Chapter 10

"The People of Shudrak"

Subaru gulped quietly as he was greeted with an arrogant and overbearing smile, one that was directed at him through a mask.

This arrogant man must have been the one who showed Subaru the way and gave him that knife when he got separated from Rem in the grasslands. It was hard to be sure because of his mask, but his voice and attitude were familiar. The fact that he knew Subaru's name was also proof of this.

Subaru: [...]

Lying in a wooden cage on the bare ground, Subaru was in a state of total disarray, not just his limbs, but his entire body, and his fate seemed to continue uninterrupted. He entered the forest with Todd and the other Imperial soldiers in tow, used his miasma as bait to attract the demon beast, and tried to escape by taking advantage of the opportunity by having it attack him.

Subaru: [And then I was .......]

Masked Man: [If you're asking me, I heard that you were caught in a trap while wandering in the forest. The people in the village were making a fuss about a man being caught in a trap made for catching beasts.]

Subaru: [In a trap, a settlement ......?]

As the masked man explained, Subaru shook his aching head and turned his attention outside the cage. The wooden cage that Subaru was trapped in was a much more shoddily constructed substitute than the steel one he had seen at the Imperial Army camp. It seemed to be a simple one, or rather, a rush job.

Outside the cage, he could see countless groups of tall trees, and the land that had been carved out of them - Subaru's impression was that it was similar to the village in the "Sanctuary". "Sanctuary" was also a settlement built in a deep forest called the Kremaldy Forest. However, unlike “Sanctuary”, which had houses and churches even in the middle of the forest, this village was full of log cabins at best, and primitive housing at worst. It seemed that it would be better to just call it naturalism and leave it at that.

What was more important to Subaru was not the poor state of the village, but who was living there. In other words...

Subaru: [..."The People of Shudrak"?]

Masked Man: [Oh, you knew that. Well, judging from your unseemly appearance, I'd say you've had quite a rough day. Did you find the stray girl?]

Subaru: [...... Yeah, thanks to you.]

Subaru exhaled deeply at the masked man who overheard Subaru's muttering and asked him that. The masked man's demeanor remained relaxed, but he was also in a cage, just like Subaru. Unless he was an important person in this village and had the peculiar hobby of relaxing in a cage with his captors, his position should be the same as Subaru's. Subaru was now a prisoner here as well, after having just escaped being one in the Imperial camp. However, there was more to it than that.

Subaru: [Did they treat the wound on my shoulder and back?]

He could tell that the bleeding had stopped from the sensation of tightening as he touched his shoulders and back. The pungent smell that hit his nose was similar to that of antiseptic solution.,To Subaru's question, the masked man sniffed.

Masked Man: [Mhm. Without medical attention, you could have died. I'm sure they were troubled by your condition as well. Just like me, they were probably trying to figure out what the right thing to do was, right? ]

Subaru: [Where the hell is that calmness coming from??.....]

Masked Man: [If I must say, it's from the soul. And you, how long are you going to keep up that shameful behavior for? Natsuki Subaru.]

Subaru: [That’s none of your busine....]

Subaru was about to retort that it was none of his business, when the pain of the wound made him grind his teeth. At the very least, the treatment was intended to keep Subaru from dying, not to rapidly close the wound or remove the pain. These circumstances were worse than what he had received at the Imperial camp. While thinking about the Imperial camp, Subaru realized.

There was a reason why he had to return to that Imperial camp as soon as possible.

Subaru: [Oh shit...... How long has it been since I was brought here!?]

Masked Man: [.... Well, two hours, I guess. I gotta say, that’s enough kindness from me for today. I even thought that I should’ve woken you up earlier.]

Subaru: [Why didn't you wake me up earlier?!]

Masked Man: [...]

