command tent could be seen.

“None of the scouts have returned, Ojou-sama.”

Inside the tent, a huge demi-human dog man leaned with both hands on a large table, looking down at it as he spoke lowly. His brows were furrowed, as the normally jovial militia commander showed no hint of his usual mirth.

“Thank ya, Ricardo.” Gritting her teeth in anger, Anastasia Hoshin slammed a small fist down on the map.

“If I may, it's not too late to retreat, Anastasia-sama,” on the side opposite Ricardo, Julius also stared down at the map.

Frustrated, the Selection Candidate took in their situation. Her two most trusted advisers were against this course of action, but they still stood by her side. They didn't know where the enemy was for sure, but they had a good idea given the disappearance of both citizens and her scouts.

“This is our only chance ta catch up ta Subaru and Emilia. We know roughly where that thing is and where it's headed. If we set up a parameter just southwest of tha camp, we can place casters in a horseshoe formation with foot soldiers at tha throat of this small canyon,” pointing at a nearby spot on the map, she continued, “tha creature's number advantage will be negated if we can herd it inta tha narrow pass right here. We have five hundred infantry and two dozen magic-users ready ta deploy.”

“Anastasia-sama,” Julius piped in, “we don't know what dictates the movements of this thing. Driving it into the pass might prove impossible. If the casters on the parameter are overwhelmed then our entire force will become sitting ducks. We won't be able to make a quick retreat from a narrow formation such as that.”

The knight turned to look at his lady, his face deathly serious, “forgive me for saying so, but even if victory can be achieved, it could come at great cost of life.”

How many lives am I willing to spend at a chance for the throne? The thought tortured her.

When she'd set out to win the Royal Selection, Anastasia had seen it as another challenge of expenditures and returns. She was willing to accept a certain amount of losses with the understanding that those losses would be returned in the form of the throne of one of the world's most powerful countries.

At the time, she'd understood that her expenditures would be chiefly monetary.

Money. I have more of that than I will ever need in a dozen lifetimes.

But once the Selection began, she began to understand the incredible nature of those she competed against.

Karston Crusch was a woman with high noble standing, who commanded the loyalty of a great many knights and lesser nobles. Her presence was that of a great military commander, demanding respect from all who encountered her.

Priscilla Barielle, though somewhat mysterious, was of Vollachian Royal Blood. Like Crusch, she carried herself with an air that demanded respect and deference. Her manner of brute-forcing her way into her wishes, though unorthodox, was quite effective.

Then, of course, were the dark horses. The twin threats of Emilia and Natsuki Subaru. While the other two candidates were an open book, the human and half-elf lovers were a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

At the outset of the Selection, Anastasia had hired the best investigators that money could buy to find every scrap of information available on the two of them. After many months and a great deal of gold, her efforts had yielded merely that Emilia appeared mysteriously under the wing of Margrave Mathers from the frozen Elior Forest.

As for Subaru, there was even less to go on. It was as if he'd materialized in the capital one day at Emilia's side. No past, no parents, not even a country of origin. He appeared to possibly be from Kararagi but had no accent to indicate so.

But the strange pair had somehow met and joined forces, and earned the backing of the Sword Saint. Then, despite being a couple of no-names, they wowed everyone at the Selection Gathering with what could have been nothing but a boast. That they would systematically eradicate the greatest threats in the world; the Great Mabeasts and the Witch-Cult.

After the selection, many had laughed at their claim. The Witch-Cult and the Great Mabeasts had cultivated a reign of terror for hundreds of years. Who were these two to say they would neutralize such monstrosities?

Anastasia had agreed to ally with them simply as a means of gathering more force once their campaign inevitably fell apart. She would swoop in and absorb their means and strength into her own, with Reinhard being the great prize that she sought. Obviously, the Sword Saint would come to the side of the candidate backed by his best friend, Julius. It was unthinkable that he would join the camp of his estranged grandfather, Wilhelm Trias.

But while Anastasia had been distracted with her ongoing trade deals, satisfied that things would fall into place for her as always, she had received word that something incredible had happened.

Subaru and Emilia had defeated the White Whale.

And they had done so by accident, as they encountered it traveling near the Flugel Tree. A group of less than ten had accomplished something that armies had failed to do over the centuries. Not only that, but Subaru had brought the thing under his control, and set it upon the hordes of mabeasts that roamed the country. Anastasia's information network had confirmed this claim, as she'd received several reports of the whale being seen pursuing and devouring threatening beasts around the country.

And they hadn't even used the Sword Saint to do it.

Up to that point, the candidates had all been more or less neck-in-neck in the race for the throne. But the defeat of the whale had dramatically shifted both public and noble opinion once they proved that they could back up their intentions.

So now Anastasia found herself with her back against a wall. The only way to salvage such a miserable start to her campaign was to do something as incredible as Subaru and Emilia had.

I'm going to kill the Great Rabbit.

I'm going to win the throne.

She only had one misgiving.

But what would it cost?

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“And now make a V-sign, for victoryyyyyy!!!”

“Victoryyyyyy!” A chorus of voices joined Subaru as they did their morning radio calisthenics. Over time he'd convinced all of the camp members to try it, and even Garfiel had begun to enjoy the routine.

Emilia stood to his left as the rest of the camp was gathered in rows in front of them. Despite their protests, each morning Gerard and Josephina inevitably joined in.

“Now, we each know our jobs, so let's get busy! Emilia has offensive magic, I have agility training, Garf has weightlifting. Rem and Frederica, while you're here you function more as fighters than maids, so I expect that you'll be working on your training dummy drills!”

Walking up to Beatrice, Subaru studied the instructions Reinhard had left behind for their training.

"Rein doesn't have much for you, Beako. He wants you to do mana expulsion drills. He said he's not sure if your mana pool is maximized or not so it's worth a try."

“Again!? Betty's mana pool is already larger than everyone but Emilia's, I suppose. These drills are a waste of my time, in fact.” The spirit folded her arms and scowled.

“It's ok, Beako. Go ahead and give it a shot,” Emilia patted her blonde head, “you didn't get to do much while you were in the Great Library, so maybe it'll be like exercising an old muscle!”

Walking off toward the training ground with her contractor, Beatrice continued to voice her complaints.

“Now then...” Subaru rolled up his sleeves and looked toward the obstacle course, “three hours with our glorified jungle-gym.”

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“Garf, you're not concentrating! Stop ramping up your power so quickly and do it more subtly!”

“Easy for you ta say, Cap'n!”

<Bwoof> A giant orange-furred arm appeared.

As they stood in the middle of the Astrea training ground, Subaru tried to coach Garfiel. The demi-human concentrated on his right hand, attempting to increase its power without transforming it into full beast form. Lunch had finished an hour ago, so they'd switched to their afternoon assignments.

<Badoop> The arm returned to normal.

Flipping back and forth between his normal arm and a gigantic orange one, Garf's short temper was beginning to flare.

“Bullshit!!!”

“It's not gonna work if you get pissed off! Try breathing for a few seconds, then go again!”

Suddenly, a distant sound could be heard coming from the city. The two young men whirled to listen to the unfamiliar tone.

“Is that...bells?” Subaru strained to hear.

“Yeah...dozens of 'em,” with his superior senses Garfiel could plainly make out the sound.

Looking at each other, they took off in a sprint toward the mansion, unsure of what the ominous sound meant.

Minutes later, everyone who remained at the estate was gathered. They'd all swiftly changed into their combat attire as the maids had quickly readied a coach, and hitched two of their fastest ground dragons to it.

“We need to get to the main guard station and find out what's going on,” Subaru once again took command of the situation, “everyone, load up in the carriage! Rem, get us to the station as quickly as you can!”

As the carriage tore down the road leading away from the mansion, a knight on a ground dragon could be seen heading their way. Giving the order to stop, Subaru and Emilia jumped out onto the ground to meet him. He swiftly brought the dragon to them and dismounted, falling to one knee.

“Emilia-sama! Subaru-sama! I've been sent to fetch you two along with the Sword Saint!”

“Reinhard left for Priestella this morning,” Emilia replied, “what's wrong, Sir Knight?”

A look of horror came upon the face of the youthful man as he looked up at her. Gritting his teeth, his voice cracked as he belted out a reply.

“The city is being evacuated, but there's little time!”

Subaru and Emilia looked at each other quizzically.

“Evacuated?” Subaru asked.

Turning to look at Subaru, the eyes of the knight pleaded for their help.

“The Great Rabbit is here! It's already at the southwest gate!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 24- Nightmare's Approach

 

 

Lugunica City was home to many things. A thriving center of commerce, it boasted thousands of shops, stalls, and wandering vendors who sold everything under the sun. Many nobles from the lowest of ranks to the highest resided in the great city, conducting their business of intrigue and political maneuvering daily in posh drinking establishments and hidden gathering rooms. The slums were home to many times more than that of the poor and often destitute, scraping by each day and eking out a measure of hope with phrases such as 'Live Strong.' And the palace itself, in the center of the city, hosted the most influential people in all the land: members of the Sage Council and the Highest Ranking Nobles.

But as a lone carriage made its way toward the southwestern gate of the city, they were slowed by a massive tide of humanity. One that was made up of all of these people. Poor, rich, young, old. None of that mattered at this moment.

Because a calamity had finally born down upon the city itself.

The Great Rabbit was here.

“REM! BE CAREFUL!” Subaru was leaning out the window, watching the frenzied crowd stampede in the opposite direction of them, “THE GROUND DRAGONS ARE GOING TO LOSE IT IF WE STAY HERE!”

Every bell in the city was tolling, raising a frantic alarm at the approach of a terrifying ancient evil, one that could eradicate thousands upon thousands of lives in short order.  Screaming people fought to run past their coach, fear painting each individual face as word had spread of the nightmare that lay just outside the walls.

Subaru watched as a brown-haired woman struggled to get through the crowd, a small boy in one arm.  Her other hand was grasping a girl's, slightly older than the boy she carried.

"Don't worry!  Daddy is fighting at the gate!"  She stuttered out to her frightened children, "he won't let anything happen to us!"  Tear marks had stained her face, and Subaru knew in his heart that the woman had already begun to mourn the loss of her husband.

Leaning further out of the coach, Subaru looked at the teeming mass of humanity who were running for their lives.

We're slowing down the evacuation, and they're slowing us from getting to the gate.  Fuck! We're gonna have to ditch the carriage and go on foot from here.

“Park the carriage in that alley on the left, Rem! Everyone! Get ready to travel across the rooftops!”

Leaning back into the carriage interior, Subaru placed a hand on Emilia's silver head, gently stroking her vibrant hair, “Can you carry Beako, Emilia-tan? We've got a lot of ground to cover, but with this group we should be able to arrive at the fight pretty quickly.”

"No problem," she had a brave face on, but at this point, Subaru knew her well enough that he could tell she was scared.

What wasn't there to be scared of? They'd heard the tales from Reinhard of the nature of the Great Rabbit, and the horrifying way in which it devoured its victims alive, piece by agonizing piece. The very, very few people who had survived an attack by the ghastly mabeast over the last several hundred years had mostly gone mad in the aftermath.

The creatures used razor-sharp teeth to dismantle your flesh chunk by agonizing chunk, sparing neither bone nor organ, until there wasn't even blood left in their wake.

Shuddering at the thought, Subaru glanced around the carriage to take stock of their small force. Emilia and Beatrice could both do a great deal of area damage, which should be particularly effective against an enemy such as the rabbit. Garfiel, Frederica, and Rem, however, were capable of no such attacks. Rem had her flail, which at the very least allowed her to keep a distance, but the demi-human siblings were both brawlers, and that was a bad match-up against an enemy such as this.

A brief vision of Garfiel and Frederica being swarmed by thousands of bloodthirsty rabbits assaulted Subaru's mind, causing him to grit his teeth and regret letting his thoughts wander.

Think, Subaru! We're going to need a foolproof strategy to keep everyone safe! Any losses were unacceptable in his book, and it was going to take some impressive maneuvering to make that happen.

Subaru, Emilia, Beatrice, Garfiel, Frederica, and Rem leaped onto an adjacent roof to the alley where they had parked, and Subaru's face went ghostly as he took in the spectacle of the city which he could now see more clearly from this height. Facing southwest, a great deal of smoke was rising from the southern city wall. Choked out by the dark cloud, the sky was beginning to darken the afternoon sun.

Grasping the back crystal that hung around his neck, Subaru invoked an ally he hadn't spoken with for some time.

Echidna! Can you hear me!?

“It has been quite a while, contractor. Do you think me some convenience which can only be communed with when it is advantageous to you? You know, my thirst for knowledge-”

Shut up, Echidna! Now's not the time! You know damn well what we're about to deal with!

“...Very well, then. What is it that you require?”

As he began to power up his body with mana, Subaru exploded forth toward the southern part of the city, still grasping the jewel in his right hand as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop. Following behind him, his five allies kept pace with the knight.

The Great Rabbit is here, and thousands of lives will be lost if we can't defeat it. I need to know everything that you can tell me about it.

"It is one of the three Great Mabeasts. Each rabbit is capable of exponential reproduction, meaning that if even a single one were to be left alive, the horde will regenerate to many thousands within tens of seconds. The number of potential victims in the immediate vicinity will entice it to continuously reproduce to its maximum number."

How many can it sustain at once, Echidna?

“Upwards of three thousand have been observed in past encounters with the beast.”

Landing on a rooftop, Subaru almost lost his footing as he digested an impossible figure.

“Three thousand...”

As his allies landed next to him, he looked around at them. All of their eyes were on him, waiting for their master tactician to deliver the words that would bring them victory once again.

But Natsuki Subaru had nothing. No strategy came to him.

As he looked to his beloved Emilia, he began to feel a sensation that hadn't hit him since he came to this world, not even in the fight against the whale.

Terror.

Sensing something was wrong, Emilia gently grasped his free hand. As his eyes locked with hers, dark brown gazed upon deep violet.

“We'll get through this, Subaru.”

Gently wrapping him in an embrace with her free hand, she nuzzled him in the jawline with her dainty nose, breathing in his scent and smiling.

“Just relax, and do what you always do. Remember that we're all here to back you up.”

Opening his eyes, Subaru looked to his friends who were standing behind her.

Clinging to Emilia's back, Beatrice gently intoned, “Emilia's 'feeyonsay' has never failed us before, in fact. Betty is confident he will lead us to victory.”

With a look of surprise, Subaru gazed at the little spirit. He could detect no snark in her praise, and with serious eyes, she gave him a nod of reassurance.

“That's right, Cap'n. If anybody can figure out how to kill that thing, it's you.”

Moving his eyes to meet Garfiel's, he could see the beast-man making a fist and giving him a confident nod. Frederica and Rem stood on either side of Garf, each wearing a small grin.

Gently untangling himself from Emilia, Subaru stood straight.

“Thank you, everyone. I'm sorry, I started to lose my nerve there for a second,” he turned to look at the city gate, now about a minute away from them, “we need to get there and figure out the situation.”

Crouching slightly, he leaped forward and continued toward the sight of the battle.

Echidna, please continue to take stock of the situation. We're going to need to come up with a plan that prevents any losses.

“That could prove very difficult against such an opponent, Contractor.”

I know, but we're not going to lose anyone to that THING, not today.

 

Landing near the wall, Subaru took in his surroundings. The gate itself was still closed, with several dozen knights guarding the great wooden doors. The city wall itself, some thirty feet in height, was still intact. Smoke was rising from the outside of the walls as something burned unchecked, choking out the light of the mid-day sun. Looking to his right, Subaru saw a medical tent had been hastily erected where a great deal of activity was taking place. Then, narrowing his eyes, Subaru spotted a familiar form striding from the tent.

Wilhelm! Darting forward, Subaru ran to meet the large man in a butler's uniform.

“Wilhelm-san! Is Crusch here!?”

“Subaru-sama!” Quickly bowing to the younger man, Wilhelm straightened and met his gaze.

“My master and Felix are inside,” looking around at his companions, Wilhelm leaned in close to Subaru and spoke quietly, “you and Emilia-sama should go in. It would be best for your allies to remain here, however.”

Something's wrong. Nodding, Subaru looked toward Emilia.

“My spirit possesses powerful healing magic. Perhaps she could be of help if she were to accompany us,” Emilia was reluctant to leave Beatrice behind.

Nodding, Wilhelm turned to lead them into the large tent. Once inside, Subaru looked around to take stock of the situation.

There's hardly anybody in here? Despite being large enough to hold a couple of dozen beds, the medical tent was practically empty. There were two soldiers surrounded by healers in robes near the entrance. Looking toward the rear of the tent, Subaru could see Crusch and Felix crouched next to a makeshift cot.

As they approached, Crusch looked up and saw them, standing to meet them.

"Subaru, Emilia..." the green-haired woman gave them a nod, "we're glad that you are here. Is Reinhard with you?"

Subaru shook his head, “he left early this morning with Roswaal, they're somewhere between here and Priestella by now.”

“I see,” turning to regard the person on the bed behind her, Crusch spoke softly, “it is fortunate that we were able to get Felix here when we did, otherwise she wouldn't have made it.”

Stepping forward, Subaru looked down to see Felix crouched over the bed, eyes closed and hands outward with the familiar glow of healing magic.

Laying on the bed was a small purple-haired girl dressed in white. At least, her clothes had been white. They were now almost completely stained a deep crimson. Subaru gasped as he got a better look at the figure lying before him.

“Anastasia...?”

Her left arm was missing, and a bone protruded from her shoulder where it had once been. Both of her legs were shredded to pieces, and it was hard to tell where her mangled limbs ended and the blood-soaked robes began. Grimacing, Subaru's gaze went to her face.

The left side was gone, exposing her skull. Where her left eye and orbital bones had once been, only soft red tissue could now be seen, with part of the frontal cortex of her brain visible through the blood. Her right eye remained, staying closed as she remained blissfully unconscious from the terrible injuries she's endured.

“Emilia! Beatrice!”

Having been dazed with shock at the sight before them, both of the girls swiftly moved forward, kneeling on the side of the injured girl opposite Felix. Healing magic flared to life from their hands, reinforcing the cat-boy's efforts.

Feeling his burden ease somewhat, Felix opened his eyes to see Emilia and Beatrice. Nodding with a grateful look, he closed them and went back to concentrating.

“From what we can surmise, she meant to take on the rabbit with her mercenary army alone,” Crusch turned to Subaru, softly explaining the situation, "by the time the alarms sounded and we got here, the gate was closed. They managed to retreat this far, but the beast followed them and finished most of the survivors off as they reached the city. The remainder of her force was brought to this tent."

“The remainder of her-,” gasping, Subaru swung around.

“You're telling me that there were three survivors?”

“It would seem, I'm afraid.” Lowering her gaze, the green-haired noble replied.

“Crusch...”

She looked up at him, knowing what came next.

“Where is Julius?”

Averting her eyes once again, Crusch shook her head.

"Young Julius fell to the Great Rabbit," Wilhelm took a step forward, "in doing so he was able to save the life of his lady. He made a last stand just outside the city gate, defending the people as a true knight."

As he fell to his knees, Subaru's mind went blank.

Julius Juukulius had been a teacher and friend. Irreplaceable.

Emilia's eyes moved to Subaru, concern filling them, but she didn't stop casting the healing magic which helped sustain Anastasia.

Placing a hand on his face, Subaru could feel his eyes begin to burn with tears. He slammed a fist on the ground, his gaze remaining downward.

“What's the situation, Wilhelm?” Stuttering, he turned his attention to the enemy at hand.

“The knights are holding off the beast for now, but they won't last much longer,” the old man's voice was grim, “their numbers dwindle every passing minute, while the rabbit's numbers hold steady no matter how many are killed.”

"We have to back them up! Crusch," Subaru leaped to his feet, vengeance burning in his chest, "Emilia and Beatrice can cast magic that will kill a large number of the rabbits at once, I assume your sword skill can do the same?"

“Indeed,” Crusch nodded, “my blade should be able to kill many with a single strike.”

“Good, do we have anyone else on hand who can do large-scale damage like that?” He regarded Wilhelm and Crusch, who looked at each other, then shook their heads.

“We have a few magic-users on hand, but they are already on the wall keeping the enemy at bay, they won't be able to hold it back much longer.” Turning to look back at Anastasia, the Duchess watched her healer work.

“Can Ana be moved?”

“Maybe. But the stress might kill her in the meantime.”

No good, then. We'll have to make our stand here.

"Right then. I know what we have to do. Can Felix make do without Emilia and Beatrice?"

“He will if he has to.”

“Crusch, Wilhelm, Emilia, Beatrice... please come with me.” Subaru hastily made his way out of the tent, followed by the others. Glancing backward, he could see Felix briefly look in their direction, nod at him, then continue healing Ana.

Outside, explosions could be heard from outside the wall as casters flung fireballs from the top of the ramparts. Meeting up with the rest of his group, Subaru began to explain his plan.

“I need Emilia and Beatrice to take position at the center of the wall over the top of the main gate. Wilhelm and Garfiel, your top priority is to defend them. They're going to need some time to prep our attack,” clapping Garf and Wilhelm on the shoulder, Subaru looked at each of them, “I'm counting on you two more than anyone.”

The two men nodded grimly, understanding the gravity of what Subaru was asking of them.

“Thank ya for yer trust, Cap'n.” Garfiel swelled with pride, eager to prove himself once again.

“It will be done, Subaru-sama. No harm shall come to those two ladies.” Wilhelm's visage was as hard as steel as he reassured Subaru.

“Crusch, you're on overflow duty,” Subaru pointed to the far right side of the wall where it blended into a hill, “that's the weak point, and if enough of them get on that hillside we're done for. They'll flow right onto the wall and overwhelm us. Keep that side clear.”

Nodding, Crusch grinned at Subaru, “so this is the infamous tactical genius who brought down the White Whale. I've been hoping to see you in action, but I have to admit the circumstances could be better.”

"I don't know about the genius part, but we'll do our best," Subaru turned to the rest of his allies, "Rem, Frederica, I need you to work cleanup on Crush's side. Don't let any of the rabbits near her. If the three of you begin to get overwhelmed, back off and get some breathing room before you try to retake the hill."

The two maids bowed, “as you wish, Subaru-sama,” they said simultaneously. Rem's Morning Star appeared, chains rattling as she gripped it. Frederica reached into her dress and began to don her caestuses, flinging a few practice punches as she did so. The metal studs on her knuckles gleamed menacingly as she flung her fists forward.

“Emilia, Beatrice, I have something special in mind for you two,” approaching the duo, Subaru kneeled to be at eye-level with the spirit, “your part is the most difficult, Beako, but I know you can handle it.”

“It is only natural that Betty and her contractor will be the most important, I suppose.”

“That's right, you are,” looking at the girl, then at his half-elf lover, Subaru swelled with pride, “the two of you are a couple of the most powerful casters in the world, and we couldn't be luckier to have you with us.”

Emilia's cheeks flared red at his compliment, and as she suddenly took on a shy look, she poked the ends of her index fingers together and stammered out, “o-okay! What do you need us to do, Subaru?”

Julius's face flashed into Subaru's mind. As anger at the unnatural horror beyond the gates boiled over within him, he silently vowed that he wouldn't let his friend's sacrifice be in vain.

“We don't have much time,” taking one of each girl's hands in his own, he looked at the two of them with a deadly serious face.

“I have an idea for a new spell that will kill all of the rabbits in one go.”

 

 

Author's note:  Hey, apologies for getting this one out late!  Classes are really kicking my butt this semester, and I've been interviewing for a few job prospects over the last couple of weeks.  This chapter is a little shorter than most of my recent ones and for that I apologize.  I'm hoping to get back on pace once things normalize again.  I hope you enjoyed this one!

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 25- Usagi

 

Along the border of the great forest which covered most of the Mathers domain, within the kingdom of Lugunica, the idyllic woodland opens into a vast plain. Typical of this sort of geographical feature, one could lazily sit upon long-stemmed grass and watch the wind sway the greenery back and forth. It was an ideal day, warm and sunny.

“Guiltylowe! How tall do you think that tree is, anyway?”

“Mmrrfm.”

“Huh. Nah, I bet it's bigger than that.”

As a gentle breeze swept the plain, a purple-haired girl gazed at a titanic tree that loomed in the distance. Styled into a single braid, the violet locks were draped over one shoulder. She wore a simple light blue one-piece dress, and her vibrant green eyes blinked precociously. The girl was fairly used to taking care of herself, having grown up with wild mabeasts. But it had been quite a while since she's spent this much time without her 'family.'

"Big Sis and Mama have been missing for a loooong time now. I wonder if one of their targets finally got 'em? They were going after that elf girl from Mama's gospel. She might wind up being the Queen, Mama said."

Turning to scratch behind her companion's ear, the girl was deep in thought.

“If Elsa and Mama are gone now, I guess I can do whatever I want. You've done a pretty good job of catching food for us, Gil-chan, but MaBeast tastes pretty yucky, you know? Maybe I'll go to Arlam Village and see Petra... after the clown-man blew up all of my puppies that one time I haven't been to see her.”

“Mrrrmmmff.”

“Don't be like that, Gil-chan! You can go play while I visit! But you'll have to leave the villagers alone or they'll get mad.”

The girl's companion was a strikingly odd creature. With the head and body of a gigantic lion, it had black fur and a white mane. Its tail, however, consisted of a long red venomous snake. It was a terror among even mabeasts.

But this monstrous creature was as docile as a lamb when it came to the girl, as she possessed a particular divine blessing which allowed her to command mabeasts. With it, she had brought the monster, Guiltylowe, to heel using merely her thoughts. Normally his pride would not have allowed such a transgression, and he would have swallowed the offending girl whole, but he found himself compelled to protect and obey her.

Suddenly the girl's head swung to her left, and her brows furrowed as she stared into the distance.

“Gil-chan...something's coming.”

Raising his head and sniffing the air, Guiltylowe lept to his feet as his sense of smell confirmed the girl's words.

Something dangerous was approaching, and quickly.

As the girl stood and moved to climb on her companion's back, a great shadow passed overhead, darkening their surroundings for many meters in every direction. Snapping their heads upward, both of them regarded the gigantic new arrival that had disturbed their peace.

A monstrous white whale was turning in the sky, and starting to move in their direction!

“THE WHITE WHALE!?” Stepping back down to the ground, the girl faced the flying beast as it bore down on them.

“Stop! I command you to stop, Whale-chan!”

The creature's single eye widened as she sent her thoughts to it, and it slowed its descent. As it approached, it banked to the left and stopped, regarding the girl who could communicate with it.

<I only answer to one. He who has taken my horn. You are not them.>

“So you can convey your thoughts, Whale-chan? Who took your horn?”

<A powerful human knight. One who uses the spirit-arts and goes by the name Natsuki Subaru.>

Gasping, the girl recalled hearing that name once before.

"Mama mentioned him! He was with the elf-girl that her and big sis went after! Her gospel said he had no ability to fight!"

Considering this, the girl was confused. The gospel hadn't been wrong before, so why was the whale telling her that this person was a powerful knight? Watching the massive beast, she decided to press it for more information.

“What do you want with us, Whale-chan?”

<I will eat that one there.>

The gigantic eye's gaze left the girl and went to her companion, Guiltylowe. If the beast could look afraid, then surely its face would have donned an appearance of terror at this moment, as it lowered itself near the ground and began to whine like a scared dog.

<A fine meal it will make.>

“No, Whale-chan! Gil-chan is my bodyguard so I can't let you eat him! Go eat some of the big puppies in the forest instead!”

<No more mabeasts populate this region. I have consumed all but that one.>

“WHAT!?”

Considering the whale's proclamation for a moment, the girl realized that she hadn't seen any other mabeasts for weeks. She had considered that odd, but not paid much mind to it at the time. If the whale had eaten them all, then it made sense.

Then, an idea happened upon the girl. She glanced back at Guiltylowe, a sinister smile creeping onto her face.

“Whale-chan, if I give Gil-chan to you, will you let me come with you? If it's mabeasts you want, I can sense them from far away, and command them to allow you to eat them.”

The whale's great eye once again turned to the girl as it considered her words.

I can make it much easier for you to find food, right? In exchange I want you to take me with you and protect me. You can share a little bit of your food and we'll call it even. I don't need very much to eat, either!”

Turning toward the lion-like mabeast still crouching with fear on the ground, the girl gave it a command.

“Stay.”

The word hit Guiltylowe like a wave, locking its legs into place. Unable to move, its whines grew louder as it struggled to break free from her command. Its eyes now watched the whale as terror overwhelmed it.

<Very well.>

Struggling to move, Guiltylowe watched as the whale's massive mouth opened and it floated toward him. Massive teeth lined the mouth, surrounding the hapless creature as it cried for mercy.

<Crunch>

The whale bit down, crushing the chimera-like mabeast in a gush of blood and flesh. With a swallow, its corpse disappeared into the massive monster's mouth, never to be seen again.

“Okay! We've got a deal, then!” The girl climbed onto one of the whale's fins, and it rotated slightly to allow her on top of its hulking form. She made her way to its forehead, where she sat down and straddled the base of its now-missing horn.

As she settled into place, the whale's massive body suddenly jerked, and it spun around to face the northeast.

<I am being called. We must go.>

“Already? Well, let's go, then! I'll call you Whale-chan from now on, okay?”

<That will suffice.>

The whale began gaining altitude, ascending straight into the sky as the girl grabbed on for dear life.

“Whoa! This is awesome!” Looking around as they went higher and higher, the girl marveled as trees shrank in her view, becoming tiny.

“Hey! Whale-chan! I didn't tell you my name yet!”

<I will call you 'purple human.'>

“Nope! That sucks! I have a name, you know?”

Flying forward in silence, the whale gained speed as they moved to the northeast, toward the call of its master.

“Meili Portroute! You can call me Meili, though!”

 

 

Looking at the great spirit and his half-elf fiance, Subaru waited expectantly for a response.

“In theory, your spell should work, I suppose,” considering his idea, Beatrice nodded and gestured to her contractor, “to effect an area of that size will require an immense amount of mana, but luckily Emilia's one of the few people who would be up to the task, in fact.”

Nodding her silver head, Emilia agreed with Beatrice, “as long as we can visualize it properly, it shouldn't be a problem. But casting it and synchronizing the effect will take some time.”

“Then the rest of us will have to buy that time for you. Beako can envision and form the spell while Emilia-tan is the mana battery.” Nodding, Subaru turned to address the rest of the group, “it's time to get to the top of the rampart, let's get this over with and kill that damned thing.”

As they rapidly ascended the wall, the stench of burning flesh began to grow, becoming nearly unbearable toward the top. The remaining mages were still hurling fireballs from their perch at the top, strain evident on their faces from continuously casting for an extended period.

“All of you fall back! We'll take it from here!” Rapidly approaching the edge of the wall, Subaru gazed over the edge to take in what they were dealing with.

