Subaru tugged at his jacket collar nervously and tapped his foot against the foyer floor. His eyes wandered the large room, looking for anywhere dust might be hiding in a vain attempt to keep his mind from drifting elsewhere. A butler’s job was never done (at least when it suited him to be that way) and he wouldn’t let even a stray piece of dust go unfound. Emilia deserved only the best! Not to mention they currently had important guests.
Crusch, Anastasia, and Pelt, along with their faithful Knights and comrades, had decided to visit Camp Emilia now that they were finally settled into the new manor. The four candidates for the throne had spent most of the past two days talking and trying to get to know each other better, which forced Subaru to either spend time chatting with their knights or doing chores.
Subaru hadn’t done quite so many chores since his fourth mansion loop when he was trying to prove himself to everyone. He's taken to cleaning even the unused rooms, just so he'd have a credible excuse if need be.
If Rem was here, she'd have already told him to take a break. A painful twinge hit him at the thought of the blue-haired Oni sleeping peacefully upstairs, forgotten by everyone except for him. He ground his teeth and shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to get lost in those kinds of thoughts.
No, he had other things to worry about.
Earlier that afternoon, Reinhard had caught him while trimming the bushes. Usually, Subaru would have chatted for a moment before coming up with an excuse to leave the knight’s presence. After all, Reinhard was...well, Reinhard, while he was...well, Subaru.
The guy was as nice as they come but that just made being friends with him seem even more difficult. But, Subaru had used up most of his excuses dodging all three knights since they’d arrived and Reinhard had a very official look about him; like he was on a mission. Subaru knew he wasn’t getting out of the conversation.
Surprisingly, Reinhard just asked him if he’d like to accompany him to Costuul that evening for a night on the town. Reinhard apparently knew the city well (of course he did, he’s Reinhard) and how could Subaru turn down a tour of his new neighboring city from the Sword Saint himself?
That was what led him to now, standing awkwardly in the foyer just a few minutes before their meeting time of five in his crispest butler suit. Reinhard told him to wear his best and Subaru didn’t think his tracksuit counted as best anything, hence the return of the trusty butler threads. Beatrice and Ram hadn’t insulted him too terribly when he passed them in the hall, so he supposed he looked better than usual. Now if only Reinhard would show up.
Foot still tapping against the floor, Subaru tried not to think about what Reinhard might have planned. The Sword Saint seemed far too thrilled when he agreed to the outing for his own comfort, but, well, no reason to get too bent out of shape over it. At least he knew there was a good chance he wouldn’t die tonight. That was always a plus.
His mental chores list was interrupted by an overly excited shout of “Cap’n!”. Looking up, Subaru barely managed to avoid Garfiel pouncing on top of him from the banister above. The tiger boy stood, grinning widely.
“Nice one, Cap’n!” he said, clapping Subaru on the shoulder. Subaru gave him a grin and opened his mouth to respond but someone else beat him to it.
“The youth of today are so energetic,” Wilhelm chuckled as he descended the stairs. Otto trailed after him, sighing.
“Please don’t lump me in with him,” he complained, making the older man laugh. “What are you doing looking so nice, Subaru?” Otto continued, stopping a few feet away from him and smiling warmly.
“Looking nice, am I? Well, it just so happens that your’s truly is having a night out on the town with the Sword Saint himself. Cool, huh?” Subaru grinned and hoped his nerves wouldn’t show through his playful demeanor. His audiences’ eyes widened in enthusiastic surprise and he knew they hadn’t noticed.
After all, acting was basically a full-time profession of his nowadays.
“That sounds like fun! Hey, can we join? We’re going to Costuul too,” Garfiel asked, hopping lightly on his toes.
“We are going shopping at your sister’s request, so don't try and weasel out of it. Besides, it's rude to invite yourself on other people’s outings.” Otto scolded, though his words lacked any heat. Subaru’s brows furrowed. Why would Frederica ask Garfiel and Otto to go to town instead of him? The older maid’s wide smile as she bid him goodbye from his day’s chores came to mind.
