Chapter 20

"Emperor / Merchant / Natsuki Subaru"

...The fall of the Fortified City of Guaral is the next move Abel planed to make..

As Subaru's brain chewed over the contents of the grand declaration, he quickly came to a conclusion. That this was an absurd plan.

Subaru: "Somehow, a fortified city... It’s surrounded by huge walls on all sides, and the gates are constantly monitored. It's not a place you could say that it would fall easily."

Abel: "Ho, it's as if you've seen it... No, you have seen it. I almost forgot about that, considering I couldn't hear anything useful coming out of your mouth."

Subaru: "Your sarcastic wit is quite exceptional. But that sharp tongue only works with people who would willingly sit down for a discussion like this. It won't work on someone holding a weapon."

In the center of the meeting hall, Subaru and Abel glared at each other over a fire. Abel did not show his emotions behind his demon mask, and because Subaru couldn’t guess what was going on in Abel’s head at all, Subaru became all the more irritated and bewildered. There was no way Abel couldn’t have thought of the reasonable concerns that Subaru was harboring just now. In spite of that, the proposal for the fall of the Fortified City of Guaral was...

Rem: "...Using a secret path to invade the city, you mean to say?"

Beside Subaru, who held his breath, was Rem, who muttered that in a quiet voice. Sitting with her knees folded and legs out to the side, Rem gazed intently at Abel with her pale blue eyes. Rather than a glare, it was more like she was peering into his eyes. In response, Abel shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “It goes without saying.”

Abel: "As Natsuki Subaru said, the checkpoint at the city's main gate is our first obstacle. It is essential to find a way to get through it in order to enter the city."

Rem: "Even if we could get in, there seemed to be a large number of Imperial soldiers inside the city. Even if we could bypass the checkpoints, I think that there would be too many enemies."

Abel: "Hmm..."

As Abel laid out the obstacles the fall of Gural had, Rem countered with a reasonable objection. Abel snorted at her attitude, whereas Subaru became even more bewildered. The reason for this was, of course, Rem's head-on argument with Abel.

In terms of the discussion, Rem was on Subaru's side, who was in opposition against the attack on Guaral. However, the way she held her opinion was indeed too apt… It was as if she had been able to discern this point in the short time she had spent in Guaral.

Abel: "Natsuki Subaru, what do you understand about the difference in strength between offensive and defensive forces in battle?"

Subaru: "Ah? Does the difference in offensive and defensive forces mean something like ...... the Three-to-One Theory of Combat?"

TL Note: Official name for 攻撃三倍の法則 is "Three-to-One Theory of Combat," according to this book [Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat]

Abel: "The Three-to-One Theory of Combat… Indeed, that's a perfect way to put it."

When asked, he nodded as if Abel was impressed by Subaru's reflexive answer. The so-called Three-to-One Theory of Combat is a concept of military strength in warfare, which advises that the offensive side has three times as many troops as the defending side. This is a difference in the sense of purpose between offense and defense, where the attacker must defeat the opponent, while the defender must not only defeat the opponent, but also drive him back or prevent him from attacking.

In this instance, the People of Shudrak led by Abel must occupy the city in order to seize Guaral, but the Imperial soldiers and local guards stationed in the city can repel the attackers and ultimately achieve their goal by simply holding up in the city. To make up for the difference in objectives, you’d think that you’d need that amount, but...

Subaru: "We can't possibly have three times as many troops as the forces in the city, Mizelda-san, how many people are in this village?"

Mizelda: "Eighty-two in all. If you include Abel and that man... Flop, we have about a hundred people."

Subaru: "I don't know how you count men with nice faces, but that’s a mere one hundred troops. Still, if I had to make a rough estimate, there were more than three times that number in that city.

Leaving Mizelda's formula aside, Subaru estimated Guaral's strength as such. The size of the city was less than ten thousand people, but the guards who protected the city's public safety must have been adequate in numbers. On top of that, the Imperial soldiers who had been burned out of their camp were joining them.

...The Imperial soldiers, including Todd, were joining them.

Subaru: "..."

Abel: "At the very least, you seem to have some fundamental knowledge in your head. However, it appears that the reason you have kept your mouth shut is due to other fears, rather than the concern over the difference in fighting power."

Subaru: "...It's true that I'm scared, but it's also true that there is a dangerously large difference in power."

Subaru clicked his tongue and tasted the uncomfortable feeling of having his innermost thoughts guessed. In fact, Todd was the first obstacle he thought of when Subaru heard of attacking Guaral. Just the thought of facing him again made Subaru’s insides squirm. After all, if they considered following the Three-to-One Theory of Combat, their attack would be out of the question...

Subaru: "I can't think of any means to overturn this difference in strength other than to have a single warrior that is capable of fighting a thousand men among us, or an enemy commander who has a habit of being deadly incompetent.

Abel: "Unfortunately, I don't think we can expect either of those. With Shadrak's true strength, we could try to rout a mob of soldiers, but even so, we would be outnumbered. On top of that, I've heard that the enemy's commander is Zikr Osman. A solid and tedious tactician, no doubt."

TL Note: We used to call Zikr, Zykl, but since the release of volume 27 we now know the proper romanji translation for Zikr’s name.

Subaru: "Zikr... I've heard that name."

The first time he had heard that name must have been from Todd's mouth, before their relationship had gone sour. The Imperial encampment had already been burned down, but he recalled that the person who commanded the operation was called Zikr. However, seeing that the encampment was burned down, he thought that person was also defeated.

Abel: "Those in the camp were common soldiers. Originally, in order to hide the main purpose of this military campaign, the information given out to them was minimal ...A Second Class General would never go to the front line against a small tribe in the forest."

Subaru: "So the commander remained in the city from the beginning."

Abel: "In fact, if nothing else, that should have been enough to get the job done. That plan was distorted by my command and... Right, because of your presence, wasn't it, Natsuki Subaru?"

Subaru: "Gu..."

Wickedly, Abel tried to make Subaru confront the responsibility that he desperately wanted to turn away from. Subaru put his hand over his mouth as he grit his teeth over this.