He could only gasp at the horror the met his eyes.

“There must be thousands of them...” A sea of red-eyed white rabbits stretched to the horizon, a great mob of squirming bodies pushing against each other in order to approach the wall they stood upon. If there had been knights beyond the wall fighting the sea of white, none of them remained.

A terrified mage in white robes ran past Subaru as he retreated from the wall. Glancing at Emilia, Subaru nodded to her, “you two had better get started. The sooner we end this, the better.”

Holding hands, Beatrice and Emilia took position at the center of the wall. A shadowy purple aura began to surround the spirit as she activated the Yin magic that was to power their spell. Emilia's face held a grimace, as a bead of sweat rolled down her forehead.

Beatrice was right, it's taking a massive amount of mana to activate the spell and Emilia's going to be drained once it's been cast.

As Wilhelm and Garfiel stood on either side of the pair with their backs to them, they readied themselves. Wilhelm drew his sword, and Garfiel checked his twin shields, clanging them together in a shower of sparks. Their faces were serious, as the weight of their mission was on their minds.

Crusch and the two maids rushed to the right side of the wall, where the now undefended hillock had been left by the retreating mages. As a few dozen rabbits began to climb the hill, Crusch swung her sword downward, and a bade of wind sprang forth from it. As it collided with the beasts they seemingly exploded in a shower of blood and white fur.

“Die, monsters!!!” Again and again, the blade was swung, cleaving through any rabbits who attempted to climb the hill. As the maids stood at the ready to defend her, the green-haired noble continued her onslaught.

Ok, it looks like we just might pull this off, depending on how long it takes for the girls to get that spell off. Turning back to look at Emilia and Beatrice, Subaru could see that they were still casting.

Then, Subaru noticed something was off about Garfiel. He seemed to be frantically looking back and forth, peering over the wall.

“Garf! What's wrong!?” Running over to the blonde boy, Subaru voiced his concern.

“I smell sumthin' funky, Cap'n. With all this smoke it's tough for me ta make it out. But it smells like fire magic,” gazing over the wall, Garfiel's eyes searched for the source of the scent he was picking up.

“That can't be right, the mages all evacuated!” As he looked over the ledge toward the ground below, Subaru noticed a wagon near the gate.

It must have been left there by Ana's mercenaries, he thought.

“That's it, Cap'n! On that wagon! There's magic stones on it!!!”

“Wha-”

“We must retreat, Subaru-sama!” Having heard the boy, Wilhelm rushed over to confirm his statement, “if they are close to detonation, then the wall will be destroyed, along with those of us upon it!”

“How can we tell for sure!?” Hoping that Garfiel was wrong, Subaru strained his eyes toward the wagon. If the wall fell, then the city would fall with it.

“There!” Garfiel pointed, “that bag on the wagon! There's smoke comin' from it!”

“Shit! Everyone!!! Retreat!!!” Turning to sprint toward Emilia and Beatrice, Subaru began shouting for the group to fall back.

Opening her eyes, Emilia looked toward him with surprise on her face, “huh? But we're almost ready with the spell!”

“There's no time, we have to get-!!!”

A flash overtook Subaru's eyes, momentarily blinding him as a thunderous roar abruptly filled his ears. His feet left the ground as he found himself flying through the air. As his senses left him, he felt himself impact the ground and roll.

Then, darkness.

Slowly opening his eyes, Subaru looked around. Pieces of the once-mighty wall were strewn all about him, charred and blackened by the blast from the magic stones. Shakily sitting upright, he looked around, eyes desperately searching from a head of silver hair.

“Emilia!”

“EMILIA!!!”

As he rose to his feet, Subaru leaned on one of the large stone blocks that had landed near him. “Agh!”

Looking down at his left leg, he could see that it was bent at an odd angle, obviously broken just above the ankle. As the pain began to register, he gritted his teeth.

I have to ignore this for now. I have to find Emilia.

“EMILIA!!!???” He shouted her name once again, this time desperation creeping into his voice.

“Subaru...”

A weak murmur reached his ears, and he spun to find its source. About a dozen yards away he could see her, laying on her back.

Her legs were under one of the huge stone blocks.

She was trapped.

Falling forward, Subaru frantically crawled toward her, eyes watering through the pain of his ruined leg. After what seemed like an eternity he reached her, grabbing her hands in his own.

“Emilia... don't move, ok? You might have internal injuries so you have to hold still.”

“Subaru... where's Beatrice?”

“Can anyone hear me!? FELIX! FELIX WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU!?” As he looked around, Subaru could see no others from his group. Chances are that they were all still unconscious. Or worse.

“Subaru. Please... where's Beatrice?” Turning to Emilia, Subaru could see tears streaming from her violet eyes, as she lay helpless upon the ground.

"I...I don't know, Emilia," frantically he began to look around until movement caught his eye.

It was a stream of blue mana rising into the air. As his eyes trailed downward they settled on a small arm wrapped in a red sleeve, the source of the mana stream. The arm was all he could see because the rest of its owner was under a large stone slab.

“Beako...” he stuttered out, as tears welled up in his eyes.

“Subaru? Did you find her?”

His gaze returned to Emilia, whose questioning eyes looked at him, pleading for an answer.

He noticed she was getting pale.

“Contractor... there is something you need to know about...”

Echidna's voice entered his mind unexpectedly.

And strangely, she almost sounded sad.

“Not now, Echidna. Please not now.”

“Subaru, it's about Beatrice. She's gone. But there's something else.”

Echidna said my name?

What is it, Echidna?”

“The Great Rabbit is attracted to mana, Subaru. They will be upon you shortly.”

As his eyes grew wide, he looked back toward the little arm and saw the stream of blue mana escaping from what was left of Emilia's spirit.

“Subaru...” her voice was weaker now, as Emilia pleaded with him once again, “where is she, Subaru?”

“Sh- she's just over there, Emilia-tan. I'll get her as soon as I get you out of here.”

Looking at the large section of the wall that lay on top of her, Subaru rose to stand on his one good leg. As he grabbed the stone, he began pouring mana into his body. Then, he started to lift.

Move! Move! Move! Move you FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT MOVE!!!

It wasn't enough, though, as the slab refused to budge.

Throwing caution to the wind, he unshackled the internal limit he'd put on the amount of mana he could stream through his body. As he could feel his gate cracking in protest, Subaru forced every ounce of power through him that he could muster, and jammed the broken end of his left leg into the ground, screaming in pain as he began to move the huge stone.

One inch.

Two.

Then, his gate shattered, and the stone fell onto Emilia once again. Screaming in pain, she cried out to him.

“Subaru!!!”

Falling to his knees, he vomited as the backlash of mana from his shattered gate, as well as the immense pain of his injuries overwhelmed him. As he writhed on the ground, he heard her gasp loudly.

“Oh no... no no no...”

He followed her eyes, which were looking behind him. A few yards away, near where Beatrice had fallen was a white rabbit.

And behind it, were hundreds more.

“Run Subaru! Get away!”

Terror gripped the knight and the half-elf alike. But there was one thing Natsuki Subaru absolutely refused to do.

He would not leave her behind to die alone.

His body shuddering, he crawled to her and brought her to a sitting position. Cradling her in his arms, he sat and laid her in his lap, embracing her tightly. Then he felt a sharp pain in his broken leg, as a bite from one of the rabbits finished the job of removing his foot.

Embracing her tighter, he began to whimper as the herd fell upon them.

“I'm sorry Emilia. I tried. I'm so sorry...”

As the two lovers began to meet hell together, he kept as tight of a grip on her as he could, until he realized he no longer had arms. She was screaming now, but he only had ears for a few seconds before they were ripped from him. Inside his chest and stomach, he could feel them gnawing away at his lungs, his entrails, and all of the other organs. Before they took his eyes, he opened them one last time to see her crying face as the rabbits removed its porcelain flesh.

He made to apologize one last time, but as he tried to his jaw came off, and another rabbit began to devour his tongue.

Then, Natsuki Subaru and Emilia, just Emilia, died.

 

**********************************************************************************

“Victoryyyyyy!” A chorus of voices shouted.

“Another great radio calisthenics session, Subaru!” As Emilia lowered her arms, a bright smile danced upon her face.

<Thud>

“Wha-”

As he hit the ground, Subaru's eyes rolled back into his head. His body began to convulse, foam gathering at his mouth.

“SUBARU!!!”

“Cap'n!”

“Natsuki-san!!!”

Subaru's hands clawed at the flesh of his torso, then his arms. As he began to scream, Subaru's mind descended.

Into the deep.

Into the dark.

Then as suddenly as it had started, his convulsions stopped. Subaru was deathly still as his eyes stared blankly into the sky.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26- Revelation

 

In a forest near the Lugunica-Gusteko border, a pair of small feet negotiated uneven terrain. The owner of those feet was a young-looking girl with pointy ears framed by long light pink hair. Wearing a black robe, she traveled through the forest swiftly and silently.

“This body is so much better than my original. Perhaps being a half-elf isn't so bad after all,” talking to herself, she mused about the newfound strength this form's elven lineage now afforded her.

Dangling from the girl's neck, a necklace attached to a black crystal could be seen bouncing as she sped through the woods.

Suddenly, the very same black crystal pulsed. Coming to an abrupt halt, the girl gripped the crystal as she looked down at it and closed her eyes.

“The Authority of Envy has been activated,” opening her eyes, she stepped near a large tree and sat down, leaning her back against it, “that boy is in trouble.”

Once again she closed her eyes and concentrated, as a purple glow emanated from the crystal. The elven body slipped into a state of unconsciousness, as her soul moved. In a place that was real yet that was not, a beautiful white-haired woman appeared on a grassy hill. She was wearing a black funeral dress and a distinctive butterfly hairclip.

“Natsuki Subaru. Come to me. The Witch of Greed will prevent your soul from rending itself apart.” As she raised a hand to the sky, she summoned the spirit of her contractor.

 

 

***********************************************************

 

“Beatrice! What's wrong with him!?”

“I don't know, in fact! There are no physical abnormalities with him, I suppose!”

With a rare tinge of panic in her voice, a blonde spirit was on her knees casting a healing spell into her contractor's beloved, as the aforementioned girl did the same. The man she loved had collapsed and now lay on his back, after suddenly screaming wildly at the sky with a look of terror on his face. But just as suddenly, he'd lost consciousness.

His friends were now watching with worried looks on their faces, standing in a circle around the trio on the ground.

“The hell is goin' on with Cap'n!?” Garfiel's eyes were on the verge of shedding tears as he watched his friend, the first real friend close to his age that he'd ever had. This was the guy who had gotten him out into the world, and the first person who had ever beaten him in a straight fight.

The maids, wanting to stay out of the way, stood back a bit as they watched Emilia and Beatrice tend to Subaru. Both had been saved by him in the battle against the white whale, and both wished they could do something to help him now.

As tears flowed freely down Emilia's face, her voice cracked out, “what's happening to him!? He was fine just a minute ago!”

“Betty is confident that Subaru will be ok. He is very tough for a human, I suppose.” As the great spirit tried to soothe her contractor's aching heart, she looked at the face of the girl's intended. His eyes were now closed as if he'd drifted into a deep sleep.

“Betty will do whatever it takes to save this boy,” reaching out to grasp the black crystal that hung around Subaru's neck, she called out to her mother.

Mother, can you tell me what has happened to Subaru?

“Not specifically, Beatrice, but his mind is with me right now. I will restore him to you shortly.”

A relieved whimper escaped Beatrice's mouth as she placed a hand on Emilia's shoulder, “he is with Mother now, she said she is going to help him and bring him back to us.”

“He's with Echidna!? Did she do something to him!?”

“No. Mother would have no reason to harm him. Something did happen to him, though, and she is helping to restore him, I suppose.”

As Emilia's eyes drifted to Subaru's face, he looked strangely peaceful as someone taking a leisurely nap.

What happened to you, Subaru?

 

******************************************

 

As a gentle breeze brushed his face, Subaru found himself once again on Echidna's grassy hill, standing a few feet from a table with tea, snacks, and a small parasol shading the white-haired witch from the sun. As his mouth dropped open at the sudden shift of circumstances, she smiled at him.

“Greetings, contractor. My Authority of Greed has enlightened me to what has happened. Before your mind was able to tear itself apart I drew your soul to me.”

“I feel...strangely calm. Hell, I feel unreasonably calm after the shit that just happened.” Looking himself over, he was satisfied that his body was back to normal.

“Echidna.”

“Hmm?” As she rested her chin on one of her hands, the witch looked at him expectantly, with a wry grin.

“Thank you. I mean it. You really saved my ass this time.” Taking a seat across the table from her, a shuddering sigh escaped his lips as he considered the events that lead up to seeing the Witch of greed again.

As her smile widened at his words, she nodded, “you are more than welcome, Contractor. It is my purpose in our agreement to be of help to you.”

With a gentle push, she slid a teacup across the table to him, “drink this, it will help to further stabilize your mind and spirit. As well, it will keep your Witch Factors from becoming disjointed from your recent mental stress.”

Picking up the cup and peeking at its contents, Subaru shrugged and chugged down the brown liquid.

“That's an odd drink. I've never tasted anything quite like it. What is it?”

“It's something that's made here, actually. It's a bodily fluid of mine.”

"Bwauuurgh!!!" As he spat and then began rubbing his tongue on the back of his sleeve, Subaru jumped up out of his chair.

“Just what the heck did you make me drink just now!?”

“So,” changing the subject, Echidna gleefully watched his reaction, “what is your plan to deal with the Great Rabbit?”

“Gkk-” as Emilia's screams of pain and terror enter his mind, any thoughts of chastising Echidna were instantly silenced. A tear slid down his cheek as he thought of their last moments in that loop, and he grit his teeth as his arms reflexively went around his torso in a protective gesture.

“Th-that fucking thing. I'll tell you my plan. My plan is to nuke that fucking thing until there's nothing left but scorched fucking Earth!”

One of the things I find fascinating about you is how passionate you can suddenly be. The knowledge I gain from seeing how you change your approach to situations in each loop is truly something which satisfies my greed.”

Leaning forward, a sensuous expression now adorned her face, with eyes half-lidded and a playful smirk.

“You are simply marvelous, Contractor. So, what will you do?”

“You helped me when we fought the whale, and even though people keep trying to give me credit for it that plan was your idea. What would you suggest?” As he plopped down once again on the chair opposite the witch his face grew serious as he probed her for advice.

“You have many weapons at your disposal, including that new spell your half-elf and my Beatrice were casting. That was a very creative use of Yin magic, by the way. I'd simply love to see it cast to completion.” Then, as she leaned back in her chair once again, a wicked grin came to her face, “but you haven't considered what could be another very powerful weapon that is at your beck and call.”

“And what might that be?”

If it was possible, the disconcerting smile on her face then grew even larger.

 

******************************

 

The first thing he felt as his consciousness began to return was a sensation on his hand. The gentle feeling of something warm splashing onto the back of it, as well as the presence of another hand holding his own. Slowly beginning to open his eyes, the bright morning sun caused him to squint and turn his face to the side.

“Subaru!”

A voice like a silver bell flooded his ears, and with a start, he jerked his eyes fully open to seek out the owner of the voice he loved more than any other in the world.

His vision was filled with a pair of amethyst orbs and lovely silver strands.

And so, he smiled.

“Emilia-tan. I'm sorry if I scared you.”

“You dunderhead! Dummy! Nincompoop!” As tears flowed down her face, she flung herself upon him, wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace.

“What happened to you!? Why did you start screaming and then suddenly pass out!?”

Shit. There's no dodging it this time.

Sitting up, he returned her embrace and pushed his face into the crook of her neck. Moving his eyes he looked around and what he saw made a small gasp escape his lips.

Everyone was standing watching the two of them, and there wasn't a dry eye among them. As they all rushed forward and plowed into him, Subaru rapidly found himself at the center of a superhuman group hug.

“Dummy!” Emilia was shaking now, “what happened, Subaru!? What happened to you!?”

Among a crowd of sniffles, a wave of guilt began to wash over the young knight.

I caused them to worry this much?

Then his eyes went wide as a realization came upon him.

They all care about me this much?

“Subaru-sama, you can't worry us like that!” Frederica croaked out.

“Cap'n you dumbass! Don't pull any shit like that again!” Garfiel's voice was breaking as he chewed Subaru out.

“Subaru-sama, you...you are ok now? Is Rem correct that you are ok?” Even Rem seemed shaken.

They were this worried for ME?

“You were in terrible shape, I suppose.”

Turning his gaze upon Beatrice, who still stood a few feet away, Subaru didn't know what to say.

“You made Emilia worry, in fact. And...” as her eyes began to fill with tears, the little spirit chided the young man, “and you made Betty worry too!”

“Beako?” He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Even Beako was worried for me!?

Approaching him, she kneeled and grabbed his other hand, "Natsuki Subaru," her voice wobbled in the throes of emotion, "what happened to you that could have caused you so much pain?"

He wanted to tell them. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But if he were to utter the reason he had seemingly lost his mind for a few moments, then she would come.

And he didn't want to experience her idea of keeping him quiet if he could help it.

“Subaru-sama,” Rem asked softly, “why did the scent of the Witch on you grow much stronger just as you fell to despair and began screaming?”

“Grk!” He hadn't been prepared to be asked that.

“This also happened when you and Emilia-sama returned to Roswaal-sama's mansion to request an alliance.” Rem had figured out that something was up.

Emilia's embrace softened, as she leaned back to look him in the face, “Subaru, what's she talking about? Why would your witch scent grow stronger? You didn't activate your authority, did you?”

“I didn't activate the Authority of Lust, Emilia.”

That's a half-truth and you know it. You know that Emilia hates lies. As he agonized over what to do, he thought.

Maybe if I say it a certain way, the Witch won't come.

“It wasn't the Authority of Lust,” sitting up straight, he gently moved Emilia's arms from him and placed his hands on her shoulders, “that was the activation of something else. Something...much worse.”

“Something worse?” Concern flooded Emilia's face, and those of their companions.

“Whadya mean, Cap'n?” Garfiel knelt next to him as well, “if ya tell us maybe we can help ya.”

Looking around at each of them in turn, Subaru came to a decision.

“I wish you could help me. I really do. This won't be easy for any of you to hear, but I think it's time to tell you all what I can. But you all have to know that I can't tell you everything.”

“Why? Don't you trust us, Subaru? Don't you trust me?” Emilia's words stung him.

“I trust you with both my heart and my life, Emilia.” He looked at his gathered friends once again, “I trust all of you with my life. But there's something that keeps me from telling you everything. Some of you don't know, but I have a contract with the Witch of Greed, Echidna.”

Gasps could be heard from several of them.

“Subaru-sama, that cannot be. The Witch of Greed has been dead for four hundred years. Roswaal-sama's family is charged with safeguarding her tomb.” Rem had learned some things about Echidna from her master, it seemed.

“Yes, she died long ago. But her soul is housed in a dream landscape that can be accessed via her tomb...or with this.” He grasped the black crystal that hung from his neck and held it up for them to see.

“My contract allows me to contact and speak with her through this. Also, it was her that saved me from drowning in my madness once it came upon me.”

“But that still doesn't explain what happened to you, in fact.” Beatrice crossed her arms, having ceased sniffling, and a stern look came upon her face.

“I'll get to that. But that part I want to tell you about, I didn't know what it was until Echidna told me. She said that I've had something like a contract forced upon me.”

“A contract!? Normally that requires the consent of both parties!” Emilia began to look worried again, “who could do something like that?”

“You'll know once I tell you what happened. Earlier...when I lost my mind for a bit? That was the activation of another ability of mine.”

A pin-drop could be heard as he took a deep breath.

Please let this slide, please don't come, Witch of Envy!

“That was the activation of my other Witch Factor.”

“What!?” Emilia almost shrieked the words out, as her hands went to her face. Another gasp could be heard from the others gathered.

“I am the carrier of the Authority of Lust...”

Silence.

“And the Authority of Envy.”

“ENVY!?” As they collectively shouted, Subaru braced for the dark woman to come.

And he waited.

But the icy hands and the woman they belonged to didn't appear. As he felt relief momentarily, his mind returned to the situation at hand and he was drowned in a sea of shouts.

“What does that mean!?”

“It's an evil power! It's Envy! ENVY!”

“But it's Subaru we're talking about! HE'S not evil!”

“He said it was forced upon him, in fact!”

“Cap's done right by me so I'm gonna see this through!”

"Natsuki-san wouldn't do evil things, even if he's been forced into a contract with... HER.”

After a barrage of outbursts rained down, Subaru lifted his hand from Emilia's shoulder and gently stroked her cheek with his thumb. Her eyes whipped to him, and he gave her a small smile, as well as a slight nod. Her expression melted from confusion and anger to one of adoration, as she closed her eyes and nodded back to him, understanding his silent affirmation. Then, she once again looked at him and smiled a small smile of confidence.

My knight, and Od Lugnica willing, my king. He does his best for me. He does his best for all of us. Her thoughts turned warm as she waited for his answer.

Slowly, he stood, which silenced the group as they watched him.

“I know what it sounds like, I really do. But trust me on two things. I didn't ask for this to be done to me,” with a serious face, he regarded his friends, “and I promise to use it only for good.”

Turning once again to Emilia, he made sure to speak loud enough that they could all hear him.

“You remember when we were leaving Elior Forest? Remember how I knew that Capella was coming before she appeared?”

“Yeah. That was so strange,” she nodded, as she clasped her hands together in hope.

Looking at Rem, who had a confused look on her face, he continued, “I was able to find you in the whale's fog after you were injured, and navigate Emilia and Beatrice to the carriages to get you to safety.”

As her memory ran through the events, Rem's expression cleared, and she nodded, hopeful.

He had a breakdown right before that! Emilia remembered. Right before they saved Rem, he'd had another moment of brief madness and collapsed.

“I knew that we needed to go around Arlam Village when Roswaal kicked us out.” He looked at Emilia solemnly. She nodded again, remembering how he suddenly seemed out of sorts and became insistent that they not go through the village.

“This power is incredibly useful. It lets me save the people I love,” he gestured toward the half-elf girl and smiled, then his smile fell as he prepared to test The Witch.

"But there is a cost. You could say that for the most part, this ability isn't something I can control, and there's a real problem with it."

Looking downward at his hand, he struggled to form the words.

“It hurts.”

He turned his gaze upward, looking at his friends.

“It hurts so much.

Emilia's face fell as he spoke. Fresh tears began to once again stream from her violet eyes, and she reached out a hand, desiring to comfort him.

Steeling himself, he took a deep breath.

“I-...” he could feel his throat beginning to convulse, as the tears formed in his eyes.

Gritting his teeth, he sucked in air once again, trying to harden his resolve.

“I sometimes know what will happen if certain events play out. But...”

Trying as hard as he could, there was no way for the young man to hold back the sorrow that was crushing his mind and rending his soul. As the tears began to flow freely, he wiped his eyes with his sleeves and continued.

"You could say that I experience bad events that can come to pass. Terrible ones, even."

“The worst routes.”

Falling to his knees, he covered his face with his hands, embarrassed to be so emotional but powerless to stop it.

“I've seen all of you die.”

Hands went to faces, gasps could be heard, tears began flowing once more.

The weight of his burden began to sink in on his allies, a dawning realization hit them. As they watched him sink into sadness.

“What does that mean?” Rem broke the silence among the sniffling group.

“I...”

With an ounce of hope, Subaru prepared to try. He wanted to tell them. He needed to tell them.

“I can return by dea-”

All of the colors in the world abruptly dispersed. Everyone around him froze as time stood still.

Oh no.

Oh God please please no!

“Our secret.”

Directly in front of him, she materialized. Veiled in black, she floated slowly toward him. The dark shadowy hands reached out to him. Frozen as he was, he was powerless to stop her. Powerless to move. A dark hand reached into his chest, phasing through to his heart. Stroking it gently, he began to wonder if she would spare him this time and allow him to avoid the pain.

Then, the hand grasped his core and squeezed. As the pain tore through him, time began to move once again.

“Gyaaaahh!!!” His hands flew to his chest, and he fell over to his side.

"Subaru!!!" Emilia leaped to him, throwing her arms around his shaking body. The gathered group clamored in shock, watching the knight writhe in agony in the arms of the half-elf.

“What the hell happened!?” Garfiel jumped into a fighting stance, eyes darting around in search of an unseen attacker.

As his friends struggled to understand what had just transpired, Subaru slowly regained his bearings once the pain in his chest began to subside.

Weakly, he croaked out, “that was it. That's as much as I can tell you without being...” his eyes looked up to his friends, “punished.” Fresh tears streamed down his face.

“You're being tortured.” Beatrice once again knelt next to him and Emilia, “this boy is being subjected to horrors, in fact. By The Witch herself, it would seem.” Her voice was soft, as she seemed to grasp what was happening to the young man.

“Tortured?” Rem asked softly, “but why would she do that to him?”

“I don't know. The truth is, I don't even belong in this world to begin with.” As he lay on his side in the grass, the boy weakly croaked out what small explanation he could offer, “I was summoned to this world from another. I was born and raised in a completely different place.”

Emilia took a hand, beginning to stroke his hair, “you're from beyond the Great Waterfall?” The hand then traveled to his chin, raising his face to hers, “you were ripped from your birthplace by her? You were all alone?”

No longer able to hold it back, the boy broke down and began to wail. His tears rained, and choked sobs wracked his core as he became lost to sadness.

“You've had it rough, haven't you?” Stroking his hair once again, the silver-haired girl cooed to him, doing her best to soothe his tortured soul, “you've been trying so hard, and seen so much pain this whole time, haven't you?”

“Yeah. Please...”

He shuddered in her arms.

"Please make it stop. I don't want to hurt anymore."

As his friends fell upon him, the boy lay on his side crying out to the world. They all embraced him gently, or lay their hands on him in an effort to comfort him, careful to be wary of his pain.

“We're all here for you, Subaru. We'll all do our best to protect you.” A silver bell proclaimed to him, “you're not alone anymore.”

For some time, none of them moved as they held the boy. After several minutes passed, his shuddering and wracking sobs began to subside. The group slowly release their hold on him and stepped back, leaving him and his half-elf in their embrace.

"I love you so much, Subaru. You've done so much for me...for all of us. Whatever it is you're going through please remember that you can always come to me. You can always lean on me." She continued to pet him and nuzzled her cheek against the side of his head lovingly.

Lowly, in almost a whisper she asked, “what did you see, Subaru? What did you experience that hurt you so much?”

Slowly, the boy sat back up. The girl released her hold on him and remained on her knees next to him as he wiped his face.

“We have to get ready to leave.”

He looked around himself at his friends, and gathered as much courage as he could for what was to come.

Julius came to his mind, and his determination began to return.

“A fight is coming, and we have to save our friends.”

“A fight? Against what?” Emilia asked him gently.

"The Great Rabbit is coming, and the people of the capital will die if we don't stop it."

As everyone in the group gasped, Subaru began to gain his feet. Shakily, he stood and gathered his courage. Emilia came to her feet beside him and grabbed his hand with concern. He turned to look up at the sky, checking the position of the sun.

“Damn it. I spent too much time blubbering on the ground.” He looked at Emilia, and took a deep breath, “we have to hurry to the south of the city.”

Many in the group nodded, as they began to understand the situation.

With his face turning to determination, the knight spoke.

“We can still save Anastasia's camp if we hurry.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 27- Scorched Earth

 

An Astrea carriage thundered along the perimeter road of the capital, with a blue-haired maid holding the reins, a blonde maid riding alongside, and a blonde boy crouched on top of it. All three of them wore grim faces, their thoughts a jumble between the earlier events and the task at hand.

"Th' goddamn Great Rabbit, huh? You gotta be shittin' me." Garfiel muttered to himself, then looked down toward the roof of the carriage, where the man he followed rode.

Cap's been through some insane shit, but he brushed aside everything to help tha other camp.

A fanged grin came to his face as the boy thought.

That's why I decided ta follow 'im. He's tougher than a ronkly nut on a weedle bush.

Inside the carriage, a silver-haired girl, a blonde spirit, and a black-haired knight rode in silence. The elven girl sat next to the boy, with the spirit in her lap. She looked at the boy, worry plain on her face.

He seemed deep in thought after the strange morning that they'd had. After he'd told them that the Great Rabbit would be attacking, and the Anastasia camp would be wiped out, they'd hurriedly assembled their fighting gear and departed.

What does The Witch want with him? Her heart went out to the boy, as another person who has faced hardship because of the Witch of Envy.

She considered his situation, that he'd been pulled to this world from another one. Pulled through no wish or fault of his own, it would seem. Then, The Witch had placed some sort of terrible power on him, one that was eating at his mind and soul.

What about his family? Her thoughts went to whether he had anyone at home looking for him.

If his parents don't know what happened to him...

“Subaru...” she reached out to touch his shoulder.

“Hmm?” Turning to look at her, he listened to what she wanted to say, “sorry, I was summoning one of our big guns.”

No, don't bring up his family now, that would just put him in an even worse state of mind. Don't distract him at a time like this.

“Nevermind. How are you feeling?”

“Like hammered shit, to be perfectly honest.”

“Oh.” She'd expected him to be feeling down.

If he's talking like that maybe he feels a little better.

Beatrice turned to listen to their conversation, worry on her face.

“Your attempt at humor cannot fool Betty, in fact. The weight of what happened earlier is still heavy on your mind I suppose.”

“Yeah. It is. But I can't be feeling sorry for myself right now. Our friends are in big trouble and they're going to die if we don't get there quickly.”

The two girls nodded at his statement, deciding not to pry any further for the moment.

“Besides, I'm sending out my thoughts to one of our biggest weapons. I'm going to bring it in to help with the fight.” His cryptic statement made no sense to the girl, but she felt that his heart was most important to tend to right now.

“Subaru...” Emilia leaned over, and gently kissed the knight on his lips, “we'll get through this together. The Rabbit, saving the others, and...” she kissed him again, gently, “and whatever it is that's haunting you. We'll figure it out.”

A small smile came to his face as he looked at her, “I hope so. Even with everything that's going on, you make me feel like the luckiest man in the world, Emilia-tan.”

A slight blush graced her cheeks, “you make me feel lucky too,” then she gave him a little smile in return, “dunderhead.”

“Before we get there, I need to explain what I need you two to do. I've come up with a spell that you two can cast together that should be able to take out all of the rabbits at once.”

As the girls regarded him, he began to explain his spell for a second time.

“I call it Shadow Curtain.”

 

********************************************

 

<BANG BANG BANG>

As Josephina knocked on the door of the Crusch Estate, she was in a near panic. Subaru had sent her to gather help against the great Rabbit, telling her to alert the Crusch camp of the situation south of the city.

As the large front door creaked open, an older man in a butler's uniform emerged.