The masked man narrowed his eyes at Subaru as he complained, his knees trembling on the ground. From his point of view, it was a ridiculous accusation. Subaru had been brought into the cage covered in wounds and had let him sleep for two hours, probably because he had decided that he needed to rest. If the reason he stepped on Subaru's head afterwards was because he couldn't stand it any longer, it could be said that he was also a Vollachian man. But then...

Subaru: [You should have run out of patience earlier!]

Masked Man: [That is certainly a strange thing to say. Do you even know what you're talking about? You're saying that I should have stepped on your head sooner, that's what you're saying.]

Subaru: [Yeah, that's right! What other ...... things do you have to ...... do?]

Subaru's vision flickered red as he rambled on with his unreasonable logic. He was in pain all over his body, but what was particularly painful was the new stab wound on his back, around his shoulder blade, the last blow from Todd's knife aimed at the fleeing Subaru. When he thought back, the knife that stabbed him was given to him by the masked man in front of him, and it's quite a fate that he met him again with the wound inflicted by it. Anyway...

Subaru: [I left Rem at the Imperial camp......, and I need to get back there before the Imperial soldiers who clashed with a demon beast in the forest........]

There wasn't much time left before Todd and the others would make their way through the forest and back to their positions to report in. When the snake shattered their formation, Jamal and the others had of course prioritized dealing with the demon beast. However, Todd was the only one amongst them who prioritized killing Subaru. Todd probably knew that it was Subaru who had lured in the demon beast. At that moment, Todd tried to take immediate action to prevent Subaru from calling out a second demon beast. That split-second decision making and execution ability cannot and should not be underestimated. Earlier, he tried to emphasize his sketchy relationship with Rem and the others, impressing upon them that they couldn't get any information out of them about Subaru ...but.

Subaru: [Since he can't be sure, he might as well torture them for the time being.]

This is the kind of fear that Todd and the rest of the Vollachia Empire have. In order to prevent that from happening, Subaru had to go back to save Rem. And yet...

Subaru: [At a place like this....!]

Masked Man: [.... I see. I guess that Rem is the woman you've been looking for. It seems you got into a lot of trouble after you left me. Imperial soldiers from outside the forest?]

Subaru: [Yeah, that's right! I was captured! So I made a play to escape ......, but I couldn't bring Rem with me. So .......]

Masked Man: [So that's why you’re so desperate. No wonder you look like a prisoner of war.]

Subaru: [Who the hell are you calling a prisoner of war?! After all..]

The masked man is being held prisoner as well, isn't he? Even though it was someone to whom he owed a debt of gratitude, Subaru almost shouted in anger due to his lack of composure. However, Subaru's rashness was interrupted by a realization.

???: [...]

Subaru, who was focused on his argument with the masked man, felt a different kind of gaze pierce his profile. Turning around, he saw two lights outside the cage, peering in through the bars. As he slowly formed an image, he could see that it was a pair of green eyes. When Subaru's gaze turned in that direction, the master of those eyes blinked and said...

???: [Oh, Uu was noticed.]

Subaru: [Na .......]

Uu: [Uu has to tell Mi.]

Then, the owner of those two eyes quickly left the grate.

Subaru: [Wait!]

Subaru hurriedly tried to stop her, but he was too late. By the time Subaru jumped on the bars of the cage, the other person had left and started running without giving them a second thought.

Subaru: [Just now that was .......]

Masked Man: [She's a daughter of the "People of Shudrak". She must be very curious. When I was on my own, she would come in several times to take a peek inside. She was always asking me to show my face and unmask myself......]

Subaru: [...]

The masked man, seemingly unhappy with the attitude of his peeping visitor, crossed his arms as he grumbled. Unfortunately, Subaru didn't have the time to respond to his complaints, because his attention was taken away by the person who was walking away from him, a young girl.

She was a young, brown-skinned girl, around ten years old. She wore a white garment that wrapped around her body in a revealing manner that made it easier to move around in. An outfit that was probably well-adapted to the subtropical climate. Her hair is almost pig-tailed, but only the tips are peach-colored, probably because she dyed it. The roots of her hair are black, which fits with Todd's explanation that the "People of Shudrak" have black hair.