In any case, there was a high possibility that the Second Class General Zikr was stationed in Guaral. It was said that the general ranks of the Empire were, from the top, First Class General, Second Class General, and Third Class General, and the fact that he was the second rank from the top suggests that he is quite an influential person.

Subaru: "So then what? We're outnumbered in terms of strength, and the other side's commander is as good as the top. Moreover, they're already wary of us because we poked at their hive?"

Abel: "That's right. Have you understood the weight of responsibility?"

Subaru: "I'm telling you, you don’t need to tell me that!"

Abel blamed Subaru for his shallow thinking, but their problem lay in another area. The problem is Abel's unwillingness to stop fighting in a situation where the odds are stacked against him. Subaru is adamant that it is futile to challenge them. In the first place...

Subaru: "I'm firmly against fighting itself. I've already made that clear once when I left here. I...I... just want to go home with Rem."

Abel: "But that has already proven to be infeasible. Do you think that your only enemies are the Imperial soldiers that have entered Guaral? Can you be so sure that other villages and towns are safe?"

Subaru "..."

Abel: "Wherever you go, your peace can no longer be bought. My intention was to give you time to fully realize that and have it permeate your blood. Or is the poison still not enough?"

Abel's mocking gaze picked at Subaru's feeble spirit. Feeling the pain of being cut down by his glare, Subaru drew a long breath and had no choice but to admit that Abel's words were true.

The hardships he had experienced in the Fortified City had created a mental barrier within him. Even if he tried to leave the country with Rem from here on out, the same anxiety and caution would not diminish no matter where he went outside of Guaral. Subaru's pride had been lost in exchange for five deaths.

Subaru: "Well, then, how about I sell you over to the enemy?"

Subaru asked, his cheeks twisted in an uneasy smile after the experience of having his escape route blocked and being cursed for his shallowness. At Subaru’s words, the air in the meeting hall instantly became tense. The edge of his vision clearly displayed the adjacent Rem, who widened her eyes. However, Abel, the one who was told that he would be sold, gave a small laugh and said,

Abel: "Hmm. Looks like your head is finally starting to function properly. But..."

Mizelda: "I can't let you do that, Subaru."

With blinding speed, Mizelda drew her dagger and held the blade against Subaru’s neck. Subaru gasped at his quick work and looked up at the face of the tall chieftain who had moved in an instant. Mizelda held the strong gaze of a ruthless hunter within her striking beauty.

Mizelda: "We have already decided to fight with Abel. That is the outcome of the Lifeblood Ritual, if those we acknowledge as our compatriots desire it, there is nothing else to do.

Subaru: "...I know it's a bit presumptuous of me to say this, since I got Rem back with the help of Mizelda and the others. Are you all really okay with this?"

Mizelda was firmly resolute, and Subaru's question jumped over her. As the chief, Mizelda has to embody what the People of Shudrak are, and she cannot be persuaded. Still, the other Shudrak could have a different opinion. Talitha, Kuna, and Holly, who are here, have their own opinions.

Subaru: "You know what he said earlier, too. The difference in strength is clear, and the opponent is a General who has experienced many battles. He knew from the start that there was no way he could win if we fought...."

Holly: "Perhaps Subaru is mistaken, no."

Subaru: "Mistaken...?"

Subaru asked for other opinions, and surprisingly it was Holly who answered the question first. Holly, who had been listening to the conversation while taking a bite of dried meat at the edge of the meeting hall, looked at Subaru, who was blocked from moving, with round eyes.

Holly: "If you’re talking about victory or defeat, then even if we pull out here, we've lost, nooo. If we fail to fight for our people, our souls will be stained, nooo."

Subaru: "By soul stain, are you talking about ... pride, or face to face with your ancestral spirits?"

Holly: "Yes, yes, Subaru knows it too, no."

Even smiling, Holly affirmed Subaru's words. But that was not proof that they understood each other, rather, it was proof that they could not understand each other.

Subaru too, understood that there was such a viewpoint. Pride and family honor, as one would put it, are invisible signs that don’t directly contribute to one’s physical being. ...Surely, there exists those who think that is important, and treat that with greater care than anything else. However, no matter how one puts it, this way of thinking couldn’t coexist with Subaru, who believed that there was nothing more important than life.

Subaru: "Kuna! Talitha-san! Are you two of the same opinion?!"

Kuna: "...I don't think I'm a Holly or a Chief, though."

Talitha: " I will obey my sister's decision. That is my intention."

Subaru: "Is that, so..."

The other two who Subaru tried to draw out did not respond with his desired answer.

He thought he could have possibly swayed Kuna, who was a little unlike the other Shudrak, but it seemed like this was also a miscalculation on Subaru’s part. Needless to say, Talitha was absolutely obedient to Mizelda. It looked like the stalemate was going to drag on, with the dagger still held to Subaru's neck and no one taking his side.

Rem: "...Mizelda-san, please withdraw your weapon. That person has no intention of handing Abel-san over to the other side."

None other than Rem told Mizelda to withdraw her dagger. Meeting her gaze, Mizelda narrowed her eyes.

Mizelda: "Are you ordering me, Rem? You didn’t take the Lifeblood Ritual. While I allowed you to stay in the village upon Subaru's request, I have no grounds to let you talk back."

Rem: "Then, all the more reason for you to withdraw your weapons. That man underwent that ritual...that Lifeblood Ritual as you call it, and was welcomed as a fellow member of the tribe. Hurting him would not be a good thing."

Subaru: "Re..."

Mizelda had tried to intimidate her, but with the power of her insight and resolution, Rem spoke back, leaving Mizelda at a loss for words instead. Eventually, she quickly sheathed the dagger into its sheath at her hip. She then released Subaru and stared at Rem.

Mizelda: "Your words are right for now. But if Abel and Subaru have another disagreement, I'll side with Abel. Don't forget that."

Rem: "Is that because he has the eyes of a villain with the body odor to match?"

Mizelda: "A little sharpness in the eyes can be charming. But I prefer a beautiful face."