“Ah! Wilhelm-sama! I am a maid of the Astrea household! Josephina at your service, sir!” Bowing her head, she rushed through the formalities.

“To what do we owe your visit, Josephina-san?” Ever the gentleman, Wilhelm could tell something was amiss, so he kept the greetings short.

“I'm sorry to bother you, but Subaru-sama sent me to alert your camp of an impending disaster!”

“What is it, Wilhelm?” As the green-haired noble appeared behind the butler, she made a curious face.

“Crusch-sama! I've been sent to alert you that the Emilia and Subaru camp is en route to assist the Anastasia camp against the Great Rabbit, which has appeared just south of the city!”

“What!?”

“Yes, apparently the Anastasia camp was intending to take it on alone, but according to Subaru they will all perish if help doesn't arrive soon.” As she gazed at Crusch, Josephina made her appeal for their assistance.

“And Subaru-sama is never wrong about these sort of things, I'm told.”

 

*******************************************

 

Julius's face carried a look of intense worry. Their mercenary casters had been chain-casting Goa spells at the white monstrosities for several minutes now, but it seemed they were barely making a dent in their numbers. They stood upon a road surrounded by forest, where in front of them a clearing a few hundred yards wide opened up. Watching in horror, he could see the creatures splitting.

One becomes two.

Two become four.

So on and so on, endlessly.

There must be thousands of the gruesome things.

As he paced behind the line of magic users, he considered jumping into the fray.

No, that would be foolish. A sword, even that of a Spirit Knight's, would be of little use in a battle such as this.

Thinking to his mistress's ambitions, he recalled her words.

She had said, “this is our only chance ta catch up ta Subaru and Emilia.”

But mere minutes into the battle, he could plainly see that this was folly.

All of these people are going to die if we don't do something, and quickly.

“Hold the line! I'm going to order a retreat shortly, and we'll start pulling back in stages! We have to protect the ground dragons in the meantime or there's no way we'll be able to get out of here alive!” As he shouted orders to the mercenaries, Ricardo ran up to him from the left flank.

“A retreat? The boss ain't gonna be happy, Julius!”

“She'll understand after seeing this...miss-step.” He hated to disparage Anastasia's plan, but it was plain to see that it was madness to continue.

He turned to look behind him, down the forested road that the fight had commenced upon. There he could see his mistress with a strained look on her face, Mimi and her brothers surrounding her as guards. He could tell that Ana was coming to the same conclusion that he was.

“Group one! Start backing up! Groups two and three, hold the line while they get back!”

A dozen of the casters began to fall back, as the two groups that surrounded them began to converge together, still shooting flame magic at the rabbits. The first group ran by him, and Julius could see the sheer terror in their eyes.

How are we going to get out of this!? We can't lead them to the city!

Drawing his sword, Julius called to his spirits.

“Maidens, please lend me your strength!”

The six multi-colored orbs sprang into being and surrounded his sword as he burst forward. Running to the middle of the group of remaining casters, Julius yelled an order to them, “split and let me through! After I attack, all of you retreat!”

Then his sword flashed brilliantly into a rainbow of colors as his spirits' energy gathered. Passing by the line of casters, he prepared to collide with the rabbits.

“AL CLAIZERIA!!!” A large magical explosion of all six elements began to spread out in every direction, annihilating hundreds of the creatures as the energy impacted them. Drawn to the mana his spirits were expending, the horde now focused on Julius as his spell began to exhaust itself.

Ana, please get away from here. At this point, Julius knew there was no hope for him.

“Get away! All of you!” Stealing a glance at the retreating magic users, he smiled.

Maybe this will save some of you, at least.

Yes. He thought to himself.

This is the knightly thing to do.

The creatures were now converging on him, so he imbued the energy of his spirits into the sword and began swinging. The rabbits leaped at him one after the other as he danced backward, trying to keep them from surrounding him.

Keep buy time! Keep buying time!

Each swing killed several of the creatures, but he could only do so much. His spirits exhausted too much mana to perform another Al Claizeria, so he was stuck swinging his sword. As the rabbits slowly gained ground on him, he struggled to keep his mind clear and focus on the task at hand. But it wandered, despite his best efforts.

Reinhard.

Subaru.

Crusch-sama.

Ana.

I hope you think well of me after this is done.

I'll miss you, all of you.

Parts of the horde were starting to get behind him, and a white-hot pain flared in his right calf as a rabbit took a piece of him. Whirling, he attempted to begin running toward the retreating camp. As he did, a large chunk of his other leg was taken and he fell forward, landing prone.

This is it. I tried to do the knightly thing in the end.

Goodbye, everyone.

<CRISSCHH!>

Eyes going wide at a sudden cracking sound, the spirit knight looked up in the direction that the other fighters had retreated to.

Sprinting toward him with superhuman speed was the Emilia and Subaru camp, Emilia's outstretched hand was streaming ice spells, freezing the rabbits near him in place. As he turned to look behind him, Julius beheld a miracle.

Emilia had frozen hundreds of them, buying him time to get out of danger.

Looking back toward his advancing allies, the finest of knights smiled at his black-haired friend, who was rapidly approaching.

“Subaru, you stupid bastard,” he murmured.

“You heroic, wonderful, stupid bastard.”

"Hyaaaaaagh!!!!!" Emilia raised a hand forward and unleashed her ice once again. Hundreds of rabbits were flash-frozen, shattering as they came to a running stop. The horde behind the decimated creatures was now slowed, as it struggled to navigate the remains of its' shattered brethren.

Subaru jumped toward Julius, mana coursing through him.

“You dumb son of a bitch! Why the hell would you try to take these things on alone!?”

Julius was taken aback as Subaru furiously reprimanded him.

“Thank you, Subaru-sama. I accept your admonishment. This was a foolish endeavor, and I promise to make things right should we survive this.” As Subaru threw Julius's arm over his shoulder, Julius admitted their mistake to his fellow knight.

“But that language was certainly not very knightly.”

“Shove it up your ass!” Surging with mana, Subaru bolted away from the rabbit horde, covering the distance to Anastasia's wagon in seconds with Julius in tow.

Climbing down from the front of the wagon as her terrified mercenaries ran past, Ana rushed to her knight's side as Subaru delivered him to her.

"Ana..." Subaru said.

Her shocked face, eyes wide with regret, turned to Subaru as he placed Julius on the ground in front of her, "we are going to have a very important talk once all of this is over. We had a deal, and you tried to go around it.”

Standing up straight, the black-haired boy's scary eyes were focused on the dainty purple-haired candidate. Shrinking before his furious gaze, she knelt beside Julius, taking his hand.

“This is all my fault. Yer right, Subaru. I wanted ta catch up ta you and yer sweetheart.” She looked at Julius, her proud and powerful knight's face. He gazed back at her, a small smile forming on his lips despite the pain he was enduring. Moving her eyes down to his heavily wounded legs, she began to weep.

“I just wanted to do somethin' great like you did, ya know?”

Looking down at her solemnly, Subaru's gaze refused to waver.

“You were willing to spend lives for a chance at the throne, Ana. You were willing to spend a lot of them, just to make some political gains.”

As the teary-eyed girl looked up at him, she couldn't form words to deny his claim.

“Subaru, don't blame her,” Julius, ever the chivalrous knight, came to his lady's defense, “anyone would be desperate to catch up after what you and Emilia have done.”

“THAT DOESN'T EXCUSE IT!!!” Enraged, Subaru turned to move back to the battle, “you of all people should know better, Julius. Spending lives for personal gain is a grotesque way to do things.”

Rocketing off toward the battle, the black-haired knight shrank away from them swiftly. Julius watched his protege in the spirit arts proudly as he joined the conflict. Then, he looked down at his legs and saw the pool of blood forming around them.

“Anastasia-sama, I'm not terribly certain that I'm going to have to opportunity to serve you anymore after this is over.”

“Hickk-!!!” Throwing her small body on top of her knight, the purple-haired girl lost all composure.

“This is all my fault! If Ah hadn't gotten so greedy for the throne you wouldn't be like this! You might die because of me!”

“It is a knight's duty to serve, Anastasia-sama. I would gladly follow you into battle any time.”

As his eyelids started to grow heavy, Julius did his best to comfort her.

At least blood loss is a much better way to perish than at the teeth of those things.

“Julius! No! Ya can't!!!” Ana was beside herself now, weeping uncontrollably, “I order ya ta stay with me! I need ya ta stay alive!”

“He does nyot have an option otherwise.”

“Hegh!?” Ana whirled to look behind her, and the visage of a young cat-boy demi-human appeared.

“Felix!?” She cried incredulously. Tears of sorrow turned into those of joy as the kingdom's greatest healer arrived.

Beside him was a green-haired noble and a large man in a butler suit.

"Forgive our lateness, Ana," Crusch grinned at her counterpart, "we only just received word of your troubles."

As Subaru arrived next to Emilia and Beatrice, he surveyed the situation. Emilia's ice was able to hold many of the monsters back, but some continued to slip through. Looking to the left and right, he could see Garfiel, Frederica, and Rem desperately engaged with the creatures.

Shit! I need a way to hold these things back so that Emilia and Beatrice can complete their spell!

“Natsuki Subaru.” hearing his name, the knight whirled to look behind him. Swiftly approaching were Crusch and Wilhelm.

“Oh thank God! Crusch! We need to defend Emilia and Beatrice so that they can cast the game-finishing spell here! The three of us can form a perimeter around them until it's ready!”

"As you say! I'll take the front then!" Crusch took position in between the horde and the two girls blasting the horde with her wind technique as she moved. Wilhelm drew his sword and hurried to their right, as Subaru did the same and took up the left.

“Emilia! Beako! It's time!”

Calling to his spirits, Subaru readied himself.

Are you ready, ladies?

<We are ready, contractor!>

Ok, this is gonna be a tough one!

Then the knight once again sent his thoughts out to his trump card.

It's time for you to do my bidding.

<I am almost there, Master.>

 

*********************************

 

A purple-haired girl with a cute braid marveled.

She sat atop a massive white whale as it flew through the skies. She held on to the stump of its horn as they rocketed through the air. At their altitude, she looked around, taking in the incredible view. The sun was bouncing off the top of the clouds as they flew over them, and a myriad of colors could be seen among the fluffy formations.

“Whale-chan...this is sooo pretty!”

< Little one, you should hold on tightly. We will soon descend.>

“Huh?” She scratched her head, “what does that mean?”

Suddenly, the whale below her shimmered. As she watched in awe two identical whales emerged from either side of the one she rode and flew parallel to it.

Then, the monstrous beasts began to nose down, and Meilie Portroute screamed.

“AAAAAAAAGH!!! WHALE-CHAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!”

 

************************************

 

Three swords were being madly swung, devastating the horde of white monsters. Crush's wind art was massacring dozens of them at a time, with every swing sending out blades of wind that cleaved them mercilessly. Wilhelm was faster than any man his age had a right to be, killing the mob with one hand literally behind his back.

Then, there was Natsuki Subaru.

A vision of rage and violence, his sword glowed with the white light of his combined spirit power. Mowing down the rabbits with a thirst for vengeance, he showed no mercy to them in defense of Emilia and Beatrice.

“DIE, YOU FUCKING PIECES OF SHIT!!!” As he surged the power of his contracted spirits into every swing, he could feel their confusion.

< Contractor, you are not yourself.>

I know that! Please support me, we are in a fight for our lives!

<Understood. We will do our best.>

Then, as he swung, killing a dozen rabbits, Subaru heard something that brought him to a stop.

<Why is Contractor being so angry? Why is he being so mean?>

Aqua!!! He sent his thoughts to his water spirit, now is NOT the time!

<Yes, contractor!>

Quickly falling in line, his water spirit joined the others. As he cleaved another wave of the rabbits, Subaru glanced at the sky. He waited for a miracle of timing to save them all.

 

******************************

 

“AAAAAAAUUUUGH!” Meilie shrieked as she did her best to hold on to the stump of the whale's horn. Tears of fright adorned her face as she ducked down to avoid the huge amount of wind that was blasting by.

“Whale-chaaaaaaaan!”

“We have arrived. Master is just below.”

"Huh?" looking up, she could see a forest beneath. Whipping her head to the left and right she saw the two copy whales opening their mouths.

Then, she felt the one she rode doing the same.

 

****************

 

“AROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

Turning his head to the right, Subaru grinned.

“There it is.”

“Time to kill all of these fuckers.”

Over the top of the western trees, three monstrous flying beasts appeared.

Three White Whales.

“What!?” Crusch was stunned for a moment, as she watched the monstrous trio dive toward them.

“Is it coming for us!?”

“No.” Subaru said this as he swung his sword once more, the ravenous rabbits hounding his front.

“This is the first part of killing the Rabbit.”

As the three fighters swung their swords, they watched, looking into the sky.

The three whales' mouths erupted with fog, which blasted out in front of them.

It was the fog of elimination.

Side by side, they spewed out as much of it as they could, per their master's orders. Hundreds of yards of the clearing were covered in the deadly fog, as it spread out across the horde.

Thousands upon thousands of the rabbits ceased to exist. Melting away, they faded from memory.

"Huh!?" Confused, Emilia wavered with the spell she and Beatrice were casting. A few dozen rabbits remained on the outskirts of their perimeter.

“NOW, EMILIA!!!”

"What? Really?"

Pointing at the few remaining rabbits, Subaru shouted, “DO IT!”

Emilia and Beatrice raised their hand to the sky, with a spell formed in unison, they shouted.

“SHADOW CURTAIN!”

<BTOOMCRRSSSHKKKKK> The sound of shattering glass erupted, as shadow magic roared forth from the two girls.

Spreading out in front of them, a veil of purple advanced, changing everything it touched into crystal. Rabbit after rabbit was rendered dead as they crystallized instantly once the veil passed. Further and further it spread, converting rabbits, trees, grass, everything it touched.

Swinging his sword one last time, the final rabbit fell to Subaru's white-hot blade.

“A two-prong nuclear approach.” Subaru surveyed the scene, looking around for any more rabbits.

Are they really gone?

“Subaru...we...did it.” Emilia fell to her knees, then collapsed face down, her mana spent.

Rushing to her side, Subaru knelt and placed her head on his lap, careful of her long silver hair.

She did the same for me.

As he looked around, he saw that Garfiel, Rem, and Frederica were ok. Garfiel had a few bites in him but he was smiling.

Good god that kid's tough.

“All of you...I-”

Tears formed in Subaru's eyes.

“Thank you. Thank you for helping us kill that thing.

He looked down at the sleeping half-elf in his lap and brushed aside a strand of hair from her face.

“We did it.”

Gently embracing Emilia, he looked up at Beatrice who was next to her.

“We did it, Beako.”

The great spirit regarded him solemnly, then nodded, “the Great Rabbit has been destroyed, I suppose.”

Banking in the sky, three whales returned to hover a dozen yards in the air. Each one regarded the scene with its one eye.

< Master, you have slain the small ones.>

As his gathered friends watched in awe, Subaru looked up at the whales, then the outside two shimmered, and seemed to melt back into the middle one.  Wilhelm bristled with anger as he regarded the flying monster, but made no move to attack it.

Then, Subaru spotted a young girl on top of the whale.

“Who? How? Wha?”

"Hey, mister!!! Are you Whale-chan's boss!?" The purple-haired girl pointed at him as she spoke.

“Uhhhhh. Yeah, I guess?” Unsure of what was going on, he replied earnestly.

"Whale-chan! That's that Subaru guy isn't it!?"

< Indeed. That is the master.>

“Let me down! I wanna talk to him!”

The hovering whale slowly descended, and the girl slid down its side to land on the violet-encrusted ground.

As Subaru watched in astonishment, the girl confidently strode up to him.

“Are you the one that killed Mama?” With a flat expression, the girl inquired.

“Mama?” Still kneeling with Emilia on his lap, the confused knight replied.

“The Sin Archbishop of Lust, dummy.”

“Capella was your mom!?”

“She told me to call her that. I don't know my real mom.”

“I, uh...wasn't the one who killed her. He's not here right now. But I was there when it happened.” Sheepishly, Subaru tried to make the strange situation add up in his head.

What was he supposed to say to a girl whose adoptive mother had been an enemy?

“What about Big Sis Elsa!?”

“Grk!!” Wanting to spare Emilia from any future plans of vengeance, he made a decision.

“I killed her. She was trying to kill the two of us.”

“Then you must be reeeeealy strong, Mister Subaru!”

“Uhhhhh...”

“I was going to hang around Whale-chan because he could keep me safe, but I bet it's a lot more fun to hang with you guys!” A large smile came to the girl's face, “plus, there aren't any more mabeasts for me to control around here! Whale-chan ate them all!”

“Mabeasts? Control? What?” The whole situation had Subaru thoroughly confused. Looking around at his compatriots, some of them shrugged, and others scratched their heads.

“Rem does not smell the miasma of The Witch coming from this girl. She is no witch cultist.” The blue-haired maid approached, offering her assessment.

“Sooooooo, uhhhhh...” Turning once again to look at the girl, Subaru said, “what's your name, kid?”

“Meilie Portroute. Remember it because I'm coming to live at your house!”

“You what now?”

“Mama and Big Sis are gone now, so since you got rid of them it's your responsibility to feed me and keep me safe!”

“It's my what?”

“Is your house nice? I hope your house is nice. Do you have any dolls? I love playing with dolls.”

Mystified, Subaru could offer no response.

Stepping next to him as he sat on the ground, Crusch intoned, "it would seem that you just became a father, Natsuki Subaru."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 28- Turning Point

 

 

As a cat-boy in a blue dress nodded in affirmation that his work was complete, he stood.

“Nyow you can get back up Julius, you're completely healed.”

Rising to his feet, the purple-haired knight took a moment to thank his demi-human friend. Bowing, he said, “thank you, Felix. If you hadn't arrived, I'm certain that we would be quite unable to have this conversation right now. Your skills have saved me, and I am in your debt.”

“It's me that owes ya, Felix. Not my knight,” Anastasia, who had watched as Felix did his work, shook her head, tossing Julius's notion aside.

“I got us inta this mess. If it hadn't been for your camp, and Subaru and Emilia's...”

Felix wasn't as kind to the candidate who had risked so many lives, “You're right. This was nyot a very smart thing to do, Anastasia-'sama.'”

Catching the sarcasm on the 'sama' honorific, Anastasia's face fell slightly.

As the three turned to regard the incredible sight before them, no other words could be said.

The legendary White Whale was now hovering mere feet off the ground, with the rescuing camps gathered around observing a conversation between Subaru and a little girl. Behind them, for several hundred yards every speck of rock, grass, dirt, and trees had been turned into vibrant violet crystal.

“You don't see that every day!” Ricardo marched up, followed by Mimi, Tivey, and Hetaro.

“No...” Julius had to admit, “you certainly don't.”

"The Whale! The Whale! Mimi wants to ride it like that purple-haired girl did!" The short blonde cat-girl jumped up and down with excitement at the thought of flying through the skies on the Great Mabeast, while her brothers rolled their eyes.

 

As Emilia's violet eyes fluttered open, they began to look around and take in her surroundings. She could see Subaru's face close above her. Glancing over, she could see that he was talking to a young girl. Beginning to sit up, she groaned lightly.

“Emilia-tan! Take it slow!”

“Emilia you should rest some more, in fact.”

As always, Subaru and Beatrice were the first to make sure she wasn't pushing herself too hard.

“It's ok, I've recovered some of my mana now so I feel fine. I'm just a little tired still.” She gave them a smile, one which Subaru returned wholeheartedly.

“Lady! Hey! Pointy-eared lady!”

Grimacing at the description, Emilia turned to see the person behind the voice.

“Who's this, Subaru?”

“This,” he pointed with a thumb, “is Meilie. Capella's adopted daughter and Elsa's adopted little sister.”

“What!?”

“And I'll tell you what I told this spooky-eyed goober! Since you people killed Mama and Elsa I'm gonna come live with you!” Pointing at Emilia, the girl's brows furrowed as she delivered a declaration.

“You want to live...at the Astrea Manor?” Emilia's confusion was reaching its peak as she looked to Subaru for answers.

Shrugging, he replied, "she said she has nowhere to go. Apparently, she can control mabeasts but the whale ate all of the ones in this region, so she's defenseless and has no food or shelter."

“No food or shelter. No place to go...” Emilia thought that sounded familiar, “hey! That's just like you! The day we met, you were in the same position!”

Subaru's mouth dropped wide open, that day had been so long ago and so many things had happened that he'd almost forgotten.

“Yeah. I was destitute until I met you.” Looking down at her, he gave her a warm smile, “you saved me, Emilia-tan.”

Emilia blushed at his loving words, “well, uh, you've done your fair share of saving too, you know.”

“Hey! When do I get to see my new house!?”

As the lovers looked at the young girl, their gazes met each other briefly, and both of them nodded.

“Tonight.”

 

In the nearby trees, silent footsteps carried a man to the border of the greenery where he stopped to observe the group. His eyes took in the scene before him, then he muttered to himself quietly.

“What are you doing here, beast?” As he regarded the whale hovering near a group of people, he considered what he was seeing.

"You've lost your horn? How could this be? This is a clear violation of both your and my rights as a pet owner! Whoever has done this cannot understand the sheer trespass this is and if I am to be the most satisfied, most perfect existence in the world then how am I to do so if someone is going to trample upon my rights and take my things? As pets are things, after all, they must be looked after so I find myself here but my pet has been stolen from me and this cannot be allowed, as I said before it is a clear violation of my rights!"

Preparing to move upon the group and demand an explanation, the man held still as another group approached the one near the whale.

And at that moment, the eyes of Regulus Corneus widened as he beheld a striking beauty.

“Nyow what have you done, Natsuki Subaru? Killed a Great Mabeast with Crusch-sama's help, did you?”

“Those ears, that hair, that dress, that voice, that face! I must have the one who they belong to! Hers is a perfect beauty, one that only my perfect existence can match, therefore she shall become one of my wives and it will happen quite soon but not at this moment. No. I will need to find the perfect time to make the perfect introduction and ensure that my new wife will adore me as much as I adore her. For only a perfect marriage can suffice for a perfect existence.”

“Felix, thank the maker you, Crusch, and Wilhelm showed up. We were in a tight spot there.” A black-haired knight who knelt on the ground with a girl answered.

Regulus listened intently, “Her name is Felix? Not very feminine, but once I give her a number none of that will matter. This will be a grand union indeed.”

With that, the man quietly crept away, satisfied that his effort to discover the Whale's situation had borne fruit.

As the fighters relaxed, Rem's brows furrowed. Looking around, she sensed something was amiss but could spot no cause for concern.

What was that scent just now? She thought to herself, it smelled like Subaru.

Now, to another matter,” Subaru helped Emilia up, then approached Anastasia and Julius, brows furrowed in anger, “just what the HELL were you thinking by taking on that thing by yourselves?”

Ana's eyes became downcast once again, “it's just as I told ya. The two of you have already accomplished some incredible feats. If things keep going the way they are, none of the rest of us stand a lickin' chance.”

“You almost got every single person who works for you killed, Ana. How nice would the palace be if every night you got to go to bed and see the image of Mimi being torn to pieces in your mind!? The same goes for Julius! You would have had to watch that happen to him. Hell, it almost DID happen!”

Unable to meet his furious gaze, she looked to the side, “yer right. I couldn't see past my own nose,” the girl turned to her side where Julius, Ricardo, and the triplets stood, all watching her silently.

“I almost got all of ya killed, and in the worst kinda way at that. I'm sorry.”

The girl bowed to her camp members.

“I truly am sorry. Yer all like a family to me. No throne is worth that. Nothing is.”

Approaching slowly, Crusch interjected, “we must address another matter. It concerns our alliance.” Ana straightened and looked to her, listening intently.

"I consider this action a breach of our terms," turning to the lovers next to her, she continued, "what say you two?"

"I do as well," Subaru nodded, anger still evident on his face, "as a matter of trust, I think this has broken it."

“Wait,” Emilia put her hand forward, “before we abandon Ana's camp, I'd just like to say that I think she won't do something like this again.”

Everyone watched Emilia as she came to Ana's defense, "for one thing, she apologized and admitted that what she did was wrong. Also, look at her..."

Everyone turned to look at the purple-haired girl, and that was when they noticed the state she was in.

“She obviously regrets it.”

A small tear rolled down Ana's left cheek, and she was shaking slightly.

“I do regret it. What ya said, Subaru. It was all true.” Reaching a hand out, she patted Mimi on top of the head, then smiled down at her, “I promise on the name of Hoshin that I won't pull any stunts like that. Never again.”

"Ok," as his forgiving heart began to calm, Subaru considered Ana's words, "In that case, I'm fine with upholding the Alliance," Subaru looked over to Crusch, "what about you?"

Placing her hand under her chin, Crusch thought for a moment. Then, she spoke, “very well. Let us continue as we were. The alliance stands.”

 

The Council of Sages stood gazing at the Dragon Stone once again, within the deep interior of the Royal Palace. The old men were in a flurry of shouts and questions as the tablet had changed. Miklotov looked upon the new inscription that now adorned it, and he couldn't help but smile.

It read:

CANDIDATES EMILIA, SUBARU, CRUSCH, AND ANASTASIA HAVE DEFEATED THE GREAT RABBIT.

Turning to face the members behind him, he raised his hands to quiet the crowd.

“It would seem, dear colleagues, that once again our candidates for the throne of the Great Kingdom of Lugunica have achieved wonders. Another threat that has plagued our people for four hundred years has finally been put to rest.”

As the old man turned to read the inscription again, his smile broadened.

"To think that these are the ones who will be leading the country in the future. We are truly a blessed people. The Holy Dragon Volcanica has chosen well. Even though they are in competition, they worked together to make this miracle occur."

The old man's eyes sparkled as he beheld the dragon's conveyance.

“Magnificent. Every one of them.”

 

“This is the place, Meilie!” As they exited the carriage in front of the Astrea Estate, Subaru gestured grandly at the massive complex, “I guess this is where you'll be staying...from now on?”

“Ooohhhhhhh!” The girl marveled as she hopped down and ran toward the mansion's front steps.

Gerard and Josephina stood out front, awaiting the return of the fighting team. As Meilie ran up to them, they looked toward her with confused expressions.

“Hey! Do you two work here? You in the suit! Give me a tour!”

Cocking an eyebrow, Gerard glanced at Subaru with a questioning face.

"This is Meilie, she's sort of...uh, coming to stay here. She had nowhere else to go so we've taken her in." Subaru rubbed the back of his head sheepishly as he explained the situation.

“I see, Subaru-sama. Then Miss Meili, please follow me,” the butler gestured for the girl to walk up the stairs into the mansion with him.

“Okey dokey! Do you have anything to eat?” As the girl followed, she looked wide-eyed at the massive home.

“Josephina,” Subaru turned to the maid, “good job getting to the Crusch camp. They saved our bacon back there.”

“Then,” the maid clasped her hands together, “you were able to defeat it? Is the Great Rabbit truly gone? Everyone is safe?”

“It's gone, never to be seen again.” His wry smile met her eyes and she collapsed to her knees, relieved.

“Oh thank the Od Lugnica! You all made it back safe!”

Emilia stepped forward, gently placing a hand on the maid's shoulder, “Josephina?”

Wiping her eyes, the maid looked up at Emilia, relief plain to see on her face, “it's just that... the mansion has become so much more lively since all of you came to be here,” she smiled up at the two candidates earnestly, “I've come to be quite fond of all of you.”

Coming down to her knees, Emilia wrapped the girl in a gentle embrace, “I'm sorry that we worried you. Truth be told, I've become fond of you as well. You've done so much for us.”

Continuing to wipe her eyes, the maid said, "goodness, just look at me. This is a breach of protocol, I should get back to work." As she and Emilia stood, the maid gave a slight bow and hurried back up the steps into the mansion.

Looking at Emilia, Subaru was enchanted, “do you remember how you told me you'd never had a friend before, Emilia-tan? While we were headed to Roswaal's mansion for the first time?”

Regarding her beloved, the half-elf nodded, “you were the first. Nobody had ever cared for me besides Puck before you came along.” The girl's eyes moved to the ground as melancholy overtook her.

“Just look at you now,” the boy wrapped her in a tender embrace, stroking her long hair, “you have more friends than can be counted, you sweet girl.”

As a tear came to her eye, she nodded in his arms, "Yeah, I do, don't I? This is all so wonderful I don't even know what to say!" Returning his gesture, she began stroking his hair as well, "how could someone like me deserve all of this? All of these wonderful feelings?"

“This is far too mushy for Betty to handle, I suppose. I will be in the mansion's library if you need me, in fact.” As Beatrice went to enter the mansion, the others followed, grinning at the couple's display.

“Cap'n, yer good to the Princess, don't ever change,” Garfiel remarked as the group passed them by, tired from their battle. The boy's vest and pants were tattered from the wounds he had received, which Rem had healed as they drove back to the mansion.

He IS good to me. Emilia thought to herself, then made a decision, which is why I have to do this.

"I'm gonna take a hell of a nap after I find me somethin' ta grub on." Patting Subaru on the shoulder, Garfiel nodded.

With that, he along with Frederica, Rem, and Beatrice entered the grand structure, closing the door behind them, leaving the two young lovers alone. As their embrace continued, Emilia turned to whisper in the boy's ear.

“Let's go inside. I want to talk.”

The boy nodded, as she led him by the hand into the mansion.

“Ok.”

 

In Emilia's room, the pair sat side-by-side on her bed. Subaru was staring at the floor, unsure of what to say.

“You can drop the act now.”

His eyes widened as he heard her words.

“I know you're hurting, I could tell by the way you were acting during the fight that something was wrong with you.”

She brought a hand to his face, catching a single tear as it slid down his cheek with her finger.

“It's been so hard for you, hasn't it?”

A grimace came to the boy's face, and fresh tears began to pour forth from his brown eyes.

“I-...I don't know where to begin, Emilia. There's not much I can tell you besides what I already have. Because of, you know, her.

Nodding, the girl put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him to her, caressing his head as she laid it on her chest, “you're suffering so much,” she placed a kiss on top of his head, “and it feels like you have to do it all alone, doesn't it?”

When did you become so perceptive, Emilia-tan?

“Yeah...I don't know how long I can keep this up.” He shuddered slightly in her arms, on the edge of losing himself once again.

“We can run away.”

Gasping, Subaru lifted his head to look at her face.

Her eyes were serious, giving no hint of jest, “everything you're going through, it's because of the Royal Selection. We could run away and be done with it all. Just say the word and we can leave tonight.”

As his mind drifted to the possibilities, he thought of what it would be like to leave the selection and spirit his beloved to someplace far away.

“Don't you have goals you want to achieve?” Sitting up straight, Subaru knew that the next few minutes could determine the very course of their lives.