But more than that, the girl's appearance shocked Subaru, not because of her unique appearance, but because it wasn't the first time he had seen her.

Subaru: [I was….]

….killed by that girl, Subaru's memory claims. That girl was the one who had shot him in the back with a poisoned arrow and killed him. The girl who had run from the land where the flames were spreading, in the forest that was set on fire because of Subaru's misspoken words, who was glaring at him eyes wet with hatred, that girl.

The dots connected in Subaru's head. There was no other reason why the girl had looked at Subaru with a look of hatred on her face at that time. ...It was revenge on the man responsible for the incineration of her land and her people.

Masked Man: [What's the matter? You've become quiet, as if you've been doused with water.]

Subaru: [...Ah.]

The man's voice came over Subaru's back as he rested his head against the wooden cage and bit his lip. The masked man remained seated in his initial position, gazing at Subaru, who is in a wild state of emotional turmoil. Subaru's eyes were terribly uncomfortable, and he averted his gaze from the man.

Masked Man: [You're an elusive man. In any case, you'd better stop shouting. In this place, if you can't be silent it can cause a lot of trouble. You're wasting your energy, you don't have to scream every time...]

Subaru: [You don't have to shout at ......?]

Masked Man: [The other side will come listen to you. See?]

Following the man's chin, Subaru turned around and opened his eyes. Slowly, his dim vision was illuminated by the light of a flame, a torch. Several figures with torches in their hands appeared, coming toward the cage where Subaru and the masked man were.

Leading the way was a tall woman with a strong, well-trained body. Her hair, which was probably originally black, was dyed red, and she had white patterns painted on her brown face and body, as well as green eyes that gave the impression of being very strong. The girl from earlier was following behind her, hiding in plain sight. There was a group of about ten people coming this way, and they all seemed to be women.

Subaru: [...]

However, Subaru couldn't help but be pressured by the oppressive atmosphere. The group, with its rough, indigenous aura, was different from the knights of the Kingdom of Lugnica or the soldiers of the Vollachia Empire he had seen earlier, and had the beauty of a group of beasts led by instincts. He got the impression that they were a group that had been created with instinct at its core, not logic.

Standing in front of the cage where Subaru had been locked up, the women and the other "People of Shudrak," looked at the two people inside. And then...

???: [You seem to be awake. ...Who the hell are you guys ?]

She asked, lumping Subaru and the masked man together.


...Who the hell are you?

It's a question that's often heard in stories, but rarely asked in real life. It's not often in real life that you are questioned about your true identity. If you are not in a profession where you have to ask such questions, you may never have to deal with it.

In that sense, it is not a question that Subaru is familiar with either. However, he can still vividly recall the first time he was asked this question in his life.

Who is Subaru, and what is his purpose? The first time he was asked that in his life was when he was being interrogated by Rem, who was suspicious of his identity at the mansion.

Subaru: [Not you, you guys ......?]

Subaru shook off those memories and questioned the question. Although they were put in the same cage, the relationship between Subaru and the masked man was weak. Rather, it was for their convenience that they put them in the same cage, and Subaru's involvement was next to nil. Isn't it a bit of an absurd idea to treat them as if they were in the same position?

Masked Man: [Don't get caught in the middle of something trivial. I'm the one who told them that you and I know each other. That's the only reason they're even asking.]

Subaru: [You ......! You're not that familiar with ...... me, are you?]

Masked Man: [I'm not lying. You and I both know each other when we see each other. What more do you need to call someone you know?]

Subaru: [Wha-, what an absurd tone of voice......]

It was a very forceful way of talking, but Subaru remembered that overbearing tone. Out of all the people he’s acquainted with, there was a single person who could use this kind of logic to corner Subaru and others.Subaru's mind was boggled by the thought that there were many such people.

