...The walled city of Guaral.
That was the name of the first civilized city in the Empire that Subaru and company had finally arrived at. Having lived in the encampment of the Imperial soldiers and the village of the People of Shudrak, the sight of civilization was quite exciting. However, they couldn't just let go and be happy about the civilization of their environment just yet. Because...
Subaru moistened his lips with his tongue as he looked at the checkpoint at the entrance to the city. Surrounded by walls on all sides, Guaral restricted access to the city through the main entrance, going east and west. The checkpoints were permanently set up at the main gate, and even from a distance, Subaru could see the formidable gate guards with stern faces and steely eyes glaring at him.
Kuna: "They will recognize us as Shudraks at a glance. Our friends, we can't follow you, but as long as you don't have anything suspicious, you should be fine."
Holly: "Don't act timid, be confident, nooo. Protect Rem and Louis well, nooo."
These were the words of Kuna and Holly as they parted ways before arriving in the city. Both of them were advising him not to get overwhelmed, but to forget about his nervousness and anxiety, which was also an unreasonable suggestion. At any rate, Subaru and the others were foreigners in the Empire, with no known affiliation and no proof of identity.
Subaru: "It's just that even if I'm a foreigner with no common sense, I can tell that people from Lugunica wandering around Vollachia at this time of year are not welcome."
If he foolishly revealed his true identity, he would definitely incur the displeasure of the gate guards. If they just up and turned away at the gate, they would get captured carelessly, they would be blindfolded. If that were the case, they had already done that at the Imperial’s encampment.
...Again, he cannot let one of his mistakes end up with a bunch of people getting burned.
???: "...If you look too grim, people will get suspicious of you."
Subaru, whose brow was wrinkled, reflecting on the complexity of the matter at hand, rolled his eyes at the voice. The voice he heard was from his rear, from Rem on his backpack. Due to the structure of the backpack, they were both in a back-to-back position, so Rem shouldn’t have been able to see Subaru's face.
Subaru: "How did you know I was wrinkling my brow?"
Rem: "Even though I can't see you, I can hear you breathing. It's through your backpack, our backs are touching each other and your heart is beating. …Even from here, I can feel the tension."
Subaru: "Uh... that's bad. The wrinkles between my eyes and my beating heart."
Rem: "Yes, please calm down."
Subaru: "That doesn't mean I should calm down and stop breathing, does it?"
In response to his confirmation, Rem only sighed silently. The feeling of Rem's breath was somewhere between disgust and indifference towards Subaru. It was not a clear dislike or hostility, which made Subaru feel a little relieved. If someone were to say he had low aspirations, he can't really say anything back to that.
Louis: "Uuh, uuh?"
Subaru: "...I know, don't rush me. You're the least of my worries, you know."
Subaru's sleeve was being pulled by the long haired Louis, who pointed at the line. Louis, who was carrying the horn of a demon beast entrusted to them by Kuna and Holly , wrapped in a white cloth, seemed to be wondering why Subaru didn't want to get in line. But he couldn't be as reckless as Louis and stand in line without thinking.
Subaru: "We don't either have the means to prove our status, nor the money to bribe the guards at the gate. That means we can't just go in with a straightforward approach."
Rem: "Can't we just get in line and try to talk to the guards at the checkpoint?"
Subaru: "Appealing to good faith is an option, but I'm afraid of the possibility of not being able to recover if we fail. ...Because we don't have anyone to turn to right now."
Hearing Subaru's concern, Rem cleared her throat slightly and fell silent. It may be difficult for Rem to imagine without her memories, but since this place is this place, with this culture, then there was no reason not to be cautious.
...Unexpectedly, Subaru and company were sent from the Pleiades Watchtower to the Empire, and nearly ten days had already passed.
The initial confusion had faded, and the tense relationship with Rem and Louis had been temporarily put to rest, but it was still difficult to say that the whole situation had improved.
In the first place, the only time that Subaru, Rem, and Louis were alone was when they were on the run from the hunter and the Elgina after they had first been sent away. Other than that, there was always someone who knew about the Empire with them, whether it was in the encampment of the Imperial soldiers, in the village of the Shudrak, or on the journey to this Guaral. He hadn't been able to establish friendships with all of them, but at least he wasn't lonely.
Subaru: "But not from here on out."
They had turned against Todd and the other Imperials, declined to join Abel, and parted ways with the People of Shudrak. From this point on, the three of them would have to walk through the unexplored land of the Empire without any aid. They were going to have to be cautious about their decisions, whether they wanted to or not.
Rem: "So, what are we going to do? No matter how much we get troubled or hesitant, our goal remains the same, right? I don't think we can just pass through this city..."
Subaru: "And even if we give up on the checkpoints here, it doesn't mean they won't be doing the same thing in another city. If this was Lugunica, they wouldn't be so vigilant. ...No."