The critical scene was calming down, and their final exchange was a weak attempt at conversation. At any rate, Subaru was freed from the threat of being decapitated and gently touched his own neck where the blade had been applied. He then fixed his eyes on Rem.

Rem: "...What is it?"

Subaru: "...Nothing, I was just confused because I didn't know whether to react to the fact that you covered for me or the fact that you ragged on my face."

Rem: "I didn't say anything about your face. I'm talking about your eyes. And the body odor. The crooked nose. Please sit further over there."

Subaru: "You say that now…?!"

With the coldness of Rem’s attitude seemingly entering the ice age, Subaru was hurt by the increased distance he had to sit at. But inwardly, a more complicated confusion was tormenting Subaru. In fact, he didn’t know the true meaning of why she said what she said to defend Subaru. Maybe she just didn't want to overlook something illogical, or maybe not. Was it his bias that made him think that? But she didn’t unpack her luggage at the inn in Guaral, therefore...

Abel: "Quite the interruption. Still, even if you were able to slip past the Shudrak's eyes, the idea of selling me out to the other side would be futile, it seems."

Subaru: "...Good job on continuing the conversation. And while I'm at it, I'll ask you. Why?"

Abel: "You, too, have spent time in that city, albeit for a short time. If that's the case, then you must have heard about how the current Imperial City is being governed, right?"

Subaru: "How the Imperial capital is ...ah! Yes, I did! You ..."

Without thinking, Subaru stood up, hitting his knees on the spot. Then, with all the eyes on him, he called out, “Flop-san!” The swooning Flop, unable to keep up with the changing situation, turned around and said, "Yeah?”

Flop: "W-w-w-what's up, Husband-kun? To be honest, I'm feeling extremely confused and disoriented right now! I can't keep up with the conversation at all, and all I can feel is that the conversation is coming to a climax!"

Subaru: "I'm sorry about leaving you out of the loop, but let me check with you. In Guaral, you were talking about the Imperial City's official notice, or rather, the Emperor's declaration."

Flop: "The Emperor's declaration… you mean the talk of the Imperial City's troubles?"

Flop snapped his fingers, and Subaru nodded at his understanding. It was in Guaral that he and Flop had that conversation. However, the impression of the fierce battle he and Todd had to repeat six times immediately afterward was thoroughly burned into his brain and overshadowed their conversation. Recalling this, Flop stroked his long bangs and said.

Flop: "I've heard that there's been some sort of commotion in the Imperial capital of our smoldering empire. It's been a long time since the current reign of His Excellency the Emperor, but there were no signs of a civil war, and the people of the Empire were enjoying a peaceful life. But then, something happened."

Subaru: "The story of the trouble in the Imperial capital was leaked to the outside world, and the Emperor himself was going to step in to solve it, right? It was supposed to be an unusual announcement like that but..."

Flop: "Yes, it was. In fact, it's the first time since the current Emperor took the throne. However, he has a proven track record of successfully handling the Empire so far. I have no worries! Long live the Vollachia Empire!"

Raising both his hands, Flop unconsciously gouges out Subaru's old wounds. The words of praise for the Empire had been heard many times in the encampment of the Imperial soldiers, but right now, Subaru did not have the composure in his mind to innocently get on that. Anyhow, the problem was not that praise, but the Emperor's move that had been mentioned just before. It was an unusual situation for the Emperor to personally make a move to quell the turmoil in the Imperial capital. Not to mention, if it came to the Emperor issuing a decree in front of the public eye...

Subaru: "What kind of position do you think you're in here, and who are you? Can you prove that you're not some crazy bastard on drugs?"

Abel: "Proof? Where is the need for that?"

Subaru: "What?"

Abel, who was kneeling, snickered at Subaru's suspicion. As that was, he put his hand on his chest, as if to show off his existence.

Abel: "If you are still treating me like a deluded outsider after all this time, how do you explain your situation?"

Subaru: "That’s...."

Abel: "Stop jumping to cheap conclusions that you can't even fool yourself into believing just to gain peace of mind. If you eliminate the possibilities that don't add up at the right time, the only things you’re left with are facts.”

Abel's tone was harsh, but Subaru was also aware of the holes in his current logic.

The man with the demon mask in front of him was a fake who had pretended to be the Emperor, and that Subaru, the People of Shudrak, and everyone were being tricked by his lie. That would be an unexpected development beyond salvaging, it was difficult to imagine. In fact, Abel used the power of Shudrak and the information he got out of Subaru to win the battle against the Imperial Guard. That's a fact that cannot be explained by a pathological liar.

Subaru: "But then, what about the Imperial City? If we're talking about direct command, wouldn't it be impossible for the Emperor to not come out in public?"

Abel: "If circumstances allow it, then he will come out. A fake that closely resembles me... To prevent the Emperor’s absence from being perceived, I used the most capable shadow, Chisha Gold."

Subaru: "Chisha ...?"

The name was unfamiliar to Subaru, but that was Abel’s... or rather, the Emperor's double. In a country where imperialism is based on the idea of the weak and the strong, it was easy to imagine the Emperor using a double in case of an assassination attempt. However, with the Emperor deprived of his position, his double was being used by his enemies.

Abel: "Silence, I'm aware."

Subaru: "Is that so? I'm in quite a predicament, thanks to you. If the Empire was at least stable, then..."

The only problem he’d have would be the cold reception from Rem, who had no memory of him. In order to join up with Emilia and the others, he should have just made the journey to escape the Vollachia Empire while it was going through turmoil. And yet, by some kind of ill fate, here they are.

Flop: "Say...say, say, Husband-kun."

The one who called out to that bitter-faced Subaru was Flop. He wrinkled his neatly shaped brow and tilted his head at a rather steep angle.

Flop: "I've been listening to you for a short while now, and I've been thinking that you've been having some strange conversations with the village chief. To be honest, I'm also surprised about that joke you are speaking of making Guaral surrender.."

