"Musician Natsumi Schwartz"
Looking at his reflection in the crude mirror, Natsuki Subaru, or rather, the being who used to call himself that, squinted their eyes and carefully inspected themselves over and over again.
Dark eyeshadow and carefully curled eyelashes reflected back. The texture of their skin, the greatest point of difference between men and women, was coated with white powder; lips painted with a vermillion color that makes them look fresh. The costume was quite a challenge, but he was able to disguise his physique by wearing a lot of loose clothing, yet struggled to achieve a style that matched the southern climate. At any rate, this time he would have to act not as the daughter of a nobleman, but in the more loose and casual manner of a traveling entertainer. Therefore, aside from gestures, the appearance needed to be more female in order to fit the design.
Subaru: "I'm going to gather as much of my body to my chest and stuff it to the limit..."
He used every technique he could think of and pictured the encounters he had so far in his mind. Starting with Emilia, then Felt and the loathsome Elsa, followed by Ram and Rem, plus Beatrice and Petra, let alone Meili. After that, Priscilla, Crusch, Anastasia, and Ferris, who he should look up to as his mentor, and then Frederica. Then there were witches who were annoyingly well-dressed only in appearance. He gathered his imagination of beauty from all of these beautiful girls, beautiful women, and beautiful girl-like beings he had met in this other world so far.
…He must constantly imagine himself as the most beautiful woman.
He didn’t need to think about anything else beyond the vision he held. He made the best move he could with what he currently had on hand, and arrived at the place where he needed to be. So...
Subaru: "...This is me."
His sight left the mirror, then he slowly took a deep breath and turned around. Alone, after hours of trying to fight in solitude, he finally pushed open the door. Beyond it, he could see his friends with bated breath, waiting for the success or failure of this mission to take hold. The women turned their attention to Subaru as he opened the door and stepped out.
There was silence, and he could feel the tense atmosphere. His immediate anxiety refused to allow him to understand which emotion caused the silence. Certainly, he was lacking a number of cards to play with. If he’d had that, if he’d had this, there would be no end to his regrets.
However, thinking about it, isn’t it about taking initiative? One can't always go into battle in perfect condition. In any case, life is all about playing the cards one is dealt, isn't it? Yes, that was when he found himself making excuses as if he had already lost the battle.
Subaru heard the faint sound of air bursting and looked up, seeing that the burst of air was nothing of the sort. It was the sound of hands clapping together. It was the sound of applause. The sound was a mixture of congratulations, admiration, and respect.
He looked at the person clapping and was about to call out in a manner unbefitting a lady, but stopped himself in time. It was still incomplete. He lightly put his hand to his throat and let the air bounce there in small puffs. Then, just as the gears clicked in his mind, he smiled and said...
Mizelda: "Tch, no way, your voice? What in the world, what in the world, how...!?"
Subaru: "When you have decided to do something, it is your duty to do your best. There are lives that can be saved if I don't cut corners. If that's the case, then there's only one thing I have to do."
The smile disappeared and he pointed one finger up to the sky. The trees prevented him from seeing the sun, but it was not the heavenly beings he had to show, only the many friends gathered here.
Look at them, from head to toe. It doesn't matter if it's from the front, the back, the right, the left, or anywhere in between.
...He must constantly imagine himself as the most beautiful.
If he succeeded in tracing that image, succeeded in recreating the ideal, then he would have nothing to fear. Here with authority...
Subaru: "The second coming of Natsumi Schwartz."
That's what Natsumi Schwartz heroically, or rather ladylike, declared. Mizelda, the woman who had stopped clapping in front of him, nodded deeply. She then lined up next to Natsumi, supporting his back with her hand.
Mizelda: "My world was too small. You were right, Subaru… No... Natsumi."
Subaru: "You understand now, don't you, Mizelda-san?"
Mizelda: "Ahh, it is frustrating, but I do understand now. ...Beautifully done."
Mizelda lowered the corners of her eyes and smiled gently, while Natsumi smiled back. The Shudrak that were gathered there also looked at each other as they witnessed the beautiful scene. Then, with a belated blessing, applause rained down. The applause continued to pour down, congratulating Natsumi on her unveiling. And then...
???: "What the hell is this?"
???: "Nah, nooo!"