Shaking his head, Subaru considers the situation in the Empire. Abel said that he had been ousted from his throne as Emperor. If this is true, then the Empire is currently in the midst of a civil war. Abel said that the Emperor's absence was being kept secret from the general populace, but one can't control what people say, so information can unintentionally leak out. That's why, at the encampment, Todd also seemed to have a strange feeling about the latest deployment.
Subaru: "If that's the case, it's Abel's fault that the checkpoints are so strict...? Damn, I hate that guy."
Abel had helped him in some ways, but if he were to make it a point to deduct for all the negative actions and attitude issues, things would be slightly negative. With that personality and attitude, he could imagine a Nobunaga-like reason why he was rebelled against by the people below him.
TL Note: Oda Nobunaga is an important figure in Japanese history. He ended up committing seppuku after getting ambushed and routed by one of his retainers.
Subaru: “He was a guy who lived the tale of a King who did not understand the heart of his people.”
Rem: "... Maybe you're wasting your time thinking about something unimportant, instead of worrying about things that are?"
Rubbing his chin, Subaru muttered, and Rem's voice became cold and stiff. It was a tone of voice that contained honest anger that went beyond dismay and indifference, so Subaru hurried to explain.
Subaru: "No, no, no. Wait, wait, don't worry. It's true that my impression of the Round Table was a bit of a waste of time, but I'm not just sitting here staring at the line without a plan. I have a plan."
Rem: "Aren't you ashamed of yourself as a man, lying to me with impunity?"
Subaru: "How about showing a little faith!? This is not the time to be saying something is a lie prematurely!"
The decline in Rem's confidence was unabated, and Subaru was desperate to regain her trust.
In fact, he hadn't lied at all, but had come up with an alternative plan to get through the checkpoint. Subaru and company couldn't pass the guards at the checkpoint in a legitimate way. Then, it should not only be Subaru and his traveling companions.
Rem: "In other words..."
Subaru: "Natsuki Subaru, let's show the true power of your 108th special skill, Reliance."
With a thumbs-up and a flash of his teeth, Subaru answered.
He was not sure why, but he thought he could feel Rem frowning at him over his back, even though he shouldn’t have been able to see her face and she shouldn’t have been able to see his face.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
After passing through the unique and tense inspection, he went through the large main gate. The view opened up, and with the exotic stone cityscape in front of him, Subaru thrust his hands up in the air in a sense of accomplishment.
Subaru: "We’re out!"
Hearing the energetic voice of Subaru, Louis, right beside him raised her hands in the same manner. Subaru had a few thoughts about her acting like an ally, but they were overshadowed by the joy of overcoming the first obstacle to entering the city. He was angry, but it was also true that Louis' presence had helped them get through the checkpoint.
Subaru: "But then again, it's not like Lugunica, is it? The royal capital of Lugnica and the Watergate City Priestella were also a bit different, but ..."
While looking at the atmosphere of the city, in his mind, Subaru compared it to the streets of the Kingdom of Lugunica. Subaru was most impressed with the cityscape of Costuul, near the new Roswaal Mansion. As expected, the change of being in a different country seemed to be a big one. While the royal capital, Costuul, and Priestella, all have their own unique characteristics, there was a kind of commonality in the atmosphere unique to the kingdom. Subaru didn’t feel that in Guaral.
Compared to the Kingdom that had the royal atmosphere of so-called otherworldly fantasy, the streets of the Empire were more rugged and less colorful. The impression was that the emphasis was being placed on practicality rather than decoration. The whole city seemed to be unified in the direction of strength and refinement rather than glamour, and the bare ground that had been leveled seemed to contribute to that impression.
Subaru: "Lugnica would have been paved with cobblestones, but this seems more basic."
In terms of the size and population of the city, Guaral could be considered an above-average city in the Empire. In a general sense, this was a good measurement to use when comparing different parts of the Empire.
Subaru: "Well, I don't want to stay here too long, so it's best not to whip out a ruler either."
Rem: "...Well, can you put me down now?"
Subaru: "My bad."
Behind Subaru, who was feeling such emotion, was Rem who was attached to his backpack. She asked him to put her down, to which Subaru apologized to her and slowly kneeled down on the spot. He unhooked the harness on his shoulders and lowered the backpack, and Rem, stood on the ground while holding the cane. Even on his backpack during the long journey, she wanted to walk on her own feet once she entered the city. Now that there was no reason to hurry, there was no reason not to listen to Rem's request.
Rem: "This is..."
Rem, while holding her cane, turned around and finally saw the same scene as Subaru. Rem's eyebrows raised lightly, and there was surprise and slight emotion in her pale blue eyes, and Subaru's cheeks relaxed slightly at Rem's positive reaction.
Subaru: "How about it, are you surprised?"