Subaru: "Joke...? No, that's fine... Uhh, Flop-san, I was going to explain but-"

Flop: "Oh, I'd love for you to explain! Otherwise, I’ll properly accept what I heard without question and have no choice but to come to this conclusion!"

With that, Flop snappily thrust his finger at Abel. Then...

Flop: "To the improbable idea that the masked village chief over there is His Excellency the Emperor!"

Abel: "..."

Flop: "Well, well, well? I'm afraid I'm going to be in trouble if you shut up there, mister. Fortunately, I have a reputation for making hasty judgments. So I'm flexible enough to quickly recant my thoughts...."

Able: "...Your behavior is the very picture of dishonesty, isn’t it?"

It was a conversation that lacked care if it was meant to be hidden. Therefore, Flop, who was listening nearby, naturally came to the correct conclusion. And none other than Abel, showed his displeasure at the fact that Flop had arrived at the truth on his own.

Abel putting his scorn into his gaze, the one he cursed dishonesty at, was Subaru. He was pointing out that he hadn't revealed anything to Flop, who Subaru had brought to the village of Shudrak. But it was difficult for Subaru to accept Abel's scorn for that matter.

Subaru: "You think I'm dishonest? How can you say that to me? In the first place, I know that’s something you can spread around!"

Abel: "Then you should have made your assessment before you brought him here. It seems like you haven't fully grasped the situation yet. I've given you plenty of time to think about it after being chased by the enemy in Guaral.”

Subaru: "..."

Abel: "Why compromise your thinking with something more important than yourself by your side? If you don't intend to put them beside you, it would be wrong to bring them back from the beginning."

Upon being told of something more important than himself, Subaru thought of Rem beside him. The words that followed hurt Subaru like the piercing cold. Abel's point is plain and simple: He is in a position where he must protect Rem at all costs, so why try to cut corners? Of course, Subaru has no intention of cutting any corners or compromising anything. However, in the eyes of Abel, who can go around thinking much deeper and further than Subaru, what Subaru thinks is completely insufficient, unattainable, and not worth consideration.

He’s being blamed for bringing someone back to the village that Abel couldn’t trust to reveal his circumstances to. Abel cut him off coldly, exposing Subaru's naivety in thinking that he mustn’t involve Flop or Medium, and that it was a ridiculous idea.

Subaru: "I'm..."

Flop: "...May I also interrupt you for a minute, Village Chief-kun?!"

Subaru was at a loss for words, but it was Flop who raised his hand vigorously in his place and stepped forward to face Abel's demon masked face.

Flop: "Or are you not Village Chief-kun? What should I call you?"

Abel: "I don't have a title right now. I call myself Abel, but you can call me whatever you want."

Flop: "That so! Well then, since there's a certain atmosphere, I'll let you stay as Village Chief-kun. I hope the ladies over there don't mind."

Mizelda: "Oh, you're a sexy guy. I will allow anything."

Talitha: "Sister..."

Flop laughed as the sisters exchanged their customs, "Thank you!" He laughed. Then, continuing to laugh, he hit both his knees hard with his hands.

Flop: "I'm afraid I can't have you deny it forever, but I’d like to discuss the matter from a moment’s moment ago. Village Chief-kun, you asked me about a way into the city, but ..."

Abel: "Yeah, I heard about it. Do you have any ideas, merchant?"

Flop: "I do! ...Is what seems like I would answer, but I apologize. If that’s used to attack Guaral, then I would’ve to refuse to answer!"

Flop asserted with his palm out in front of him, his face radiant.

Subaru, who was listening next to him, widened his eyes at Flop’s decisive statement. Abel, on the other side of the demon mask, must have narrowed his eyes slightly.

That's how serious Flop's words were, even if his tone didn't show it.

Abel: "..."

Although Flop's words and actions are quite outlandish, he wasn’t stupid.

He also guessed that the man in front of him was a man in a difficult position. It's a pretty good guess, since he can't confirm nor deny it. In other words, he had just said "no" to the presumed Emperor.

Abel: "...Are you aware of the meaning that holds?"

Flop: "Of course I do, I'm a nobody, Village Chief-kun. If it turns out to be a fight, then I refuse. I would also like to avoid harming someone with my knowledge ."

Abel: "That's a pipe dream. In reality, harm comes to you without regard for your circumstances. Are you going to stick your palm out at all of that and request them to withdraw?"

Flop: "If I have to!"

Abel: "Even if you do, there will be no positive outcome. ...This is Wolf Country."

A cold, piercing, ghastly energy leaked out from Abel's entire body as he affirmed this. It wasn’t the degree of its power, but the size of its existence manifested as a fearsome sense of oppression. Rem, who would be able to overwhelm Abel if they fought, and the Shudrak and the others also gasped and stiffened. Naturally, Subaru was also intimidated to the point that he feared he might not be able to breathe. Even Flop was no exception. But Flop, under the spell of the Emperor's devilishness...

Flop: "This may be Wolf Country, but the sheep are alive and well. If a wolf were to bite me on the butt, I would run away with my sister in my cart. Until today, we have done it over and over again, Village Chief-kun."

Abel: "..."

His cheeks were stiffened, and yet Flop gave his protest without losing his smile. Hearing that, the dreadful energy that had been radiating from Abel suddenly came undone. At that moment, the oppressive feeling that had swept the assembly hall disappeared, and Subaru even regained the freedom to breathe. However, even if he could afford to breathe, the composure of his mind would not return.

Subaru: "F...Flop-san..."

With a radiant smile, Flop turned his gaze towards Subaru, who called out with a breath that had gone hoarse. It was close to a bitter smile, but there was no regret in Flop's profile. But even if he didn't regret it, Subaru's regret at having brought him here was growing.

After all, Flop had directly opposed the Emperor of Vollachia. If he was displeased with him for that, Abel, who was in charge of Shudrak, would be able to do whatever he wanted with Flop. However, contrary to Subaru’s worries...

Abel: "...Contrary to your lazy manner of speaking, you seem to have a core. You are a troublesome fellow, merchant."

Flop: "That so? Even though it seems this way, I do admit that I have charming looks!"

