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Arc 3: "Everybody’s looking for something"

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“Aaaaand with that, I think that’s my right arm about played out for today!” Subaru announced, stretching and turning her arm, partially to emphasize, mostly because it actually started to hurt, the injuries from a month ago still not having healed perfectly. It seemed there was a limit even to magic. Either that, or Beatrice, who was apparently the most talented healer at the mansion from what Subaru gathered, couldn’t be bothered to fix her to top condition.

Some of the children gathered about groaning a bit, disappointed that the show was already over, but their parents and some of the other villagers that gathered around for Subaru’s little impromptu concert gave her a few polite claps. She was certainly no rockstar, but when she’d come down here to play for the villagers some mornings, there would always be a small crowd gathering to listen to her. Naturally, this couldn’t happen every day, as Ram did take Subaru’s request for extra chores so many days ago seriously, but every now and again, she’d give Subaru a free morning, which Subaru endeavoured to spend visiting the village. A big part of that was of course to play music, but a just as large part was the silver-haired girl standing nearby with a white and purple cloak shrouding her face.

“Now now, I’ll be back in a few days.” Subaru shushed. “Besides, you’ve all got your own instruments now, don’t you?” she grinned.

Subaru was of course referring to the disks made of wood, cloth and metal that the kids soon raised up. On one of her earlier visits, she managed to convince Petra’s mother who had extensive sewing supplies, Altan, the village smith and the local carpenter that Rem got to replace her lyulyre’s shattered body to make a couple of one of the simplest, most child friendly ‘instruments’ Subaru knew of. So child friendly in fact Subaru was straining things a bit even calling them an instrument.

Grabbing hold of her lyulyre for just one more moment, Subaru played out a quick little melody.

Now listen to me play- play- play… ” she sang, then pointed to the kids who in unison began shaking their disks, doing their best to pronounce ‘ My Green Tambourine ’, while shaking theirs in hand. “That’s the spirit!” she said proudly as the jingle-jangle of the many little disks filled the air.

Some of the parents gave Subaru a slightly disapproving look, as apparently some of the younger kids took a little bit too much of a liking to their tambourines and would rattle them constantly. She just pulled her neck in a bit and returned a smile.

After saying her goodbyes to the villagers and complimenting the kids on the pretty sounds they could jingle, Subaru reunited with her shrouded companion and headed down the road leading out of the village and towards the nearby mansion where they made their residence.

“You seem to have made quite the impression on the villagers.” giggled the silver haired girl as they left even the sounds of the village behind themselves.

“Well, you only get so many musicians that sing in other languages that apparently people don’t even know exist so many times in a little village like this.” huffed Subaru jokingly. “I’m sure they'll forget about me the next time one of those shows up.”

“Oh? You think more people from your home are going to come this way?” the girl asked in a surprised tone, glancing out from under the cowl.

“Huh? No I mean—” Subaru said, shaking her head, pausing to ponder how valid of an assumption that would be for someone else for a moment. “Nah, nah, nah. I meant that as a joke.”

“I see.” the girl noted, and a bit of quiet fell on them.

Subaru took a long look at the cowled girl walking beside her. Emilia never came to the village without that cowl. Apparently, it was some sort of magic item that concealed one’s identity. Naturally, Subaru knew who was under the cowl, but she could walk into the village and for one arcane reason or another, no one would realize that it was the half-elf candidate that walked amongst them, though it wouldn’t render her invisible. Everyone could see she was there, they’d just be clueless as to who she was.

It was one of Subaru’s goals to get Emilia to shake this horrible habit. Having died and relived the first five days of her time at the mansion, Subaru experienced the villagers say things they never had, so she understood why the silver-haired half-elf’s concerns were not unfounded. Indeed, the villagers harbored fear and distrust towards her, thinking she’s either associated with, or would draw in the so called ‘witch cult’, that Subaru heard a great deal about but never met. Well, probably never met.

In her ‘first day’ which was more like three days in this world after being spirited away from back home on Earth, Natsuki Subaru encountered a talk, dark, sadistic woman called Elsa Granhiert, who’d recruited a street urchin called Felt to steal an important item from Emilia. Subaru never got the full picture, but she had suspected that this Granhiert might have wanted to lure Emilia into the poor part of town where there were no guards, so she may kill her as she had in at least one previous loop had done to Felt, her adoptive giant grandfather Rom, and Subaru herself.