Rem: "It was... yes, it was surprising. It was the same with the line, but ...it's the first time I've seen so many people and a proper city."
Subaru: "Oh, I see that too, it's Rem's first time in a decent human habitat."
Just as mentioned earlier, Rem has only had experiences with unusual places and treatment so far. With no memories, Rem had no recollection of living with many people. Living with Subaru, Louis, and the People of Shudrak was all the experience that she had.
Subaru closed one eye at the sight of Rem, who was squinting and looking, deeply moved. At first, he folded the backpack that Rem sat in and waited for her emotions to relax.
...As a city, Guaral was not exactly bustling with activity.
There were checkpoints with groups of people lined up, and the streets were rugged and dark. All in all, it was a place that was far from glamorous. The population of the city was probably only a few thousand. Still, the value of the emotion that passed through Rem's eyes would not be diminished.
Subaru: “So then, do you want to take a look around?"
Rem: "... No, thank you. I don't want to take up too much time."
Subaru: "There is not really anything extra to do for you..."
As Rem shook her head, Subaru scratched his cheek as he replied. In fact, if there was a silver lining to Rem's mindset, sightseeing in the city would not be a problem. If this were an urgent situation, Subaru would ask her to refrain from doing so, but for the time being, their outlook seemed clear. It was a blessing that Rem's quick thinking had made it possible.
Subaru: "Without Rem, I wouldn't have been able to get along with Flop-san. It's okay to be a little selfish, you know."
Rem: "....I'm saying it's not good to keep Flop-san waiting. You're being too indulgent for a freeloader, and now you're going to owe him even more?"
Subaru: "Ugh... that being said, yes, I'm sorry..."
Subaru’s chest was pinned by Rem’s sharp gaze, which was a change from the gaze she had directed towards the streets. Behind Subaru, an ox cart pulled by a brave bull, a falo, slowly arrives with the sound of its heavy wheels.
A falo is a type of animal that is used for similar purposes such as ground dragons or the big dog ligers. Like the ground dragons and ligers, they often pull carts, and are often used to carry large loads. Because they are slow and do not have the wind protection like ground dragons, they are generally used in cities. And...
???: "Well, well, well, sorry for keeping you guys waiting. It took me a while to get the cargo inspected. It's a real shame that the bureaucrats can't do their job."
From the falo cart, a young man with long bangs shrugged his shoulders as he spoke. A person with dazzling golden hair, pale skin, and a thin body wrapped in clothes with wide sleeves, he was the one who had helped Subaru enter the city. When the young man in the falo cart appeared, Subaru bowed his head.
Subaru: "Thanks for helping. I'm sorry, Flop-san. We were just passing through."
Flop: "No, I don't mind. Cargo inspection is boring work. It's not worth the trouble."
Subaru's apology was met with a gentle shake of the head from Flop, the young man on top of the carriage bench.
His long bangs swayed like a mane with his flowing gesture, and Subaru could almost see a glittering effect on them. He had his quirks, but his answers were rather honest, so there was a big discrepancy between those two aspects of him.
In front of Subaru, he stroked his bangs again...
Flop: "Yes, it's a boring job. Leave that to my sister, not to me, not even to... not to you travelers."
???: "An-chan, An-chan, I can hear you!"
Flop: "Hahaha, I didn't say that you can't hear me, my little sister. Don't underestimate your brother's voice."
Flop's response, subtly out of focus, was heard by a woman walking alongside the slow-moving cart. She was a tall woman with the same hair color as Flop and a very similar face. She was dressed with her shoulders and legs boldly exposed, and the volume of her hair was parted into many tufts in an eccentric hairstyle. Her appearance was distinctive, but what catches the eye the most are the two barbaric swords on the back of her waist. It was obvious from the condition of the weapons that they are not just for show or make-believe. Her name is Medium, and she and her brother, Flop, are the friendly O'Connell siblings who travel together.
They had met in the line at the checkpoint, and were the benefactors who had helped Subaru and company get through the checkpoint, when it proved difficult to prove their identity or pass along a bribe. Of course, they did not help Subaru just out of kindness. Originally, it was Subaru who turned to the O'Connell siblings for help in crossing the checkpoint.
With no money or connections, Subaru and company needed the help of others to get past the checkpoints. Subaru thought that Flop might be willing to negotiate with them. The reason why Subaru thought so was...
Medium: "That's amazing, An-chan! So you knew everything I was thinking!"
Flop: “Of course I did. You can't win in business if you can't see what's coming. We, the O'Connell Company, are built on my brains and your brawns, you know!"
Medium: "That's right...! I have no idea what you're talking about!"
Flop: "Hahahahaha, my little sister, you seem to be enjoying life, that's great!"
The O'Connell siblings turned their chests away from each other and laughed out loud. They’re peddlers. Technically, Flop was the peddler in charge of the business, while Medium was in charge of guarding her brother and his goods on the road and in the city.