???: [Hey, what are you sneakily talking about? Answer the question.]

Subaru: [Uh, uh, my name is Natsuki Subaru. As you can see, I'm a pathetic, miserable, raggedy stray! And the guy in the back is ...... uh?]

Masked Man: [It's Abel.]

Subaru: [Yes, Abel! He wears a mask to hide his face, his personality is arrogant and disgusting, but he also gives knives to people who are lost, and he’s a playboy who has made many girls cry with the gap that his unexpectedness brings. And that’s our introduction, thank you very much!]

???: [Oh, oh ......? I'm Mizelda.......]

The woman at the front of the line, Mizelda, says her name, swallowed up by Subaru's folding momentum. As soon as he had time to look at her carefully, he found the right word to describe the vibe from Mizelda and the other women as …”Amazons”.

Many of them were women, well-trained and strong, with body paint that matched the image of tribes and ethnic minorities, and some of them carried bows on their backs. The "People of Shudrak" were no doubt the Amazons that Subaru recognized.

Subaru: [For some reason, I’m surprised that the masked man's name is actually Abel.....]

Abel: [...]

Subaru: [That can wait for now! Listen up, Mizelda-san, and everyone at Shudrak!]

Leaving the reference to the masked man, Abel, for later, Subaru raised his voice to the assembled women. From the looks of it, these women have no intention of killing Subaru without question. This could be seen from the fact that they were treating his injuries and showed an attitude of listening to him. If that's the case, they might understand if he discusses it with them sincerely in good faith.

Subaru: [As you may know, the Imperial soldiers are building a camp outside this forest. They've got my precious friend there, and she's in danger if I don't get back there now! So, you have to let me go!]

Mizelda: [...]

Subaru: [And the soldiers are after the “People of Shudrak”. They say they're ready to talk, but they're also ready to fight. If that happens, I'll go to .......]

He was about to intercede and say that they could set up a meeting, but Subaru held his tongue. If this could be done, there might not be a war between the Imperial soldiers and the “People of Shudrak”, but it would no longer be possible for Subaru to guide them. In Todd and the others' eyes, Subaru was the one who had led them into the trap of the demon beast. They can't trust him, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to.

Subaru had clearly weighed Rem against Todd and the others. He chose to harm them in order to save Rem. There was no escaping the responsibility of that choice.

Subaru: [Sorry, I stand corrected on what I just said. It's true that the soldiers are targeting everyone in Shudrak. They're camped out with quite a few people, so even if we fight them, we'll be ......]

Mizelda: [You mean we're going to lose?]

Subaru: [Ah.....]

It is undeniable that it is disadvantageous in terms of the quantity and the strategy that can be taken. Intercepting Subaru who tried to convey that, Mizelda spoke in a quiet voice. Upon hearing her reaction, Subaru understood that he chose the wrong words.

The “People of Shudrak” are probably a hunting tribe. For those who are honing their skills and constantly improving their abilities, persuading them that they would lose in battle was a minefield, and an argument he should not have made.

Mizelda: [We know that the soldiers of Vollachia are coming. But there is an old covenant between them and us. There will be no conflict.]

Subaru: [No, no, wait! I don't know about that pact, but they're really serious about you, .......]

Mizelda: [You're a pain in the ass!]

Subaru: [...Huh!]

Subaru tried to close in on her, but was struck by the impact through the wooden cage and flipped over. Mizelda, who had slammed her fist into the cage, had indignation in her eyes. This was another one of Subaru's poor choices of words.

The old pact was as important to them as their pride in battle. Subaru had unintentionally and unceremoniously trampled on it once again.

Mizelda: [Vollachian soldiers train to move their troops out of the forest. They've done it many times before.]

Subaru: [You mean, training to move troops ...... military exercises?]