“Stay out as long as you’d like and have fun!” she’d said. Subaru got the distinct impression that she and Petra would rather grill him for details on his outing than send him off for supplies tomorrow. Ah well, he’d cross that bridge when he got there. Plus it’s not like he was upset Garfiel and Otto were taking on such a chore. He just hoped the two of them could actually manage to get what they needed.
“I decided a nice trip would be good for me, so I agreed to accompany them this evening,” Wilhelm said, explaining away his presence. Subaru breathed a sigh of relief, something that was not missed by either of his two best friends. But before either of them could protest his lack of faith in them, a throat cleared, capturing all of their attention.
Reinhard stood at the foot of the stairs, flanked on either side by Julius and Felix. All three were dressed in their neatly pressed (thanks to Subaru’s and Ram’s efforts that morning) Knight uniforms, looking every bit as put together as their title demanded. Subaru’s teeth clenched and he took a deep breath to push down the more negative thoughts trying to whisper in his ear.
“What are nya doing here?” Felix asked, waving at the three unexpected additions to the foyer party.
“We are heading to the city for supplies. I take it all three of you are accompanying Subaru out tonight?” Wilhelm responded, nodding his head slightly in greeting. Wait...all three of them? But Reinhard talked like it’d only be the two of them. Subaru frowned, he didn’t like being tricked into things he didn’t fully agree to. It usually ended badly for him.
Then again, didn’t everything usually end badly for him?
Shaking himself, Subaru straightened and looked at the three Knights barely even hiding the fact that they were looking his way. Damnit, this is what he got for avoiding them the past few days when it’d been obvious they were trying to interact with him. Guess there were only so many times you could turn down training or chatting with Luginica Knights before they took matters into their own hands.
This was going to be fun, yeah, definitely. Reinhard was nice. Felix was cutesy. Julius was...Julius. He didn’t actually have anything against them. At least, not if he didn’t count the time Julius beat him half to death in an arena full of Knights. But, he liked to think they’d sort of moved past that one. After all, he’d forgiven others for brutally murdering him on several occasions. At least Julius had been swift when he killed him. He could, kind of, overlook the embarrassment due to Julius’s help against Petelguese.
“Really? Nya should ride with us then!” Felix said, breaking through Subaru’s trailing thought process.
“Huh?” He said, dumbly (like usual Ram’s voice offered).
“Seven is far too many for one carriage, Felix,” Julius frowned, finger tapping gently against the sword on his hip.
“We’d hate to get in your way-”
“Wilhelm and I can drive!” Garfiel said, overrunning Wilhelm’s words. Subaru sighed. This was going to be a long trip.
Sitting squished in the back of one of Roswell’s carriages between Julius and Reinhard was not at all part of Subaru’s plans for the night. The semi-awkward silence that had fallen over the five of them was on the docket but seeing as he thought he’d only be with Reinhard there were quite a few extra individuals. Across from him sat Otto and Felix, the latter of whom had occasionally tried to break the metaphorical ice with help from Reinhard.
They hadn’t been able to maintain any of the conversations though, leading to the silence they were now experiencing. Outside the cabin, Garfiel’s excited voice could be heard, though the exact words were lost in the wind.
For a moment, Subaru contemplated pulling one of the many knickknacks he kept in his pocket and doing a magic trick if only to break the awkwardness. But seeing as he shared the space with a magical prodigy and three scarily observant individuals, he quickly tossed that idea out the window.
Though, Otto might enjoy it.
He was weighing his options when the carriage slowed to a stop. The driver slat opened to reveal a serious-looking Garfiel.
“There might be trouble ahead, Cap’n. An unnatural fog is rolling in,” he warned, leaning back so Subaru could see the wall of fog creeping toward them. A sudden chill ran through him. The only thing he knew of that could create such a thing was the White Whale.
But they’d killed it for good! He knew they had, he was there. Even the greatest of the Mabeasts couldn’t come back from the dead. At least he sure hopped they couldn’t. A brief memory of a white rabbit sitting in a field flashed through his mind. He quickly squashed it down.