That was the kind of person Subaru had chosen to rely on to get through the checkpoint.
Subaru: "The experience of talking with Otto and Anatasia has come in handy..."
Otto, a close friend, and Anastasia, with whom he shared a long journey. ...The latter was not the woman herself, but the artificial spirit Echidna pretending to be her, but the spirit must have been on par with her in terms of knowledge. Under the tutelage of these two, Subaru had a certain trust in merchants. Even across borders, as long as they were merchants, they would listen to those who offered them benefits.
After striking out with four groups of merchants, Subaru and company encountered the O'Connell siblings. While they were somewhat quirky, he successfully persuaded them to cooperate in helping them cross the checkpoint. As a bargaining chip for this, the one thing that strongly caught their interest was...
Subaru: "Anyway, are you sure this backpack is enough in return? I mean, I've put some thought into it, but it's still pretty homemade."
Flop: "I can't deny that it's simple. However, I was more interested in the fact that it was designed in a way that it could be disassembled and carried around. It would be useful for carrying heavy loads, wouldn't it?"
Subaru: "...Well, if that's alright with you, Flop-san, then it's fine with me."
Somewhat timidly, Subaru handed the folded backpack over to Medium. When she took it, Medium looked at it with a "huh" and twisted her neck before pushing it into the back of the cart. She didn't see the value in it. In fact, Subaru didn't know what Flop thought of it either.
The O'Connell siblings had agreed to cooperate on one condition, the transfer of the backpack Subaru had built. When Flop saw the backpack with Rem on it, he was impressed with its unique and interesting construction, and promised to help them get through the checkpoint in exchange.
To be honest, he was prepared for the possibility of offering the demon beast horn as a bargaining chip, so one could say that from Subaru’s viewpoint the terms of the deal was unexpected
Subaru: "When we got to the city, I was thinking about rebuilding it with better materials, worst case scenario, there was a chance that Rem wouldn't want to ride on it anymore."
Rem: "It's true that I want to walk on my own feet as much as possible. Because when I’m sitting on your backpack, your stench drifts away in the wind."
With a cane in hand, Rem quietly pokes on the matter of the witch's lingering scent. However, let's just say she was compassionate enough to put up with it for the duration of the trip, and to tell Subaru about it after they arrived at their destination.
Seeing the exchange between Subaru and Rem, Flop shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s not good”. The gesture was sorrowful, but there was a reason for that attitude.
Flop: "You all should get along better. A wife and husband are supposed to support each other. The way you were supporting each other earlier was beautiful."
Medium: "Well, it was An-chan who took away their backpack!"
Flop: "That's exactly it! What am I saying?!"
Flop, who held his forehead, and Medium, who held her stomach, laughed out loud. Subaru glanced at Rem's profile as he let his cheeks relax in time with the two idiots' laughter. Rem was not smiling at all, and had Louis clutched in one hand. At the sight of her profile, Subaru winced.
Subaru: "Um… I mean, Rem-san? Are you angry at me?"
Rem: "Hmm? Why would I be angry? Do you have any idea why?"
Subaru: "No, I'm just wondering if you're unwilling to talk about me and our marriage, even if it's just a cover story..."
As he poked his fingers together, Subaru gave fearful consideration to Rem's sentiments. It was the O’Connell sibbling’s understanding that Subaru and Rem are husband and wife. The reason for this was that when they had asked for help in getting past the checkpoint, the siblings had asked them about their relationship, and they had been at a loss for an answer. ...No, he wasn't at all hard pressed for an answer. He had an answer prepared, and it was a last resort that could be seen as suspicious.
Subaru: "I didn't expect them to believe the traveling sibling cover story..."
Rem: "Because Flop-san and Medium-san are in a similar situation, and those two are very much alike. It was an impossible lie with you, me, and this girl."
As a merchant, it must be said that Subaru was simply not skilled enough to deceive the people who live in a world where lies and sincerity flew together. However, the one who saw through the lie that they were brother and sister was Medium who raised her voice and said, "They don't look anything alike, An-chan!”
Anyway, he had been defeated by her perceptiveness, and the spectacular cover story, which was derived from the brother-sister background prepared by Subaru that involved a trip to a mountain far from their hometown to throw away a cursed ring was cut short. Due to the shock, Subaru was at a loss for an answer to their questions. but was saved from his predicament by Rem's witty explanation, "I'm his wife”.
Subaru: "Rem and I are married, and we are taking care of Rem's niece..."
Rem: "You're the one who told me that I have a sister. You told me I had a twin, and it’s hard to believe we would have a child this big... ignore what I just said."