Mizelda: "Oh, I know.."

Abel, who had retracted his dreadful energy, did not direct the brunt of his anger at Flop. To that, Flop responded in a way that may or may not have been aware that he had walked a dangerous tightrope; he made no comment on Mizelda's statement.

Abel: "I rescind my previous gratitude, Natsuki Subaru."

Subaru: "Huh?"

Abel's words were directed at Subaru, who had been unable to regain his composure since earlier. Saying this from the opposite side of the demon mask,

Abel: "You have no self-awareness, so at best, I expected that if you’d bring someone, they’d have only their self interests in mind... That would’ve at least saved you from future troubles."

Subaru: "...If he was that type of guy, he wouldn't have been good to us in the first place."

Abel: "Hmm, I suppose you're right about that assessment. How irritating."

If the earlier compliment was about bringing Flop along, then Flop certainly showed a stubbornness that made him want to retract that praise. No way was he going to bite straight into the Emperor's prestige... no, more like, willow it away? It never occurred to him that anyone could have such an attitude. It was even more surprising that Abel would allow such an attitude from Flop.

Rem: "I thought Abel-san was a more obstinate person."

Subaru: "Wait, Rem!"

He couldn't help but peel his eyes away from Subaru's heart and Rem's words that seemed to reflect that. It was true that he thought it was surprising, but it was something he hadn't said because he didn't think there was anything to be gained by saying it. That is what Rem just spoke, and Abel's demon face turned towards her. The oni and the man in the demon mask faced each other, and there was a moment of silence between them.

Abel: "People with beliefs are tricky. They have strong roots and build up strength in their trunks."

Rem: "...What do you mean, and what are you trying to say?"

Abel: "You don't get it, do you? It's a small thing."

Rem frowned at the quiet, somewhat un-Abel-like answer. Abel shook his head, somewhat disappointed by Rem's reaction. The reason for his disappointment was not clear to anyone. However, Subaru had a vague idea.

Subaru: "...Was that some kind of quote, by any chance?"

Abel: "Hoh, that’s a surprise. You didn't seem that educated to me."

Subaru: "I just kind of thought so. Those sounded like a borrowed words."

Subaru was surprised to hear Abel's unexpectedly vulgar words and actions.

However, Abel didn't care that he was perceived as such, and replied with a short, "I see.”

Abel: "Let’s go back to the previous question, but don't look down on me. First of all, what do you want me to do?"

Rem: "I thought you would at least try to hurt him to find out."

When asked by Abel, Rem answered with blunt honesty.

However, it was an option that Subaru didn't think was a bad idea. If Abel wanted to bend Flop to his will, it would not be surprising if he ordered the Shudrak to do something torturous to him. But Abel shrugged his shoulders and replied.

Abel: "That would be pointless. It's true that pain is sometimes the best means of negotiating, but the accuracy of the information you get from it is terribly fragile. People will lie to escape immediate pain."

Rem: "..."

Abel: "And in that case, you have eyes that tell me you'd risk your life to be a shield."

That was Abel's assessment of Rem's gaze as she stared at him. If you looked, you would see that Rem's profile, with its hardened cheeks, had a sadness that could have overshadowed its loveliness. Her posture proved that Abel’s statement was true.

Abel: "I will not risk the folly of reducing our forces to obtain information that is not certain. ...Hence, negotiations."

Flop: "Negotiate?"

Abel: "Merchant, I will buy what knowledge you have. Let us negotiate for that."

Abel said this as he dropped to his knees and sat down on his haunches. In response, Flop, who rolled his eyes, faced Abel with a smile on his face. And then...

Flop: "When I hear the word negotiations, as a merchant, it's inevitable that my blood will grow hot. But! Before we start negotiating, let me make something clear. I'm very stubborn. Even if it means getting my head split apart, I won't accept anything I can't accept!"

That, he declared…


Subaru: “Even if your head gets split open... It is not funny at all. It's not funny, Flop-san”

Subaru made a bitter face, remembering Flop's dare to start a negotiation war just before. It wasn’t Flop’s intention, but to Subaru, who had actually seen his head being cracked open many times, those words had caught him off guard.

Subaru: “...”

Squinting his eyes, Subaru looked towards the meeting hall from a distant hill. Inside the meeting hall right then, Abel and Flop’s negotiation, the so-called business discussion, was taking place. Abel, wanted a foothold for the fall of Guaral, while Flop has knowledge that could lead to that, but refused to reveal it.

Subaru’s departure from the meeting hall and having not been picked for the team, was ordered by none other than the person who was in a chief position in the negotiation. In other words, Abel. Then again, Subaru couldn't even offer himself a good enough reason to stay there.

Abel: “We’ll utilize a secret route to enter the city, a blitzkrieg where we aim straight for the enemy general’s head.”

After being kicked out, Subaru recollected, being bathed in the wind that smelled like the forest. As far as he had heard, that was the outline of the strategy Abel proposed. It was simple but, in order to overturn the power gap, he could say that it was hard to think of any means except for that. If there was anything to be done, it would be to create a diversion outside the city to attract attention or to do something small to thin the enemy general's defense. If there was a problem, it would be...

Subaru: “I get the feeling that such a simple strategy is too easy to read… if the enemy is Todd, even more so.”

If there was no other way to do it, then of course the opponent would be wary of it. And a strategy that makes the opponent cautious is like throwing a straight ball right down the middle. From the point of view of the opponent who has been waiting for it, it is a ball of opportunity that he is drooling over. It was inconceivable to Subaru that Todd would let that one slip through the cracks.

Subaru: “Or am I just too freaked out? I mean, if the rest of the soldiers are like that, there's no way we're going to win.”

He doesn't know. It's too much of an unknown. But he wishes that's not the case. Subaru didn't want to think that there were other enemies out there like Todd. He was acutely aware of the fact that he had the worst affinity with the "Return by Death", having suffered the most deaths in the shortest amount of time. The thought of that being the norm in the Vollachia Empire was...

???: “...It seems that negotiations are being prolonged...”

Subaru: “...”