The ones who couldn't quite get over it watched the scene with their cheeks drawn together.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
Subaru: "And so Natsumi Schwartz was born. I was a bit confused by the different makeup tools, but I managed to get this much done."
Rem: "Are you kidding me?"
After returning to the gathering hall and setting up another meeting, Natsumi… or rather, Subaru's words were answered by Rem with a frozen gaze and cold tone of voice. Rem's chilly attitude did not change even after showing her the results. Subaru pointed to her face and said...
Subaru: "I need fake eyelashes after all… to match the wig. I managed to borrow some black hair from the Shudrak..."
Rem: "I'm not talking about that. I think the makeup and wigs are well done. But you don't have to talk like a woman forever."
Subaru: "Yes, but… the state of mind is also important, isn’t it? If I’m not careful on a regular basis, I never know where I might fall apart. Besides..."
Subaru: "If I indulge in the fact that I am a man, the goddess of beauty will turn her back on me and… Ouch ouch ouch!"
Just as Subaru was about to speak seriously, Rem pulled his ear quite hard. He couldn’t help but get teary-eyed as he quickly moved away. Subaru decided to slip close to Mizelda, who was watching the proceedings.
Subaru: "Mizelda-nee sama, I'm afraid of Rem-san..."
Mizelda: "Umm, don't cry, Natsumi...Strangely enough, you look so cute, even though I know you're Subaru, Talitha should learn from you."
While her sister patted Subaru’s head, Talitha rolled her eyes at Mizelda’s ruthless comment. However, Talitha's face was much softer than it would normally be. That was because Subaru had rearranged the heavy make-up she usually wore, which could be called the war paint of the People of Shudrak, to make her look cuter.
The Shudrak were best known for their bravery and strength, but this time they were required to be both glamorous and dangerous, with a magical and sensuous quality that could drive men crazy. Talitha and Kuna's make-up was fun to apply once they decided to focus their beauty regimen in that direction.
Subaru: "You have a much younger face than I expected, Talitha-anesama. Your makeup looks great, it's nice to show off your cuteness once in a while."
Talitha: "Please don’t tease me! First of all, I can't be as pretty as you..."
Subaru: "Well, your lack of confidence is also cute! Right, Mizelda-anesama?"
Mizelda: "Yes, dear."
Mizelda's cheeks relaxed as Subaru leaned up to her and spoke softly. Talitha flinched at the sight of the two of them, and turned over with a slight blush on her cheeks. Her brown skin made it hard to see her cheeks redden, and the makeup on her eyes and lips gave the impression of a slight blush, so it was easy to see the adorable change in her appearance.
Rem: "When are you going to stop fooling around!?"
Rem shattered such a flowery scene with a single shout. Subaru and Talitha shrank as if hit by a gust of wind. Rem glared at them with her pale blue eyes, then looked at Kuna at the edge of the room. Kuna, who, like Talitha, also had her makeup done along with her hair, jerked away.
Kuna: "W- What is it? For the record, I have nothing to do with this..."
Rem: "Kuna-san, you're my only hope. Looking at those two, I see you're the only one who's sane… Are you seriously going along with this plan?"
Kuna: "I know I’m the only sane one, but..."
Kuna, who had her hair in twin tails, looked at Subaru and Talitha with an unmotivated look in her eyes. It was an unpleasant assessment, but Subaru could only wait to see what would happen. Her look told him that he was insane, and thus was different from Talitha, who was shaking in shock. Kuna let out a small exhale at the reaction of Subaru and the others.
Kuna: "I can't do the mission. Does Rem know where everyone’s sanity went? Natsumi...Subaru doesn’t have a problem. Yeah, he is more of a woman than the chief"
Rem: "I think that's too rude to say about Mizelda-san..."
Kuna: "I don't think it's a problem. What will be a problem are our results over there..."
Yes, Kuna was just about done answering Rem’s questions.
???: "...Looks like everyone is here."
Kuna: "Oh, speaking of the devil..."
A pompous, undeceiving tone of voice enveloped the meeting hall, and a new figure appeared. When Kuna's gaze turned in that direction, Rem had no choice but to turn in the same direction. Naturally, Subaru, Mizelda, and the others' gazes were drawn there as well.
At that moment, time stopped for everyone.
...No, to be precise, time stopped for everyone aside from the figure that appeared and Subaru, who had applied makeup to them.
Subaru: "I left the fine-tuning to you, but… you're so good at it, it's almost disgusting."