This was no time for him to panic.
He made for the door, but a hand on each shoulder pulled him back. Both Julius and Reinhard wore serious expressions as they pushed him back into their shared seat and hopped out of the carriage for themselves.
Like hell was he going to stay behind. It’s not like he wanted to die tonight, but he wasn't about to sit around uselessly. Hopefully, he could maintain his current deathless streak. But if this really was the White Whale resurrected, he’d come back to this battle well prepared next go around.
Garfiel jumped down next to him, his lips pulled back to reveal his fangs, feline eyes roving over the fast-approaching fog. Wilhelm remained standing in the driver’s seat, one hand gripping the reins, the other white-knuckled around his sword’s hilt. Both Otto and Felix opted to stay within the carriage, peering out the open door. The sound of two swords leaving their sheaths filled the air as Reinhard and Julius got into stances a few feet in front of him.
It was obvious they'd had the same thought as him about the origin of the fog.
For the first, but not last time during this venture, Subaru wished he’d leaned into his ego and added a weapon to his butler uniform for the cool factor.
Fog rolled in, void of any wind to explain its rapid speed. It floated in the air around them, a silently oppressive force that had all of them inching closer to the carriage. Subaru strained his ears, hoping he wouldn't hear the telltale moan.
"Alo," Julius said, summoning forth his green quasi-spirit. Wind swirled around the spirit before shooting out in a wide arc to dispel the fog around them.
The fog remained unchanged, shifting and swirling ever so gently for a force that moved so quickly. That wasn't right. An attack like that should have dispersed the fog around them.
Subaru took a step forward. Something cold and clammy grabbed his arm. He turned around. A hand reached out from the fog, its skin made of the same swirling grey mist. It used him to pull itself from the mist, a shapeless body falling against his shoulder.
"Subaru!" Felix yelled, drawing everyone's attention but Subaru couldn't move. He felt rooted to the spot. The beating of his heart echoed loudly in his ears, drowning out the other's calling his name.
Leaning further against him, the foggy figure rested what he assumed was its head against his own.
His heart seized and time stopped. The Witch of Envy emerged from the shadows around his heart, wrapping around the other side of him. The two formless figures sized each other up, Subaru frozen and powerless between them.
The foggy figure leaned closer.
"Begone from my domain, Witch," it whispered. Or did it shout? Subaru couldn't tell over his own screaming. White-hot pain seared through his skull, dropping him to the ground the instant time resumed.
Voice shouted over him, colors blurred past his eyes. It was all so hard to make out. Was he dying? No, no, no! He didn't want to die. Not now! He didn't know what the threat was. He didn't know what was happening. Why did it hurt? What had he done?
"Stay with me, Subaru," a high-pitched voice said above him. The pain shot through his body, setting his nerves aflame. Dark spots danced across his vision, blotting out the painfully flashing colors.
He knew what those meant, he'd seen them so many times before. The pain lessened as the spots grew larger. Hands shook him, but they were too late. Each beat of his rapid heart made the spots grow larger until finally, it was all he could see. The pain faded and with it, all his other senses.
So much for not dying this trip.
There was no ceiling. That was the first thing Subaru noticed.
Good, good good. He could work with no ceiling. As far as he remembered he'd never been anywhere with an expanse quite so empty above him.
That should mean his no-dying streak was still going strong. Small victories.
But it did beg the very important question of where was he? Subaru wracked his brains trying to remember what happened before he fell unconscious. He was heading to town with the others when a dog had rolled in. Some mystery person in the fog had challenged the Witch and then…
Subaru shuddered at the lingering memory of the blinding pain. Not the worst he'd ever felt, but definitely not pleasant. It was hard to tell just from the ceiling who might have taken him.
What about the others? Were they safe? Subaru tried to push himself up but his body didn't seem to want to respond. Biting his lip, Subaru pushed harder against whatever was keeping him down. He needed to check on his companions.