At some point, Subaru covered his face with his hand and closed his eyes. As he stared into the darkness, a familiar girl's voice, a voice that was familiar but made him want to listen to it as long as he could, reached his eardrums. However, that was for times when Subaru’s mental state was at peace.

Subaru: “Rem…”

Dropping the hand that covered his face, Subaru opened his eyelids slowly. Standing quietly on the gentle slope of the hill, Subaru was nervous as his gaze met Rem's, cane in her hand. Now that he was facing Rem like this, it had an effect on his heart.

In the days leading up to their return to the village of People of Shudrak, Subaru was able to focus on his anger at Abel for trapping them. In doing so, he was avoiding talking to Rem. In fact, it wasn't a mistake; he was afraid to talk to Rem and find out her true intentions. So, he turned away from unpleasant things and tried to make do with what he had. But there was a limit to how long he could keep running away from unpleasant things. Because of that limit...

Subaru: “...”

Now, he was forced to face her serious eyes like this.

Rem: “It seems that Abel-san is putting a lot of conditions on it, but Flop-san seems to be stubbornly refusing to give in.”

Subaru: “...Oh, he's a fine person. He doesn't want to help hurt anyone with his knowledge. It's amazing that he has the guts to say that when he's surrounded by the People of Shudrak!”

He watched the negotiations go on for a while, but Flop's stubbornness was in line with his self-assessment. The focus of the discussion was still on the damage in the city of Guaral... both human and material, and Flop was not willing to give in. Abel also suggested reducing human casualties as much as possible, but that was not a decisive factor.

In the end, they couldn’t reach an agreement. Subaru was relieved to see Flop's stubborn insistence.

Flop didn't want to fight, and he refuted Abel head-on. He was relieved to see that there was another person in the room who was willing to fight and refute Abel. But...

Rem: “A fine person... I don’t think this is a situation where you can simply say that.”

Subaru: “...What?”

Contrary to Subaru's positive view of Flop's attitude, Rem muttered quietly with strong accusation in her voice. Surprised by the strength of her words, Subaru couldn't help but stare at Rem. Rem met his gaze, the same one that Subaru had previously turned away from, silently saying it was difficult to face her. While staring straight at Subaru, she continued to speak.

Rem: “He doesn't want to hurt anyone with his knowledge. I understand that feeling. But... thinking about the situation, including Flop himself, how do you see the damage that will be created by him not revealing his knowledge? Couldn't you also say that his knowledge has hurt someone else?”

Subaru: “That, that's what I call quibbling. It's just a pretext to put all the blame on Flop-san, even the damage that was created by him not speaking.”

Rem: “That's true. But I don't think it's realistic to run away all of the time.”

Abel told him that this was Wolf Country, while Flop declared that the sheep would flee. Rem said pessimistically no, realistically... that it was a pipe dream. She was one of those who went to Guaral. The relentlessness of the Imperial Guard was familiar to her. She wondered if she would ever be able to shake off the harshness of their pursuit.

Would Flop be able to escape with Medium, no matter how far or how little, under conditions of clear hostility rather than vague harm? And how far will Subaru and the others, who are also doomed, go?

Subaru: “Wait, wait, Rem, what you're saying is confusing. You said you didn't want to fight either, right? Yet, with that way of speaking…”

Rem: “...”

Subaru: “...It’s as if you’re agreeing to fight.”

Subaru's voice trembled, and he was unable to speak. However, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and the dangerous dialogue between Subaru and Rem at this moment was not only about words, but also about the feelings in their actions. To Subaru, the grim color in her eyes seemed to resemble Abel’s when he argued with him to defend Flop.

Subaru: “...I don't understand you. It’s difficult for me, you know.”

Seeing Rem's attitude, Subaru released the emotions that were floating around in his mind. She said something that seemed to condemn Flop for trying to follow his beliefs, but then looked at Subaru with the same light in her eyes as when he had defended him for showing his beliefs. The interaction between the awakened Rem and Subaru was always uneven and one-sided, as she defended Subaru against Abel but didn't unpack at the inn at Guaral.

From the bottom of his heart, he was overjoyed that she was awake. As for the sorrow of her memories not returning, he believes that some sort of solution will be found. But the uncooperative attitude of Rem, who he has to take back to Emilia and the others, in the Empire where she can't truly rely on anyone, stabbed Subaru's heart like a blade. Each time, he almost crouched down in pain.

Subaru: “...You didn't unpack at the inn in Guaral, did you? It saved me a lot of time before we had to run away, but it’s been bothering me for a while now.”

Rem: “That was...”

Subaru: “When people go to the inn, I think most people either make themselves at home or put their stuff away. It's possible that it doesn’t apply to you. But…”

He didn't want to say anything beyond that. If he could have ignored it, he would have, but now that he felt he couldn't avoid mentioning Rem's inexplicable attitude, he couldn't keep turning away. So...

Subaru: “But you were trying to get away from me again, weren't you?”

Rem: “...”

Rem's silence was piercing, and Subaru felt his heart bleed. However, once the scab was turned over, it no longer served its purpose. He had no choice but to pull it off, willing the blood to flow and the wound to be exposed. He had to endure the pain.

Subaru: “It's okay if you don't trust me… It hurts, but I understand. You can't remember anything, and I smell like someone you can't forgive, and I have no grounds to tell you to trust me. I know why you can't trust me and want to keep me away.”

Rem: “...”

Subaru: “But it's true that there's someone who cares about you… who's waiting for you to come home. If you don't like me, you don't have to talk to me. And I'll put up with you shaking off my hand. But please don’t leave.”

Rem: “...”

Subaru: “Please don't… shut me out of your life.”

His voice trembled as he pleaded, his eyes almost clouded over with tears. The teardrops that were slowly seeping out of his eyes, he couldn't tell what had caused them, his own shame or his plea to Rem.

It was just shameful. It was just pathetic. Even if she hadn't given up on him, she could have given up on him because of this plea.

...He couldn’t help it. He kept showing a pathetic appearance in front of Rem.