“I want to unfreeze the Elven village in Elior Forest, and I need the Dragon's Blood to do that. But if that means you have to keep suffering then I'll simply find another way to do it.” Nodding slightly at him, she confirmed her intentions as well as her commitment to him.

She would throw everything away for me? Scarcely believing what he was hearing, the boy's expression was mystified.

I can't ask her to do that.

Then, he thought. Back to the battles with Elsa and Capella. Back to their deaths in Arlam Village. To his deaths against the whale. The soul-wrenching experience when they first faced the rabbit, and her screams of pain and terror as the two of them were torn to pieces.

His body began to shudder, and the terror and pain crept into his mind once again. The sensation of being impaled by a pitchfork entered his chest, and he flinched. The feeling of Elsa's blade opening up his midsection surfaced, and his arm grabbed at his stomach.

Noticing his sudden jerky movement, and hearing his anguished voice as it hitched in painful spasms, the girl flung her arms around him in an attempt to soothe his aching soul.

“Shhhhhhhhh...you're ok,” rubbing his back gently, a fresh trail of tears ran down her face at the sight of the person she loved being in such agony.

Subaru's mind continued to whirl, as his deaths replayed in his mind over and over. He felt his bones snapping as Capella's foot came down and crushed him. Then he was crushed once again as the teeth of the whale came together and ruined his body.

Then, the mind-shattering terror of the rabbits. Feeling piece after piece of himself being torn away, as he watched the same happen to Emilia. Her screams flooded his mind, as he watched her being torn to pieces until he was blinded by the gruesome beasts taking his eyes. Then the world went silent as they took his ears. A black abyss of silent and colorless pain spread out before him. He could feel them inside him, eating his lungs, his stomach, everything.

Why did it take so long to die!?

As his spasms grew, he lurched backward onto the bed, breaking Emilia's hold on him.

“Aaaugh! Augh!” Unable to form cohesive words, his mind had now gone to the darkest of places, as he became lost in the pain.

“Oh God, Subaru!” Doing her best to help him, the frantic girl flung herself on top of him, as if to protect him from an unseen assault.

“Subaru! Come back to me!!!” Her voice cracked, as she panicked. His eyes had now rolled back in his head, and his jaw had clamped shut as seizures overtook him.

Why did I bring all of this up again!?

Look what I did to him!

Dread overtook the girl, as she watched her lover relive the pain of terrible and horrifying death. She held him tight, using her immense strength to keep him from hurting himself in his state of fervor. Slowly, his spasms began to recede. As his body calmed and the nightmare passed, his breathing evened out. After several minutes, she lifted her face to look at his. He now lay staring at the ceiling, eyes red. A burst blood vessel in his left eye indicated the strain of his seizure.

Then, he spoke, “I feel broken.”

“Subaru?” She moved a hand to his face, which wore a flat expression.

“Broken like a child's toy. Ripped into pieces that can't be put back together.”

"Then let's go. Far away. Let's get away from all of this," placing a gentle kiss on his cheek, she caressed his face, "I can't watch you go through this anymore. I refuse to."

Then, a fresh batch of tears began to spill forth from the girl's reddened eyes.

“I-I can't let you keep hurting like this! Hic-!! We have to leave!!!” Flinging her face down onto his chest, the girl wailed out her sorrow for the boy she loved.

“It's all because of this stupid Royal Selection! We can go away! Somewhere where the bad things can never find us!!!”

Placing a hand on her head, the boy's heart ached to see her in this state.

My pain is her pain.

We can't keep going like this.

But after everything that's happened, can we even find a place where we can just vanish?

“We're nobles now, and with everything that's happened we're too famous to be able to simply disappear.” His voice was hoarse, as he offered a last meager objection.

“Then we'll leave Lugunica.” Her face turned up to his, reddened eyes serious as her conviction showed.

“Kararagi has a lot of strange things like potion-makers. Maybe we can find something there to unfreeze the elves. Vollachia has different forms of magic than what we use, so there could be possibilities there. There's Gusteko, too. But the cold climate might be uncomfortable for you so I wouldn't suggest it.”

Having run out of excuses to say no, Subaru was grasping at straws, “what about our friends? What about Reinhard? He's done so much for us, it would be a terrible disappointment to him.”

"He would understand if he knew what you've been through."

“Then what would we do?”

“We can leave tonight.”

As he looked at her, a war raged in his head, unable to make a decision.

No more pain?

No more suffering?

His thoughts went to the Witch. The shadowy woman tormented him when he tried to share his burdens with anyone.

No more Witch?

Slowly, he placed one of her hands in his own. His eyes drifted up to hers, and finally, he nodded.

“Okay. Let's do it.”

A smile of relief came to her face, and she nodded as well.

“Then let's get ready to go,” she stood, letting go of his hand, “I'll have to go get Beatrice.”

 

That evening, under the cover of darkness, three figures crept away from the Astrea mansion, making their way toward the countryside. Their destination was west, toward Kararagi. Emilia had said that it was warm but comfortable there, and it was their best bet to find a method to unfreeze the elves.

And so they walked, and in the darkness, two young lovers disappeared from Lugunica's Royal Selection, along with a Great Spirit.

In Subaru's room, a black-bladed sword in a black sheath sat upon his bed. Next to it was a neatly-folded knight's uniform. On top of the uniform was an envelope with four words on it.

To Reinhard Van Astrea.”

 

The next morning, Garfiel was on the front lawn, stretching his limbs and yawning in preparation for Subaru and Emilia to lead their daily exercise regimen.

Suddenly, Frederica came sprinting out of the front door.

“Garf! Have you seen Subaru and Emilia!?”

“Huh? No, why?” The beast-boy looked at his sister with a puzzled expression.

“We can't find them! Subaru's sword and uniform were on his bed with this!”

Handing her brother the envelope, the panicked maid's hands flew to her face in concern.

“What tha hell is Cap'n up to?” As he puzzled over the envelope, the boy heard the door open once again.

It was Josephina, followed by Rem and Gerard. The green-haired maid was beside herself as tears flowed down her face. The other two wore a solemn expression.

“Beatrice is gone, as well.” Rem said with a downcast look, “and in Emilia-sama's room we found this.”

She held another letter, this one already opened. Garfiel hastily grabbed it from her and began to read out loud.

Dear Garfiel, Frederica, Rem, Otto, Ram, Roswaal, Josephina, and Gerard. As well to our dear friends in the Crusch and Anastasia camps,

Subaru, Beatrice, and I have decided to withdraw from the Royal Selection. We will make our way to parts unknown in search of a way to unfreeze the elves in my home of Elior Forest. I can no longer stand by and watch Subaru suffer. The pain he has endured in the name of winning the throne is too much for any one person to bear, and so at my urging, we have concluded that it would be for the best to withdraw.

To each of you, we give our warmest thanks and regards.

Garfiel, you will one day become one of the most amazing knights this country has ever seen. You have a heart of gold and arms of steel. Stick with Reinhard and you will go far.

Frederica, your wonderful manners and sunny disposition hide an amazing heart. Please never change.

Rem, your devotion to duty is astounding and you never cease to amaze with your dedication and hard work.

Otto, you are a good friend. You have a wonderful head for business and politics. Stick with it and you can go far in this world.

Ram, your no-nonsense way of doing things is admirable. Please continue to be the reliable girl we all know and love.

Roswaal, I'm sorry that we once again find ourselves parting ways. I hope your thoughts of us will be good ones this time.

Josephina, you are a sweet girl who works hard to do the best for everyone around you. Be sure to keep an eye on Reinhard and make sure he doesn't work too hard.

Gerard, you do a wonderful job of making sure the Astrea Estate runs like clockwork. Please help Josephina make sure Reinhard takes a break sometimes.

To all of you, I hope someday we can meet again under different circumstances. All of you were my first friends besides Subaru, and I treasure our time together. Please pray that we can find a way to help the elves and that Subaru's heart and mind can be mended. He's so very brave and so very sweet. I will do my best to look out for him, as will Beatrice.

We love all of you, and we will miss you all dearly.

Love,

Emilia

 

P.S., Subaru left a letter for Reinhard on his bed. He also left his sword, which he felt would be wrong to take with us seeing that Reinhard bought it for him.

 

As he finished reading, Garfiel dropped to his knees.

“Cap'n... yer quittin' the Selection?” Scarcely believing what he'd read, the boy looked around at the others.

“What do we do? Should we try to find 'em?”

“I can no longer detect Subaru-sama's scent,” Rem noted, “they must have left early in the night. They will have a considerable lead on us and we do not know which direction they headed.”

<BTOOOM> As Garfiel punched the ground, he began to lose his composure.

"We coulda helped him! We coulda made sure that he didn't have ta suffer anymore!"

"Maybe," Frederica was forlorn, "but we've been with them this whole time and he was experiencing terrible things that we never even knew about," her sad face turned downward as her heart accepted the truth, "perhaps this is for the best if it means he doesn't suffer anymore."

“What's going on?” As Meilie emerged from the front door, she was curious as to why everyone was gathered in front of the mansion, “when is breakfast?”

As she looked at the others, the young girl noted their sad and hopeless expressions.

“Is something wrong?”

 

Passing through the remains of the town of Fleur, which had been devastated by the rabbit, Subaru, Emilia, and Beatrice walked.

"So this is what it looks like when the Great Rabbit attacked a town..." Emilia spoke softly as if being too loud might conjure the awful beast from the grave.

"We should check these houses for supplies, otherwise everything here would go to waste anyway." Being pragmatic, Subaru considered their situation. They had little money and left with the clothes on their backs, as taking anything from Reinhard's estate felt like the wrong thing to do. Subaru wore his tracksuit once again, and Emilia wore her brown outfit from their days in the forest.

“That is a good idea, in fact. Betty does not need to eat but you two will, I suppose.” The little spirit had simply nodded when Emilia told her of their intentions, agreeing that she didn't want to see Subaru suffer any longer as well.

"Wherever Betty's contractor goes, Betty goes, in fact."

They had walked into the early morning and stopped to rest for a few hours once they were satisfied that they had put sufficient distance between them and the estate. Once they started moving again, they soon reached the decimated town. After about a half-hour of searching houses, they were able to scrounge up a few days' worth of food, and a knapsack for each of them to carry it with. Leaving Fleur, they continued west toward Kararagi walking most of the day.

"By my account, it will take us about three weeks to reach Priestella, on the border to Kararagi," thinking of the daunting task ahead of them, Subaru sighed, "but at least we'll have each others' company, right, Emilia-tan?"

He looked behind him as they walked down a forested road, surrounded by towering broadleaf trees. The silver-haired girl had taken care to be sure and bring a hood to hide her identity, considering how much she would stand out when they encountered other people. Right now she wore the hood down, and her glorious silver hair swayed as she walked. Her eyes met his, and a sweet smile came to her face as she replied, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

That night, they slept in the woods off to the side of the road. As he lay next to Emilia, with Beatrice on the other side of her, Subaru once again looked at the unfamiliar stars of this world and found himself lost in thought.

I wonder what Mom and Dad are doing right now.

Are they looking for me?

Are they sad?

Grasping the black pendant that hung at his neck, he sent his thoughts out to the Witch of greed.

Echidna, can I ask you a question?

“I'm listening, contractor.”

Do you know of a way to bring people here from beyond the Great Waterfall? Or a way to send people beyond it?

“I did some amount of research into the nature of what lies beyond the waterfall during my living days 400 years ago. As I recall I was unable to pierce the veil of what lies beyond it.”

I see. Thank you, Echidna.

“Of course. And Contractor?”

Yeah?

“This decision you've made, to abandon the Royal Selection...”

What about it?

“Fascinating.”

Alone once again with his thoughts, the black-haired boy slowly drifted off to sleep.

 

“They've disappeared!?” Karston Crusch jumped to her feet, slamming her palms down on the desk in front of her.

In front of the desk, Wilhelm stood with a letter in hand from Rem. To his left, Felix sat in a chair, mouth agape at the news from the Emilia and Subaru camp.

“Why!? Why would they do this!? They're in the lead!” The green-haired noble was incredulous, finding the words contained in the letter to verge on madness.

"Rem referred to some sort of condition that is afflicting Subaru-sama, and for some strange reason being tied to the Royal Selection causes his state to worsen."

“Nyow that makes no sense! If he's sick why didn't they just come to me?” Waving his hand, Felix found the reasoning behind their disappearance to be illogical.

Unceremoniously landing back in her seat, Crusch was rendered speechless.

What has gotten into you two?

 

"They're gone!?" Anastasia, much like her counterpart, found the news incredibly confusing. Standing next to her at a table where she and Mimi had been enjoying a sandwich, Julius's face had a shattered look upon it as he held another letter from Rem.

“So there was something wrong with Subaru this entire time?” He thought back to the time he spent with his black-haired friend, but he could recall no moment when Subaru had displayed any symptoms of something being amiss. The letter from Rem had come as a massive shock to them all.

"We have to find them!" Jumping to her feet, Anastasia began to rally her forces, "they saved all of our asses from that dadgum rabbit! We can't just let 'em disappear without a trace! Two Royal Selection Candidates all alone are a walking magnet for bad actors! Assassins! Monsters! ESPECIALLY those two!!!"

Turning to face Julius, she began barking orders, “alert the merchant network! I want eyes in every town for a month's trip in every direction! Find them!”

As a smile came to his face, Julius bowed to his lady. He turned to leave, but just as he was about to stride out of the room Ana spoke again.

“And Julius?”

“Yes, milady?”

“Do whatever it takes to make sure those two are safe.”

“As you wish.” As a small sliver of hope for his friends returned to Julius, the purple-haired knight made haste to put their forces into action.

 

“So this is Mill Gray, huh?”

Several days had passed, and the trio of Subaru, Emilia, and Beatrice now entered a mid-sized village. It was close to nightfall, and they were weary from the days of walking and sleeping rough. Emilia now wore the hood she had brought, as they walked the main thoroughfare of the village. Arriving in front of a sign that said 'Inn', they stopped.

“Well, what do you think? We can stay here for a couple of days and rest. I'd like to take a little bit to get some strength back, anyway.” He regarded the two girls who traveled with him, and both of them nodded.

“It would be nice to have some rest,” Emilia replied, “hopefully this place is affordable.”

The inn turned out to be relatively cost-efficient, so Subaru rented a room from the innkeeper for two nights, and the trio tiredly went upstairs where he told them their room was.

Flopping down on the bed, Subaru lay on his back.

Was this the right choice? We're walking away from so much.

He felt someone flop down next to him and looked over to see Emilia laying there. She was on her back, head turned to the side looking at him.

“You look like you're thinking about something again,” she softly spoke, “what is it?”

“Nothing. I was just wondering if this was the right decision. We left so much behind, and now we have very little.”

"We still have each other, don't we? To me that's everything," she rolled over onto her side and reaching out, touched his face, "and if we have each other, then we can have hope."

“What is it that you hope for, Emilia?”

“To live a long and happy life at your side. To free the elves in the forest...” and then she blushed, growing embarrassed, “and someday I'd like to have children. I'd like for us to be a family, Subaru. A real family.”

With a hope-filled gaze, she regarded him, “would that be ok, Subaru?”

“That would be more than ok, Emilia-tan,” he smiled wide as a tear came to his eye, and he blinked it away, “that would be a dream come true.”

Moving to embrace him, she rolled on top of him as he lay on his back. Her arms went around him, pulling his face to hers for a kiss. They intertwined, enjoying the feel of each others' bodies.

In very short order, Subaru began to become excited in a way that only a man can.

“Oh!” Pulling her face back, Emilia looked down, “Subaru?”

“Uh...yeah?”

“Is that what I think it is?”

"Yeah, it is, Emilia-tan. We should probably stop, Beako is still here, you know."

As they turned their heads expecting to see the spirit standing in the middle of the room with her arms crossed, they were both surprised.

She was sitting in a chair in the corner, fast asleep and snoring.

As a wicked grin came to Emilia's face, Subaru suddenly found himself feeling shy.

Oh shit.

“Subaruuuuuu,” the silver bell suddenly turned husky, as she began to move against him.

“Emilia?”

“We don't have to worry about the selection anymore, right?” Rolling off of him, she opened up the covers on the bed and shimmied beneath them, “come on, this is our chance.”

Gathering his courage, Subaru joined her beneath the blankets, as they began kissing once again. Their hands traveled each others' bodies, discovering pleasure and delight. As their clothes slowly left them, they found themselves both as nature intended.

He was now above her, marveling at the perfect specimen that lay before him.

“Are you ready, Emilia? There's no going back after this.”

“I want you to take me, Subaru. I want to be one with you.”

Nodding, he lowered his face to her chest and began teasing her sensitive spots with his tongue. Arching her back, she attempted to increase the sensation as a small moan escaped her mouth.

Moving his free hand below, he gently began caressing the area near her most sensitive spot. As she bucked her hips in surprise, he smiled.

Not bad for the first time.

“Subaru...quit teasing me and do it.”

“Ok.”

As they became one, she gritted her teeth at the pain of losing her virginity.

“Are you ok?” Concern gripped him, but this wasn't unexpected.

“Yeah. Just go slow for now.” She reached a hand up to his face and smiled.

Beginning slowly, they shortly found a rhythm. He marveled at the intense pleasure that came from joining with her, losing himself in the sensation. Her gasps and moans quickly washed away her initial discomfort, as the true delight of the act began to overtake her.

Speeding up, Subaru found himself near release.

I'd better be careful, he thought to himself.

As he moved to separate from her, she wrapped her legs around his hips, pulling him deep into her. Unable to control his release, all of it was spent into her as they both reached the pinnacle of pleasure.

Collapsing onto her, they both breathed heavily. Drenched in sweat, their bodies were slick as their skin rubbed against one another's.

“Subaru...” she heaved out his name.

“Yeah?” Lifting his head to look at her, he marveled at the glow she now emanated.

“Again,” she demanded.

"Yes ma'am," he smiled as he began teasing her sensitive spots once again.

 

A couple of hours later, having reveled in the glory of their youth and vigor, the two young lovers lay intertwined. Staring into each others' eyes, they both smiled knowing smiles.

“That was amazing.” As she tiredly uttered the words every man longs to hear, Subaru's grin widened.

"I knew I had to do my best for the girl I love."

“What was it you called your, um, thingy again? The Thunder God thing?”

“Mjolnir. The hammer of Thor, God of Thunder.”

“Well done then, Mr. God of Thunder.”

“Thank you, Milady. Thor always does his best.”

“...so now what?” She continued to stare at him, taking in the mean-looking eyes that she loved so much.

“I was thinking...you know how you said that the selection's not going to be a problem for us anymore?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

He sat up in the bed, giving her a suddenly serious look.

“Emilia, just Emilia?”

She sat up as well, pulling the covers up for some modesty, “what is it?”

He gathered his courage, ready to say the words that would once again change their lives.

“Let's get married.”

Then, he nodded. “Tomorrow.”

Her face went through a litany of emotion, and her eyes became shiny. A happy smile came to her face, and as the tears of pure unadulterated joy poured down, her eyelids narrowed and she nodded as she said the word.

“Yes.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 29- Convergence

 

Garfiel Tinzel sat on the front steps of the Astrea Estate, his mood depressive and irate. Near him, his sister also sat along with her fellow maid, Rem. The three of them had been ruminating in silence for some time now, unsure of what to do.

Finally, Garfiel broke the silence, “Crusch said they would probably be in danger, even with tha capabilities tha three of 'em have.”

The boy turned to look at the other two. “We should go an' look for 'em. It's the least we can do.”

"I agree in principle," Frederica nodded, "but where would we even begin?"

“Each of us goes a different direction? I don't know, but we gotta do somethin'! They could be hurt right now, callin' out for us, ya know!?”

“Maybe that won't be necessary,” Rem chimed in, “splitting up, that is. In her letter, Emilia-sama said they are going to attempt to revive the elves in Elior Forest. But to do that they will need magic or methods that are not currently available in Lugunica.”

“So we just have to figure out where they would go first to try to find that method?” Frederica perked up, as a small sliver of hope appeared, “anyone have an idea?”

Reaching deep into his memory, Garfiel recalled every book he had ever read.

They want to free the elves, who Cap'n said were turned into statues.

He thought, and he thought. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of books that he'd poured over...he'd hung onto every story, every detail in fascination.

Where did I read about somethin' like that happenin' before?

Then it came to him. A story from the north.

That's it!

Years ago, he'd read about a Great Spirit in Gusteko, who had become angered with a village that had not offered proper tribute to it before winter. In its rage, it had frozen the village, rendering the inhabitants into statues.

Some years later, the Great Sage had brought a potion from Kararagi that freed the people of the village from the spirit's spell.

Kararagi!

“I know where they're gonna go!” Garfiel sprang to his feet, shocking the two maids.

“What!?” They both asked.

“There's an old story about the Sage bringin' a potion from Kararagi ta reanimate a bunch of villagers!”

Making a fist, Garfiel smiled.

This is their chance to make things right.

“They're gonna head toward Priestella!”

 

Natsuki Subaru's eyes began to shift, as he slowly stirred from sleep. Opening them slightly, he noticed sunlight streaming in through the open window of the room.

Then, the events of the previous night came to his mind, and a smile graced his lips.

What a night.

He blinked a few times, trying to drive the sleepiness from his head. Looking to his right as he lay on his back, he beheld a vision of pure beauty in the form of a sleeping silver-haired girl. Her arms were around him, a leg intertwined with his own. Her long eyelashes framed a pair of closed eyes, and her slow breathing kept a steady rhythm as she dreamed.

For a good ten minutes, he lay there, taking the rare chance to admire her immutable beauty and warmth from up close, with no disturbances.

Gorgeous.

He smiled a smile of true happiness.

A fresh start. No more suffering.

The love of my life in my arms.

Our whole lives ahead of us.

Finally accepting that he had to get up, he gently began to separate himself from her.

“Hmmmmmhhhhh...” she groaned in protest as he slowly disentangled her from himself. For a moment, with immense strength she pulled him back to her, squishing him slightly.

“Oof.” After a few seconds, he resumed his gentle escape, eventually settling her arms back into a comfortable position.

Then, he turned the other way as he prepared to sit up.

He found himself face-to-face with a pair of large butterfly-shaped pupils.

“You've gone and done something rash, I suppose.”

“Blugaffah!” Sitting up rapidly, the black-haired young man was startled by Beatrice, who now stood next to their bed. Her arms were crossed and a stern expression adorned her face.

“Young people and their hormones can be a handful, in fact,” moving an arm to point at him, she continued, “this could mean big trouble, I suppose!”

“Beako...uh....” looking back behind him, he saw that Emilia's slender form was quite obviously naked. Turning back to the spirit, his shoulders slumped as he spoke.

“Yeah. It's exactly what it looks like.”

Scooting to the edge of the bed and keeping the blanket over him to spare Beatrice his nakedness, he looked down at her. She still wore a stern expression.

“Bubby would probably freeze you if he were here.”

At the invocation of the cat spirit's name, Subaru grimaced.

“Beatrice.”

“What is it, in fact?”

“Emilia and I talked last night. We're going to get married. Today.”

The small girl's mouth dropped open, as she took in this new bit of information.

"What has gotten into you two? First, you leave the selection, then you do 'that' she pointed at the bed as she said this, “and now you're going to get married!?”

“It's simple, Beako. We love each other and want to be a family of our own.”

As she silently regarded him, Subaru could tell that the spirit was struggling to consider how she felt about their situation.

“Elves are known to have a very low fertility rate, I suppose. So it is likely that you two got lucky this time. But...what would you do, Natsuki Subaru...” a solemn look was on her face, “if this girl were to be with child?”

 

 

In a different inn within the Watergate City of Priestella, Roswaal L Mathers was pacing. In his hand, he held a large black book, which provided a roadmap to his greatest wish. But as he read the contents of the book, he noticed things were changing within the script.

His book, which had guided him at every turn, was now telling him that he had to do something.

It was telling him to leave the City of Priestella.

And to do so quickly.

“What can this meeeean I woooonder?”

He placed the book within the folds of his cloak and turned toward the door of his room.

“Ram! I require you!”

A pink-haired maid entered the room, stopping to bow before her master.

“Yes, Roswaal-sama?”

“Alert Reinhard-san and Otto-kun that we will be leaving Priestella post-haste. The situation with Emilia-sama and Subaru-sama has changed.”

“As you wish, Roswaal-sama.”

As the maid exited, the tall man in a jester suit once again pulled out the book, in an act of habit. Whenever he became disconcerted about something, it helped him to look for the tome's guidance.

But this time, even the book was no comfort.

Because this time, it foretold grave danger for his sponsored candidates.

 

“Any word?” Anastasia stood and approached Julius as he entered her office.

"Nothing much, but it's only been a few days. Rem said that they couldn't have had much money and left on foot, so they couldn't have gotten far."

“I see. Tell the network to keep looking. This is priority number one.”

“There is one...small possibility.”

“What!? Why didn't ya say so!?”

“It's a low likelihood. A family of three passed by a merchant who was on the way here from Priestella. A man, a woman, and a girl. He could offer no description because he said he paid them no mind as he passed.”

“YA DUMBASS!!!” The short girl nearly swatted him in the face, “that could be them! Go! Go now!”

“My apologies, I'll make to depart immediately.” Bowing, the knight turned to leave. As he walked through the Hoshin trading company offices, his eyes drifted to a news leaflet that someone had left on a nearby desk. Taking the leaflet in hand, he read the headline at the top.

GREAT RABBIT DESTROYED

After hundreds of years of terror and death, the Great Rabbit, a Mabeast that has killed thousands upon thousands of people has been eradicated with the combined effort of three Royal Selection camps. Candidates Emilia, Subaru, Crusch, and Anastasia took part in the destruction of the foul beast, with Candidate Emilia dealing the crucial blow alongside her contracted Great Spirit. Sources tell us that Candidate Subaru created a shadow magic spell that was able to eliminate the creatures in a single blow, which Candidate Emilia cast. A large section of the southwest roadway has now become crystallized as a side-effect of the powerful spell, and the citizens have taken to calling it “Rabbit's End.”

An awards ceremony for those who took place in the battle has been announced by the Sage Council and is set to commence within a month.

 

Setting the paper down, Julius turned to continue on his mission.

It seems the news of their disappearance still hasn't gotten out. Good.

But I don't know how long we'll be able to keep it under wraps.

 

 

“A wedding, huh? Of course, that is one of the duties of the Volcanica priesthood.”

A short, balding, middle-aged man in white priestly robes stood speaking to a young black-haired boy who wore strange foreign clothes. The boy was excitedly asking him questions about the ins and outs of getting married as they stood in the small chapel in the middle of the village.

“So you can do it today?”

“Uh, yes? I suppose I could? It's rather unorthodox to put a ceremony together on such short notice, but it could be done by this evening.”

“Great! We'll be back before the sun sets!”

As the young man hurried away, the priest watched him go with a smile.

Ah, to be young and in love.

 

As Subaru ran back to the inn, he leaped up the stairs to their room two at a time. Bursting through the door, he found Emilia sitting in a chair next to Beatrice, who was facing her.

“The fool has returned, I suppose.”

“The priest said we could have the ceremony just before sundown.”

Leaping to her feet, Emilia ran to Subaru and embraced him excitedly, “I never ever in a million years thought this day would come! I always thought that nobody would want me, because I'm a half-elf!”

“Being a half-elf is one of your cutest features, Emilia-tan,” returning her embrace, he inhaled her flowery scent.

As joy and love bloomed between the two, Beatrice approached them. Apprehensively, she spoke.

"You are going to go through with it, I suppose?"

“Yeah, Beako. We're gonna get married.”

As the two lovers embraced, the great spirit watched. Her thoughts were in turmoil because she wanted to yell at the two of them and tell them how foolish they were being.

“Subaru! You're so wonderful! This is the best day of my life!”

But the two of them looked so happy.

“You've made me the luckiest guy in the world, Emilia-tan.”

And they've suffered so very much.

The two kissed, passionately, in the way only a couple who were deeply in love would do. Then, they touched their foreheads together as a few errant tears ran down both of their faces. The boy used his thumb to wipe the girl's cheek, the girl doing the same for him with the back of her fingers.

Who is Betty to try to take away that happiness?

“Betty will be happy for you then, I suppose.”

Really Beatrice!?” Emilia squealed with delight, dropping to her knees and embracing the small girl. Subaru enthusiastically joined in on their hug.

“Beako! You can be our first daughter!”

“I am hundreds of years older than you, in fact!!!”

 

Wilhelm Trias rode as fast as his red ground dragon could go. His mistress had dispatched many of those in her employ to search for the missing selection candidates. It had been his given responsibility to ride Southwest, toward the road to the Water-Gate city. He was nearing a fork in the journey.

Within a few hours, he would enter the village of Mill Grave. There he would hastily search for Subaru and Emilia, and if no sign was seen, he would room in an inn for the night, then move on.

His Mistress was no fool, as she had said that the two young lovers had made powerful enemies that came along with their defeat of Great Mabeasts and a Sin Archbishop. She had surmised that they were walking targets for the greatest menace in the known world.

The Witch-Cult.

Grinding his teeth as his dragon flew down the road, the man's hatred boiled for the disgusting organization. Many of his friends over the years had suffered at their hands, often losing their lives. Many knights, as well as many innocents.

Subaru-sama...Emilia-sama...you are heroes of this kingdom who deserve a better fate than to fall into the hands of those unholy sadists.

As the Sword Demon rushed on, he prayed to the Od Lugnica that he would be able to find the young couple before something terrible happened.

 

Not far behind him, riding three astride were Garfiel, Frederica, and Rem. They had borrowed ground dragons from the Astreia stables and rode with abandon.

“We gotta check each village as we go! Fleur was a bust! But they could still be further ahead!” As he turned to the maids riding next to him, Garfiel flashed a smile of confidence, “we'll find 'em! Rem, keep your sniffer on high alert in case the Cap's stank pops up!”

“Of course,” the blue-haired maid replied, “Rem will keep her attention on searching for Subaru-sama's sta-... er...scent.”

Tied to Garfiel's saddle, was a black-bladed sword within a black sheathe.

 

Barreling east out of the City of Priestella, Reinhard, Ram, and Roswaal sat in a carriage in a mad dash to get as far as they could, as quickly as they could. With Otto driving, they were able to make use of his Divine Protection to shorten the journey.

“I'm still not sure how I feel about this whole idea of you being able to know that Emilia-sama and Subaru-sama are going to be in trouble,” the Sword Saint had his eyes narrowed slightly, unsure of what to make of the Margrave, “but even if there's a slight chance, I suppose we need to act on it.”

“Indeeeeeed, Reinhard-san. Our dear candidates are the most impoooortant thing, after all. Should we find that this is a miiiiisconception, we can simply return to our taaaask.”

“Many of those nobles will be displeased with us canceling our meetings with them. It will make things more difficult moving forward.”