Subaru sat bolt upright, a small trail of blood leaking from the bite in his lip.
"Cap'n!" Garfiel yelled and all the effort Subaru put into sitting up went out the window as he was plowed over by a strong hug.
"Give him some space nyow," Felix came into view around Garfiel's wild hair, kneeling next to him as the tiger boy scrambled off.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly as he rocked back against Otto's legs. Subaru blinked and opened his eyes to see six concerned faces peering down at him.
Well, at least all his people were accounted for. That took care of that problem. Onto the next one!
"How are nyu feeling?" Felix asked, helping him sit up once again. Wilhelm offered a silent hand and he gratefully took it. It was a good question. He wanted to know the answer too. Especially because he felt…
"You say that very convincingly," Julius drawled, earning him an elbow in the arm from Reinhard.
"That's good! We were super worried about you," Felix ignored the two other knights, focusing solely on figuring out the validity of Subaru's assessment.
"Where are we?" Subaru asked, watching as those above him shifted nervously. Their hands curled over sword hilts that weren’t there. The usual warm feel of Felix’s mana healing him was replaced with the cat-boy’s prodding fingers.
"We were hoping you could tell us?" Reinhard said, stepping forward to help his grandfather pull Subaru to his feet. The two of them steadied him between them while Felix hovered over him.
"Huh?" Subaru looked between each of the six faces still staring uncomfortably at him.
"We all woke up only a few minutes ago without any magic or weapons," Otto started.
"And when mine's self started demanding to know who nabbed us a weird voice said ya would know where we are once ya woke up." Garfiel finished the explanation, much to the displeasure of Otto if his stern look was anything to go by.
A pit formed in Subaru's stomach. He didn't like the sound of that. Someone he cared about usually died when people started demanding unknown information from him.
Regaining his own footing, Subaru stepped away from the Astrea pair, smiling reassuringly when Reinhard's hands moved to follow him. Think, Subaru. Use your head to figure out this situation.
He looked around at the dark room. It was large, or maybe very small, it was hard to tell. An assortment of couches sat a few feet away, the same empty expanse as the ceiling looming behind it. To the other side of the group, directly in front of the couches, was a large dimmed screen-like wall. He didn’t recognize this place at all. Though if he had to guess it sort of looked like an in-home—
“Movie theater?” He murmured. It was his best guess, though he hadn’t seen one since he came to this world.
“What’s a movie theater?” Julius asked. Okay, so they definitely didn’t exist in Luginica.
“A place to watch the truth of what has been,” a strange, bodiless voice spoke. It was the same voice from the fog.
Subaru narrowed his eyes and looked around, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from. Felix and Otto pressed against his side, Garfiel coming to stand at his back. Reinhard, Wilhelm, and Julius stood protectively around them despite their lack of weapons.
“What is this truth you speak of?” Julius asked, looking toward the ceiling. A cold chill slithered down Subaru’s spine. He really didn’t like the sound of that.
“What has come to pass is not as it originally was. The one most forgotten is the one who remembers all. I brought you here to see his memories, so you may understand,” the voice’s words faded beneath the roaring of Subaru’s own blood. No, no, no. It sounded a hell of a lot like the voice was alluding to Return By Death. But there was no way he was about to let anyone here in on his secret.
The memory of Emilia’s blood running down his arms as he held her cold body flashed in his head.
No, no one could know. He wouldn’t let their deaths be on his hands. At least not this time around.
How was he supposed to get out of this though?
“Whas that supposed to mean?” Garfiel growled. The others looked just as suspicious.
“Are you trying to say there is something wrong with our memories?” Reinhard asked. He knew it was possible given Gluttony’s abilities but still, it didn’t seem right.
“No, though that doesn’t mean you remember every sacrifice made for you. I intended to bring more individuals to see what has been, but since Natsuki Subaru was my target, I only managed to bring those closest to him at the time.” Six pairs of eyes landed once again on Subaru. Cold seeped through his body until he could do nothing but stand there, frozen, as the reality of what the voice was saying sunk in.