Mizelda raised an eyebrow at Subaru's words, apparently unfamiliar with the term. However, Subaru gradually began to see the whole picture of the trap that the Vollachian side had set. It was a common practice for Vollachian soldiers to set up camp in the vicinity of the Buddheim Forest in the name of military exercises. The “People of Shudrak” had grown accustomed to it. Taking advantage of this familiarity, the Vollachian army is planning to encircle the Buddheim Forest and capture the “People of Shudrak” in one fell swoop. If there was any concern, it was...

Subaru: [Why do they have to go that far to target these people?]

Of course, there's no doubt that the “People of Shudrak”, including Mizerda, who's standing in front of him like this, are a tribe with solid capabilities. He can see that from the vigor they are filled with. However, Subaru couldn't understand why they had to go to the trouble of mobilizing the army and surrounding the forest to attack them. As is the case now, the women seemed to have no intention of leaving the forest. They are just here to live and let live. And yet...

Mizelda: [Neither Natsuki Subaru, nor Abel, speaks the truth. That's what it sounds like to us.]

Subaru: [S-, so you mean to say that...]

Mizelda: [...]

Mizelda shook her head loosely and declared the end of the discussion.

The rest of the “People of Shudrak” did not object to her heartless decision. It seemed that Mizelda, the leader of the group, is the head of this place or this village. In accordance with her decision, the “People of Shudrak” turned their backs on Subaru's appeal and decided to dismiss it. As it is, the group backed away, carrying their torches.

Subaru: [Wait! I'm not lying, I'm not lying! You're all in danger! Your pact ...... your pact will be broken! Everyone and Rem are in danger!]

Becoming desperate, Subaru appealed to them. However, the people of Shudrak, who had already obtained the Chief's decision, did not stop. The only one who glanced at Subaru was the little girl, but even that was not enough to stop her. No one listened to Subaru's hoarse voice, spitting out phlegm that tastes of blood.

Subaru: [Geez......, damn it. Why does it always have to be like this? ......!]

Subaru slumped down on the floor and banged his forehead against the bars. His right shoulder and left fingers are crippled, so he can't even take it out on the bars of the cage. He was a useless man riddled with wounds, who couldn’t even use his words. If that's the case, what's left of Natsuki Subaru's value?

Subaru: [......It's bad to give up. I’m more clever than that, aren't I?]

While tasting a sense of despair that darkened his eyes, Subaru grit his teeth, deciding that he would refuse to give up. If it was the Subaru in the past, he would have already reached his limit. But, looking back at everything that’s happened until now, the path he has taken was not an easy one, and he is a little different now.

He gives up a little less than before. That is a definite light that illuminates the dark road.

Abel: [That was one hell of a negotiation, wasn’t it?]

Subaru: [...]

Abel's mocking contempt reached Subaru, who began to gnaw on the branch that served as the prison's bars, hoping to find a way through. He was annoyed. But he couldn't say anything back. In fact, Subaru had successfully trampled upon a sensitive topic for his opponent and caused the negotiation to fail. Idiotic thinking at its finest. But...

Subaru: [If I'm unsightly then you were useless too weren't you? Didn't I tell you in the first place? I told you not to go into the forest because there are dangerous people there.]

Abel: [That's right, you did. That opinion served as a guideline. I'll thank you for that.]

Subaru: [Even if you say so, you still got caught. I feel so helpless, man. ...... Damn it, isn't there someplace loose or something?]

He bumped his entire weight against it, but he can't find any weak points in the seemingly improvised wooden prison. Each of the log-like bars had been pierced deeply into the ground and were set up so sturdily that it looked as if heavy machinery had been used. Of course, since there is no such thing as heavy machinery in this world, it must have been made by human hands. It could have been done by a large number of people, or by someone with monstrous strength such as Emilia or Garfiel.

Subaru: [How could they build something like this in a village full of women? ......]

Abel: [Don't underestimate the “People of Shudrak”. They are a female-born race, descended from the War Gods who have lived in this forest for hundreds of years. They don't need men, except to have more children. The men are usually taken from elsewhere as well.]