That assumption was a bit big, as she never got a full villainous monologue from the woman to explain her motivations like in the stories, but given that only days later the village near the mansion where Emilia lived would be attacked by mabeasts— It was suspicious. From what Subaru was told, the mabeast situation was handled, but she had learned some people command mabeasts, and mabeasts were created by a being called Satella, commonly referred to as ‘The Witch of Envy’, who is connected to the Witch Cult itself somehow, and who, apparently, had an appearance that vaguely resemble Emilia, due to both of them being half-elves and having silver hair.

If these dots did connect, if the mabeasts and Granhiert were both somehow connected to the Witch Cult behind the scenes, then given how close the village came to losing their children— She couldn’t whole heartedly hate anyone for being worried about Emilia’s presence. Maybe if Subaru didn’t have that power which she once called ‘Return by Death’, the power that allowed her to go Back in Time , maybe she’d be a little afraid too. Though, actually, not. She’d be dead in the capital, and she would never have gotten to know her.

While she couldn’t whole heartedly hate the villagers for their distrust towards Emilia, she couldn’t accept it either. The girl saved her life in the capital. She showed Subaru nothing but kindness and consideration unconditionally. She took her here to thank her for helping retrieve the stolen item, even though Subaru’s initial motivation was to just use the silver sorceress as a shield against Granhiert so she could instead focus on saving Felt. Emilia was, simply put, one of if not the most wonderful, pure hearted people Subaru has ever met. No, more than that, the most wonderful, pure hearted person she even heard of. Even after ignorantly Subaru insulted her as harshly as it was possible in this world back in the capital, Emilia forgave her, and looked at her as one would a friend.

Subaru had long since promised herself that one way or another, she was going to make sure that the girl who so deserved the love of those around her wouldn’t waste away locked in her room studying in the hope of people accepting her in some unseen tomorrow.

“One of these days, you should come into the village without your cowl.” Subaru suggested, looking at the girl besides her.

“Huh?” Emilia looked up with a little yelp in her surprised voice. “Subaru. You know I cannot do that.”

“Yeah, yeah, because you think they don’t like you.” Subaru said, waving a hand. “Look Emilia-chan, I’m not going to lie and tell you they aren’t scared, but they have no reason to be! The sooner you show them that, the sooner you can laugh together!” she added with scolding, furrowed brows.

“Subaru, I do not expect you to understand, given that you never knew about the Witch, but it is simply for the best.” Emilia pouted, turning her head away.

“There’s nothing good about you hiding away from people!” Subaru exclaimed. “There’s also nothing good about you rolling over and letting the world stomp all over you!”

“I’m— I’m not doing that!” Emilia protested, looking back. “I’m a candidate!”

“I know.” Subaru sighed. “But how are you planning on winning and ruling over people when you can’t even go to a little village like that without hiding?”

Emilia didn’t answer aside from a sad little voice escaping her lips as she raised her hands up and grabbed the top of her cowl, pulling it down.

“I am doing this for them.” Emilia said quietly. “If they saw me, they would only be scared, and they could not enjoy—” she trailed off and never finished the end.

‘Good job, Subaru.’ Subaru thought to herself. She never really got too confrontational about Emilia’s shyness. There was a long time when Subaru herself wanted nothing more than to disappear too. It was clear from experience that being pushy wasn’t going to fix that.

“Look, I’m sorry.” Subaru sighed. “I don’t mean to force you, but I don’t want you to be so alone. It’s not—” Subaru bit off the words. “It’s not a good way to be.”

Emilia didn’t answer right away, just fiddled with her cowl for a solid minute before finally letting go of it and speaking up.

“I know you are just trying to be kind, Subaru, but please do not say these things again.” she said. “I wish I could make friends as easily as you, but I cannot. Not until I have changed people’s mind about who I am.”

Subaru sighed at the self contradictory statement, as well as the woefully ill informed notion that Subaru of all people was good at making friends. Doubtless, if she knew how many times Subaru had to relive the same few days to get here, or how useless she was under this happy-go-lucky facade, how she wasted away back home, Emilia wouldn’t have such an unfittingly high expectation of her. Still, Subaru couldn’t bear to correct her. As selfish as it was, she couldn’t stand the idea that Emilia, or really, anyone would know the real Natsuki Subaru. The Natsuki Subaru that broke her parents’ hearts day after the day. The Natsuki Subaru who couldn’t take a single step forward without someone’s help. The Natsuki Subaru who didn’t even have the strength to live if she couldn’t convince herself that there are better days ahead if she tries. The Natsuki Subaru that allowed people to be hurt, even die before, just because she couldn’t properly use the only truly exceptional ability she had.