“Perhaaaaaaps. But if you get to knooooow me, dear Sword Saint, you will understaaaaand that when I say we need to move to prevent a tragedy, I am nearly always correct.”

In the driver's seat, Otto's mind was whirling as he wondered what was going on to cause the two high-ranked nobles behind him to drop everything and make a mad dash for a small village in the wilderness.

What have you done now, Natsuki-sama?

 

 

As Julius passed through the dead village of Fleur, he knew there was no reason to stop and search here. The merchant who they had gotten the info from had spotted the small family further down the road, halfway to the next notable village, Mill Gray. As his ground dragon flew forward, he communed with his spirits.

Maidens, you are friendly with Subaru's spirits, are you not?

<We are.>

I would like you to please extend your senses. He will have his spirits with him, and we must reach him in time. There is a possibility that they will face grave danger very soon.

<Yes, Contractor.>

 

“Ah. It is the place of the promised meeting.”

A man in black and red robes stood at the edge of thick woods, on a hill overlooking a medium-sized village.

Taking out a black book, he began to thumb through it wildly. When he landed on a certain page, he slammed a fingertip into the words scrawled across it.

“Indeed. The place of the ordeal has been decided. The Gospel speaks to me. It tells me this is where we will meet our fate.”

Turning to face the opposite direction, the man smiled a wicked, insane smile. As more than a hundred people emerged from the woods garbed in black robes identical to his, he raised his hands to the sky.

“This will be an endeavor of love! An effort for love! We will be diligent for love! The Witch will know our love!” Leaving his arms high, his eyes narrowed, “the girl. She was always with so many protectors. Truly she is loved. Especially by him.

Then his green hair swayed as he began to pace.

“Who is he who is he who is he? My gospel speaks nothing of him. Truly who is he?”

Then, he suddenly stopped and sucked in a huge gasp, the insane smile returning to his face.

“Could he be Pride? Perhaps perhaps perhaps? Has he delivered her to us with the words of his own gospel? Could it be?”

Turning to face the village below, the man's eyes narrowed.

“Could it be?” Suddenly his voice grew loud, “such diligence such devotion such inspiration! Yes! Truly!”

Then, he shrank down, and began to gnaw on the tips of his fingers, drawing blood as his flesh was shredded, “but it could be a trick. We must perform a test. We must know.”

He faced his followers and issued a command.

“We will test him.”

 

 

We have a couple of hours before the priest will be ready, Emilia-tan. I know we don't have a lot of money, but at least let me go find you a gift. Something. Anything!” Gesturing wildly in front of his bride-to-be, Subaru did his best to convince her to let him woo her with a lovely present.

Sitting on a chair in their room, Emilia's hair was being intricately styled by Beatrice. It was reminiscent of the crowning wrap-around style that Puck once styled it in.

As Subaru's eyes softened at the memory, Emilia spoke.

I don't know...” the silver-haired girl had a concerned look on her face, “you seem to have a knack for finding trouble wherever you go.”

Nonsense. I'll go find something nice to give you since we can't buy anything right now,” then, gently grasping both of her hands in his, he gave her a peck on the lips, “but one day I promise to get you a real gift. Something you would be proud to pass down our family line.”

Blushing, Emilia had trouble looking him in the eye. Her heart was pounding wildly from his shameless adoration, and her thoughts were going to the night they'd had only hours ago.

Then, steeling her resolve, she turned to face him once again.

"Please don't go. I just...I have a reeeeeeally bad feeling that something is going to happen. I don't know why, but I really do."

"Hey," approaching where she sat, he kneeled and caressed her cheek, "we've left the selection behind, we don't have to worry about things like that anymore. We're just two regular people now."

Silent for a moment, she closed her eyes and nodded, "just be quick. Please."

“No problemo Emilia-tan!” He made to leave their room at the inn, stopping to address Beatrice who was sitting in a chair watching their exchange, “Beako, please give Emilia the superstar makeover treatment. She's already absolutely stunning but do your best! It's her special day after all.”

Betty is unfamiliar with this 'superstar makeover.' I will ensure that my beautiful contractor is more than presentable, though. She will look her best, in fact.”

Thanks, Beako!" With that, the young man ran out the door, leaping down the stairs and sprinting out of the inn.

Watching him go, a small frown came to the silver-haired girl's face.

Please be careful.

 

 

“Where are you, My Love? I know you are nearby! I can smell you. I can taste you!”

Her footsteps were plodding, as she made her way through the forested landscape. Chains rattled as she walked, colored gold with lethal hooks at their ends.

“The Gospel told me! It said you would be here! It said this is where we would meet our fate together!”

In the distance, she spied a village.

“Ahhhhh!!!! This is it!!!!! The time has finally come!!!! I will be with you once again my beloved!!!!!”Violet eyes widened, and bandages stretched as a deranged smile came to her face. Her eyes searched the village from the vantage point. Spotting a tall steeple, she cackled.

“Perfect! This day will be one of reunion!”

Taking out her gospel, she flipped through the pages swiftly. Smiling as she read the scrawled words, she murmured.

“This day will be one of Wrath.”

 

Roswaal continued to study the Book of Knowledge bequeathed to him by his teacher, doing his best to make sense of its tidings.

Then, the text contained within began to shift once more.

Frantically, the Margrave sat up straight in his seat, watching the words swirling in and out of coherence on its pages. For several minutes they coalesced, forming prophecy, breaking apart, then re-forming.

Finally, the words settled...

And the Margrave's panicked face was quickly noticed by the Sword Saint, as Roswaal sucked in a panicked breath.

“REINHARD!” The clown jumped to his feet and kicked open the side door of the carriage, “USE EVERY OUNCE OF SPEED THAT YOU HAVE TO GET TO THE VILLAGE OF MILL GRAY!!! THEY ARE GOING TO DIE!!!” Any shred of his strange speech pattern had disappeared.

One second he was there, then the Sword Saint blinked away, leaping miles at a time as his immense power was unleashed in full to cover as much ground as possible.

Hold on Emilia-sama! Subaru-sama! I'm coming!

Hot on his heels, Roswaal flew through the air, an unholy grimace upon his face.

Something is wrong! The correct future might not be achievable after this! Not if SHE becomes involved!!!

Ram and Otto watched the spectacle with amazement, then shortly grave concern overtook both of them.

“What's going on out there?” Ram folded her hands together as she watched her master quickly receding in the air.

As Roswaal tore through the sky, he readied his most powerful spells for immediate release.

The worst possible eventuality had become reality.

His thoughts were frantic, as he vied desperately to salvage his dream.

The Witch of Envy has begun to move!

 

“Flowers. She would love a little crown made of flowers.”

As Subaru piddled around in a field near the edge of the village, he picked wildflowers every few meters.

“If she doesn't want the Crown of the Kingdom, then I'll give her a crown that both of us can be happy with.”

As his chuuni tendencies began to overrule him, the young man reached to the sky with his hands full of wildflowers and proclaimed, “a crown for the Queen of My Heart!”

“Oh...and which Queen might that be?”

A voice so drenched in madness that Subaru's heart was instantly filled with dread came from behind him.

Whirling around, he saw a green-haired man with a bowl cut standing on an embankment mere yards from him.

He wore a black and red set of robes. His skin was slightly tinged green, and blood was dripping from his fingertips.

But the worst thing was the look in the man's eyes. The irises were as pinpricks, as he looked at Subaru like a predator gazes before it pounces. His smile was huge, toothy.

And terrifying.

“Do you exalt the girl who is in this village?”

“Gck!” Terror filled him. The insanity exuding from this man could only mean one thing. His right hand went to his sword. Then as his empty hand retrieved nothing, he recalled that it was no longer there. Looking down, his panic began to swallow him. He tried in vain to bring his spirits to him, but his thoughts were too jumbled and they could not heed his call.

No. Not here.

How could they find us here?

WE LEFT THE SELECTION, WHY ARE THEY HERE!?

“Or could it be that your love is for the one who deserves ALL love!?”

The one who deserves all love? Who is he talking about?

Trying to buy some time, Subaru made a snap decision and did his best to give the man a confident smile.

“Oh.” His voice was shaky, “th-the one who deserves ALL love, of course!”

“Indeed? The smell of the Witch on you is only equaled by that of the Sin Archbishops.”

Then, the terrifying man seemingly lifted into the air and floated downward to step directly in front of Subaru.

“Tell me. Are you Pride?”

Pride! One of the Seven Sins!

Think quickly!!!!

“I don't know. I have a strange power and I've been told that I smell of the Witch before.”

The strange man tilted his head sideways, first left, then gruesomely too far to his right.

“The seat of Pride is open. But word has spread that Lust has been vacated quite recently.”

Abruptly, a dozen figures in identical robes to the man's wearing pointed hoods rose from the ground to surround Subaru, preventing any means of escape. Each one of the figures held a grotesque blade.

“Allow me to introduce myself!” Clicking his heels together and turning, the man faced Subaru directly, faces inches apart, “Sin Archbishop of the Witch Cult, representing Sloth! Petelgeuse Romani-Contee!”

Then, impossibly, the man's head turned completely sideways in a neck-breaking motion. His smile widened, and he belted out a single syllable.

“DES!”

Then, a crack resounded in Subaru's head as a blow struck him from behind. As his consciousness rapidly faded, silver hair and violet eyes were the only things he could think of before all went black.

 

Standing on the steps of the village chapel, Emilia awaited her beloved. Wearing her hood to conceal her identity, she held her hands clasped together, as worry began to gather in her heart.

“He should have been back by now, Beatrice.”

Next to her, the blonde spirit replied, “he is the type of person to easily lose track of time, I suppose. He will be along soon.”

As they waited, an old woman from the village approached.

“Young lady? Are you waiting for someone?”

“Yes, ma'am. My soon-to-be-husband.”

“Oh! Then this is a big day for you, isn't it?”

“It is! He should be along soon! You would like him, he's sooooo handsome and soooooo brave. Also, he's reeeally strong and does sooooo many wonderful things for me and other people!”

The elderly woman let out a happy laugh, as she nodded at the young lady's description of her intended.

“You sound just like I did a bit over fifty years ago. My Gunter was a strapping young lad at the time, and I was a sweet and pretty young thing as well,” then her eyes looked to the side as a moment of sadness came to her, “we had two babies those first few years, then I lost him in the Demi-Human War.”

“I'm sorry. It must have been hard for you,” as Emilia's heart went out to the woman, she continued to clasp her hands.

“It's okay, sweetie. It was a long time ago, and I've got two strong sons and a lot of grandkids to prove that he was here,” then her brows furrowed, “if it hadn't been for those damn demi-humans. A curse on every one of them.”

Unable to reply, Emilia silently thanked her good forethought to conceal her ears.

"Anyway, you should forget about all of that. Today is a day of joy for you. I wish you the best of marriages and happy life, young lady."

The old woman turned to leave, and Emilia called after her, “thank you miss.”

Watching her form recede, Emilia took a deep breath, and let it out.

Where is he?

“REJOICE!!! REJOICE!!! REJOICE!!! You have all been blessed!!!”

Without warning, Emilia felt a voice grip her mind. As she and Beatrice turned to look up in the direction the voice came from, they saw a woman on top of the steeple they stood below.

“You have all been chosen! Yes! Chosen for the purpose of love!”

As villagers began to come out of their homes to see what the commotion was, they all stopped and watched the woman. Wrapped head-to-toe in bandages, and wearing a black and red robe, the woman had intense violet eyes and long silver hair.

Emilia's face fell to shock.

Violet eyes and silver hair!?

“You, all of you, do you know of love? Do you know of the joy, the desire, the completeness of LOVE!?”

The villagers, now numbering several dozen, began nodding and murmuring.

“Do you know the fulfillment!? Do you know the PAIN!?”

As one, the villagers began shouting, yes, that they did know.

And Emilia soon found herself joining them.

“Yes!”

She felt love swell in her heart. The joy, the desire, the completeness, the fulfillment, the pain.

The emotion so utterly overtook her, she found all thought turning to the woman on top of the chapel.

Love. Love. Love. So much love!

Then the woman on the steeple reached behind her, bringing forward a young girl wrapped in chains. She looked to be around 12 years old. As soon as she was presented, the girl began to wail tears of fright. Crying out, she screamed to be let go.

“Young Treini knows of love! We spoke of it! We spoke of the intensity! The depth!”

“We spoke of the heat. Now cheer for Treini! Isn't she well behaved! Cheer for her love!”

Emilia and Beatrice, as well as all of the villagers, began shouting wildly. Emilia found herself clapping.

What a good girl that Treini is!

“Now! Treini! Do you see that they cheer for you? They love you! Do you love them, Treini? Do you want to experience the heat of love!?”

As she held the girl's bindings with her left hand, the woman pointed at the girl with her right.

Cheering wildly, Emilia was enamored with the display. She was jumping up and down in jubilation, clapping wildly and yelling.

Then, as the woman on the steeple smiled, flames erupted from her right hand, consuming the girl.

As soon as she felt it, Emilia knew there were only two things left for her.

Pain.

And death.

 

As Wilhelm peaked a small hill on the road to Mill Gray, he brought his ground dragon to an abrupt halt. He squinted his eyes, then, they suddenly widened in horror. Kicking his ground dragon to move as fast as possible, he rode on.

Up ahead was the village, and a grand column of smoke arose from it as it burned.

 

Garfiel and the maids tore down the road when Rem suddenly shouted.

“Stop! I smell him!”

Grinding to a halt, the siblings turned to look at her.

“The Cap'n!? Ya picked him up!?”

Closing her eyes, the Oni concentrated as she breathed in.

Then, the same eyes opened with shock.

"The Witch-Cult is here."

“FUCK!!!” Grinding his teeth, Garfiel replied, “can ya track him down?”

“Maybe...” sniffing the air, she pointed left into the woods, “that way!”

Quickly tying their ground dragons, the trio set off into the overgrowth as quickly as they could go. In one of Garfiel's hands, he carried a black-bladed sword, hoping to deliver it to its master.

 

“How can this be? You smell so strongly of the witch, yet you have no Gospel.”

As the green-haired man paced back and forth in the dim light, he considered the person in front of him.

Slowly, Subaru's eyes began to open.

“Tsk!-” A sharp pain assaulted him, centered on the back of his head. Groggily, he raised his head and tried to stand.

But he could not.

In a haze, he looked around, trying to gain his bearings. He could see that his arms were shackled with a set of chains. Pulling at them, he was held fast.

“You are awake. Good. Now tell me, why are you here? Why are you with that girl?”

“Why do you smell so strongly of the Witch?”

“Huh?” Looking up, Subaru could see the man from before. Putting two and two together, he gritted his teeth, as he realized he'd been captured.

Looking around, he could see that he was in a dark cave, with several torches attached to the walls. Behind the man who had taken him, were a dozen or so of the other black-robed figures. Looking down at himself, he'd been stripped of his jacket and shirt, as well as his shoes.

Looking up at the man, he spat out, “Witch Cult. What do you want with me?”

A knowing smirk came to the man's face, “I think you mean to ask, 'What do you want with us.”

Eyes widening, Subaru's mind tumbled momentarily until the pieces clicked.

“Leave her alone, you dirty piece of SHIT!” Plunging forward, he drove himself toward the man, his restraints stopping him once their faces were inches apart.

“Oh my. Such love! Such devotion! SUCH ADORATION!”

Then, sickeningly, then the man began chewing on the tips of his fingers once again. Drawing blood and rending flesh, he seemed in thought.

“But this makes no sense. If you are to be one of the Witch's, why would you devote yourself to a potential vessel?”

Beginning to walk in a tight circle, the man talked to himself once more, “she is to face the ordeal. He has no Gospel. She will be eradicated either way, should the Witch come to be reborn...”

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY!?” Struggling against the chains, Subaru's blood began to boil. Never in his life had anyone evoked such ire, such murderous intent in him.

But this strange, insane man had said just the words to make it happen.

“Well then. Your lack of diligence has placed you here! It is time to commence with the ordeal! We shall conduct it with diligence! With thoroughness! With devotion!”

Turning to look at the restrained Subaru, his eyes narrowed.

“Leave his fate to the Witch. If she deems him worthy, he will join our cause.”

The man swiftly walked away, leaving his attendants with Subaru. Watching him disappear, the black-haired youth tried to calm his thoughts.

Remember the training that Reinhard gave you. You'll be no good to Emilia if you can't focus.

Slowly, he calmed his mind. Then, searching for his gate, he found the swell of power within himself.

Okay. Now do like you were taught.

Sending mana through his body, he felt a swell of power. Standing as high as he could, he began to strain against his bindings.

The cultists in front of him jerked to a start, noticing the change in his aura. They drew the ghastly blades they carried and began to approach him.

Ladies, my mind is back! Are you there!?

<Yes, Contractor!>

I need you to annihilate these Witch Cultists, please!

<We will protect you, contractor!>

Six furious spirits began to activate the offensive spells at their command, as the cultists tried to shield themselves. Flames, shadow, light, water, earth, and wind coalesced into a destructive dance of fury inside the cave, utterly decimating the offending sentinels.

“RRRRAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!” Increasing his mana output, Subaru struggled against his bindings. Then, the links in the chain began to stretch.

Push! Push! Push!

Turning the mana output to the most he could and still be useful, he gritted his teeth and roared.

<PTING>

As the chains broke, he lurched forward, rolling as his momentum carried him crashing into the cave wall.

Laying on his back blinking, Subaru shook his head, then spun around and leaped to his feet as he heard approaching footsteps, running in his direction.

Sending the mana once again through himself, he turned it up to the maximum as he took a fighting stance.

Rounding the corner in front of him were a blonde-haired boy and two maids.

“CAP'N!!!”

Dropping his guard, Subaru stood straight, as his mouth dropped open in a combination of amazement and hope.

You came for us?” His voice cracked.

Surging forward, Garfiel collided with the black-haired boy.

“WHY'D YA DO THAT YA DUMBASS!!??” As he was near tears, Garfiel embraced Subaru in a crushing hug.

“Garf...I...”

Pushing Subaru back, Garfiel reached back with his right hand and then surged it forward, slamming his fist into Subaru's jaw.

“Byakk!!” As he flew and landed on his backside, Subaru couldn't help but feel guilty as stars swam in his vision.

Immediately, both Garfiel and Rem were casting healing spells on him as he lay there. Frederica was looking around, mouth wide open as she surveyed the cave.

“You were held prisoner? And somehow killed all of these cultists?”

Jumping to his feet, Subaru brushed off Rem and Garfiel's efforts.

“There's no time. Emilia is in danger. We have to go now!”

“Here. Then you'll be wantin' this.”

Garfiel reached to his belt, then offered a black sword and sheathe toward Subaru.”

"We'll talk about all this later, Cap'n," the boy's face was deadly serious, with a tinge of sadness, "but for now let's go get yer princess."

 

As Julius topped the hill overlooking Mill Gray village, his heart stopped in its tracks. From his vantage point, the entire hovel had become an inferno.

“Hyaahh!!” He spurred his ground dragon on, hoping against hope that they could be saved.

Subaru. Emilia. Please be alive.

 

Blasting through the woods near the village, the fact that Subaru was barefoot and had no shirt did nothing to slow him down. He was moving as fast as he ever had in his life, pursuing one simple goal.

Save her. Please let her be ok.

Please please please let her be ok!

He drew his sword as they neared the outskirts, willing his spirits to inhabit it once again.

 

Wilhelm stood against a monster. A woman in bandages wreathed in fire swung her chains against him, first one, then the other. As he dodged her blows, he sped in toward her for a strike, only to be repelled by her infernal chains once again. Grimacing, he considered the nightmare that surrounded him.

Scores of immolated bodies lay in various states, a gruesome scene as the village burned around him. The old man's thoughts were a jumble, as he tried to focus but he wondered if Subaru and Emilia were among the corpses.

When he'd arrived, he could feel the strange power the woman exuded. One that could sway emotions. She had attempted to ply it against him, but with an iron will he had sensed the power and resisted it.

“Ah! Such a believer in love you are! Such an amazing love you have!” As she swung at him again, the strange woman continued to belt out her insane words, and Wilhelm felt pressure on his mind from them, gritting his teeth, he prepared for another exchange of blows.

“Al Clarista!!!”

“Wha-!??”

As Julius's sneak attack collided with the woman from the side, a gush of blood was seen as she was flung into one of the burning shacks at the village interior.

“Julius! Your timing is fortuitous!” Wilhelm smiled at the young knight, grateful for the assistance.

“Wilhelm-sama. I am more than happy to help,” nodding back at Wilhelm, Julius turned his head to regard their foe.

“AHHH HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” Stepping out of the shack's infernal ruin, the woman's bandages were now partially burned away. As Wilhelm and Julius looked on, both of them gasped at the sight of her.

Long flowing silver hair. Amethyst eyes.

And pointed ears.

“An elf!?” Julius inquired.

“Yes, it would seem.” Wilhelm nodded, agreeing with Julius's assessment. Turning to him, Wilhelm offered a warning, “she has a strange power that can affect emotions. Steel yourself against it, I don't know what else she is capable of.”

“I see. Thank you for the warning. I thought something felt strange.”

“This day is truly wonderful truly special truly captivating!!!” A fatal-looking wound ran the length of the woman's chest diagonally, but her movements were unaffected by the gruesome gash as her blood spilled out liberally. Her left arm, however, hung seemingly useless at her side. The chain wrapped around it now dragged the ground.

“WRATH!!! WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS HERE!?”

Whirling, Wilhelm and Julius beheld the latest arrival.

A green-haired man in black robes had entered the village square.

"AAAAHHHHHH, MY LOVE!!! I HAVE FINALLY FOUND YOU!!!" Forgetting completely about her opponents, the woman dashed with inhuman speed toward the man. As she stopped in front of him, his army of witch-cultists materialized from the ground behind him.

“He called her Wrath... does that mean these are Sin-Archbishops of the Witch Cult?” Julius turned to Wilhelm, eyes wide at the implication.

“Considering her strange power, that would be a good summation,” staring with steely eyes at the gathered enemies, Wilhelm continued, “we must be cautious. We know very little of our opponents, and their numbers are great.”

“It will be an honor to fight at your side, Sword Demon.”

“The Honor is all mine, Finest of Knights.”

Slowly, the pair began to approach the cultists, swords in hand.

“Explain yourself, Sirius. This will be the stage upon which the half-elf's ordeal is to take place.” With a stern expression, the madman interrogated the woman.

“My Gospel brought me here, dear Petegeuse. It told me of our fated reunion, My Love!”

“You two! Who are you!?” Wilhelm's voice boomed, catching the attention of the quibbling evildoers.

In unison, they turned to face the knights, placed their right hands across their chests, and bowed.

“Representing Sloth, Sin Archbishop of the Witch Cult, Petelgeuse Romani-Contee!”

“Representing Wrath, Sin Archbishop of the Witch Cult, Sirius Romani-Contee!”

“By the Od Lugnica...” Julius's grip on his sword tightened, and he steeled his nerves for the battle to come.

<fffffFFFFFFFTTTOOOOOOOOOOMMM>

All gazes turned to the rear of the gathered cultists, where an explosion had just occurred, sending many dead cultists flying through the air. Light flashed as spirit-arts were combined with swordsmanship, decimating them.

A black-haired boy wearing only black pants leaped high in the air, clearing the mass of cultists with a powerful leap. At the rear of the group, mayhem had broken out as two maids and a blonde boy viciously attacked the interlopers.

“Subaru-sama!” Wilhelm's eyes went wide as the young man landed between him and the archbishops.

Julius's heart swelled with hope as he saw that his friend was still alive.

“PETELGEUSE!!! WHERE IS SHE!?” Power swirled as streams of mana filled the air around Subaru. His sword glowed white-hot, filled with spirit power.

“Where is who where is who!?” Sirius leered at the boy.

“Subaru-sama! She can control emotions! Guard your mind against it!!!”

Nodding, Subaru didn't turn around.

“Where is Emilia, Sloth!?”

Rocking his upper body wildly, Petelgeuse shrieked, “she was in the village in the village! Wrath!!! Where is the half-elf!?”

As a sinister grin came to her face, Sirius replied, “all who were in this village have been burned by love.”

Maniacally, Subaru began looking around. Every direction his eyes met charred, burnt remains. Death hung in the air, heavy and putrid. As his eyes frantically searched, they landed in front of the small chapel that had crowned the village square.

There, a single body lay curled up in the fetal position.

Next to it was a white flower with purple ribbons.

As Subaru's mind shattered, the irises of his eyes contracted to pinpoints. His breathing became ratcheted, and he fell to his hands and knees, sword clattering to the ground. Unable to take his eyes off of the corpse, he began to crawl forward in a stumbling, uneven gait.

Wilhelm and Julius looked on in horror, as realization dawned on them.

"Emilia-sama..." Turning his gaze from the horrific sight, then reaching out a hand toward his friend who now crawled on the ground, Julius's eyes began to tear up. Feeling immense pain for his friend's loss, he closed the hand into a fist. With a grimace, he faced the two archbishops, who had been watching with glee.

“Foul creatures. I will send you to Hades for this!”

Next to him, Wilhelm's rage reached a boiling point, and his roar filled the valley.

As the two knights shot forward to engage the enemy, Subaru slowly made his way to his beloved.

 

“Aaugh!” Taking a vicious strike to the midsection from a cultist's blade, Frederica cried out in pain.

“SIS!” Garfiel's eyes went wide. Then holding back his rage just for a few seconds, he shouted to Rem, “GET HER OUT OF HERE! I'M GONNA KILL ALL OF THESE FUCKERS!!!”

Nodding, Rem knew better than to second guess his intentions. Gathering the blonde maid up in her arms, her horn flared with mana as she gathered the strength to leap far from the battle.

As soon as they were clear, hidden among a grove of bushes she gently laid Frederica down and began casting a healing spell.

Frederica gritted her teeth until the gentle feel of the spell warmed her. As relief washed over her face, she placed a hand on Rem's shoulder.

"You've grown to be an amazing maid, no... an amazing person Rem. I'm proud of you."

“Frederica...” smiling warmly at the woman who taught her everything she knew, she continued the vital spell.

Both of them turned when a thunderous roar shattered the peace of the moment. There where Garfiel had stood, was an enormous bipedal tiger. Letting out its rage, it began swinging its massive clawed paws. Each blow bisected a dozen cultists, as the enraged beast-man unleashed hell upon them. Turning to run, hoping for safety in the form of their archbishops, they madly clamored to get past each other and escape the rampaging beast.

“Garf...” knowing that her brother was in reality a gentle soul, tears came to Frederica's eyes as she watched him be pushed to a point she hoped he'd never see.

Killing humans.

She knew it was necessary.

She knew it was the right thing to do.

But still, the girl mourned her brother's innocence.

 

As the sounds of battle raged behind him, Subaru could hear none of it. Now mere feet from the vision of horror that had broken him, he continued to crawl.

As he finally arrived next to her, an impossible waterfall of tears blinded him. Blinking through them, he could see strands of silver hair that had escaped the flames.

There was no question.

It was Emilia.

Wracking sobs so deep that he could no longer breathe choked him as he flung himself on top of her. All that she had been. Beauty, grace, warmth, power, and love... they were all gone. All that was left was a blackened shell of what she had been.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Burying his face where her chest had been, he gave in to the madness and infinite sorrow as it consumed him. All hope faded, any idea of a future was gone. Only emptiness, despair, and longing for her were left.

His body went limp, and he lay down beside her. Gazing at the ruin of her gorgeous face, his mind placed an image of her over the ghastly truth.

He lay there as his mind wasted away, on the precipice of truly becoming mad.

 

Reinhard could see the burning village from the sky as he descended from another mighty leap, landing, and springing into the air one last time, he focused his eyes, discerning what he needed to do once he landed.

Some distance behind him, Roswaal had prepared his strongest magics for immediate release. Al Fura, Al Dona, Al Huma, Al Goa, and Al Jiwald stood at the ready, should the Sword Saint's arrival not immediately be enough to destroy any threats.

 

Wilhelm's fury was transferred to his sword, as his speed blindingly sheared through invisible appendages that poured forth from his foe, the wielder of Sloth.

“You will die for what you have done this day, foul creature!” Slicing horizontally, then vertically, he ran to the left to avoid an onslaught from the unseen threats.

“He dodges, he slices, he runs! CAN HE SEE THE UNSEEN HAND!? NO NO NO NO ONLY I CAN SEE IT!”

Feinting and flashing forward with a full-body thrust, the Sword Demon's weapon met its mark as he impaled the foul archbishop, then drove him backward.

“GYAAAK YOU CANNOT KILL ME!”

Running forward with every ounce of speed and power that his body could muster, Wilhelm pushed Petelgeuse toward his imminent doom.

“If my blade isn't enough to tear you to pieces, then surely his claws will be.”

“What?” Turning to look behind him, Petelgeuse saw a nightmare. As the last of his cultists fell to a rampaging orange behemoth, he cried out, “MY FINGERS! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY FINGERS!?”

Seeing Wilhelm approach with the archbishop in front of him, Garfiel sneered. Bringing a massive paw back, he waited. Just as Wilhelm had him close enough, he stopped, shoving Petelgeuse forward.

“Sa..tell...a...” he whimpered, then with a sickening crunch followed by a splattering sound, Petelgeuse Romani-Conti died.

 

“Your paltry spirit-arts are nothing! YOU are nothing!” With her one good arm, Sirius flung a flaming hook at Julius. Knocking it to the side, he ducked a blast of flame, then leaped high. As he came down, he sliced downward aiming for her shoulder joint. Severing her right arm, he landed and leaped backward, prepared for any tricks.

With her left arm ruined and her right arm gone, Wrath looked at the Spirit-Knight.

“This was not written. This cannot be.”

Then, a strange sound came from above, turning to look, Julius leaped even further back.

“Your doom is here, monster.”

As Reinhard collided with her, he drove the heel of his foot into her skull. The archbishop exploded into a red mist, as thousands of pounds of force were pinpointed onto the top of her head.

“Julius! Where are they!?”

Wishing he could offer his red-haired friend a smile or good news, Julius closed his eyes, then opening them, looked over in the direction of the chapel.

Following his gaze, Reinhard gasped. As a despaired look came upon his face, he placed his hand over it.

“I failed them.”

Gritting his teeth, the mighty Sword Saint was brought low.

Then, Roswaal landed next to him. Seeing that the battle was over, he dispelled the magics he had brought to bear. Looking around, his eyes caught sight of what he searched for.

“This cannot be...”

 

 

“Cap'n!”

“Subaru-sama! Where did he go!?”

“Rem is here to help!”

As the trio of rescuers made it to the frontline, they stopped, startled by the looks upon the faces of their comrades. Each, in turn, looked in the direction their eyes trailed.

“Hagh!!!” Frederica gasped as her throat closed, sobs immediately taking over her form.