Subaru: [Those are some serious Amazons, .......Hey wait, you don’t mean to say that we were captured for that....]

The idea of capturing a man and using him as a tool to make him spit out his seed. The same idea has existed in cold mountain villages since ancient times. This is a foreign country in a foreign world where Subaru's common sense does not apply, so it was possible. However, Abel snickered at Subaru's words and said.

Abel: [Don't worry. Rest assured, they too will choose their mate. ...The seed of those who uttered falsehoods and tried to conspire against them will produce nothing but filth. They do not wish for such a seed.]

Subaru: [.....Falsehoods?]

In response to Abel's words, Subaru cursed his poor explanation. The fact that Mizelda and the rest of the Shudrak people didn't believe him, even though he was in a hurry, was a form of a poorly constructed explanation by Subaru. Persuasion with sincerity and desperation is no different from a rude outburst if you don't understand the other party's way of doing things and where their pride is placed. It was no different.

Subaru: [But I'm not lying, you know. The soldiers of the Empire are after the “People of Shudrak”. And .......]

Abel: [And?]

Subaru: [As a last resort they're using.... no, as a first resort, they'll set it all on fire.]

Abel choked slightly for the first time at that statement from Subaru. The flames that were released into the forest, that was the event that occurred when Todd learned of the demon beast lurking in the forest. Last time, just by listening to Subaru, the Imperial Army chose to burn down the Buddheim Forest. If they actually confirmed its existence, it would be hard to avoid the forest being incinerated this time as well.

Subaru: [...... Unless Todd and the others were wiped out.]

When he made the choice to woo the demon beast, he fully considered that possibility. A strategy to invite an enemy that might cause death is no different from indirect murder; Subaru knew this and carried out the decoy mission, and there might have actually been deaths. Thinking about it, a heavy lump arises in his chest, his heart aching as if it is choking. However, it takes a lifetime to carry that aversion to murder and guilt, but there's something else that he needed to focus on. The possibility that Todd and the others were not wiped out.

Subaru: [...]

There were about twenty men there, inexperienced in demon beast combat. However, when combined with Todd's judgment and Jamal's unexpected aggressiveness, it was unreasonable to expect that that one giant snake would have destroyed Todd and his team at any cost. Naturally, he should assume that Todd and the others would survive and retreat from the forest to return to their encampment.

Once back at the camp, Todd and the others will report Subaru's betrayal and the existence of the demon beast. In some cases, they might conclude that the “People of Shudrak” had taken hostile actions, while still believing that Subaru was of the “People of Shudrak”. If that happened, the Imperial soldiers wouldn’t hesitate to set fire to the forest in order to minimize the damage to the Imperial Army, and just like last time. ...The “People of Shudrak” would burn.

Abel: [...What's with those eyes of yours?]

Subaru: [No, .......]

At that thought, Abel mentions Subaru's gaze. Subaru quickly looked away, but he had thought about Abel's fate. Perhaps this is how Abel was captured by the “People of Shudrak” last time, in which case, if the forest was burned, he would have been burned along with it. It is unlikely that the “People of Shudrak” would have done anything to ensure the survival of the man they had taken prisoner in that great fire. In the worst case scenario, he would have burned to death in this cage. If that's the case...

Subaru: [...It's like I killed the “People of Shudrak and Abel, too.]

Subaru doesn't want his life, or Rem's, or Abel's or the lives of the “People of Shudrak”, to end. That's why Subaru has to stand up here and find a way out of this.

Abel: [Can't you see it's futile? They're not dumb enough to leave room for you to get out with your power, much less with your wounded body. Why would you go to such lengths for a mere woman?]

Abel said in a disgusted manner to Subaru, who was still biting on the tree and resisting with utmost effort. Abel's words, however, ignited a fire within Subaru.

Subaru: [It's because she's a girl for whom the word ‘mere' is not enough. There is no substitute for her, and Rem is the only Rem.]