“Emilia-chan.” Subaru spoke quietly, looking ahead. “Would it be okay if I invited one of the kids to the mansion one of these days?”

“I do not understand the question.” Emilia answered after a bit of a pause, honesty and confusion in her voice.

“You remember the orange haired girl with the red ribbon?”

“Oh, uh.” pondered Emilia. “You called her Petra-chan before, right?”

“You remembered her name!” Subaru exclaimed with a smile. “Yeah! I’ve— Petra’s a really, really good girl. I thought, maybe, if you don’t want to deal with the whole village, maybe you could start small. I’m sure you two would get along.”

“Subaru…” started Emilia poutingly. “I just asked you not to bring that up again.”

“I know, but I promise you’d like her!” Subaru answered, looking at the girl desperately. “I won’t bug you about the village again, I just want you to give her a chance! I want you to see that there are good people out there, if you just give them a chance.”

Emilia went quiet again, frowning under her cowl, but then eventually, suddenly beginning to giggle.

“Subaru really is pretty stupid.” Emilia said, taking off her cowl and smiling at Subaru, who could do nothing but let out a long questioning ‘Huh?’ before the girl continued. “Of course I know that already.” Emilia added with a smile.

 

                                           

 

“Something seems off with the entrance.” Subaru noted, squinting up at the elevated terrace before the main gate of the mansion as Ram let her and Emilia back in through the gate.

“Barusu’s abilities of observance are truly astonishing. One day she may even be able to tell apart spoons and forks.” Ram noted.

Not your A-game .” Subaru huffed with a sly smile.

“The polite and courtly Ram certainly hopes what Subaru just said wasn’t anything naughty.”

“Forget about it.” Subaru said, waving it off. “What’s going on? What’s the big brown thing?”

“I think that’s a dragon carriage.” Emilia noted, making Subaru’s brows perk up at the odd term.

“Indeed it is so, Emilia-sama.” Ram nodded, beginning to head that way. “It came from House Karsten.”

“Ah, then that must mean—” Emilia began, then shot a look at Subaru and stopped.

“What?” Subaru asked, furrowing her brows. “Am I supposed to know this Karsten place?”

“Barusu…” Ram sighed, shaking her head.

“Do not worry about it, Subaru. It has to do with the royal selection.” Emilia explained with an awkward look.

“Oh, so it’s like some sort of royal troubadour? Come toot one of those comically long horns and read some ridiculously formal decree by the regent, or whatever you have right now?”

“Regency council.” Ram corrected with a cold mumble.

“Well, not exactly.” Emilia answered Subaru, covering her mouth, clearly flustered about something.

“Emilia-sama is trying to convey that this is important and private business that concerns no one but her, Felt-sama and Roswaal-sama.” Ram noted authoritatively. “Only they, the envoy, and my sister will be present, to attend to them.”

“It hurts that you think I can’t behave.” Subaru sighed dramatically.

“Is Barusu perhaps not trying to figure out a way to weasel herself into the meeting?” Ram asked giving Subaru a knowing glare out of the corner of her eye.

“Of course not!” Subaru declared, holding her head up proudly before turning to Emilia. “However, on a completely unrelated note, this ‘envoy’ sounds important and noble and all that stuff, so I’m sure they’re used to the finest accommodations, correct?”

“I suppose that is correct, Subaru.” Emilia answered, an index finger on her lower lip.

“Emilia-sama…” Ram said, likely already anticipating the trap Subaru would attempt to spring.

“Weeeeell, holding a meeting with someone as posh and of such high standing without gentle musical accompaniment when it’s available—” Subaru trailed, strumming a few strings on her lyulyre.

“Subaru, no.” Emilia pouted. “This is a very important meeting.”

“Is Emilia-chan certain—?”

“Yes.” Emilia interrupted.

“What if I had the villagers make you a tambourine if you let me come?”

“Subaru!”