Louis gives a small snort with a sly look on her face as Rem patted her head. This seemingly harmless gesture and attitude of Louis seemed to be one of the factors that kept the O'Connell siblings from being wary of Subaru and company. Aside from Subaru's evil looking eyes, Rem was crippled, and Louis was defenseless. Flop and his sister didn't judge the trio as urban miscreants.
Rem: "Why did you have trouble answering in the first place? You're usually spouting off a lot of random nonsense."
Subaru: "That sounds like a complaint lodged under the disguise of a compliment..."
Nevertheless, it was clear that Subaru's ineptitude had almost put Rem in danger. If it hadn't been for Rem's quick thinking, it was very likely that Subaru, Rem, and Louis would still be stuck outside the gate, looking at the checkpoint.
There’s a limit to how much you can deceive people with frivolous talk.
Subaru, who didn't want to further damage Rem's trust, gave a small "Ah" to Rem's gaze as she stared at him, and then said...
Subaru: "I was surprised myself, but the moment she saw that I was lying, I felt my body tense up tremendously. Maybe I'm traumatized from being gouged in the shoulder for saying something careless at the encampment."
Subaru: "I was afraid that if I gave a bad answer, Flop-san and his sister would change their minds. It was pathetic, but it stopped me from thinking. My bad."
Conveying his shameful self-analysis, Subaru bowed his head honestly to Rem. A cunning mind and a good mouth are two of the few weapons that Natsuki Subaru had at his disposal that could give him an advantage over other people. But if he couldn't think and talk, then they would become nothing more than a liability. He was entrusted with Rem’s life. …He couldn’t afford to make any more careless mistakes.
Rem: "...I understand your reasoning. It can’t be helped."
Subaru: "... Really? After a screw-up like that?"
Rem: "Everyone's body tenses up at the thought of pain. At least, that's what I think."
Subaru was surprised by Rem's response, as he had expected her to coldly curse him out. Of course, he knew that Rem was a kind person at heart and could be considerate of others. What was unexpected was that she extended that same consideration to Subaru.
Subaru: “You're not angry?”
Rem: “I’m not angry, but, next time remember to discuss it with me first, I am not able to think of a good response for every scenario.”
Subaru: “Ahh, I see...You really aren't angry?”
Rem: “I’m not angry”
Subaru: “Really? Is that true?”
Rem: “I said I am not angry!”
He was so worried that he ended up making Rem angry. Holding his head under Rem's sharp gaze, Subaru became small and eventually begged for forgiveness. After such an act, Subaru and company finally entered Guaral.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
Subaru: “Finally! Something comfortable!”
Subaru threw himself onto the bed in the inn, stretched out his arms and legs, and enjoyed the sensation. The sheets and the bed were of good quality, the room was clean, and the atmosphere at the inn was one of the best. He shouldn’t be so extravagant in their position, but for the sake of their security, it was a necessary expense.
Otto: “If you're going to stay somewhere, you should eliminate the options of staying in cheap inns or outside. It isn’t as bad if you’re able to defend yourself like Garfiel and Emilia-sama, but for people like Natsuki-san and I, we just become sitting ducks for people planning to victimize us.”
That had been one of the conversations Subaru had had, sitting in Otto’s room. It was a normal precaution when you stopped and thought about it, but when you’re short on money, safety tends to become an afterthought. However, with Subaru’s current situation, it became a necessary expense. Still...
Subaru: "We had a lot of trouble assigning rooms...."
As he said this, Subaru turned on his side and stared at the wall. On the other side of the wall, in the room next door, there was Rem and Louis, together. It was decided that the group would stay in Guaral, and that the rooms would be divided between genders, but Subaru wasn’t happy about that. Even after all this time, Subaru’s suspicion towards Louis still lingered, and he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of her being in a room with Rem when he wasn’t looking. But Rem didn’t like the idea of the three of them sharing a room. Therefore, Subaru had no choice but to go along with her decision.
???: “Well, well, well, look at Husband-kun here. Getting pretty immersed in here, aren't we? Fair enough for me!”
The person saying that was Flop, who arrived slightly after Subaru. He threw his luggage on the other bed and winked as he brushed his long bangs out of his face. As imposing as Flop was though, it was not like he came into the room on without permission. Flop had rented this room with the intention of sharing it with Subaru. Naturally, his sister, Medium, was on her way to the room where Rem was staying.
Subaru: “I’m sorry, thanks for taking care of everything…”
Flop: "I'm fine, it's good. You have kept your wits about you. The saying of The Emperor's People are Strong doesn’t always refer to the art of war."
Subaru: “...I feel way better after hearing you say that.”
Sitting up on the bed, Subaru smiled at Flop’s words. After helping them get through the checkpoint, Flop and his sister Medium were still being a great help to Subaru, Rem and Louis. In addition to finding them an inn where they could sleep safely, the biggest help Flop gave them was with selling the demon beast horn.