“Oh no. No no no no...please no....” Rem could not maintain her usual emotionless facade.

And then there was Garfiel. A look of pain came upon his face. One that showed the sorrow he felt for the man he admired most in the world.

“It's not god-damn fair.” Closing his eyes, tears began washing streaks into the dirt on his face.

“We should go to him. We should...do our best to comfort him.” Wilhelm Trias, the only person present who could potentially understand Subaru's pain, knew that more than anything he needed to be surrounded by love and comfort.

As they carefully began to approach, Garfiel spied Subaru's sword on the ground, and he grimaced. Picking it up, he closed his eyes and inhaled a steadying breath.

Gotta be strong now.

Gotta be strong for him.

The gathered group approached, sorrow heavy on them as they neared the couple. On the right, lay a boy. On the left in his embrace, lay a charred corpse. Around the corpse was silver hair, and a white flower with purple ribbons.

“S-Subaru...I'm...we. We're so sorry. We couldn't do enough to protect you...”

It was Frederica. The most soft-hearted among them all, she was the first to reach out and try to comfort the boy.

The black-haired boy jerked as if awoken from a trance.

“She's gone.”

As the words came from him, even the most hardened among them began to lose their composure.

Dropping to his knees, Reinhard bowed and placed his head on the ground.

“I swore to protect both of you and I failed!”

For the first time in many years, the Sword Saint wept.

“All of this is my fault! Please! Please, Subaru-sama! I...”

"No, it's not, Reinhard." The voice was barely audible. A shade above a whisper.

Wide-eyed, Reinhard's tear-steamed face looked up at Subaru as he lay motionless.

“She wanted to run away to protect me. That's the kind of person she was, you know?”

“We're here because of me.”

“Subaru...no...” Reaching toward his friend, Julius stepped forward.

“It's true. Those of you who know my secret know that it's true. We thought we could get away from the horrors because they were drawn to the selection. But that wasn't it.”

“The horrors were drawn to US.”

Among the ones who knew of Subaru's torment, realization dawned.

As for the rest, confusion took root.

“There's only one thing to do now. I have to reset it all.”

Roswaal gasped.

Reset it all? Then it's true...

Subaru quietly began to fill his body with mana, preparing for what he had to do. The gathered allies noticed the surge in his power, many stepped forth and stretched out a hand.

With lightning quickness that only Reinhard could follow, Subaru stood and retrieved his sword from Garfiel's hand. Putting some distance between himself and the others, he stopped and turned around.

With wide eyes they watched him. He held the sword at his waist, tears streaming down his eyes.

“No matter how many times it takes, I'm going to save her.”

Then, flipping his grip on the sword, he poured mana into his arm.

He jammed the blade into his temple, sliding it down to the base.

As his consciousness faded once again, Subaru saw his friends shouting as they ran toward him.

Sorry. I have to do better next time.

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

Darkness. Shadow. A blackness so deep that no light could penetrate it.

Subaru found himself floating in this darkness.

As he attempted to look around, he discovered that he had no eyes with which to do so.

No arms, no legs, no torso.

“Hello?”

But...he had a voice.

“You can't...” a familiar-sounding voice came to him.

“Emilia!?”

“Don't do that...hurting yourself like that...”

Then, the Woman in Black materialized before him.

Oh God! Why is she here!? Where am I!?

A pale hand pointed toward him, index fingers extended.

“You must be punished.”

Shadow sprang from the hand, and Subaru felt it invade his being.

It felt like being burned from the inside out, as the shadows coursed into him.

If he had a body, he would writhe.

“STOP!!! PLEASE!!! PLEASE GOD STOP!!!”

He begged her, hoping for all he was worth that the torment would end.

Then, abruptly, it did.

“You must never again.”

The Woman began floating away.

“Love you love you love you love you love you love you...”

“What?” Confused and disoriented from his torture, the words she was saying threw him further into disarray, “you...love me?”

“Go. Do not end yourself. It is not allowed.”

Then, he felt like he was falling. As a scream began to erupt from his non-existent throat, he came back.

 

 

His head hurt.

So did his arms.

“You are awake. Good. Now tell me, why are you here? Why are you with that girl?”

“Why do you smell so strongly of the Witch?”

Snapping his head upward despite the pain, Subaru's eyes came into laser focus.

His arms were shackled.

He was in a dark cave.

Before him stood Petelgeuse Romani-Conti.

Oh no. Oh please please no!

I didn't go back far enough!

“AAAAAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”

And the black-haired boy despaired.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 30-Re:Start

 

The green-haired man with the insane smile stood in front of Subaru, watching him scream.

“Why do you feign madness?”

As the young man struggled, Petelgeuse seemed to be at a serious loss.

The captive in front of him, however, knew exactly what the situation was.

I can't be here I can't be here I can't be here!

The boy struggled against his chains, tears rolling down his face as he made unintelligible noises.

“Are you not the Archbishop of Pride??” For once, Petelgeuse had a look of concern on his face, as if he was thinking in terms of the future of his ilk.

“You have the qualification? Do you not possess a Gospel?”

Tears rolling down his face, Subaru fell to his knees.

“I don't have one of your fucking Gospels! Why can't you people leave us alone!!!?? We just wanted to...” As the image of his incinerated love surfaced once again in his mind, he lost all composure, “leave us alone! Please! Please! PLEASE!”

“The girl must undergo the ordeal, the Gospel has spoken.”

Tilting his head sideways, the man spoke, “but you...you carry the scent of the Witch equal only in strength to one who is an Archbishop.”

Then he spun on his heels, and began gnawing on his fingertips, “most vexing vexing vexing vexing.”

Then, all of his movement stopped, as he came to a conclusion and gasped, “you will be the one who stands beside the witch! The one foretold in the Gospel!!!”

Subaru watched as the madman paced in front of him, growing impatient as the seconds ticked away. Even now Emilia could be facing the Archbishop of Wrath. He knew each moment lost could mean the end for her.

“I'm not gonna stand beside any fucking witch! Let me out of here you piece of shit!” As he continued to struggle against the chains, Subaru began once again pouring mana into his body.

Ladies, I need your help!

<We are here, Contractor!>

As his spirits appeared, Petelgeuse gasped once again, stepping back.

“Spirits!? Who is this man!? Who is he who is he who is he!?”

Go! Kill all of the cultists!!!

Elemental power flared to life, filling the cave they were in with light. As the cultists behind Petelgeuse tried to shield themselves from the wrath of Subaru's spirits, some were burned away, some blasted, and others frozen in ice and purple crystal.

<TING!>

Breaking his chains, Subaru leaped forward toward the Archbishop. Swinging his right arm in a haymaker, a mana-fueled punch connected with Petelgeuse's jaw, rocketing him backward into the cave wall.

“Gacckkk-!!!” Slumping against the floor of the cave, the Arch bishop's eyes rolled around.

"I don't have time for this shit!" Breaking into a sprint, Subaru flew toward the cave entrance. As he sped out into the woods, he tried to get a look at the church steeple in the village. Due to the dense greenery of the trees, he couldn't see it yet.

Shit!

With every ounce of speed he could muster, the young man rocketed toward the village square. As he emerged from the woods, he could see Wrath on top of the church, holding a young girl in chains. Continuing to speed forward, as he entered the square he could hear the madwoman's voice.

“Now! Treini! Do you see that they cheer for you? They love you! Do you love them, Treini? Do you want to experience the heat of love!?”

Subaru skidded to a stop, as his mind suddenly fell into the grip of the woman's authority.

Wha-?

He found his gaze locked on the woman on top of the church.

As she held the girl's bindings with her left hand, the woman pointed at the girl with her right.

A smile came to Subaru's face, as he began to cheer for the spectacle in front of him.

Then, as the woman on the steeple smiled, flames erupted from her right hand, consuming the girl.

The sensation of burning entered Subaru's mind, and he began to scream as his flesh was consumed. Trying to put out the flames, his skin melted in places where he frantically rubbed his hands. Falling to the ground screaming, his barely-functioning eyes caught a glimpse of another person writhing in agony in front of the church.

Silver hair was burning away, and a once silver-bell voice was now shrieking in pain. Next to her, a cloud of blue mana was dissipating as a Great Spirit died in the inferno.

Emilia! Beatrice!

Oh God please no! Not again!

As the agony began to subside and the familiar feeling of death came upon him, Subaru ceased his screaming.

Then, he began to plan.

I have to be faster next time.

I have to be faster.

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

Jerking with a start as his consciousness returned, the familiar sound of chains clinking came to his ears.

“You are awake. Good. Now tell me, why are you here? Why are you with that girl?”

“Why do you smell so strongly of the Witch?”

Turning a murderous gaze toward the green-haired Archbishop, Subaru wasted no time.

Ladies! Kill every cultist in this cave! I'll take care of the Archbishop!

<Yes, contractor!>

As his spirits made quick work of the dozen cultists behind Petelgeuse, the Archbishop shrieked.

“Spiiriiiiits!?”

“Fuck you, you piece of shit!” Breaking his chains and flying forward, Subaru once again smashed a fist into Petelgeuse's face, flinging him against the cave wall.

Then, he made for the village with every ounce of speed he could muster. Careening into the village square, he once again heard the madwoman's voice.

“You have all been chosen! Yes! Chosen for the purpose of love!”

As villagers began to come out of their homes to see what the commotion was, they all stopped and watched the woman.

Resist it!

Shaking his head, Subaru steeled his mind against the effect of the woman's authority. Surging mana into his limbs, he shot upward toward the woman, whose eyes widened in shock.

"Who are you to resist my authority!?" The woman gripped the hooked chains wrapped around her arms and simultaneously flung them forward toward Subaru. Rotating in the air, he dodged the flaming hooks as they sped past him, and his fist collided with the woman's face.

“Bguaagh!” As she flew off of the steeple, Subaru spied the young girl she had captured, who winced as if she'd just received a great blow to the face.

A great outcry arose in the village, and as Subaru landed on the steeple he looked down.

All of the villagers were now laying on their backs as if they had been struck with a huge blow.

What the hell is going on?

Looking straight down, he spotted Emilia and Beatrice lying on the ground. Both of them were rubbing their face, and Subaru could see a bruised and black-eyed Emilia turn upward toward him.

The elven girl gawked at him, an astonished look on her face.

Rage overtook the young knight, as he beheld the battered face of the girl he loved.

“I'll take care of this, Emilia-tan! You just stay there and keep yourself safe!”

“Wait! Subaru!!!”

But he'd already leaped down toward the back of the church, where Wrath had been flung by his blow. Falling downward, he saw her regain her feet in a daze.

“I'll kill you, you fucking bitch!” Grabbing the woman by the throat, he flung her against a tree with his left hand. As he began raining blows down upon her, he barely registered the fact that her eyes were a vibrant hue of amethyst.

“Die! Die! Die! You god-damned cultists just couldn't leave us alone! So die!!!”

“Blurgh! Gragh!” Attempting to fight back, the woman began clawing at the iron grip he held her in. Getting ahold of one of her hooks, she sank the flaming metal deep into his forearm.

His assault, however, didn't waver.

<CRUNCH>

As the woman's facial bones began to give away, he drove on, slamming his fist into her face over and over.

<SQUELCH>

Imploding, with amethyst eyes coming free from their mooring, her head had become unrecognizable. As Subaru heaved out breath after breath, he let her neck go, as she slumped to the ground, dead.

Gasping for air, he bent forward, putting his hands on his knees.

“Hick-!!!” As his eyes caught sight of the gore on his hands, a pang of guilt entered his mind.

No. That was an archbishop.

She deserved it.

Then, his mind went to the girl he'd come to rescue.

Emilia!!!

Turning around, he ran around the edge of the church, sprinting toward the front.

As he made the corner, he could see her splayed out on the steps of the church.

Next to her was a blue cloud of mana, which was rapidly dissipating. Coming to a stop ten feet away, he gasped.

“Beatrice?”

Then, step after step, he made his way toward the half-elf. She lay face-down, arms at her sides.

“Emilia-tan?” His voice was shuddering, as he covered the last few agonizing steps.

Then, he saw it.

The blood that was spreading out around her head.

NO!!!

Quickly, he knelt and turned her over.

His eyes met a gruesome sight.

Her face was caved in, its incredible beauty reduced to ruin. Her two violet eyes were now dangling loose from their now-destroyed sockets. Brain matter was strewn across the ground near where she had been laying.

“Gagh!-”

He couldn't move. He couldn't fathom what was happening.

Did I do this!?

Is this part of Wrath's Authority!?

I did this to her!!!?

He began to wail, a wretched, cracking sound escaping from him as he once again gave in to despair. Pulling her to him as he knelt, he embraced what was left of the girl as his world came crashing down upon him. Rocking forward and backward, he clutched her tightly.

“I'm so sorry Emilia. I'm so sorry. I did this to you. It was me...”

Burying his face in the crook of her neck, he sobbed.

“Emilia-tan...”

“So the vessel was a failure.”

Hearing Sloth approach him from behind, Subaru didn't move from his embrace with the dead girl.

“Kill me.”

"What? Why would I do that? You have performed the ordeal splendidly. This girl could not function as a vessel for The Witch if she stumbles across such a pebble in the road." Walking around Subaru's front, the Archbishop stood in front of him.

“Please. I want to die with her.”

“Then you refuse to take up the Seat of Pride?” The green-haired man's eyes narrowed as he regarded the inconsolable person in front of him.

“I refuse.”

“Then your wish shall be granted.”

Looking up at the man, Subaru saw four dark, shadowy hands emerge from his back. They slowly crept toward him. As they gripped his head, his legs, and his torso, they began to pull.

“Then your Authority shall pass to another. One more worthy.”

As his body was quartered by the fiend's power, even the pain of being torn apart wasn't enough to overwhelm the sorrow in his heart.

Is there a way to save her?

Is it hopeless?

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

In a Garden of Shadows, a silver-haired woman sat with her violet eyes closed. Tears streamed down her beautiful face as she observed a man struggling out in the world.

“It was supposed to protect you. It wasn't supposed to be like this.”

Bowing her head, she wept in shame at the trauma being heaped upon the object of her love.

“I've made a terrible mistake.”

 

Seven more times, Subaru broke out of the cave where Sloth held him.

Seven more times, he was unable to save Emilia and Beatrice from Wrath.

Seven times, he'd had to watch them die.

Emilia had died of stabbing, burning, mutilation, bisection, impact, crushing, and decapitation.

Now, as Subaru knelt with her head in his arms, he wept. The dead Archbishop of Sloth's body lay mere meters away, a victim of his rage after the death of his beloved. Wrath lay in the middle of the square. While they fought, he'd struggled to find a way to stop her without hurting the people affected by her Authority. While he was distracted with this, she'd laughingly flung her hook around the neck of an old village man...and pulled.

As the man's head came free from his shoulders, the same had happened to all of the rest of them, as well as Emilia and Beatrice.

In his rage, Subaru caught the flaming hook as it returned to its master, viciously burning his hand. Spinning around, he used it to remove her head just as she had done to the villager.

Then as he stood, face downcast, Sloth had arrived.

Confused, the green-haired man had approached Subaru.

He was not ready for the savagery released upon him by the younger man.

Now, as Subaru knelt with his beloved's head in an embrace, he heard footsteps approach. Looking up, he saw an old man in a butler's uniform, with his sword drawn.

“Subaru-sama....I-” Finding no words, Wilhelm reached out a hand, then reconsidering, placed it on his face, “I'm so sorry, Subaru-sama. This old man was too late.”

"No," barely above a whisper, the black-haired boy replied, "they'll find us no matter where we go."

With a tear-streamed face, he looked up at the older man, “there's no way to save her. I tried, Wilhelm. I tried ten times.”

A confused look came upon the old man's face.

Has the boy been driven to madness?

“Subaru...” Turning to find the owner of the new voice, Subaru saw a purple-haired knight approach.

“Julius...” Dead eyes caught sight of his friend, and the boy croaked out his name, “she's gone. I tried... I tried so hard... but...”

Looking at the carnage around them, Julius was aghast.

“Are these two...?”

“Sin Archbishops. Wrath and Sloth. I killed them.”

“By the Od Lugnica...” Wilhelm's worst fears were realized as his eyes swept the village.

So much death.

Then he looked at the broken boy holding his beloved's severed head.

So much misery.

As rage gripped the old man, he suddenly spun, and roaring, he flung the sword in his right hand forward toward the wall of a shack. Embedding itself in the wall nearly to its hilt, the sword struck true.

“Cap'n...?”

“Hick-!?” Looking toward the village entrance, Subaru saw the three. Garfiel, Rem, and Frederica stood, tears rolling down their faces as they came upon the sight of their liege.

“Oh no,” Frederica fell to her knees, openly weeping, “we were too late.” As the blonde maid cried, Rem knelt next to her and began to shudder as well as the two desperately embraced.

"I... I don't know what ta say, Cap'n..." his shoulders shaking, the blonde boy struggled to conjure the proper words, "if only we'd been a bit faster, yer Princess..." Cutting off his words, he knew that anything he said would only hurt his friend even more.

For a few minutes, none of the gathered warriors said anything, as they were all lost to despair. Heads hung low, they surrounded Subaru and silently mourned for her, and for him.

A faint whistling sound caught their attention, and they looked up to see a red-haired knight falling from the sky.

Landing nearby with a crash, Reinhard straightened and looked toward the gathered group. Wilhelm swiftly approached him.

“Grandson, I know we have parted on bad terms, but please allow your grandfather to shield you from this,” the old man tried to stop his descendant, “I think-”

“Honored Grandfather,” Reinhard's face was blank as he turned to look at Wilhelm, “this is my duty.”

"...as you say." Stepping aside, Wilhelm bowed his head in shame. Regret painted the old man's face.

Striding forward, the Sword Saint watched as the gathered group parted.

"SSSSSTT-!" Sucking in a wracking breath, Reinhard's face broke into a picture of pain and sorrow. Before him knelt one of his charges, holding the severed head of the other.

The look of sadness and heartbreak on Subaru's face sent Reinhard into a black, dark, helpless, and hopeless pit of despair.

I've failed them. The only words his shattered mind could conjure.

As the red-haired knight fell to his knees, Julius hurried to his side, placing a hand on his shoulder, “this is not your failure, Reinhard. Many of us here arrived too late to do anything. This is a burden all of us will share until the end of our days.”

"But they were mine to protect. I swore it to them both." The half-hearted murmur from Reinhard was that of a broken man.

With a tap, Roswaal landed beside the Sword Saint. A man highly talented at hiding his emotions, he gazed upon the scene, lost.

“How could this have happened?” The Margrave stepped forward, asking the question as much to himself as anyone else.

“Because I was selfish, Roswaal,” Subaru turned his gaze toward the magician, “she's dead because of me.”

"H-how? What have you done, Natsuki Subaru?" Overcome by the destruction of his greatest wish, the Margrave paid no heed to the boy's shattered heart.

“Back the fuck off, clown, or I'll rip yer asshole out of yer mouth!” Stepping between Subaru and Roswaal, Garfiel made it clear he was not going to allow him to hurt his friend even further.

"He's right, Garf," holding the silver-haired head, Subaru stood. As he stroked her hair, he took a moment to close her eyelids in hopes of preserving some dignity for her. As the amethyst orbs were shuttered one final time, the boy walked toward Reinhard. Stopping in front of the inconsolable knight, he knelt and gestured for the red-haired man to take the remains he held.

"Why did you leave the mansion, Subaru?" The red-haired man's pain was visible for Subaru to see, and his guilt overwhelmed him, "didn't you trust me to protect you and Emilia?"

"There's something that even you can't protect me from, Reinhard," his croaking, withered voice was barely there, "but Emilia tried to keep me from it. I accepted, and that's how we got here."

“What? I don't understand.”

“Reinhard, I need you to do something for me,” the Sword Saint looked up at him, “give her a respectful burial in Elior Forest.”  Gesturing, Subaru made to hand over Emilia's remains.

“Subaru?” As he tried to wrap his head around what was going on, Reinhard tenderly took Emilia's head in his arms, cradling it.

“That is, if this world continues after I'm gone. I don't know if that will happen or not.” Standing, Subaru turned toward Garfiel, “you have my sword, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” as Garfiel looked down at the scabbard tucked into his belt, he suddenly found himself bereft of it as Subaru moved so quickly he could scarcely keep up.

“Cap'n!?”

“If the world DOES go on after this, Reinhard, please bury me beside her,” now standing a fair distance from the group, Subaru held his drawn sword, the scabbard laying on the ground, “this is the only tool I have to make things right, so I have to try.”

Then, he turned his head to the sky and screamed with shattered vocal cords.

“SATELLA!!!” He croaked out, “I summon you to me by Returning by DEATH!!!”

“SUBARU!” As Reinhard reached out, Subaru once again jammed his sword into his head, falling to the ground limply.

As screams of anguish and confusion echoed out, one last thought stumbled through Subaru's mind.

We never should have left...

Then, Natsuki Subaru died.

 

Coming back to focus, he looked around, finding himself once again in the realm of shadow.

“If you're going to torture me then save it. I'll kill myself as many times it takes to save her.” Finding himself able to speak, the bodyless Subaru challenged the Witch of Envy.

“It was not me who inflicted that pain upon you, but my other self.”

“What?” Looking around, Subaru saw the shadows begin to lessen, as the woman appeared, and floated toward him.

“Since you have evoked me, the madness of my other half is temporarily beaten back. I am here for you, my love.” A veil of shadow hid her face, but Subaru could catch glimpses of a black dress and familiar features.

“Emilia?”

“No.”

“Who are you?”

“One who loves you more than I can possibly describe. You took me into the world, you held me, you kissed me, and you made me happy.”

As he gazed at the ethereal woman, Subaru wracked his mind, “but I don't remember any of this. Who are you?”

“Someone who wants you to be happy, and live a long, fulfilling life. My other self set your checkpoint, but I see that it has caused you nothing but misery. So I'm going to overwrite it. You will be sent back further this time.” As the woman neared him, she reached out a pale hand and stroke his face, its coldness sent shivers downs his spine, but then something welled up from within him.

An absolute feeling of love for her.

What?

“Go now,” removing her hand from his face, he could see a small smile begin to appear, “at least this much I can do for you.”

“Wha-!”

As she pressed her face toward him for a kiss, he found himself responding. She neared him, and then...he vanished.

 

As his consciousness shifted, Subaru became aware of a warm feeling.

Shifting his gaze, he was held by pale arms in white robes.

Silver hair cascaded before him, it smelled of lilac.

Pulling his face back, two amethyst orbs met his gaze.

“Let's go inside. I want to talk.”

The silver bell chimed, and the boy began to look around.

They were in front of the steps of the Astrea Mansion.

She was in his arms.

No Archbishops to be seen.

Falling to his knees, the boy began weeping with joy.

“She sent me back!” Between his wracking sobs, one phrase could be heard, “we didn't leave yet!” His body shuddered, convulsing.

But this time it was with joy.

“Subaru!” Embracing the boy as he lost himself, the half-elf was both terrified and overjoyed at the same time.

He's happy!?

Then, as realization overtook her, her embrace on him tightened and she began crying.

“It happened again, didn't it!? You had to see something terrible!” Wrapping him up protectively, her heart wept for the person she loved.

"What happened, Subaru!? Oh my God why did it happen to you again!?"

For several minutes he could offer no response, as he shuddered in her arms. He clawed at her, trying for every bit of his life to embrace her tighter.

After several minutes, reaching for his chin, she lifted his face to hers, "what happened, Subaru?"

Wiping his eyes, a smile came to his face as he lifted a hand to touch her cheek, “I've been given another chance, Emilia-tan.”

Then, grabbing her hands, he pulled her in tightly, and nuzzled his face against her neck, “WE'VE been given another chance!” Reaching up to stroke her face once again, he cried out, “you're here! You're alive! Oh my God you're okay!”

Unsure of what he was going through, the girl pushed the panic in her heart away, “you're okay, Subaru, I'm okay too. Everything will be alright.” As she stroked his hair, she felt his shuddering body begin to die down. Desperately comforting him, her tears flowed freely as the two embraced tightly.

After several minutes, he finally leaned back, unfurling his arms from her embrace.

“I know what it is that you want to do, Emilia-tan,” his shaky voice intoned, “but the horrors will come after us even if we leave.”

As Emilia gasped the young man's face became determined.

“So let's face them with all of our friends. We have powerful allies, and we need to meet them head-on with all of the power we can muster. No running away.”

Stunned, Emilia knew that Subaru had seen something awful. She once again raised a hand to catch a tear rolling down his face. Her silver haired-head nodded because she knew he was right.  She blinked, and a lone tear rolled down her face.

“Okay. We'll stay.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 31- From Zero...and A Reason to Believe

 

“This is some bullshit, Granny-loli!”

“I'll have you not refer to me with one of Subaru's slurs, in fact! Go away tiger-boy! Go find a bone to gnaw on, I suppose!”

“The Garnok is always most grim when it can't see the sunrise!”

“That makes no sense, in fact!”

A face-off for the ages was taking place in a hallway of the Astrea manor, as Beatrice and Garfiel shot daggers at each other with their eyes. The little spirit stood in front of a door, arms crossed, guarding the two who resided behind it.

“My Emilia told me to make sure that there were no interruptions, I suppose!”

As the blonde boy shook a fist in her direction, he replied, “we just wanna know if the Cap'n and the Princess are ok! They shut themselves in there last night and haven't come out since!”

“What are you implying about my contractor, in fact? Do you believe they are up to no good?”

“We believe that Subaru-sama might be hurting tremendously...” a softer voice answered the little girl's query as Frederica stepped forward behind her brother, “we're just worried... for both of them, really.”

“Well then you can rest easy! My Emilia is the one best equipped to help Subaru with his...” finally stumbling on her words, Beatrice's face softened, “with his pain. She is the best one for the job, in fact.”

“Perhaps Beatrice-sama is right,” Rem intoned, standing a few feet behind Frederica and Garfiel, “maybe it is best if we leave them alone. Subaru-sama has had... a hard time lately.”

“I jus' wanna make sure he's ok!” Flailing his arms, Garfiel began stomping his feet, rattling the hallway.

Recalling the scene mere moments after they had left the two lovers at the front steps of the manor, Emilia had brought Subaru down the hallway toward her room, passing by the dining area. As they moved past, the others caught a glimpse of the black-haired boy.

He'd looked like death itself was on his doorstep.

Emilia had called for Beatrice as the others flocked into the hallway, ordering her to keep everyone away.

“Right now he needs me,” she had told the spirit, his arm draped over her shoulder, “it happened to him again, and this time it was a really bad one.”

Nodding in affirmation, Beatrice had watched them enter the room, shutting the door behind them.

Now, some time after, Frederica placed a hand on her little brother's shoulder, her voice was soft, “let's leave them be for now, Garf. Beatrice is right. This is a job for Emilia-sama.”

Turning to look at his sister, Garfiel's face dropped, and his eyes became downcast, “I just wanna help him too, ya know? Ain't there anything we can do? They've been holed up in there since we got back.” As his voice lost it's edge, the boy's look became defeated.

“There's a time and place where we will be able to help him, Garf,” Rem approached the boy, “maybe it will be in a moment of weakness, perhaps on the field of battle. We should remember what the two of them mean to us and the pledge we have made to help and protect them. For now, that is the best we can do.”

Nodding, the blonde boy finally relented, “I wanna hang out with Cap'n too, dammit. And Otto needs to get his ass back here so we can go get into some shit.”

Beatrice, arms still folded, replied, “I don't think that what my Emilia and Subaru are doing is this, 'hanging out,' in fact,” she turned to look at the white ornate door behind her, “I think Emilia is fighting for that man's soul, I suppose.”

 

Laying on their sides on the girl's bed, the two faced each other. The boy had his face buried in her shoulder, long asleep from crying himself to unconsciousness. The girl's arms were wrapped around him in a protective embrace, as she'd done her best to soothe the boy's fraying soul. His momentary joy when they had stood in front of the manor had turned to frantic and inconsolable pain as he relived the horrors that she could only have imagined.

Unintelligible cries had emitted from him, as she'd gotten him into her room and laid his shivering form down. A mishmash of Archbishops, fire, death, and pain were among the words he croaked.

Not able to sleep as she worried about him, she had spent the night stroking his hair, hoping to ease his nightmares, if even a little bit. Frequently he'd stirred in his sleep, as pained cries arose from him.

Many times he'd cried out her name, only to thrash about as she clung to him.

How can I help him!?

Her thoughts were pained, sorrow for the one she loved most in the world engulfed her.

Why is this happening to him!? What does she want with him!?

Her thoughts turned to the Witch of Envy, who's very existence had made her own life so very difficult.

But not like this. I've faced hard times because of her, but he's been through hell.

Why does she hurt him so? He has nothing to do with her!

Going from what he said, he's not even from this world to begin with!

Seizing on that scant piece of knowledge, she considered what she knew about the man she loved.

He's from beyond the Great Waterfall? So she brought him here, but why?

As she pondered, he began to stir in her arms.

Sitting up, she brushed his now down-turned hair from his face.

He's so handsome when he looks like this, though.

As the boy opened his eyes, he looked around. As he caught a glimpse of her, his face momentarily lit up, only to be shattered as the memories assaulted him. Taking an arm to wipe across his face, he froze for a moment, collecting himself. Then, he gave her one of his trademark grins, but she could tell that the smile he gave her was one of complete and utter fallacy. Pretending to rub the sleep from his eyes, the fake smile concerned her.

“Good morning Emilia-tan!” His facade was well constructed.

“Subaru...” reaching out a pale hand, she touched his face.

He's been broken by what he's seen. Carefully clearing the tears from his face, she moved to sit up, placing her calves under her thighs, and carefully pulled his head into a lap-pillow. Turning his head gently, she pointed his face up toward her.

“It's been tough, hasn't it?”

At her words, his eyes went wide, his mouth screwed up into a pained grimace, and the boy's tears were renewed. Reaching toward her nightstand, she took a cloth and dabbed it gently on his face.

“I couldn't do anything!” Wracking sobs overtook him, “I tried so many times to save you! But I couldn't do it!”

“Shhhhhhh...” once again stroking his hair, she did her best to comfort him, “you're safe now. I'M safe now.”

“I tried so hard! I really did!” His words were barely audible, “but I couldn't save you!”

“But I'm here now.” She smiled down at him, tears threatening to emerge from her violet eyes, “so you must have done something right.”

At this, he sucked in a breath, and suddenly yelled, “IT WAS HER! THE WITCH SAVE-!!!”

Then, he began to writhe in agony, clutching at his chest, clawing at it as if he were dying from a heart attack.

“GACK-!!!”

“SUBARU!!!”

As the pained look on his face passed, she watched. His breathing calmed, and his writhing stopped, but the tears still flowed.