It's a sight that Emilia, Beatrice, and the rest of his friends will never see. At least, Subaru had tried hard not to intentionally show it to his friends. Whether or not he had actually been successful, he had done so. He had decided that the only time he would show his weakness was in front of Rem.

However, this does not mean that he wants Rem, who has no memories, is unreliable and is feeling helpless in a foreign land, to bear the burden of Natsuki Subaru.

Rem: “...”

Hearing Subaru's shameless plea, Rem said nothing. Even so, with his vision almost blurred by seeping tears, Subaru didn't take his eyes off her, and she didn't take her eyes off him either. Then, a moment of silence fell between them.

Rem: “...You.”

Subaru: “...”

Rem: “I wasn't trying to abandon you.”

So Rem said, faltering, choosing her words carefully. It was an attitude that Rem had never tried to show Subaru up to this point.

She said that she was concerned about Subaru, who she should be wary of, and was trying not to hurt him. It sounded as if it wasn't just something that had come out of her mouth in anguish. Or maybe even that was just Subaru's hope.

Subaru: “You are…”

Subaru tries to choose his words, relying on that faint hope, a lint that he should not cling to. What did Rem think, what did she wish for, and what did she believe in while saying that? Not knowing if he should know the answer, or even if he could, Subaru tried to continue speaking, just to listen to her voice more. However...

Subaru: “Aahhh!!”

???: “Goooh!?”

Before he could, a shock hit him around the waist, causing Subaru's body to lurch sideways.

Subaru was blown away without being able to support himself at all, and he fell dramatically on the hill. The immediate atmosphere was shattered, and when he turned his eyes to see what was going on...

???: “Loo! You shouldn't climb on top of Suu! Uu stopped. Loo did it on her own.”

Subaru: “Um, Utakata...? That means, this is…”

It was Utakata, her brown complexion slightly tinted, who came running in with what seemed like comical footsteps. And sitting astride Subaru's chest, with Utakata pulling on her sleeve, was a girl with long blond hair tucked behind her head.

Rem: “Louis-chan, please get down. That person will be crushed.”

Louis: “Cruu...?”

TL Note: To be crushed in japanese iss うつぶれる, so Louis is imitating the first hiragana, saying うー? in Japanese. So I translated this accordingly.

It was Louis who tilted her head at Rem's words, a question mark on her joyful face. With her butt on Subaru's chest, Louis patted Subaru's cheek with an innocent face. It's this lack of maliciousness that has annoyed Subaru from the start.

Subaru: “I’m talking about something important. Get off now.”

Louis: “Ahh?”

Subaru: “No, not ‘ah’. Utakata, please.”

Utakata: “Suu asked so I’ll listen.. Uu, a good wife and wise mother.”

TL Note:,_Wise_Mother

As if she understood the meaning of the words, Utakata pulled Louis' arm and pulled her up over Subaru's chest. The pressure disappeared, and Subaru raised himself up on the spot. Still, with a dissatisfied look on Louis' face in front of him, Subaru was at his wit’s end.

Subaru: “After all, there's no answer to what you are…”

The Sin Archbishop, an Evil Being, Gluttony, Louis Arneb. He could think of any number of bad words to describe the blonde girl before his eyes. But the girl that all of these things applied to did not overlap with the girl before his eyes. That wicked girl didn't help Subaru, didn't care for him, didn't smile at him defenselessly. But...

Louis: “Uhh?”

As Louis tilted her head, her actions so far came back to Subaru's mind. She had saved him from being strangled by Rem, and she had stood up to Subaru's predicament many times after that with her voice trembling. Most recently, even to Todd with an axe in his hand. The sight of her taking an elbow strike and spilling blood from her nose was fresh in his mind. It’s almost painful that no scars remain and Louis looks like she hasn't been affected by it at all, but-

Rem: “Louis-chan!”

Louis: “Uhh!”

At the call, Louis broke out in a flash and rushed over to Rem. Having learned how to jump on Rem, who was holding a cane, Rem caught Louis' jump that was not too vigorous and gently patted her head. Louis Arneb was a part of the Sin Archbishop who was responsible for Rem’s current condition.

Rem: “Those eyes of yours…”

Louis: “An?”

Rem: “The eyes with which you look at this child also confuse me. This child is so fond of you, but you…”

Subaru: “...”

While embracing Louis' small body, Rem muttered to Subaru, who was silent. Was that a continuation of the words that didn’t last? This is a continuation of the true intentions that Rem, who had not unpacked in Guaral, was about to reveal. But, no matter how long he waited, Rem didn't try to say anything more, just wrapping a smiling Louis in her chest.

Subaru: “...You, what do you want me to do?”

Looking at Rem, Subaru finally spoke with a terminal choice of words. It might have been a cowardly thing to say, leaving the answer to Rem. However, if anything Subaru chose to say or do could be repelled by Rem, this was the only way. He had to ask Rem directly what she wanted and how she wanted it done.

On top of that, he was scared that if the answer she came up with was something that Subaru couldn't achieve, then that might be the end of their relationship.

And at Subaru's manner of speaking, she choked up for a moment.

Rem: “I don't want it... to turn into a fight.”

And so she said. That in itself can be swallowed by Subaru. In fact, when the Imperial encampment was burned, she thought it was initiated by Subaru, and came at him with a strong fury. Rem does not want to fight. She doesn't like it. That's for sure.

So, he was convinced that nothing had changed from her point of view. However, when Subaru was about to come to terms with this, Rem continued. However...

Rem: “But, we can’t continue to run away either, I believe. Flop-san's words are unrealistic. And…”

Subaru: “You don't agree with Abel?”

Rem: “...Yes.”

With a small tug of her chin, Rem nodded to Subaru's question. The timid nodding of her head was proof that she herself was aware that what she was saying was absurd, of course she was.

While affirming Flop's opinion that she didn't want to fight, she also agreed with Abel's opinion that she had no choice but to fight. It was an ideology that could also be called the embodiment of opportunism. Truthfully, Subaru also wonders how much better it would be if such weather-beaten opinions were accepted.