“Fine, fine!” Subaru sighed finally, before continuing in a somewhat more serious tone. “You’ll be alright with them?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t—?” Emilia began, but then looked away as if listening to something, then with a look of realization grabbed the cloak on her back. “No, you shouldn’t worry about that Subaru.” she said with a small smile. “I don’t know them that well, but we met before.”

“Alright, but if they say anything rude, let me know.” Subaru nodded. “I promise that I’ll limit the political incident to national.”

“You worry me when you say things like that.” Emilia frowned.

 

Reaching the incline of the terrace overlooking the gardens, where before the main entrance the ‘dragon carriage’ was parked, Subaru’s heart raced with excitement when she recognized, at least sort of, the massive bipedal form standing in front of it, bridled attached to the front of the carriage.

“That’s what they call a land dragon, right?” Subaru thought aloud, walking towards the giant beast.

The black scaly being standing in front of the carriage did call to mind drakes from western fantasy stories, perhaps best resembling non-feathered images of velociraptors, the main divergence from them being beaklike face, incredible height, towering above Subaru enough that she’d need to reach up to get a hold of its back, let alone the head rising further above, the odd feet which seemed slender and agile enough to grab onto things, and the pair of intelligent, yellow, cat-like eyes that followed the three women coming up the incline towards it.

Subaru had some chance to learn about these things browsing books while trying to learn hamoji, though all she really picked up in a few glances was their name, and that apparently they’re strong and reliable enough to make horses seem irrelevant by comparison.

“Ah, I get it!” Subaru exclaimed. “Dragon, carriage. Dragon carriage.” she nodded in understanding.

“Subaru?” Emilia asked in surprise. “Didn’t— Is dragon carriage another archaic term?”

“Barusu is just being foolish as always, Emilia-sama.” Ram noted. “Dragon carriage is a correct term.”

“Right, right.” Subaru nodded as they reached the top of the incline and came within steps of the creature, which continued to calmly observe them. Or rather, Subaru. “I have a feeling it’s looking at me. Is my face weird even to animals?” she asked dejectedly. People have noted that she had an odd appearance in the past, and the kids in the village have mentioned this as well a few times.

“I think it likes Subaru.” Emilia giggled.

“Perhaps the land dragon believes Barusu to be its sick young. Could it be that Barusu found her family?” Ram teased.

Before Subaru could retort, the land dragon turned its head towards Ram and clicked its mouth at her. It didn’t look like an attack or even a threat, it was more like the land dragon was expressing offense taken with annoyance.

“I beg her pardon.” a dignified, masculine voice called out, before a tall, finely dressed gentleman with white hair and a well trimmed beard stepped forward and next to the creature from the carriage. “As a diana breed land dragon, she is liable to take offense at jokes at her expense.” he explained, before bowing courtly, one hand held before his torso. “I apologize for blocking your ladyship’s path.”

Every part of the man said only two words: ‘gentleman’ and ‘servant’. His modest yet clearly high quality black suit even finer than the one Subaru wore, his stance, voice and just the way he carried himself, they all oozed the silent pride of the quintessential butler.

“Don’t be silly.” Emilia said with a pout. “You can see full well that there is plenty of room to walk.”

“As you say, Emilia-sama.” the man said before raising himself up. “I do not wish to take up any undue time, so let me just say it is a pleasure to find the residents of the mansion in good health.”

Ram bowed slightly to the older gentleman before holding out a hand and turning to Emilia. “If Emilia-sama would.”

“Of course.” Emilia nodded, but then paused and turned back to Subaru. “Subaru, as I said, this meeting is private so—”

“I got it, I got it.” Subaru sighed, holding up her arms. “You take care of the big important business, Emilia-chan.”

Emilia smiled at her and headed to the main entrance with Ram. Subaru considered sneakily heading after them and listening at the door, but there was no way Ram wouldn’t catch her doing that, so she gave up on it at the concept stage, and just remained with them, standing next to the land dragon, watching them disappear through the door. Then, she felt something fiddling with her hair.

“Hey, hey, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked, a bit startled, turning to the giant land dragon who was poking at her tied up hair with its nose. Beak? Whichever was appropriate.

The land dragon retracted her nose and looked into Subaru’s eyes, before making a little noise with her mouth like she was saying something, though of course Subaru had no clue what it was.

“I’m really not a baby land dragon.” Subaru probed mockingly, to which the land dragon narrowed its eyes and gently bonked the top of Subaru’s head with its beak.