He stared at the ceiling, and she watched him, knowing this was an important moment for both her and him.

His eyes seemed dead, glassy, and after some time the tears stopped.

“I'm useless to you, Emilia-tan.”

What!? As her mind swirled, she couldn't fathom what the young man on her lap was saying.

“I'm a nobody. I'm useless. I couldn't save you. So many times I couldn't save you!”

He suddenly sat up, and an angry look came upon his face.

“I'm useless.”

“What?” As her amethyst eyes stopped watering, the girl placed her hands over her mouth.

“Do you know what I did before I came to this world?”

Pausing for a moment, Emilia reached out, “I have no idea.”

“I did NOTHING.” Grabbing his chest, he looked at her with his mean eyes, “I DID NOTHING and I WAS NOTHING. I spent all of my time holed up in my room playing games and watching anime!”

“Aneee,may?” Emilia struggled to understand.

“I wasted so much time when I could have been doing something useful!”

He's from a different world, try your best to understand.

“Subaru, I love you! It doesn't matter what you did in that world, here we are now-”

“IT DOES MATTER!!!”

Suddenly silenced by his outburst, she shrank from him, and the boy cried out.

“I'M TERRIBLE! I WASTED ALL OF MY TIME! I PISSED AWAY MY YOUTH!”

“But, you-”

“I DID NOTHING! DON'T YOU SEE THAT I'M EMPTY INSIDE AND IT'S BECAUSE I DID NOTHING THAT I'M EMPTY!? I HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE! I'M A SHAM! AN EMPTY PERSON!!??”

“I don't think that's true at all.”

“I freeloaded off of my parents, I even quit going to school! I was useless! I AM useless!”

“Subaru...” a slightly angry expression came to her face, “while it's true that you do some dumb things sometimes,” his eyes widened, “and you're lazy when you can get away with it, that's not all that there is to you.”

“So you admit it! I'm lazy! I'm dumb!” Waving his arms, his scary eyes had turned to misdirected anger, unloading his frustrations on the girl.

But her resolve did not waver.

“But still, I love you.”

“What?”

“I believe in you because I love you.”

“BUT I'M A LAZY, SELFISH PIECE OF SHIT WHO ONLY GOT INTO THIS WORLD BY ACCIDENT!”

“It's true, you shirk your duties sometimes and you make it hard for Reinhard to keep us on track, and you also should take a bath more often...”

“SEE!”

“And you get mad when you should be more calm, especially when it comes to matters concerning me...”

“THERE YOU GO! I'M A PIECE OF SHIT!”

“But I still love you,” she reached a hand toward him, “I love everything about you, from your black hair to your height which is just a bit taller than mine. I love your fierce eyes-”

“WE WEREN'T TALKING ABOUT THAT!”

Taken aback, Emilia's lip began to quiver.

“I'M A PIECE OF SHIT! I CAN'T SAVE YOU NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY! I'M EMPTY INSIDE! ALL I EVER WANTED TO DO IS LAY AROUND!”

As the girl considered his words, anger at his attitude welled up inside of her.

“That's not right!”

“Huh?” Gasping as he was interrupted, he saw tears flowing down her cheeks.

“You don't see the Subaru I see! The one who is in my heart!” Breaking down, lips quivering, she continued, “the Subaru I see is someone who's strong, noble, kind, a person who everyone admires!!!”

As his shocked face looked on, she continued, “you are so kind to so many people,” she sniffled, “you do so much for all of us!”

As she reached out and grabbed his shoulders, he fell backward on the bed.

“I believe in you! I know you can see this through!”

“But you can't believe in me! I've turned into nothing but a gigantic crybaby! I can't do anything for you!”

“You dunderhead!” As she reached toward his face, she clasped his chin, “you're the most amazing person I've ever met! And just think about that! THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE CALL OUR FRIENDS! YOU ARE THE GREATEST AMONG THEM ALL!!!”

“Wha-?”

“WE LIVE WITH THE SWORD SAINT! WE HAVE THE WORLDS MOST POWERFUL MAGICIAN! WE HAVE A BOY WHO CAN TURN INTO A TWELVE FOOT TALL TIGER!!!”

Releasing his chin, she looked down at her clasped hands, “you never give up, no matter how bad things get you absolutely refuse to let anything bad happen to any of us. I believe you can get through this,” looking up, meeting his gaze, her eyes now looked almost as fierce as his own, “and I'll do whatever it takes to help you do it.”

“Emilia, why? Why do you believe in me so much?” As his eyes once again poured, the boy was at a loss.

“Because I love you, dunderhead.”

“You can't love a failure like me!”

“Don't call yourself that! And yes I do too love you! You're no failure and you're the greatest man IN ALL OF THE WORLD!” Her arms shot out, grabbing his shoulders, “because of your greatness, you are going to be the king of this country! The greatest KING it has ever known! And I'm going to be your QUEEN!”

Then, she shoved him backwards, and climbed on top of him faster than he could protest.

“If what you were in your old world is holding you back so much, then right here, right now...it's time to pick yourself back up and start over. From the beginning.”

“...start from square one?” The fear of the idea crept into his mind, as he thought of wiping the slate clean, forgetting his old life, and fully moving forward with her.

“No, dummy. Before that. Re-remember your relationship with your parents. I'm sure that they loved you sooooo much. Try to realize that. Remember how we fell in love,” she reached down to stroke his face, “remember that there are dozens if not thousands of people who will fight for you at the drop of a hat.”

Astonished, he looked up at her.

“Start over, rebuild yourself from the beginning. Not from step one,” she leaned downward, her face inches from his, “start from zero.”

His eyes went wide, and he gasped.

“I can...do that?”

“I know you can, because I believe in you.”

“You love me? Because you believe in me?!”

“BAKA! I ALREADY TOLD YOU!” Smashing her forehead into his own, her eyebrows furrowed, then her voice softened to a whisper, “I believe in you because I love you.”

Her arms shot out, grabbing the back of his head, and pulled him in for a deep kiss. His mind went blank, swirling with the pleasure of being connected to her once again. For several seconds she held their union, then as she released him, she smiled down at him with her gorgeous face.

“I love you too,” finally calming down, he reached a hand toward her, then hesitated, “but how can we move forward?”

“We'll start over. Like I said.”

“What do you mean?”

“We can't take on all of these evils at once, but you know they are coming, right?” She smiled at him, knowing.

“Right, Emilia-tan.”

“Then we'll start over. Reconsider all of our knowledge of the Witch-Cult. Where they've been and where they might be.”

“We don't know anything about them, other than some things I've...learned.”

“Then we'll renew, our strategy. And I'm going to start over with you, too.”

“What?”

“You've had all of this time to tell yourself that you're awful.”

“I-uh...”

“But now we're going to start over, and you're going to learn just how awesome you are, Subaru! From the beginning! Every day I'm going to tell you how wonderful you are. I'm going to tell you how handsome, brave, strong, and amazing you are. All of the things you say to me every day.”

As his eyes gazed at the beautiful girl over him, he was lost for an answer.

“You're the best thing that's ever happened for my self-esteem, Emilia-tan.”

“And you're the best thing that's ever happened for mine, dunderhead.”

Her cheeks had turned red, and her eyes were now half-lidded, as passion began to overtake her.

“You wanted a reason to believe that I love you?”

Leaning down, she whispered into his ear, “Reinhard isn't here, Beatrice is guarding the door. We can stay in here as long as we like, Subaru.”

His eyes widened once again, “we can't do that Emilia-tan. It will disqualify you from the Royal Selection! You have to be a maiden.”

“Nope. The tablet spoke. It changed from 'maiden' to 'candidate.'”

As she looked down at him adoringly, she leaned down against him. Beginning to move on top of him seductively, a slight moan escaped her mouth.

“Emilia-tan!!!”

“Be quiet, dunderhead.”

Placing a hand on his groin, she asked, “this is the place, right?”

As the boy considered his situation he knew this was the point of no return.

I really really really shouldn't!

Licking her lips, the girl began rubbing him down below with her hand.

Fuck it!

Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her down into a kiss. The sudden aggressiveness elicited a chirp from her as she greedily complied. Rolling over on top of her, he swiftly removed her undergarment beneath her skirt. Gently placing a hand on her thigh, he stroked it, working his way upward.

She gasped, never having known the touch of a man before.

“This time, I'm going to make sure to take it slow,” he whispered to her, “and for god's sake, don't lock your legs around me.”

“Huh?” Momentarily confused, she looked up at him.

“Just relax, Emilia-tan. I'm gonna do something I learned about on the internet.”

“The inter-whaaaaa!!?” As his head dove between her legs, she bucked wildly. Intense pleasure drove at her mind, something she had never known before. For several minutes he teased her, using his fingers and tongue. Then, an explosion happened in her mind, and she convulsed wildly at the insane intensity of the moment.

As she lay panting, he brought his face up to her.

“So, how was that?” A coy grin was on his face.

“By the Od Lugunica. I had no idea. I had no idea...”

“That's just the foreplay, Emilia-tan.”

Sliding his pants off, he ripped off his shirt and dove down into her for another kiss, intermingling tongue with tongue. The kiss was passionate, filled with their desire for one another.

“I'm going to do it now, Emilia, are you sure?”

Gazing up at his chiseled form, a smile came to her face.

There he is. My Subaru is back.

“Take me.”

Gently, he began their lovemaking. She hissed slightly as her virginity was taken.

“It's ok, just go slowly.”

“Ok, just remember, no leg-locking me!”

As they found a rhythm, for a moment Subaru thought back to the failed loop where he'd joined with her. At that time, he was ready to face the world alone with her.

We're not alone this time.

She began moaning, as he drove into her over and over. Her hips moved to meet him, and her fingernails dug into his back ever so slightly as she reveled in the pleasure of their love.

Then, once again she began spasming as climax overtook her. Knowing his own was upon him, he moved to separated from her.

And found two pale legs locking him in place.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit!

Activating his mana, he desperately fought against her elven strength.

“Noooo Emilia-tan! You'll have a baby!”

“Wha-!”

As his words brought her back to reality, she released her lock on him in the nick of time.

“Bwaaauugh...barely made it out...”

Falling forward onto her, they both heaved for oxygen as they glowed in the aftermath of the act.  Their sweaty bodies intertwined as they tried to increase their skin contact.  Love chemicals surged in their brains, tying the two of them together in the most intimate of ways.

“Subaru...I...I don't...know what to say...”

“Emilia...” He looked up at her with expectant eyes, hoping for a good review.

She stretched her arms above her, then crossed them over her chest. Her face was beet red, but that could not contain her excitement.

“That was soooooo gooooood! I want to do that a lot more!”

A smile came to his face, the smile of a job well done.

“Maybe, Emilia-tan. But we'll have to be careful not to get you pregnant until after...”

Sitting up, the girl seemed suddenly concerned.

“Until after what?”

Smiling at the girl who'd salvaged both his soul and his sanity, he nodded. “Until we're married, of course. Then, we can have a family of as many quarter-elves as you want.”

A sudden realization came upon her, as she reached for his face.

“They would be part elf? Like me.”

“Of course.”

“So they would face the same problems as me?”

As the girl's past came crashing down on her, all of the hatred and racism came to bear. Thoughts that she'd never dreamed to think entered her head.

My children will face that!?

“Emilia.”

Taken out of her thoughts by him, he sat beside her, gently taking her hand.

“Any children we have will be princes and princesses of this kingdom, right? I don't think anybody is going to mess with them.”

“HHHHGGGnnnnn!!!!!” Emotion overtook the girl, as she leaped upon the boy. The mere idea that she could have children who would be free of her ostrization ignited a fire in her to win the selection that she'd never had before.

“SUBARU!”

“Uh- Yes, Emilia?”

“OUR CHILDREN WILL BE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, WONDERFUL, AND AMAZING CHILDREN EVER!” As she shouted, the boy developed goosebumps.

Then, Emilia stood next to the bed, pointing a hand to the sky in Subaru's signature pose, “THEY WILL BE PRINCES, AND PRINCESSES, AND I WANT TWELVE OF THEM!”

“Wha- TWELVE!?”

Then she leveled her pointed finger toward him, “NOW ON TO BECOMING THE KING AND QUEEN OF THIS COUNTRY!”

Mystified, he sat looking at her.

“If that's what you want, Emilia-tan.”

 

 

Beatrice stood outside the door to Emilia's room, guarding, arms crossed.

400 years in the forbidden library means this is nothing to Betty.

At first there was no noise, then there was shouting. Then the noise died down...then there was a rhythmic squeaking noise.

Betty grows suspicious.

Then there was no noise again for a while.

Betty is vigilant.

Then there was shouting again. Something about Princesses.

Betty is confused.

Then the squeaking sound again.

And again.

Was that screaming?

Betty will help if her contractor calls for her!

More squeaking.

And again.

And yet again.

And again.

And again.

Then, after two days, Emilia and Subaru emerged.

“Subaru, has my Emilia healed your heart, in fact?”

<THOOM THOOM THOOM>

As Garfiel heard them emerge, he sped down the hallway.

“CAP'N!!!?”

Close behind him were the two maids.

“Subaru-sama! Emilia-sama!” Both of them cried in unison as they arrived on the scene.

“We're...tired.” Subaru's face was shrunken in, almost as if he'd been depleted.

“Subaru-sama! You look terrible! We must get him something to eat!” Then, as she turned, Rem skidded to a halt and looked at Emilia.

“Emilia-sama?”

Her slightly sunken look told the story of the terrible burden she'd borne.

But the stupefied smile on her face said otherwise.  Reddened cheeks, and smiling eyes gave away something else.

“Heh...If I could trouble you for a sandwich, Rem, that would make my day.”

“Right away!” As Rem hurried off, Emilia turned to Beatrice.

“You did something drastic, didn't you, Contractor!!?”

Embracing the girl, Emilia laughed, and then tears rolled down her face.

“Everything is just so right and wonderful right now, Beatrice...everything is just so happy!”

"You better not have done something stupid, in fact!"

"I did something brave, Beatrice.  I think he...I think we'll all be ok!  I really do!"

Regarding her contractor, the spirit warned, "just be careful, I suppose."

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 32- Consolidation

 

Leaving another meeting with Priestella nobles, Roswaal and Reinhard approached their carriage.

“News travels veeeery fast nowadays it would seem. Subaru-saaaaaaama and Emilia-sama have destroyed the great rabbit, even without the power of my magic or your swordsmanship!”

As the Margrave and the Sword Saint climbed into their conveyance, a pink-haired maid began pouring tea.

“It's incredible how far they've come in so little time,” Reinhard considered his charges, “even I didn't develop this quickly once the blessing of the Sword Saint was passed to me. They destroyed the Great Rabbit...I don't know if I could have done that myself to be honest.”

“You should be proud of them,” drinking from his teacup, Roswaal was giddy, “they are decimating our competition for the throne. Every noble we meet with is fawning over their achievements. Despite Emilia-sama's heritage and appearance, even!”

“Honestly, I am proud of them,” as an unfamiliar feeling swelled in his heart, Reinhard smiled, “it's insane, really. They were two random people I ran into in the slums...”

As his thoughts followed, he frowned, “but then you kicked them out and left them for dead...”

Waving his hand, Roswaal was unconcerned, “I simply gaaaaave them the push they needed to become stronger. Look at how far theeeeeey have come now!”

“If I may interject, it would seem that Subaru-sama and Emilia-sama have become incredibly strong since Roswaal-sama's dealing with them.” Pouring tea for the Sword Saint, Ram added her opinion.

“That they have,” Reinhard admitted, “and they're the frontrunners for the throne, after all of the amazing things they have done, despite my...questionable absences. He even subjugated the White Whale. He turned it into a force against mabeasts.”

“Incredible.” Scratching his nose, Reinhard was in awe.

“They're targeting the Witch Cult. That makes me wonder if I should be here,” the red-haired man rubbed his head, “maybe it would be best if I was fighting alongside them.”

“That time will come, Dear Reinhard,” Roswaal nodded, “but for today we must take up their cause in other ways.”

 

As the morning sun reflected off of the dew on the fence of the Astrea Estate, two young men stood on its border.

“Yer okay now, right? I just wanna be sure.”

Rubbing his black hair, a young knight replied, “yeah, Garf, Emilia got me squared away.”

“Then go ahead an' commune with yer spirits, I gotta work on my transformation right now.”

As his friend walked away, he paused.

“Cap'n?”

“Hmm?”

“If ya need ta talk to somebody, I'm right here. I know ya have some terrible shit that happens to ya, because of that Witch of Envy, so if ya need somebody ta lean on...” shooting a grin at his friend, Garfiel gave him a thumbs up, “hit me up.”

Embarrassed, Subaru nodded, “yeah, it's been a real shitshow recently...but I promise to rely on you, Garf.” Nodding at his friend, he smiled.

“Good. Now I got shit to do.” Leaping away, Garfiel left Subaru alone.

Looking to his left, he watched as Emilia breezed through her gymnastics training. She swung through the dual bars, and landed with perfect form.

God she's so gorgeous.

Noticing his gaze, she waved.

“Subaru! Train hard today, okay!?”

“OKAY, EMILIA-TAN!!!”

Sex sex sex sex sex!

STOP IT, BRAIN!

She turned around and he admired her perfect rear, smiling.

That's my ass. The most perfect ass in the world.

Then she turned back toward him, preparing to vault again.

Staring at her chest, he was mystified.

Good Tiddies. My favorite tiddies.

“Subaru? Are you ok?” The silver belled-voice caught his attention.

“I was just being a pervert for a minute, Emilia-tan. You're so crazy-sexy that I had to!”

“Oh! Uh...well your butt looks great in those pants! You should wear them more often!” Breaking his guard, she went back to her routine.

Do I have a nice ass?

Trying to look at his own butt, he gave up.

Nodding, he walked toward the weight set that Reinhard had made for them.

“If the bar ain't bending, you're just pretending!”

 

“This is nyot a fashionable area, in my opyinion!”

As Felix and Crusch walked through the shopping district, the green-haired woman perused the offering of clothes.

“Not really my thing,” she sighed looking at a feminine outfit, “but nothing here fits me.”

“I”ll go next door. I knyow your sizes so that will make things quicker, Crusch-sama!”

“Sure. I'll be there in a minute.”

Giddy, the cat-boy slinked away to peruse the selection of outfits in the next shop over. Holding up a white dress with frills, he smiled.

“That would look marvelous on you, you know?”

As an unfamiliar voice sounded out from behind him, Felix turned to regard its owner.

A tall man, with white hair, in a white suit stood before him.

“Well aren't you a snappy dresser, nya?”

“Regulus Corneus, at your service,” as the man bowed, he smiled.

“Felix Argyle, charmed.”

“You have a great many things going for you, you know. Your skin is supple and smooth, your hair is vibrant, and those ears...” he looked up at Felix's cat-ears, “magnificent.”

“Nya?”

“But best of all is your face. A beautiful face, it is. One I'd like to see never changed.”

 

A loud banging resounded on the main entrance of the Astrea manor. Swiftly making her way down the hall, Rem hurried to answer the door. Opening it, she found a large older man in a butler's uniform.

“Miss Rem! An incident has occurred! Are Subaru-sama and Emilia-sama in?”

“Wilhelm-sama! Yes, they're here, please follow me!”

As the three allied camps had grown closer, and fought at each other's' side, the servants of each had also gained a good deal of respect for each other. Seeing Wilhelm's curt attitude, Rem knew that whatever business he had was serious.

Bringing him to a meeting room, she stopped, “please wait here, and I will fetch them for you.”

“Thank you, Rem.”

Taking a seat in a large wing-backed chair, the man's face held a fierce look.

“Wilhelm?” The two candidates entered hand-in-hand, warm smiles came upon their faces as they saw him, which quickly melted away once they saw his own face.

“Emilia-sama, Subaru-sama, I've come at the behest of Crusch-sama to request aid. Several members of your camp have particular abilities she wishes to enlist.”

“What's happened, Wilhelm?” As the pair sat across from him, Subaru leaned forward, “what do you need?”

“The boy, Garfiel, perhaps his sister, as well. And Rem. I believe the three of them all possess heightened senses, especially regarding a well-honed sense of smell?”

“They do,” now Emilia leaned forward as well, “are you searching for something? Or someone?”

“We are,” nodding, the old man sighed, “Felix has gone missing.”

 

In the downtown district of Lugunica City, two young men walked.

“Anything yet, Garf?”

“Doin' my best here, Cap'n, but it's tough considerin' I've barely been around this...dude.”

“I suppose that much is true.”

“It doesn't help that he looks like a chick but smells like a guy. Gets me a little confused, I guess.”

“Hey, if that's how he wants to dress then it's none of our business, Garf. That's no reason to hate on somebody.”

“Don't get me wrong, Cap'n. I got no reason ta hate the guy. And I don't. I'm jus' not sure how ta act around 'im, ya know?”

“Act like you would with anybody else.”

“Just like that, eh?” Looking at Subaru, Garfiel nodded, “to gaze at the Wilden Stone isn't ta know it's core.”

“Pardon?”

“You can't tell what's inside jus' by judging the outside, Cap'n. The Wilden stone is the world's biggest diamond, half-hidden by the stone that formed around it.”

“Oh? You finally explained one of your proverbs to me!”

“That's him!” Looking to his right, Subaru noticed two young women talking, “he's the knight that's a candidate for the throne!”

The other girl quickly chimed in, “I heard his nickname was 'The Knight of Love!”

“Yeah! He's an item with that other candidate! The elf girl!”

“Oooooohhh she's so pretty! I'd love to find out how she deals with that long hair!”

“Hmm. We should get a move-on Garf. No need to draw a crowd,” as Subaru turned back to look at his friend, his eyes met a huge grin.

“Oi. Cap'ns got hisself a little fan-club!” Jabbing a finger at Subaru, his grin widened even more, “I'm thinkin' that maybe if I hang around you long enough, some of yer luck is gonna rub off, and then I'LL be the kinda guy the girls are gonna whisper about.”

“Isn't that the beast-man that's part of their camp!? He's soooooo sexy! Look at those abs!”
“HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA! You were saying?” Jabbing Garfiel in the gut, Subaru's satisfaction at the girl's comment could have crushed them both, were it given form.

“What a great butt, too!”

Cackling, Subaru put a hand over his face, and bent forward.

“This is... this is embarrassin' Cap.” Muttering, Garfiel's face now wore a frown, “I'm not a piece of man-meat, ya know!” Yelling at the two girls, he shook a fist, “I can hear ya!”

“Eep!” As the two ladies scurried off, Subaru continued cackling madly at Garfiel's situation.

“Oh god. Oh my god. It was worth coming to this world if nothing else just for that.”

“That's right, I almost forgot that yer from some other land, ain't ya?”

Suddenly, a fireball exploded high in the sky several blocks over from where they searched.

“Emilia's signal!” Breaking into a sprint, the two young men covered the distance quickly, and rounding a corner they could see Emilia, Rem, and Frederica gathered in a small circle.

“You found something!?” As they arrived with the others, Subaru asked.

“Yes,” Rem replied, “Frederica picked up his scent...but there's something else.”

“What is it?” Wide-eyed, Subaru spared no time for suspense.

“I smell witch cultists,” then, pointing at a large mansion on a small hill, she continued, “they, and Felix, are in there.”

“Subaru! Emilia! What have you found!?” As Crusch and Wilhelm arrived, having seen the pre-arranged signal, Julius followed shortly.

“Emilia-sama, did you find him?”

“Frederica did,” Emilia replied, patting her blonde friend on the shoulder, “but we've got a problem.

“Rem's horn flared to life, and a snarl came upon her face.
“Witch cultists.”

Feeling something was amiss, Ram's gaze turned out the window of their carriage.

“My sister is angry.”

“Hmm?” Looking up from a news leaflet he was reading, Roswaal's face changed to mild concern, “what is it, Ram?”

“Something is happening. Sister is agitated. She very rarely gets like this, only when...” turning to Reinhard and Roswaal, she continued, “the Witch-Cult is involved.”

“The Witch Cult!? Are they on the move already!?” Reinhard nearly jumped up out of his seat at the invocation of the cult's name.

Swiftly reaching behind him, Roswaal pulled his tome of Wisdom from the folds of his cape. Flipping through the pages, he came to a new passage. As he studied it, his face went from concerned, to astonished, to gleeful.

“Worry noooooot, dear Sword Saint!” Closing the book gently, he looked to the red-haired man, “our charges will take care of this quite swimmingly,” a maniacal grin now graced his face, “this will seal the deal for them winning the throne, I assure you!”

“Roswaal,” Reinhard angrily leaned forward, seizing the Margrave by his shirt and pulling him forward, “what the hell is going on in the capital right now?”

“Five archbishops are poised to attack the capitol.”

Gasping, Reinhard fell back into his seat, astonished. Then, he made ready to blast out of the carriage.

“Dooooooon't go stealing their glory, now!” With a satisfied smirk, the clown continued, “you have my assurance, it would be best if we allowed these events to reach their conclusion.”

Looking out the window at the sky, the Margrave was beside himself, “the two of them will perform so incredibly during this trial, there will be no option but to hold their coronation.”

Gritting his teeth, Reinhard made a fist.

“You had better be right about this, Roswaal. If there was a chance to save them and things go south...”

“Have faith, Reinhard. Of all things it is Subaru's greed which will win the day.”

“His greed? That makes no sense!”

“You will seeeeeee, Reinhard. It is his greed to lose no-one. To save everyone, he will do whatever it takes!”

As the carriage thundered down the road, Otto's face had gone pale.

“The Witch Cult? Subaru will save everyone!?”

Looking up at the sky, he sent a prayer to the Od Lugunica.

Please watch over them. Please help them get through this.

 

Next time: Chapter 33- The Battle of Lugunica City

Author's note: I'm sure many of you noticed this was a shorty, but for obvious reasons I had to create a chapter purely to set up the next one, which is going to be a monster. It's going to take me some time to get all of the ideas hashed out and written, but please be patient. I've been planning this battle for several months, and all roads have lead to here. I hope you all have enjoyed the story so far, and I want to thank all of you for reading. Your kind words and encouragement have meant the world to me as I told the story I wanted to get out of my head.

Next time is the start of the big one, folks.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33- The battle of Lugunica City- Part 1




    “We need to proceed carefully.” Subaru, Emilia, Beatrice, Garfiel, Rem, Frederica, Crusch, Wilhelm, and Julius stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the imposing manor where Frederica had picked up Felix's scent. As Crusch had just intoned, they had to act with a great deal of caution, as Rem had detected the odor of witch cultists.

    “Subaru-sama, Emilia-sama, and Crusch-sama...” Wilhelm turned to face the candidates, “perhaps you should allow the rest of us to act as a vanguard force, and find out just what we're dealing with.”

    “Bullshit.” Swiping away the suggestion with the wave of his hand, Subaru continued, “Felix is our friend, too.”

    “And my knight,” Crusch nodded at what Subaru said, “it would be shameful of me to wait out here.”

    Nodding, a small smile came to Wilhelm's face, “I knew that the three of you would refuse, but I had to make the offer nonetheless.”

    Looking up, Subaru spied a balcony high above with a door, “there,” he pointed, “we should get up there and sneak in, and try to find out what we're dealing with.”

    “Good idea,” Crusch nodded, “those of you who can make the leap will have to carry a few of us.”

    “Allow me, Crush-sama,” as she nodded, Wilhelm picked up the noble in a princess carry. Backing up, the old man surged forward, cracking the sidewalk as he leaped mightily, landing with a tap on the balcony's rail.

    Emilia picked up Beatrice, and easily made the jump to the balcony.

    As the others began to follow suit, Subaru's face grew grim. His recent dealings with the Witch Cult had turned into an unwinnable nightmare, requiring the Witch herself to step in and move his save point.

    But now, I have friends who I can fight alongside. This won't be like last time.

    Blasting into the air, he was the last one to land on the railing.

    “Let's make this quiet,” he nodded to Wilhelm, who stood next to the door. Slowly turning the knob, the old man slid the door open and stepped inside, then, motioning for them to follow, he moved.

    They found themselves in a long white hallway, with doors lining either side for a great distance.

    “This place is huge.” Garfiel whispered, and Subaru nodded in return.

    Quietly opening a door near them, Subaru peered inside.

    He found a small bedroom, sparsely furnished, with only a neat bed, a nightstand, and a wooden chair.

    “Nothing here, let's keep moving.”

    As they checked the rooms along the hallway, they found much of the same thing. Each of them were bedrooms, identical in furnishings to the first one.

    “This is sooooo weird,” Emilia mentioned, “why would there be so many little bedrooms like this?”

    “I…have no idea, Emilia-tan. Let's just keep moving.”

    As the group continued checking for signs of life, they moved through the mansion.

 

 

    As his eyes opened, Felix's head was swimming. Looking around, he found himself in a small bedroom.

    “Nya?”

    “You've awakened. Good. We need to get you prepared, Dear Husband does not like to be kept waiting.”

    Turning to see the owner of the voice, Felix grew confused, “nyow who are you? And where am I!?” A beautiful blonde woman stood before him, wearing a light blue dress.

    “You are in the home of Dear Husband, Regulus Corneas. I am number 184, one of his wives.”

    “Wives?” Then, remembering the man who had abducted him, Felix's mouth dropped open.

    “Yes. One of which you are to become.”

    “NYAAA?”

    “Please. We must get you prepared. We cannot risk Dear Husband's anger.”

    “Number 184 is correct, you mustn't delay any further, my dear,” entering the room was the man who had abducted him, now wearing a white tuxedo.

    “A good marriage is built on mutual respect, and mutual love. It is my right as a husband not to be forced to wait for any of my wives. To make me wait would be a violation of my rights. To violate my rights is something that I take most seriously.”

    “Uh-”

    “And as the most satisfied existence in the world, I cannot allow something such as that to take place. It would be an unconscionable act and it simply cannot be allowed. So quickly, let 184 get you prepared.”

    As the man turned to exit, he stopped, turning back toward Felix.

    “By the way, I must ask you a question.”

    “Ny..oookay?”

    “Are you a virgin?”

    “What kyind of question is that!?”

    “An important one, so please answer honestly.”

    Poking the tips of his index fingers together, Felix couldn't meet his gaze, “yes, I am a virgin.”

    “Splendid!”

    “But I was saving myself for Crusch-sama! I don't think it'll ever happen but Crush-sama is the only one for me!”

    As 184 stepped back in fear, Regulus whirled on Felix, fury in his eyes.

    “How DARE you speak of another man to me on the day we are to be wed!?”

    “Crusch-sama isn't a man at all! She's a beautiful woman! With green hair!”

    “Eh?”

    “Hmm?”

    “Then...it is no matter. Get prepared.” Exiting the room, he shut the door behind him. As 184 sighed with relief, a white wedding dress could be seen in her hands.

    “You must put this on, if you don't do it quickly then he will kill both of us.”