He doesn’t want to fight. But he has to fight. He doesn’t want to take people's lives. And yet, they are facing a battle that they have no choice but to take part in. If he had to clash with the duality surrounding life then...

Rem: “If it’s you…”

Subaru: “Huh?”

With a bitter look on his face, Subaru agrees with the antagonistic thoughts that Rem is having. However, as Subaru was in such anguish, Rem glanced at him. With Louis' head on her chest, she turned her pale blue eyes filled with uneasiness to Subaru. Then, as if making a small, determined effort once again, she said to the breathless Subaru…

Rem: “...Can you do something about it?”

She asked, as if she was clinging to him.

Subaru: “...”

The moment he received that question, Subaru stiffened as if he had been struck by lightning. It was a question that was too, much too outrageous.

The question was even worse than Subaru's, who defined himself as dastardly, and as a coward. The feeling of not wanting to fight, the feeling of knowing you have to fight, and the third answer that is neither of those options. ...That's what Rem is looking for from Subaru.

Why was that? She has forgotten everything, lost her trust and affection for Natsuki Subaru, and is wary and disgusted by him because of the stench that surrounds him, so why would she ask him that?

Why does Rem give a clinging look to Subaru?

Subaru: “...”

The terribly one-sided, selfish question made Natsuki Subaru hot. He was sure that he could be forgiven for getting angry, cursing loudly, and denouncing her naivety. That's how self-centered Rem's choice must have been.

However, what sprouted in Subaru at that moment was a sense of mission that welled up from the depths of his soul.

Subaru: “I’m…”

He had to fight. He needed to resist. He felt that he had to shatter the reality that existed right there.

Flop O'Connell, who avoided fighting and refused to reveal his knowledge. Vincent Abellux, who was trying to prepare for the inevitable battle and win his survival.

In the situation that was placed, two people grasped a choice that could be called inevitable.

Natsuki Subaru must find a different answer, a different path, from those two. Why is that? It's because...

Subaru: “...Because I'm the hero that Rem believed in.”

And because he is a man who has been fighting in this other world with only his inability to give up as a weapon. Merely crossing a national border doesn’t mean that Natsuki Subaru will abandon the philosophy that has allowed him to advance until today. That's what he believes.

The days when he met Emilia, was saved by her, and ran through the world to save her. The vow that he made to hold Beatrice's hand, take her out of the forbidden library, and be with her.

Save Rem, be saved, let her be loved, to respond to that intimacy is how Subaru has now defined himself.

...Natsuki Subaru, his blood heats up as he tries to change this limited situation.

Something, something, isn’t there something? The days he spent in the Kingdom of Lugunica, the days since he was sent to the Vollachia Empire, the people he met, the enemies he confronted, the people standing beside him, and the people standing in the distance are all evidence.

Think, ponder, imagine, seize the possibilities. In this world where everyone and everything is superior to him, the only means left for Natsuki Subaru to fight are his underhandedness and cleverness. If that's the case, if that's the case, if that's the case...

Subaru: “...Ah.”

Struck by a sense of helplessness and overwhelmed by a sense of defeat, Subaru left the meeting place at his wits’ end. In the mind of that same Subaru, a thought suddenly emerged. Taking that possibility, which seemed more like a joke, than something serious, Subaru seriously examined the possibility of converting it into a definite plan.

TL Note: そのスバルの脳裏に, there's no 同じ to indicate that it's the "same" Subaru perse, but I placed that there because I believe that's the emphasis Tappei is trying to place

Subaru: “...”

Rem's eyes stared at the silent Subaru. She put her hand over Louis' mouth, who was about to make a fuss, and stared at him while Utakata, who was tilting her head beside him, held her tongue from letting out any unnecessary words.

She, who should have no memory, looks at him with the same gaze as when she had memories. It's as if she believes that Natsuki Subaru will reach an answer that no one else can reach. And then...

Subaru: “...Rem.”

With her hand remaining over Louis’ mouth, Rem straightened her posture as Subaru muttered. There was no reply. Somehow she understood that he didn't want that. However, unaware of Rem's reaction, Subaru quietly held his breath and continued.

Subaru: “If it were me, what would I do? I've found the answer to that.”


He pushed open the door of the meeting hall, stomping on the hard earth.

The man with the demon mask sniffed disapprovingly as he looked at Subaru, as if to say, "This doesn’t involve you".

Abel : "What's the matter, Natsuki Subaru? You don't have any business here if you can't offer constructive opinions."

Subaru was in fact told that he was not involved, but that didn't stop him. Even if Abel could forgive Flop’s impiety, he could not forgive that of Subaru's, who lacked conviction. Drawing the gazes of the remaining members of the congregation hall, Subaru advanced straight ahead. Then, he stood beside the unmoving Abel, looking down at his demon mask up close.

Subaru: "Any progress in your chat, you arrogant bastard?"

Abel: "..."

Reaching out, Subaru forcibly tore off the demon mask from Abel's face. Mizelda and the other Shudraks widened their eyes at the unhesitant action. Not to mention Flop, who was seeing Abel's true face for the first time.

However, he did not catch sight of their reactions.

In response to Subaru's question, Abel's demonic face cruelly twisted into a demonic visage that sent chills down Subaru’s spine, as Abel gave a “no,” with a small shake of his head.

Abel: "Negotiations have been rough going. This merchant is unexpectedly firm."

Subaru: "Is that so? If that's the case, I'll persuade him for you, since you're lousy at it.."

Abel: "What?"

As Abel muttered that while knitting his shapely brows into a scowl, Subaru looked down at Abel's face with delight. After that, Subaru turned to Flop.

Flop, who had been going head-to-head with the presumed emperor because no decision had been made, was bewildered by the difference in Subaru's expression and attitude, "Husband-kun?" He called out to Subaru. Then, to the two people who each showed different forms of doubt, Subaru spoke. What he said was...

Subaru: "I have a plan for the bloodless siege of Guaral. If it's a battle where no blood is drawn, then even coming to a compromise between each of us is viable, right?"