Subaru: “I can't even imagine the lengths to which we would have gone through if we were by ourselves.”
The demon beast horn that Louis had carried on her back was already out of his hands. That was because he had followed Holly and Kuna’s advice and exchanged the horn for money at a store in Guaral. For some reason, Flop had decided to tag along and help negotiate the price. The fierce bargaining between Flop and the shopkeeper had been as intense as a courtroom battle, even for someone without any knowledge of the law, one could feel the intensity of it.
Anyway, thanks to that, the demon beast horn was safely exchanged for Imperial gold coins. A big, heavy pouch of gold coins, that’s all of Subaru’s funds in his fight against the Empire. He had to use those coins to pay for all his traveling expenses, which means he had to be careful with it.
Subaru: “I can’t afford to be preyed on by the other side like I was last time.”
Flop: “Hahaha! The first thing you need to do is try and strut your stuff. If you puff your chest out and keep your back straight, your opponent won’t be able to easily take advantage of you. In time, your unfounded confidence might become real. Then, we’ll make a fortune, won’t we?”
Subaru: “Hmm, you know, that’s pretty convincing coming from someone who practices it…”
For better or worse, Flop was full of confidence. In some cases, his openness caused unnecessary disputes, but the fact that he’d been able to do so to this day is proof that his methods work. In fact, Subaru had been helped by Flop’s way of doing things, so he was honestly impressed here.
Flop: “You had a long journey with your wife on your back, didn’t you? Why don’t you get a good night’s rest today and we can talk more tomorrow?”
Subaru: “That’s an enticing suggestion, but I can’t do that... We have to get to our destination as soon as possible, and we can’t afford to waste any time.”
Subaru managed to fight off the temptations of sleeping in the soft bed. As Subaru climbed down from his bed, Flop beamed.
Flop: “Very well! That’s good. There are times when you have to move your already tired legs for someone you love. Like my sister for me, or in your case, Husband-kun, for your wife.”
Subaru: “When you say it like that, it makes me feel embarrassed you know! ...Can you please guide me?”
Flop: “Of course. I’m the one who suggested it after all!”
Flop patted himself on the chest and gladly accepted the request. With Flop’s reply, Subaru once again fought off the temptations of the comfy room and headed next door, accompanied by Flop. He knocked on the door and called out for Rem, who was in the room.
Subaru: “Rem, everything looking okay in there?”
Rem: “Yes I’m fine. Right now we’re discussing whether we should make Louis sleep in my bed or Medium’s…”
Subaru: “... I see.”
Rem: “You just made a face that looks as if you would rather I just let her sleep on the floor.”
Subaru: “I didn’t say that because I thought you’d get angry...”
Given how dangerous Louis used to be, he couldn’t even recommend for her to sleep in the same bed as Medium. If he was being honest, the best option would be for Subaru to keep an eye on her all night, but with his current condition, he would probably fall asleep after a few hours of keeping watch. He could only trust her on the fact that she hasn’t done anything in the past ten days.
...He knows it’s an absolutely stupid idea to trust a Sin Archbishop.
Subaru: “Like I said earlier, I’m going out with Flop for a bit. I’m going to get something for supper, and then we’ll eat together.“
Rem: “Okay, I understand. I’ve been thinking about it… And there are a lot of people here, so I won’t have to rely on you as much anymore.”
Subaru: “I don’t know what made you say that but it’s only making it harder to leave!”
Rem: “I wonder why, I was just speaking my thoughts.”
Even if Rem’s words made Subaru want to pull his hair out, he prioritized his initial plan. From the door, he waved at Medium, who was playing around with Louis pulling on her hair.
Subaru: “Medium, take care of her for me. If she gives you any trouble, feel free to kick her ass."
Medium: "Are you serious? My punch will hurt like a son of a bitch."
Subaru: "Yeah, it has to hurt or she won't learn."
Even if something were to go wrong, Rem would stop it before it got bad.
Louis plays a big role in Rem’s mental stability, and Subaru is both annoyed and grateful for it. At the very least, he acknowledges that she’s playing some sort of role, or else Subaru wouldn’t be able to have even the most minuscule amount of motivation to bring Louis with them.
Flop: “It looks like you have quite the journey ahead of you, Husband-kun”
Leaving Rem and Louis at the inn, Subaru stepped out onto the streets and was tapped on the shoulder by Flop. He wanted to fall on his knees and say, “Yes, there is,” but he also knew that Flop would be troubled if he did that. Flop and Medium were the only ones he could rely on right now. He didn’t want to add to their worries and burdens.
Subaru: “No matter how much I try to help others, there’s a limit to how much I can do.”
Flop: "Well, I don't think it's wrong to rely on others, as long as you don't end up being a piggyback. My sister and I travel together, but we make up for each other's shortcomings. If we didn't, my sister and I could easily die because of our own weaknesses. That's also the Imperial Way."