The man stepped closer, and pulled on the land dragon’s bridle a bit, firmly, but clearly not strong enough to hurt the creature.

“I hope she hadn’t hurt the young landy.” the man said, looking at Subaru, before giving a stern look to the land dragon by his side.

“No, no.” Subaru answered with a smile, rubbing her hair where the land dragon ruffled it up. “I think she was just playing.” she added, understandingly. It was almost like the land dragon understood what she said, though that seemed unlikely. It’s more probable that it picked up on something simpler, like the mocking tone from Ram and her both. Or maybe they used a word it didn’t like the sound of?

“I’m glad to hear that the young lady is so understanding.” the man responded, putting his free hand on his chest, and bowing his head. “I do believe the young Emilia-sama was correct. Like most of her kind, she rarely shows affection to people, especially strangers, however she seems to have taken a liking here.”

“That’s actually really neat to hear!” Subaru said, feeling that excitement bubble back up. “Would it be okay if I pet her?” she asked, gesturing with her hand.

The man didn’t answer, just looked at the land dragon who stared at Subaru for a moment then lowered its head enough that she could reach and touch her beak. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Subaru did just that, and pet her down the front of her head, feeling the tough scales.

“I never thought I’d get to do something like this.” Subaru mumbled absentmindedly.

“If I may ask, how so?” came from the old gentleman.

“Oh, right.” Subaru noted, realizing that land dragons were likely known everywhere. “They weren’t used where I come from, and I didn't think I’d even travel away from there.” Subaru said, stretching the truth as thin as she could. “Although honestly, this is kind of amazing.”

Regardless of the fact that everyone she knew at the mansion except Felt and Rom could use magic, that there were magic powered time crystals in every other room and that only a month ago she had to fight magical curse giving wolves with unicorn horns and glowing eyes— In spite of all that, there was something about the simple life here at the mansion that lulled her into a comfort where she almost forgot just how fantastical and magical this new world was. Without all the bizarre ‘demi-humans’ in the capital, the sight of other land dragons pulling carriages up and down the city streets and so on, it started to feel like she was home, every strange and magical thing just being a minor quirk of the mansion around her.

However, with such a giant, majestic creature before her, letting her touch its scales with patience, she felt once more like she did on her very first day, like she just dropped into a storybook.

“She seems so smart.” Subaru commented, continuing to caress the land dragon’s head.

“Indeed, she is an exceptional creature.” the man nodded with a content smile, as the land dragon pulled its head back and looked in Subaru’s eyes, before lifting its head and patting her head again, to which the man narrowed his eyes a bit and sternly called: “Hey now.”

“I don't mind.” Subaru laughed, reaching up and petting the land dragon’s beak as it rubbed her head.

“Perhaps Subaru-san has a talent for dealing with animals.” the man suggested.

“Ah, I wouldn’t say that.” Subaru smiled. “Last time—” she bit off the next sentence with realization. “Did you call me ‘Subaru-san’?”

“Hm? Oh, of course, my apologies.” the man bowed his head once more. “Wilhelm Trias, at the young lady’s service. She wouldn’t remember, but we have made brief acquaintances while she was unconscious due to her injury in the capital.”

“Really?” Subaru said pondering. She didn’t recall anyone telling her about the old man. “How so?”

“I do not wish to take any credit for the young lady’s recovery, if that’s what Subaru-san had thought.” Wilhelm declared. “I was simply the one driving the carriage when she was transported to this mansion, after Ferris-sama took care of her injury.” he explained, then raising a hand to his chin and looking up at the land dragon ponderously. “If memory serves, I believe it might have been her that drew that carriage as well. Perhaps she remembered the young lady and was happy to see her well.”

Subaru looked up at the land dragon who looked back down on her with her intelligent eyes, making another of those strange little dragon noises.

“Well, it’s nice to see you too.” Subaru said, smiling at the land dragon, before realizing herself and turning back to the old man and bowing slightly. “And of course, I’m grateful for the help!” she added, as was probably proper.

“The young lady embarrasses this old man.” Wilhelm said with a kind smile. “I had done nothing but my duty.”

“Still, thank you.” Subaru said, smiling back after straightening herself out.

There was a time when she wished to curse the name of every person that contributed to her presence at the mansion, however those were dark days, and they were gone now. As things stood, she was happy being able to be here, and if even a small part, this man contributed to that happiness.