    “What!?”

    “He has the power to do it, easily. He is the Witch Cult's Sin Archbishop of Greed.”

    “NYAAAAA!!!”

 

    As the would-be rescuers crept down a stairway, Subaru waved behind himself for them to get down as he heard commotion. Peeking his head around a corner, he could see a large group of women in a great hall, as a bustle of activity occurred.

    What are they doing?  Straining his senses, Subaru leaned.

    Some carried flowers, and arranged them. Others were decorating an archway at the far end of the room.

    Sneaking up next to him, Beatrice offered, “it looks like a wedding is taking place, in fact.”

    “Oooohhhh! I've never been to a wedding!” Emilia's eyes lit up at the chance to see the matrimonial ceremony.

    “I don't think we'll be treated as guests, Emilia-tan.”

    “Subaru-sama! The witch-scent has grown stronger! A cultist is nearby!” Rem whispered forward to him, “and from the strength of it, it must be an archbishop!”

    “Oh for fuck's sake...”

    This is turning out to be almost as bad as that hell-loop in the village.

    “Number 76! I expect those flowers to be perfect in the next ten, no...make that the next five minutes!”

    The intruders ducked down as one, at the sound of a man's voice.

    “Yes, Dear Husband! Right away!” The woman who responded's voice was flat and emotionless. Peering around the corner again, Subaru spied a man in a white tuxedo.

    “I think I see him! God this guy looks like such a huge douche!”

    “What's a 'doosh,' Subaru?”

    “This guy I'm looking at, that's what!”

    I don't recognize him, so he's an archbishop I haven't fought yet.

    That complicates things. I don't know what he's capable of until we get into it with him.

    So...he's gotta be either pride...or....

    “Contractor. I have information on your target.”

    Echidna! Perfect timing! What can you tell me?

    Grasping the pendant at his neck, he waited for the Witch's reply.

    “ That man is Regulus Corneus, the Sin Archbishop of Greed.”

    Greed? Wasn't that YOUR Witch Factor?

    “Yes, it appears that he is this generation’s Greed.”

    Do you know what his abilities are?

    “I do not, specifically. But I do know that he was able to single-handedly destroy a Vollachian fortress.”

    Son of a bitch!

    “You should be wary, contractor, that man is known to be the most powerful Archbishop.”

    Great. Just fucking great.

    Thank you, Echidna. At least we know who we're dealing with now.

    “Indeed. Good luck, Natsuki Subaru.”

    Biting his lip, Subaru made a decision.

    I might have to use this loop as a throwaway, to figure out what he can do.

    Looking behind him at his comrades, he spun.

    “It's the sin archbishop of Greed. Apparently he's the most powerful Archbishop of them all.”

    Muted gasps could be heard.

    “I don't get the impression that the women in that room are going to fight to defend him, but just in case, Rem, Frederica, and Garf, can you work crowd control?”

    The three nodded, accepting their role.

    “Wilhelm, Crush, Julius, if we can get him into a pincer attack, we should be able to make quick work of him. Emilia, you and Beatrice work up defensive spells, we don't know what kind of offense he has, so be ready for anything.”

    The two girls nodded, their brows furrowed in anticipation.

    “Use the one that we created together, E.M.M.”

    “Got it!” Emilia replied.

    Hearing a familiar voice come from the room, everyone turned at the sound.

    “That's Felix!” Crusch almost bowled Subaru over as she attempted to get a glimpse of her knight.

    Standing near the makeshift archway, was the cat-boy.

    “Is that a god-damned wedding dress!?” Subaru was astonished.

    As Regulus turned to spy the demi-human, a smile came to his face, “ah, splendid, preparations are almost complete. You look positively stunning, my dear.”

    “Ehhhhh...” afraid to upset the man he now knew to be an Archbishop, Felix fidgeted, “thyank you, I guess.”

    Taking one of Felix's hands, Regulus approached him, “the bonds of matrimony are most noble, I think you will find that marriage has many benefits. What was your name again?”

    “Fe-”

    “No matter. As of today you will be number 86.”

    “Um, Mr. Regulus? There's something you need to know.”

    “Oh? Then tell me my dear, what is it that is bothering you? Make sure to get it out now, as once we're married I expect you to never smile, never frown, always keeping a neutral face. After all, it is your face that I like best about you. I want it to remain unchanged, forever.”

    Looking wide-eyed at the man, Felix spoke, “you do realize that I'm male, right?”

    “...come again?”

    “I'm a man. I just dress like a woman.”

    The women in the room discreetly began to move away from the pair.

    “STAY THERE OR I'LL KILL EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM!”

    Instantly the several-dozen women froze, trying not to let fear show on their faces.

    Springing forth, Subaru called back to his allies, “GO GO GO!!! Stick to the plan!”

    As the fighters emerged from the adjacent hallway, an incredulous look came upon Regulus's face, “what is the meaning of this!?”

    “The meaning is to kick your ass! Garf! Rem! Frederica! Go!” Facing down the man in white, Subaru's sword began to glow as he summoned his spirits.

    “This! This is a gross violation of my rights! You come into my home! Uninvited! On my wedding day! Do you not think that today should be a happy day for me? Do you not understand that you are intruding upon my right to happiness?” Regulus's face was one of annoyance.

    As Regulus continued to rant, Subaru's face fell to a combination of confusion and annoyance, “I KNEW you were a douche! I could tell!”

    “What did you call me? What is a 'doosh?”

    “You are! Douche!”

    As Crusch, Julius, and Wilhelm surrounded him, Regulus looked back and forth, then a smile came to his face, “so you mean to engage me in combat? I must warn you that I will take up my right to defend myself. You have violated the sanctity of my home! You have eroded my perfect existence! You have violated my right to have a perfect wedding day!”

    “Nyot gonna happen! I told you, Crusch-sama is the only one for me!” Hiding behind the green-haired noble, Felix shouted at the archbishop.

    “So this is the woman you spoke of. Were she not this very second violating my rights, then I would add her to my growing family as well. But I cannot marry a woman who does not respect the sacred nature of matrimony. As the world's most satis-”

    “DUDE! Shut the fuck UP!” Subaru put a hand over his face, “what's your deal, anyway?”

    Darting forward, Wilhelm began to attack with a roar, swinging his sword downward. Regulus turned to look at him as he approached, an annoyed look on his face.

    “Die Witch Cultist!” Making contact, the old man gasped as his sword bounced off of the man in white.

    “How dreadful! To attack me while I'm in my own home, trying to have a conversation!” Waving his hand in a chopping motion, Regulus scowled.

    Wilhelm's right arm was severed at the shoulder by some invisible force, falling to the ground.

    “Gack!!-”

    “Wilhelm!!!” Drawing her sword, Crusch let loose blades of wind, which smashed into Regulus's side.

    “No effect... Felix! Get to Wilhelm!”

    “Yes, Crusch-sama!” Running to the old man's side, the cat-boy gave Regulus a wide berth, wary of him. Picking up Wilhelm's arm, he began to summon the magic to reattach it.

    “Thank you, Felix.” Shuddering, Wilhelm smiled at the cat-boy.

    “Quiet, old man! Save your strength!”

    Facing toward Subaru again, Regulus lifted his hand, “begone from my sight, fool.” With a downward chopping motion, he sneered at Subaru.

    “E.M.M.!!!” Feeling himself become locked in place, Subaru sensed an invisible wind slam into his paused form.

    “What!?” Regulus looked at him, his sneer disappearing, replaced with a scowl, “how did you do that?” He looked at Emilia and Beatrice, who held the spell fast, and gasped.

    “By the Od Lugnica...” staring at Emilia, the archbishop was smitten, “she's perfect.”

    “Huh?” Under his lurid gaze, Emilia dropped the protective spell. Slowly approaching her, Crusch held her sword warily in front of her as he passed by.

    “You. Your face is perfect. I must have you,” as he neared, Emilia and Beatrice took a step backward.

    “Nope! I've got a boyfriend! You just attacked him, in fact!”

    “Never mind him. Let me ask you a question... are you a virgin?”

    “Uhhhhhhh...I'm not sure what that word means,” holding her right hand forward, Emilia summoned a series of icy swords which hovered in the air, poised to fire upon the man in white.

    “She's not! I can guarantee it! I saw to it myself!”

    Swiftly turning to look at Subaru, Regulus had a murderous look on his face.

    “One such as you, has had his way with her ?”

    A pin-drop could be heard as the others registered the contents of the conversation.

    “Subaru-sama! How could you!?” Frederica's flushed face was flabbergasted.

    “My Emilia's been defiled by that nincompoop!” Beatrice waved her arms in the air, using one of Emilia's words.

    “Yeeeeeeaaahhhhhhhh that's my Cap'n!”

    <THWACK> As Frederica smacked Garfiel on the back of the head, he looked back at her.

    “Tha hell was THAT for!?”

    “Don't encourage him!”

    Finally, as she understood what was going on, Emilia's face grew furiously red.

    “WAIT! WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?”

    “A shame, really,” Regulus turned to face her once again, anger in his eyes, “you would have made a splendid wife, I'm sure of it.”

    Then, stomping the floor, he sent an invisible wave at Emilia and Beatrice.

    “E.M.M.!” Casting the spell on themselves, they negated the shockwave.

    “Annoying! Inconsiderate! A violation of my rights!” As Regulus began throwing another tantrum, Emilia launched forward, fist cocked back.

    “Shut up, you DUMMY!” A tear of embarrassment flew from her eye as she lit into him. Slamming her fist into his face, she followed up with another, and another. As his head spun wildly back and forth under the rain of blows, his face showed astonishment.

    “Whoa! Emilia-tan! That's like a seven-page Muda!”

    “I don't know what that means!”

    “It means you're a badass, E.M.T.!”

    Continuing to rain blows down on Regulus, she replied, “what did you call me!? Why are you being mean all of a sudden!?”

    “What? No!!! It's a breakdown in communication! A loss in translation!”

    Lifting a leg to kick Regulus in the groin, she relented. He was sent spinning backward wildly.

    “Yeaaaaaggghhh!!!” Slamming into the opposite wall, he stuck in it as his body indented the surface.

    “See that, Regulus? THAT is elven strength in action!” Shaking a fist at him, Subaru taunted the archbishop.

    “Wow, Emilia-sama...” Rem said what the rest of them were thinking.

    “Don't mess with my Subaru, Witch Cultist!”

    As a huge grin broke out on Subaru's face, he added, “yeah! Don't mess with her Subaru, ya douche!”

    “Graaaaaaa-!!!” Enraged, Regulus dislodged himself from the wall, “do you care nothing for the rights of others, you insects!”

    “We can't believe you started without us, Regulus! Tsu!”

    Spinning swiftly, the rescuers looked behind them. Two young boys had entered the room, with brown skin and tattered clothes. One wore his dark, filthy hair loose, while the other kept his in braids. Both of them had dual blades attached to their wrists.

    The loose-haired one spoke again, “I'm looking forward to a good meal, tsu!”

    As the group circled up, Julius summoned his spirits, and Wilhelm, now healed, leaped to face the new arrivals next to Julius.

    “We will hold off these interlopers! Do your best to take out Regulus!” As Julius shouted, he turned to the brown-skinned youths.

    Eyes narrowing, he regarded them, “who are you?”

    “We are the Sin Archbishops of the Witch Cult, representing Gluttony, Ley Batenkaitos!”

    “We are the Sin Archbishops of the Witch Cult, representing Gluttony, Roy Alphard!”

    Hearing this, Subaru thought to himself.

    Wait a second...those are star names! FROM MY WORLD!?

    And so is Regulus!

    Having taken an interest in astronomy due to being named after a star cluster, Subaru thought furiously.

    Maybe that's the key to figuring out how to beat him?

    Regulus...Regulus...what can I remember about that star!?

    Eyeing Emilia, Ley commented, “that one looks tasty, Roy! Tasty! Tsu!”

    “I'll sample all of these dishes, Ley!”

    “You'll not go anywhere near Emilia-sama, you fiends!” Leaping forward, Wilhelm once again swung the first blow, Julius shortly behind him.

    Having regained himself, Regulus approached the center of the room, where Subaru stood.

    “To think I have suffered such humiliations in my own home!” Raising his hand, Regulus prepared to swing it down again.

    Simultaneously, Ley countered a swing from Wilhelm, leaping in Emilia's direction.

    As she jumped to the side, she grabbed Beatrice's hand and pulled her with her.

    “Minya!!!” Firing purple crystal spikes at the attacker, Beatrice shouted.

    With blinding speed, Ley smashed the crystals out of the air.

    “Not fast enough! Not fast enough! Tsu!”

    As he watched Emilia evade Ley, Subaru turned back toward Regulus.

    Who was now chopping his hand downward.

    As the force collided with his chest, Subaru felt organs rupture. Unreal amounts of blood began spilling out of him, as he landed on his back.

    “SUBARUUUUUU!!!” Desperately defending herself, a spinning kick launched Ley away from her as Emilia sprinted to where he was on the ground.

    “Watch out...Emilia! He's coming!”  Subaru could see the Gluttony Archbishop targeting his beloved, but he could do nothing as his body failed him.

    “Too late too late too late!” Swiping a hand across her back, Ley grinned as he licked his palm.

    “Suba-” As Emilia fell forward onto him, he could do nothing to help her, as his consciousness started to fade.

    “SUBARU! EMILIA!!!!” Wilhelm appeared, grave concern on his face, “BACK OFF YOU FIEND!!!” Driving Ley away, he shouted, “FELIX!!! GET OVER HERE!!!”

    Running and sliding on his knees, the cat-boy thrust his palms outward, flaring a healing spell in each hand, one for Emilia, and one for Subaru. He looked down at Subaru's face.

    Then, he gasped.

    “It's too late, Old Wil...” Wilhelm turned, and his eyes widened with shock.

    Subaru had turned a sickly blue, his life having left him.

 

    A loud banging resounded on the main entrance of the Astrea manor. Swiftly making her way down the hall, Rem hurried to answer the door. Opening it, she found a large older man in a butler's uniform.

    “Miss Rem! An incident has occurred! Are Subaru-sama and Emilia-sama in?”

    “Wilhelm-sama! Yes, they're here, please follow me!”

    As the three allied camps had grown closer, and fought at each other's' side, the servants of each had also gained a good deal of respect for each other. Seeing Wilhelm's curt attitude, Rem knew that whatever business he had was serious.

    Bringing him to a meeting room, she stopped, “please wait here, and I will fetch them for you.”

    “Thank you, Rem.”

   

    “There's no need for that, Rem, we're already here.” As Subaru and Emilia entered the room, they swiftly sat across from Wilhelm.

    “Felix has gone missing, right?”

    “Subaru-sama, how could you...”

    “It's not important, I know where he is. Rem, gather the others.”

    Turning his face to the blue-haired girl, he continued, “we have witch cultists to kill.”

    Gasping, Rem nodded and hurried away to fetch the siblings.



    As their carriage thundered down the road to downtown Lugunica City, Subaru puzzled.

    Regulus is a star in the Leo constellation.

    Known as 'Little King.'

    The Heart of the Lion...

    Think! Subaru, think!

    Subaru?” Emilia was concerned over the tense look he now had.

    “The biggest obstacle is the Sin Archbishop of Greed, if we can beat him, we'll have a chance against the rest.”

    “What do you mean by 'the rest,' Subaru-sama?”

    Sitting across from them, Wilhelm found his wording odd.

    “Two Archbishops of Gluttony will also attack.”

    “What!? THREE Sin Archbishops!?” The old man's face grew pale.

    “There are two more that I know of who are unaccounted for, Sloth and Wrath...” looking out the carriage window, he sighed, “I hope to all that is holy that they don't show up, too.”

    “By the Od Lugunica...” Wilhelm murmured, thinking at what they might face.

    Subaru went back to his thoughts, trying to parse out how to take Regulus down.

    Little King. Heart of the Lion.

    What can it mean?

    Then, hitting upon an idea, Subaru looked at Emilia.

    “I have a job for you, if you'll take it.”

    “Hmm?” Looking back at him, she tilted her head curiously.

    As the carriage arrived in front of Regulus's mansion, Wilhelm turned to look at Rem, who was driving.

    “Please fetch Crusch-sama as quickly as possible, Rem. I believe Julius is looking for Felix as well. If you come across him, please explain the situation.”

    “Of course,” sniffing the air, Rem shuddered, “this place is definitely connected to the witch cult. I'll be back shortly.”

    As they snuck into the mansion using the same route as earlier, Subaru made a bee-line for the grand hall where they'd had their battle in the last loop.

    As he peeked around the corner, he saw Regulus barking orders at his hapless wives.

    “Okay Emilia-tan. You're up.”

    “Are you sure about this?”

    “Believe me when I say I know he'll be quite taken with you.”

    “If you say so.” Walking around the corner, Emilia approached Regulus.

    “Huh?” Turning to look at her, he gasped, “that face! Incredible!”

    “Someone told me this was a good place to find a husband.”

    “Indeed! Indeed! But...how did you get into my home?”

    “The front door was open, no-one answered it so I thought you might be busy. I just came in.”

    “Strange. But you've come to the right place!” Taking her hand in his, he led her toward the altar, “I'll be adding another wife today, but your arrival is fortuitous! Today I'll be adding TWO brides!”

    Turning to regard her, he smiled, “I have the perfect number for you, long ago a woman who very much resembled you was meant to be number 79. But she died in Elior Forest, so that will be your number.”

    “Elior....forest?” As the memories of that day flashed through her mind, a sudden realization overcame Emilia.

    “It was you.” Leaping backward, she began charging her mana, as tears began to fall down her face.

    “Emilia, what are you doing!?” As Subaru, Beatrice, Wilhelm, Garfiel, and Frederica ran from their hiding spot, Emilia shouted.

    “ICE BRAND ARTS!!!” A dozen weapons of ice materialized in the air, which she sent at Regulus.

    With an incredulous look, he stood as the weapons collided with his body, doing no damage.

    “What is this!? You go from wanting to get married to wanting to kill me!?”

    “You and that woman Pandora!!!”

    At the mention of her name, Regulus jerked.

    “You came and attacked the forest! Father Geuse and Mother Fortuna were there!”

    Placing a hand on his chin, Regulus thought back to that day a hundred years ago, “wait...there was a little girl there,” pointing a finger at her, he smirked, “that was you!”

    “It WAS me! I watched my mother die because of you and that woman!”

    Unsure of what was going on, as Subaru arrived next to her he listened, mouth agape.

    “Father Geuse went mad because of you!”

    Father Geuse?

    She can't mean...

    “Ha! It was at Pandora's request that I was there. You can place no blame on me for what happened that day.” Waving a hand at her, he was dismissive.

    “ABSOLUTE ZERO!!!”

    “Oh shit,” Subaru grabbed Beatrice, yelling at the others, “get back!!!”

    As Regulus's brides ran from the room, the temperature plummeted. A large orb of blue mana gathered in front of Emilia's outstretched hands, then it shot forward, colliding with Regulus.

    Surrounded by ice, the archbishop's voice could still be heard, “that won't work on me, as impressive as it is.” Then a blast knocked the ice away, and he stood unscathed.

    Wait...his clothes.

    They're not wet, not even torn.

    Thinking back to the original spell he'd helped Emilia and Beatrice create, they'd used the concept of stopped time in a localized area to make an impenetrable defense.

    Just like his!

    “Emilia! When he grabbed your hand a minute ago! Was it warm or cold?”

    Turning slightly to look at Subaru, her furious eyes were fierce, “neither, it was neither hot nor cold.”

    Maybe that's it!

    His attacks could be the same thing!

    An object who's time has gone still!

    The wind blade doesn't dissipate because its time has stopped!

    “Stillness of an object's time!”

    As he shouted this, Subaru pointed at Regulus, “that's how your ability works!”

    “Huh!? How did you figure that out!? Who are you? Why are you people here!?”

    A burst of orange flared to life as Emilia began to conjure a fire spell.

    “I'll make you pay for what you did to my parents!!!”

    “Not in my home! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” As Regulus began to panic, a massive fireball slammed into him, exploding outward in every direction.

    Flames began to catch, as the archway easily caught alight.

    “What have you done!?”

    “So that's what's important to you, huh? Well then allow me to take it away! You destroyed my home, so now I'll destroy yours!” Emilia shouted.

    Emilia-tan is in turbo-mode! Running out of the blast radius, Subaru watched her as her anger unfolded.

    Casting fireballs left and right, Emilia went wild with anger. Regulus's home was soon a blazing inferno.

    “Frederica! Wilhelm! Garfiel! Go find all of his wives and get them out of here!” Subaru shouted at his allies.

    “Subaru-sama! What about you and Emilia!?” Wilhelm's face showed concern.

    “We'll lure him outside! Go!”

    “You! You wretched woman! THIS IS VERY MUCH A VIOLATION OF MY RIGHTS!” Moving to attack, Regulus whipped his arm toward Emilia.

    “E.M.M.!” Arriving at her side, Beatrice cast the protective spell over her contractor as the attack slammed into them.

    “Thank you, Beatrice!”

    “What the hell is going on, nyaaaaa!?” As Felix stumbled upon them, running into the room, he was once again wearing a frilly wedding dress.

    “A rescue operation! Get outside, Felix!” Subaru shouted at him, “this whole place is gonna come down!”

    “What kind of rescue is this, nyaaaa!??” As the cat-boy took off running down the adjacent hallway, Subaru turned, grabbing Emilia's hand with one side and Beatrice's with the other.

    “We gotta go!” Surging with mana, he took off for the exit.

    “You won't escape meeee!!!” As flaming debris fell upon him, Regulus screamed.

    Rapidly putting distance between Regulus and themselves, Subaru pulled them toward the front door, smashing his foot through it. Exiting the burning building, they came upon several dozen women, Regulus's wives who had escaped the inferno.

    “We got them out, Subaru-sama!” As Wilhelm approached them, Subaru nodded.

    “Good job. We don't have much time, he's gonna be out here soon, and he's gonna be pissed.”

    Plus those other two archbishops will be here too.

    “So you've figured out how his power works?” Emilia asked.

    “Only partway. I haven't figured out how to deactivate it, though. It's somehow related to the stars from my world, all of the Archbishops are named after them somehow. Regulus means 'Little King,' which I think relates to all of these wives of his. The other nickname for it is 'Heart of the Lion.”

    “Husband keeps his heart within one of us, it's how he can't be hurt.”

    Whirling, Subaru looked at the blonde woman who stood before him, “what did you say?”

    “In order to kill him...all of us will have to die...” her faced became downcast, “as long as one of us lives, he can keep time from affecting his body. We don't know who his heart is inside right now, it could be any one of us.”

    Shattered, Subaru's shoulders slumped, “that's not gonna be an option, there has to be another way!”

    “I might have a way, Subaru,” Emilia tapped him on the shoulder, “I can freeze them with my ice magic. I've done it to myself once before, it was a long time ago, but it's a lot like being dead until you're revived.”

    Turning to regard the wife, he asked, “what's your name, Miss?”

    “56...er,’’ she took a moment to search her memories, ‘’M-Melinda.”

    “Would you and the other wives be willing to be frozen with magic for a chance to be free of him?”

    “I know I would, let me gather them and ask.”

    Several minutes later, she returned, “let's do it. I'm ready to be rid of that maniac.”

    As Regulus emerged from the collapsing manor, a seething rage could be seen on his face.

    “Unforgivable! Unforgivable! A violation of my rights! She'll die for this!”

    The sight that met his gaze confounded him, as his eyes met a large block of ice. Peering closely, he could see his wives trapped within.

    “What have you done!?” Raging, he looked around for the transgressors, “do I not deserve matrimonial bliss!? You have murdered my wives!”

    “You're the only murderer around here, Regulus. Emilia, hit him!”

    “Ice Brand Arts!” Once again a dozen icy weapons materialized from thin air, and fired into Regulus, who remained unscathed.

    “It's still not enough!?”

    “Subaru, I think I know what's going on,” Emilia stepped up to him, taking his hand, “I felt something happen as I froze the wives...I think his heart came into me.”

    Gasping, Subaru was at a loss, “what do we do? If you freeze yourself, who will undo it?”

    “I don't know, but I don't think we have much of a choice.” Caressing his cheek, a tear rolled down her own face.

    Listening to their conversation, Beatrice began crying, “no…Emilia! You can't leave Betty alone! Betty doesn't know how to unfreeze a spell like this!”

    Kneeling to her level, Emilia patted her head, “hopefully it's just temporary, Beatrice. Subaru will take care of you until I come back.”

    “Woman! I'll kill you for what you've done!” Regulus was once again approaching.

    “We're out of time,” quickly giving Subaru a kiss, then shoving him backward, she pointed a palm into the air, releasing her mana. A blue cloud swirled around her, and as it dissipated her beautiful form could be seen encased within the ice.

    “Gurk!” Regulus clutched his chest, falling to his knees, “my heart! How did you know to do that!?”

    “One of your wives told us, douche. They weren't fans of yours, after all.” As a horrified expression came to Regulus's face, Subaru turned to Beatrice.

    “Beako, hit him with a continuous stream of minya's until the bastard is a statue.”

    “With pleasure, in fact.”

    As the flaming purple spikes began to continuously assault Regulus, he began screaming.

    5 seconds went by.

    6 seconds went by.

    7 seconds went by.

    “Gaahhkk-!” And then, Regulus Corneas released his Stillness of an Object's time, and was instantly crystallized.

    “Douche.”

 

    Rem drove the carriage with as much speed as she could, her eyes searching for the Knight Julius.

    “We should probably make way to the mansion and back up the others!” Calling from inside the conveyance, Crusch caught her attention.

    “Perhaps you are correct, Crusch-sama. We will head that way, then.”

    Turning at the next cross-street, the carriage thundered toward Regulus's home.

    Until Rem saw something that made her blood run cold.

    Emerging from a building about a block ahead, was a large group of people. All of them were dressed in very familiar garb.

    The robes of the Witch Cult.

    “CRUSCH-SAMA! WITCH CULTISTS ARE HERE, TOO!” As the carriage halted to a stop, Rem's horn flared, electricity popping around her as she stood and readied her flail.

    Leaping to the street, she was soon joined by Crusch, who had her sword at the ready.

    “You there! In the witch cult robes!” Calling to the cultists, the noble's face grew angry, “what are your intentions in this city!?”

    Saying nothing, many of the cultists began racing in their direction, blades in hand.

    “Very well, then.” Raising her sword, Crusch prepared to use her signature attack, lobbing wind blades at the approaching enemies. A dozen were cut down, having no chance against Crusch's deadly blow. Stopping in their tracks, the other cultists re-evaluated their situation.

    “You won't escape me!!!” Vaulting forward, Rem flung her flail at the nearest enemy, killing them. Then, flipping over the group, she sent the weapon back toward them again, snuffing the lives of two more. Spinning the weapon in a circle around her, she made her way back to Crusch's side, cultist blood now staining her maid uniform.

    “Why must you attack our rank-and-file members, tsu?”

    The two women spun, their eyes settling on two young men marching toward them from the opposite direction.

    “All of you!” One of them yelled to the remaining cultists, “do as your gospels command! Roy and I will handle these two. Tsu!”

    “Who are you?” Crusch lifted her sword again, preparing to strike.

    “They are the Gluttony Archbishops,” Rem's face was alight with rage, “the ones Subaru-sama said would be attacking.”

 

    Leaning against the ice fixture that now held his Emilia, Subaru put his forehead against it.

    “We just can't catch a break, can we Emilia-tan?”

    Cap'n...” his head hung low, Garf approached, “is there a way ta get her out?”

    Behind him, Frederica and Wilhelm approached, grim looks on their faces.

    “Betty is sad! My Emilia has gone away from me!” As the little spirit sobbed, Subaru knelt in front of her, and took her hand.

    “I'll do whatever it takes to get her out of that ice, Beako. You can be sure of it.”

    “Contractor, I think I might have a solution to this issue.”

    Grabbing the black gemstone around his neck, Subaru almost yelled.

    What is it, Echidna!? I'll do anything!!!

    Just as he told her this, Subaru felt something come into him, and latch onto his very soul.

    This is just like when Capella died!

    “Grrk!!!” Falling to his knees, Subaru felt the Witch Factor course through him.

    “Subaru!?” Beatrice’s tears ran down her face, but she still held concern for the young knight despite the plight of her contractor.

    “Ah, right on time! You've gained my old witch-gene!”

    Echidna?

    “Now concentrate very hard on the thing you want most in this world, Contractor.”

    Unsure of what she meant, still he complied. Rising to his feet, he placed a hand on the ice that Emilia was trapped within.

    I want her back, more than anything in the world.

    <THUMP THUMP>

    A pulse erupted from within him, and he felt the witch gene morphing.

    Give me a way to get her out!

    Leaning against the ice, he concentrated as hard as he could.

    “Let me SAVE HER!”

    As the new Authority of Greed flared to life, Subaru watched with astonishment as the ice around Emilia dissipated into mana. Catching her before she could fall, he gently eased her into a kneeling position, holding her close. Her gorgeous eyes began to flutter, and as she opened them, Emilia turned to look at him.

    “You got me out. But how?”

    “You're looking at the new holder of the Authority of Greed, Emilia-tan.”

    Confused, she turned her head to find the now crystallized archbishop kneeling not far away.

    “Emilia!” Crashing into her, the little blonde spirit was a mess, “you didn't leave me! I was so scared!”

    Smiling down at the little girl, Emilia embraced her.

    “I'm not going anywhere, Beatrice.”

    “Ho there! Do you need help!?” Riding toward them, a knight on a red ground dragon stopped nearby, “the witch cult has attacked the capitol...” looking around at the dozens of frozen women, the knight lost his train of thought.

    “Garf, Wilhelm, Frederica, we'll wrap up with things here,” turning to the knight, he asked, “where is the cult at? We'll catch up after we're done here.”

    “The knight gasped as he realized who they were, “You are candidates for the Royal Selection, are you not? It would be a dereliction of duty for me to leave you at a time like this!”

    “Don't worry, Mr. Knight,” Emilia stood and addressed the young man, “we can take care of ourselves,” then she pointed at the crystallized Regulus, “that's a dead sin archbishop, after all.”

 

    Deep inside the royal palace, a commotion had arisen. The dragon tablet had altered once again, and now read:

CANDIDATES SUBARU AND EMILIA HAVE DEFEATED THE SIN ARCHBISHOP OF GREED.

    “Astonishing,” Miklotov murmured to himself, having just heard of the Cult's attack, “but I don't know why I'm surprised.”

    “That does it.” One of the ministers next to him was waving his hands incredulously, “I say we move up the date for the end of the selection. Those two are so far ahead of the others that it's little more than a formality at this point.”

    Gazing back up at the tablet, Miklotov thought to himself.

    Perhaps, but we should wait to see how this day plays out.