Subaru: "The Imperial Way..."
Flop waved his hand and stroked his bangs at the same time. The words Imperial Way came out of his mouth and put a heavy weight on Subaru’s chest. A difference in values, perhaps that was the source of the insubstantial fear that Subaru was dreading so much. In that sense, Flop’s ideas were easy for Subaru to understand and hit close to home. However, it was very different from his prior impression of the Vollachia Empire.
Flop: “Not everyone can adapt to the militaristic lifestyle. The important thing is to come to terms with yourself and do what you can with the framework you’ve been given.”
Subaru: “Coming to terms?”
Flop: “Like I said before, my sister and I are quite weak when you look at us individually. But when we work together, we become a unit, covering each other's weaknesses. In fact, I’d say it’s the winning combination that’s kept my sister and I alive to this day.”
Flop: "Remember this, Husband-kun. The fact that myself, my sister, you and your wife have been able to live to this day is because we won every battle we’ve been faced with. ...So how about it, I'm a man of the Empire, aren't I?"
Looking at Flop’s profile, his cheeks were relaxed, as if seeking admiration. Staring at him, Subaru felt as if he’s just received an unexpected revelation. Making up for what he lacks is no different from Subaru’s own set of values. Subaru had thought that, in the Empire, such ideas would not be accepted at all.
Subaru: “So you’re saying that it’s not all hopeless.”
Flop: “Well even if I did say that, most people’s Imperial Way of doing things is all about strength in battle. This idea of mine is laughed at like a wimpy feather in a cap, and it’s also very uncommon.”
Subaru was starting to feel better, but Flop reminded him not to become overconfident. Then he continued.
Flop: “That's why we can put a price on skilled individuals. I’ll help introduce you to some, Husband-kun.”
Subaru: "Thank you very much."
Nodding, Subaru thanked Flop again for his help. In addition to breaking through the checkpoint and getting lodging, Subaru also needed to secure new transport and guards to facilitate their journey in the future.
Since Kuna and Holly had escorted them to Guaral last time, Subaru knew the importance of getting an escort to properly protect themselves for their difficult journey. There was a limit to how far Subaru could get while carrying Rem like a backpack. Ideally, they would be able to get a ground dragon, but if that wasn’t possible, then he would need to get a carriage, a large dog, or a cavalry animal. And that would be with limited funds.
Subaru: "So, I'd really appreciate it if Flop-san could tell me what he has in mind..."
Flop: "I only know of a tavern where people in that line of work go. I can help you with transportation, though. ...Yes, like a falo carriage!"
Subaru: "A falo, you’re pushing me too hard…”
Flop: "It's no exaggeration to say that I grew up on falo milk, I’m a fuge falo lover."
Laughing out loud, Flop enthusiastically explained how using a falo was highly recommended. However, it was not a good match for Subaru, who wanted to travel a long distance, let alone carry heavy loads. Their speed was also quite slow, so a falo was a last resort.
Flop: "Whatever you do, it's better to play it safe on the road. ..Between you and me, there seems to be a lot going on in the Imperial capital. There's no guarantee that it won't spread."
Subaru: "...There is something going on in the Imperial capital?”
Subaru raised an eyebrow, but Flop didn't seem to notice Subaru's reaction and replied with his arms crossed.
Flop: "That’s right. Well, there's always a fire burning somewhere in the Empire, and I'm concerned that it could spread. I don't want to worry your wife, so I'm only saying this to you."
Subaru: "Thank you for your concern… By the way, does that have anything to do with the Emperor?"
Flop: "With His Excellency, Vincent Vollachia?"
Flop widened his eyes as if he had been told something totally unexpected. Then he shook his head quickly.
Flop: "No, no, no. I haven’t heard much of the Emperor before. Even so, the Emperor has done an excellent job of settling the country so far."
Subaru: "But you said earlier that there was a smoldering fire."
Flop: "I also said that it was thanks to the skill of his Excellency, the Emperor, that it was only a spark. It's been seven or eight years since his Excellency the current Emperor ascended to the throne, but before that, the Empire was much rougher."
Flop: "This time, his Excellency is directly in the forefront of the turmoil. Soon enough, the fires of war will return to our homeland."
The fires of war would return, Flop had proclaimed. However, there was something about his words that bothered Subaru. ...Him saying that the Emperor was at the forefront of it all.
Subaru: "Is the Emperor trying to do something about the trouble in the Imperial capital?"
Flop: "Once it is in the Imperial capital… his Excellency will make his move.. And he has issued a statement saying that he will not tolerate anyone who takes advantage of this situation.”
Subaru: "The Emperor's statement..."
There was no hint of a lie in Flop's matter-of-fact explanation. In the first place, there was no reason for Flop to try to deceive Subaru about the troubles in the Imperial Capital, so at least he was telling what he thought to be the truth. But if that was the case, Subaru was stuck.