Abel: [...]

Subaru: [You can't just sit there and complain about what I do. I don't know why you're here, but are you just going to get caught and be done with it?]

When Subaru first saw Abel, he was wearing a cloak of invisibility, and he looked as if he had come to the forest with a purpose. Even if he didn't, according to Todd, he was someone who would easily give away a magnificent dagger like the one given to him by the Emperor. It was unlikely and hard to believe that he was here for no reason.

Subaru: [What do you want to do, just sit on the cold earth in a place like this?]

Abel: [...I was just waiting for an opportunity.]

Abel replied to Subaru's question in a terribly quiet voice. It sounded like Abel was speaking from his heart, which was a change from his previous provocative comments and tauntings of Subaru.

Subaru: [You have been waiting for an opportunity? By opportunity, do you mean chance? What chance....?]

Abel: [I don't know what that “chance” is you're talking about, but what I've been waiting for is for the board to be ready. Until that was ready, I stayed on the sidelines, thinking that if I messed with it, it would add unnecessary color. In fact, I was thinking that the real deal would come after the people outside the forest made their move. ......]

TL Note: Subaru said ちゃんす which means chance. Since the word is in Katakana the reason Abel is confused by the word is because Subaru brought in a foreign word into a country that essentially speaks Japanese.

Subaru: [...]

Abel: [If they're going to burn the forest, we can't just sit here on our hands forever.]

With that, Abel uncrossed his arms and stood up slowly on the spot. Subaru's eyes widened and stiffened at the sight of his sleek figure and his words.

Abel: [What's with that dumb face? It would be disrespectful to point it at me.]

Subaru: [Huh, I don't know if it's disrespectful or not, but ...... you believe my words? Because the “People of Shudrak” didn’t......]

Abel: [They didn't believe you. You tarnished their pride, and kicked away the old covenants that they hold dear as meaningless. It was truly a failed negotiation for posterity.]

Subaru: [Ugh.......]

Subaru was devastated by Abel's assessment because he was aware that he had nothing to defend. When Subaru frowned at him, Abel looked at Subaru through his mask and continued.

Abel: [Bu, I'm not of Shudrak, and their pride and precious covenants are nothing but dust. All I need are the untarnished facts that you have brought to me.]

Subaru: [.....What if I'm lying to you?]

Abel: [It's obvious. ...You would pay with your life.]

The words had a different weight to them than the playful talk of death. Abel was serious in saying that if Subaru made a mistake, he would pay for it with his life. This is not a game or a joke, but a scenario where true grit is required.

Sensing this, Subaru naturally straightened his back. At some point, he stopped struggling with the cage and faced Abel straight in front of him. Abel's eyes became more intimidating as he looked into Subaru's dark eyes.

Abel: [Answer with all your heart, Natsuki Subaru... are you ready to sacrifice everything for what you want to save?]

Subaru: [...]

His question is straightforward, and no hesitation or falsehoods are allowed. If he answered with a mixture of falsehoods here and there, he will be lifeless. The voice of the man named Abel had enough power to make Subaru believe that.

Subaru takes in Abel's question with all his heart. Is he ready to sacrifice everything in order to save what he wants to save? The answer to that question is...

Subaru: [I'm not prepared to do that.]

Abel: [...]

Subaru: [The only thing I can offer you is me. ...That's all I can bet on.]

Subaru replies, holding his left hand, which has broken fingers, against his chest instead of his right arm, which has been stabbed. This is Subaru's answer to Abel's question without any falsehood.

Subaru can't accept being asked to sacrifice everything and everyone. There are too many things in this world that are important to Subaru, too many dazzling things that he has yet to see, to do. So...

Abel: [That's a cheeky answer. You spiteful clown!]

Subaru: [...]

Abel: [But you did not tell a lie. So I'll leave it unburned.]