“Wait, actually.” Subaru said, snapping her fingers. “If you drew that carriage too, then you must know that knight, Reinhard, right?”

Inexplicably, the old man stiffened, and his smile soured.

“I do not serve that man, no, if that is what the young lady is asking.” Wilhelm said in a measured, polite tone. The only thing that betrayed his displeasure was how quickly his smile disappeared a moment ago. “Given the history, perhaps I may note that I’m here on behalf of Ferris-sama.”

“Oh, I just thought they must be close, since both of them signed a letter left for me.” Subaru explained.

“That man and Ferris-sama are both members of the Royal Guard.” Wilhelm answered simply.

“Ah, I see.” Subaru nodded.

She wanted to ask about the Royal Guard, since she felt it probably is something a bit more specific than just the army, as if someone told her that two people knew each other because they both happened to be in the JSDF, that would have seemed like a big coincidence without further details. Still, looking at Wilhelm’s piercing gaze, she opted against it.

“If I may be so bold, is the young lady well?” Wilhelm spoke, changing the subject.

“About as well as I could be, I guess?” Subaru answered with uncertainty.

“Excuse my forwardness, it is simply that I do not recall having seen those scars on the young lady’s hands before.” Wilhelm noted.

“Oh, these.” Subaru held up her right hand. Indeed, the bite scars there, especially the one she made by pulling the pup off her hand were pretty noticeable if one looked directly at it. “You’re pretty attentive, Wilhelm-san.” she complimented.

“It is but experienced eyes.” the old man nodded with a slight smile. “I’ve also noted that the young lady is rather careful with her right arm’s movements, though I wasn’t certain if that is due to injury or because of the instrument on her back.”

“Wow.” Subaru nodded, patting her right shoulder which got dislocated during the scuffle with the mabeasts. “I take it back, you’re something beyond attentive.” she said with a smile. “I bet I could take Wilhelm-san into any shop, and you could tell me exactly what is fake and what is genuine. Can you see my HP bar ?”

“I’m afraid I am not informed on that term.” Wilhelm answered.

“Nevermind.” Subaru waved. “But yeah, I got into a bit of trouble a few days after getting here.”

“If the young lady doesn’t mind, that seems like a modest way of putting it.” Wilhelm noted.

“Nah.” Subaru blushed. “I mostly just stumbled into it. Everyone else—” she stopped suddenly. “Actually, do you know what happened? The way you called it modest—?”

“Forgive me, I had only inferred from the young lady’s body language and the way that young maid spoke of her when we first arrived.” Wilhelm nodded with a smile. “When Ferris-sama asked of Subaru-san’s health, the young maid was quite jubilant.”

“Ever thought about getting a hat, a pipe and starting a detective agency?” Subaru teased, to which the old man just smiled in place of a response. “Actually, could you help me ‘infer’ something?”

“It depends on the question.” Wilhelm answered noncommittally.

“Weeeell, you know what they say about the good servants overhearing everything…”

“I’m quite certain I do not know what ‘they’ in fact appear to say.” Wilhelm answered, closing one eye and examining Subaru carefully with the other.

“Aw, come on, couldn’t you tell me what’s so special about this meeting?”

Wilhelm continued looking Subaru up and down before closing the second eye as well and sighing.

“I’m afraid it is not my place to reveal such things, were I even to know them.” Wilhelm declared with finality.

“Why? I already know it has something to do with the royal selection, and that apparently this Ferris-sama is involved!”

“Then it should be a simple matter to find comfort in that knowledge.” Wilhelm declared, before raising a hand, the other behind his back. “The young maid had also revealed that Subaru-san had taken on duties at this manor, so as her senior, perhaps she’ll accept a small piece of advice, that is certain to save her great trouble in the future if followed.”

“Uh, sure. What is it?” Subaru asked.

“When the person they serve is one they honour and hold in high regard, avoid questioning the way in which they choose to conduct themselves and their business.” he answered. “Emilia-sama seemed quite adamant that they wished to keep the meeting private. If the young lady hopes to become a good servant, the first step would be to accept her desires.”

“Alright, I get it.” Subaru sighed, unconvinced. “I was really hoping you might have more fun about this than Emilia-chan.”

The old man furrowed his brows slightly and looked at Subaru.

“Also, I’d be remiss not to note the casual way in which the young lady refers to Emilia-sama.” he noted, not exactly sternly, however there was definitely some disapproval in there.