Subaru: "If that Abel guy really is the Emperor, was he the one who released the statement....?"
...No, the timing seemed odd. Of course, issuing a statement from the Emperor could be done by a minister in the form of "the secretary did it” without the Emperor himself being present. First of all, if he was to believe Abel's words, the only people left in the Emperor's castle were the people who ousted him. They would trample on the respect for the Emperor and do whatever they wanted by using his name. Only…
Subaru: "Let's just keep in mind that Abel is just a crazy bastard."
You can’t survive in a raging ocean if you believe everything in front of you. This wasn’t the ocean, and it wasn’t raging, but the overall idea that he was trying to face the Empire was the same. As someone who had faced and spoken with Abel himself, he doesn't think that's the kind of power the self-proclaimed Emperor could bring to the table.
Flop: "...Husband-kun, you shouldn't frown."
Said Flop, who had walked around in front of Subaru, as he considered Subaru’s situation. Before Subaru could stop himself from going forwards, Flop pointed to his own brow.
Flop: “Good fortune will not appear for those who don’t smile and don’t stay composed. Husband-kun, your group is looking for an escort on your journey, aren't you? In that case, we need to look for a suitable candidate.”
Flop: “If so, erase the wrinkles between your eyebrows and loosen the corners of your lips to create a relaxed atmosphere. That's how a capable man should be.”
He fiddled his finger between his eyebrows and loosened his cheeks with his hands. Seeing his gestures, Subaru stopped for a moment. Then did as he was told, slowly relaxing his eyebrows and his cheeks using his fingers.
Subaru: “Oh, I forgot. Even though I have a bad look in my eyes, I should at least soften my expression.”
Flop: “I’m sorry! There’s nothing I can do about your eyes!”
Subaru: “Don't take it so seriously, it’s okay! I got it from my mother, so I don’t actually mind as much as I should!”
Flop lamented exaggeratedly, so Subaru exaggerated back, that was probably Flop’s way of relieving Subaru’s tenseness. While exchanging jokes, Subaru and Flop approached their destination. Flop indicated a hidden bar near the end of the alley with his hand.
Flop: “If it were a large group of people, we would have to hire a large number of guards, but with only the husband, his wife, and his young niece, it wouldn't take a large group. And, as you can see, my sister and I can't follow you out of Guaral!”
Subaru: “But I have a feeling Medium-san might follow if I play my cards right…”
Flop: “If you do take my sister with you, I’ll have no choice but to die since I can’t make up for my weaknesses!”
Seriously, when weighing trust and safety into it, Flop and Medium weren’t bad options, but Subaru couldn’t inconvenience them and add even more to the debt he owed them.
Subaru: “No, worst case scenario, I take the two of them with me and flee directly to Lugunica. Once we get there the two of them could fulfill Otto’s unfilled ambitions as a merchant…”
Flop: “Oh, hey Husband-kun? Are you okay?”
Before Subaru could finish his train of thought, Flop waved his hand in front of Subaru and asked him how he was doing.”
Subaru scratched his head and said, “Sorry”, it was just a random thought, but it didn’t seem like that bad of an idea. He was sorry he had dragged them all the way out here, but...
Subaru: “Hey, Flop-san, there’s something I want to ask you and Medium-san.”
It happened the moment Subaru tried to speak.
...Somewhere, something made a faint, steady sound.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
Flop: ”...Husband-kun, you shouldn't frown.”
Suddenly, as his field of vision shifted like a flickering light, Subaru's mind went blank. In front of him, Flop was pointing up between his eyes. He started to graze his fingers over his browline, and it was as though he was lecturing Subaru, who had stopped in his tracks.
Flop: “Good fortune will not appear for those who don’t smile and don’t stay composed. Husband-kun, your group is looking for an escort on your journey, aren't you? In that case, we need to look for a suitable candidate.”
Flop: “If so, erase the wrinkles between your eyebrows and loosen the corners of your lips to create a relaxed atmosphere. That's how a capable man should be.”
He began to gently massage his cheeks with his hands. Flop’s behavior was familiar. Too familiar. After all, Subaru had seen it only a few minutes ago. They were repeating the same conversation they had just a few minutes ago.
Subaru: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute…”
Subaru’s sweat turned cold like a surprise attack, and he covered his face.
Seeing that, Flop said, “Don't hide it, relax!” However, there was no time to respond to his words.
When he looked, he also recognized the streets around him. It was Subaru’s first time in the city, and there was no way he was knowledgeable about Guaral. However, his memory wasn’t so poor that he would forget what he had just seen. In other words...
Subaru: “...Did I just use Return by Death?”
Under a casual situation, without knowing what had happened to him, Subaru muttered that as his face tensed up for a completely different reason than the one just before.