When Subaru heard Abel's answer, he realized that he had narrowly escaped certain death. Cold sweat suddenly broke out all over his body, and he realized that Abel was holding his life in his hands.

Abel was not an uncommonly strong man, as Subaru had assessed when he had encountered him in the grasslands before. Compared to the strong people Subaru had seen or come in contact with in the past, his power was not out of the realm of ordinary people. However, Subaru still felt that he had saved his life. He felt that Abel possessed a power that was different from mere arm strength or sword prowess.

Abel: [Then let's talk quickly. ...Hey, girl.]

???: [Ahh!]

Abel suddenly called out to someone while Subaru was sweating profusely to save his life. And a small scream rose from the shadows in response to the sound of his voice. When the startled Subaru turned around, he saw a girl looking at him cautiously from the shade of a tree, some distance from the cage. The girl, who had dyed the tips of her hair pink, panicked at the sight of Subaru and Abel and tried to run away, but...

Abel: [If you run away, you'll lose your chance, girl. It is not in your best interest to do so.]

???: [U......]

The girl let out a small grunt at Abel's words as he took control of the plane. With an embarrassed look on her face she approached them, dejectedly. Then, her lips quivered hesitantly.

Uu: [Uu, Uu is ...... Mi doesn’t listen to men. But Uu is curious. Curious about you.]

Subaru: [...... Me?]

As he said that, the girl who called herself Uu pointed at Subaru. The girl nodded to Subaru, who widened his eyes at the unexpected pointing out that she was curious about him.

Uu: [You were trying so hard earlier. You said that Uu and the others are in danger. But Mi wasn’t listening..]

Subaru: [Ah.......]

Uu: [Why did you try so hard? You have nothing to do with Uu and the others.]

She wondered why he was interfering if he had no connection with them. Subaru hesitated for a moment, wondering if he was being pointed out for meddling. But there was no such aim in the girl's words. She was genuinely curious. Why was Subaru so desperate to save the “People of Shudrak”, rather than Subaru himself? Not even Subaru himself knew the answer to that question, but...

Subaru: [I don't think I want you to make that face.....]

Uu: [...?]

Subaru: [I don't want you to feel like that, having to stare at your enemy with eyes clouded with hatred.]

The girl who had shot her opponent with a poisoned arrow and watched him die with eyes filled with hatred. Subaru could still see the girl's hatred and could still feel the guilt of the violent events that led to that hatred. It was swirling around. It was a thorn in his side, and it was causing him pain. What happened should not be repeated. It shouldn't happen again.

It's best not to "Return by Death". In this world where Subaru can simply redo things by dying, if there is a better way to take the people involved on a better path, then…

Subaru: [I think that's why I tried so hard.]

Uu: [...... Uu doesn't understand.]

Subaru's answer did not make the girl understand his true intentions. No wonder. If one doesn't know what "Return by Death" is, it doesn't make sense to talk about it. And Subaru didn't expect her to understand that either. Even the fact that such a thing existed was unnecessary in the life of the girl in front of him.

Abel: [...Are you finished? I'm sure even you realise that we can't afford to have a long conversation now, can we?]

Subaru: [...... Oh, yeah, my bad.]

Abel blows off the conversation between Subaru and the girl as not being of much importance. Then Abel turned to the girl, and the girl, perhaps feeling the same pressure that Subaru had just felt, tensed her small body and looked up at Abel.

Abel: [Girl, I don't intend to engage in idle chat with you... Mizelda, was it? Bring her here. She must be the Chief.]

Uu: [Mi? What are you going to talk about with Mi?]

Abel: [Nothing much. I just have a proposal to make.]

Subaru: [A proposal?]

Abel nodded deeply as Subaru and the girl looked at him, tilting their heads. Then again, he made a smile, even though it was invisible through the mask, and said.

Abel: [Tell her we'll take the "Lifeblood Ritual". It's the quickest way to persuade her.]

Those were his words.