“You mean ‘-chan’? She doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Perhaps, however, Subaru-san should be careful developing such friendly relations with her.” as Wilhelm spoke these words, Subaru’s brows twitched.

“And why is that?” Subaru spoke coldly, the villagers’ never spoken words echoing in her ear, calling Emilia a dangerous monster.

“Emilia-sama is a candidate. It’s unlikely that such an attachment could survive her path to the throne, especially should she become queen.”

“Oh.” Subaru noted, the dark clouds thinning in her mind. “I thought—”

Subaru closed her eyes and looked down. She needed to stop assuming the worst of people.

“I know what you mean.” Subaru spoke, looking up with a smile. “And I appreciate the concern, but I hope she’ll always keep her favourite court bard by her side, as well as Felt-chama.” she added.

Really, even though Felt planned to resign from her candidacy, Subaru hoped she’d stay at the mansion. In her heart she still wanted to be by Felt’s side, always, however, to give up on her friends at the mansion, and her unspoken promise to help Emilia make friends— At the very least, she couldn’t leave here until she made sure she won’t be leaving Emilia alone. In truth, it was part of why she got so pushy about Emilia making friends with the villagers, and why she wanted to make sure to introduce Emilia to Petra.

Subaru had no idea what she would do once or if Felt decided to leave.

“But to be honest, I don’t think I can be her friend forever either.” Subaru said, quieter. “I’d like to be, but I wish I could make her open up to others, just in case, even if she gets a little mad because I keep telling her that.”

Wilhelm continued to examine her for a short while before responding. “Why would the young lady go to such lengths for someone of such different standing they have known for such a short time?” he asked.

Subaru looked down and fiddled with her hands. “She’s so incredibly kind and gentle.” she said. “Even if I end up being only trouble, I want to make sure she can be happy, and not just if she pursues some stupid title she doesn’t seem to even want for the sake of having it. Is that strange to want for someone wonderful?”

The old man’s eyes widened for a moment, then he looked down with a strange, small smile, somehow more genuine than any he had until now, before returning his gaze to Subaru, his features once again measured and simple.

“Indeed.” he said. “Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking I needed to lecture the young lady, though I hope she takes my advice regardless.”

“Old man Wiiiil!” a confident androgynous voice called out from the manor’s main entrance.

Turning there, Subaru saw Rem holding a briefcase in one hand and walking beside a short, brown haired man in a fancy black suit with bright vertical stripes turning down, and a long necktie, bizarrely looking like he somehow stepped out of an american gangster movie. Well, almost. Subaru was rather certain that no american gangster movie had a star with large fluffy cat ears on their head, or a sleek tail  dancing behind them.

“Making friends on duty?!” the man said sternly, walking forward than laughing up. There was a strange accent to his voice.

“Ferris-sama, I was merely making conversation with a young lady of similar standing.” Wilhelm answered, turning wholly to his superior, and putting a hand before his chest.

“Felix! Felix!” the man said annoyedly, shaking his head. “And what a lovely young thing it is you decided to chat with.” he noted as he and Rem got to the dragon carriage, turning to Subaru. “You probably don’t recognize me, but it’s enychanting to make your re-acquaintance.” Felix said, stepping to Subaru and performing a courtly bow, holding out a hand expectantly. “May I properly greet Subaru-nyan’s left hand?”

At ‘Subaru-nyan’ she could finally piece together that the catman was slurring most of her m and n sounds to differing degrees into slight meows.

More important than that, Subaru’s face was burning. It wasn’t often that a handsome man would bow down before her and ask for her hand in this strange, courtly manner. Was she supposed to say yes? Was she supposed to say no, since she’s technically a commoner and he’s some sort of knight, so probably a noble? And there was just something about the confident way he carried himself in, like he owned the manor that drove something up Subaru’s back.

Lost in the uncertainty of expectations, finally Subaru muttered ‘Sure.’ and held out her left hand, which Felix took in hand, lifted up slightly with a careful look, examining it, then shot a mischievous smile up at Subaru before bowing deeper and kissing the back of the hand.

Subaru suspected this was what giving her hand meant, but it still made her face turn hotter. When Felix then didn’t stop, but suddenly began kissing her entire arm, making his way up to her shoulder along the arm of her suit jacket, Subaru could hear her own heartbeat.