“I have compiled a collection of Subaru’s memories for all of you to watch. It will be impossible to leave until you are done. As Subaru already knows everything that happens, he will be unable to answer any questions pertaining to future events shown on the screen,” the voice faded away, this time of its own accord. Subaru stood still, brain simultaneously racing and blank.
How could this happen? They couldn’t know. He didn’t want them to see all of his failures. How many times he’d messed everything up and led everyone to a bloody grave. They already knew how useless, how worthless he was. More importantly than even that though, didn’t the voice understand that they would die? The only warmth he could feel was where Emilia’s blood had once soaked in. His heart beat erratically on its own, waiting to be crushed.
He was scared. No, he was angry. How dare this voice kidnap them and then purposefully place his friends in danger.
“No,” he growled, eyes narrowing as he searched upward.
“It’s not a request. They will see every loop you’ve experienced,” the voice replied, only fueling his anger.
“You can’t show them those,” he spat back. A hand lightly touched his arm but he shrugged them off. Better to keep his distance now in case he pissed off the voice enough to do something to him. Dying wasn’t a great option, but he’d take it over watching them all die at the Witch of Envy’s hands.
“Subaru,” a stronger hand gripped his shoulder and forced his gaze down. Reinhard and Julius stood in front of him, the Sword Saint himself holding him tightly. They looked worried.
Subaru could just imagine how they would both look coughing up blood.
“I understand you want your privacy, but it's not as if we don’t already know of your failings,” Julius said in what he probably hoped was a comforting tone. The issue was that they didn’t know. They didn’t know anything. Julius thought his embarrassment at the capitol made his top ten list of failures and while it was up there, nothing was worse than letting everyone die over and over.
They’d see him for what he truly was, a weak, pathetic, fraud who didn’t deserve even a fraction of their time. And, once they realized that, they would die.
“Yeah Cap’n, I won’t judge you for anythin I see. I know how cool you are—”
“No, you don’t understand!” Subaru wrenched himself out of Reinhard’s grasp, taking a few steps away from the group. He needed space to breathe so he could figure out how to get them all out of this.
“Understand what?” Otto asked, brows furrowing as he looked at his panicking friend.
“We can swear to keep what we see a secret if you would like,” Wilhelm offered but Subaru just shook his head. That wouldn’t help anything. They’d still die.
“Nya don’t see what harm it could do?” Felix added, frowning at the state Subaru was in.
“What harm?” Subaru laughed darkly. Of course they didn’t; no one ever did. But he needed them to if they were going to have a shot at getting out of this alive. “What harm? You’ll die, that’s the harm.”
He looked up at the stunned faces of his companions, hoping to see a flash of understanding, a flash of anything that might help him.
Only confusion met him.
He wanted to cry.
“I have ensured that the shadows cannot reach here, Subaru. No harm can befall you while you are in my halls. This I swear,” the voice spoke. It did little to quell the fear.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Subaru, nearly all of us here are warriors. I doubt you’ve experienced anything we have not faced,” Julius said earning him a frown from Reinhard. That didn’t seem like the best thing to tell a panicking person even if it was true.
Subaru ground his teeth, barely refraining from biting his lip again. No one besides himself appeared to be concerned about what they might see. Why would they be? They didn’t understand. Sighing, Subaru turned and stalked toward one of the single-person seats near the end of the row.
Fine, it didn’t seem like there was any way to get out of this. The voice promised they wouldn’t all die so for now, he’d just have to take their word for it. As for his companion’s reactions to his loops...well, he was used to being alone wasn’t he? All this would do was confirm what he’d always known.
And if for some reason the voice was lying and everyone died? Then he’d say goodbye to his no-dying streak and start again.
The others were quiet as they moved to take their own seats. Otto and Garfiel took the two-seater to the left of Subaru, while Reinhard, Julius, and Felix took the largest couch in the center. Wilhelm took the remaining armchair on the other end of the line.
Subaru took a deep breath as the screen flickered to life.