“W-what was that?!” Subaru muttered, pulling her arm free and stepping back before the catman could reach her neck. She held her hand to her chest guardingly and turned sideways. In a moment, she felt Rem step to her and grab her arms, standing so she’s partially between Subaru and Felix.

“Think nyothing of it!” Felix winked. “I just did a quick examination, to see if the mana flow remained unobstructed since I put the arm back.” he added, holding his hands up by his shoulders. “There was a little imbalance, but nothing too bad.”

“Ye-yeah, well—” Subaru stuttered looking for the words. “There will be an imbalance if— if you do that again!” she said, sounding more embarrassed than threatening.

“Haha!” Felix laughed. “Very energetic, I like you.” he said, with a sort of half wink oozing the sort of testosterone filled confidence that no man gave her before, on account of Subaru having been taller than most boys she knew. As a matter of fact, she was probably taller than this guy too, though only by a centimeter or two.

“Is Subaru-kun alright?” Rem asked concerned, looking up at Subaru whose face was still burning.

“Y-yeah! Of course!” Subaru said, realizing she was probably looking very uncool getting flustered by something like this, straightening herself out. “Just caught me a bit off guard.”

“Are you ready to go old man?” Felix asked, turning to Wilhelm who sat through that engagement with quiet patience and close eyes.

“Naturally, Ferris-sama.”

“Felix!” the man huffed. “Well, it’s been lovely seeing you.” he added, turning to Subaru. “However, with my businyess done, we have to hurry back to Crusch-sama. Wil?”

“This way, Ferris-sama.” Wilhelm bowed, opening the door of the carriage and gesturing politely with one hand.

“Subaru-kun.” Rem spoke, looking up at Subaru, dusting off her suit. “Rem wished to say goodbye properly, however she has to go as to not delay Ferris-sama.”

“Wait, what?” Subaru asked, snapping out of her stupor. “What are you talking about Rem?”

“For the sake of transporting Rom-san, Roswaal-sama will require a bigger carriage than the ones she has access to, and it’s unlikely Rem could acquire one on short notice in Costuul, so Crusch-sama, Ferris-sama’s patroness will lend one for us. Rem will return with it in a few days after arranging loding in the capital for Felt-sama and Emilia-sama.”

“Wait, you’re going with that jerk?!” Subaru asked, grabbing the shoulders of the short maid before her to which Rem blushed.

“Rem is happy that Subaru-kun is concerned, but there is no need.” Rem said quietly with a smile, looking down. “This is simply what must be.”

“But—” Subaru bit down on the words then sighed. It’s not like anyone would dare do something to one the foremost wizard’s beloved servants, right? “Hey!” she called, walking to the carriage with Rem, and looking up at Felix through the window of the highly elevated seating area. “Remember that if you even think about touching Rem, she can punch you straight through the floor of this rickety thing!”

The carriage was in fact extremely expensive and fancy looking, but Subaru wasn’t in the mood to pay proper respects right now.

Felix smiled down through the window then laughed, while Subaru felt Rem’s hand grasp her arm.

“I hope to see Subaru-kun well and very soon!” Rem said with a smile, holding the briefcase in her hands close to her chest as she stepped to the carriage's entrance.

“You’ll be safe, right?” Subaru asked.

“Of course.” Rem nodded.

“Alright.” Subaru sighed, giving a quick glare to the touchy knight, before returning her eyes to Rem. “I’ll try and make sure we don’t burn down the mansion while you’re away, but with Ram and my cooking, I can’t promise anything.”

Rem’s smile grew bigger and she just bowed her head before climbing up the short steps into the carriage.

Wilhelm giving a court farewell climbed up to his seat at the front of the carriage and grabbed the reins of the land dragon and had her slowly draw the carriage down the incline.

While Subaru looked after the carriage making its way slowly down from the terrace, she crossed her fingers that the standards of nobility in this world aren't the kind of weirdos and pests that the guy exemplified, for Rem’s sake if nothing else.

“What is Barusu standing around for?” she heard suddenly, breaking her line of thoughts. “Had she forgotten she isn’t off lunch duty today? Get to the kitchen.” Ram ordered, walking past Subaru with the large gate key in her hand.

“Right. Right.” Subaru nodded. “I’ll get right on that.”

With a heavy sigh, still not sure what to feel about the encounter a moment ago, Subaru turned around and headed inside.