Abel: "I am not happy to be praised for my makeup skills. Nevertheless, your skills are impressive. So, even a finished product can become a whole new thing, huh. It looks even better than I imagined."
Subaru: "Damn, my margin for victory...!"
As he said this, Subaru gently bit his pinky finger in frustration. Of course, there was no doubting his belief that beauty could be created. Subaru was also proud to say that he had proved this with his own body, using the few cards he had in hand. However, there was still a difference in materials. That's why...
Rem: "Ah, Abel-san, right?"
Abel: "Who else is there? Don't ask such a silly question. No, if I've changed that much, then your surprise is appropriate for reference."
In response to Rem's trembling words, Abel, or rather, Bianca, the being born from makeup, a wig, and a change of costume, clutched his five thin white fingers.
His raven black hair was long and lustrous, creating a perfect harmony with his beautiful face and slit eyes. The dancer’s costume bound his waist, splitting down his legs, showing just enough skin to attract attention. Standing there was a beautiful dancer who had recreated extreme beauty, the best joker card in hand, that was essential to this plan.
Everyone besides Abel "..."
Bianca's perfection was so great that even Mizelda and the others lost their voices. That was different from Subaru’s Natsumi, where the shock was over the magnitude of the change. This was the pure shock that was brought about by the perfection of beauty that Abel’s Bianca had in spades.
The Shudrak jewelry, which adorned the dancer's costume and long hair, served only as a garnish to accentuate his real beauty. Subaru remembered the smile on Mizelda's face when she had lent them to him. For some reason, Subaru's heart ached when he remembered that smile. However, out of concern for Mizelda and the others, Subaru did not have the option of cutting corners.
How could he ruin this perfection himself? Subaru's ego as Natsumi Schwartz would not allow for such a thing.
Subaru: "It was surprising to me that you weren't afraid of wearing makeup..."
Abel: "What, you think it's a disgrace to dress up as a woman? For the record, this is not the first time I've done this. I've done it many times in my childhood."
Subaru: "As a child?"
Abel: "Yes. Considering my position, I'd say it's a good idea to have a wide range of ways to protect yourself."
Subaru's lips curved at Abel's words, not Bianca's, a beautiful woman who crossed her arms adorably. Perhaps his past experiences, were about the dark struggles he had when he was a candidate to become the next Emperor. In Vollachia, where the succession to the throne is apparently much more tumultuous than in Lugunica, it is easy to imagine the possibility of assassination being employed in the battle over who became the next emperor.
In order to survive such a harsh life, he would have sometimes had to disguise his appearance and even gender. Abel's willingness to make sacrifices, including his own, seems to have been shaped by his childhood, before he won the throne of the Emperor. That's how it came about, and that's how it appears to Abel’s Bianca, who is now dressed as a woman.
Subaru: "Still, it's kind of annoying that you're aware that you're beautiful...!"
Abel: "That's exactly what's ridiculous. How can someone be in a position where they have to be able to look at their country from a broad perspective and not be able to see themselves objectively? Though you seem to have subverted that objective assessment of yourself through your own skills, I have no need for those kinds of petty tricks."
Abel: "Do you know why tigers are strong? Tigers are strong because they are strong."
Subaru was struck by a concept that he had heard from Garfiel as well. The theory that tigers are strong because they are tigers, became attributed to the fact that Abel is beautiful because he is Abel. It was no longer the logic of violence. It was the same as saying that Reinhard is strong because he is Reinhard. In other words, it was a blunt view of the world.
Subaru: "Well, anyway… Flora is thinking the same thing, isn't she!?"
Flop: "Aren’t you jumping to conclusions there, Husband-kun?!"
Behind Abel followed an astonished Flop, now disguised as Flora. He was also dressed up, and had the type of beauty that Subaru knew would make a finished product more complete just by fully utilizing the capability of his resources. In fact, unlike Subaru and Abel, he only slightly tweaked his originally long hair, so it can be said that he is the one who brings out the most charm from the materials. In fact, Subaru was confident that if they stood side by side, he wouldn't be greatly inferior. But...
Subaru: "There is a difference in the amount of time and effort that is put in… Must be divine favoritism...!"
Flop: "I'm sorry to hear you lamenting this, but you look great Husband-kun. You're no longer Husband-kun, you're Husband-san!"
Subaru: "...I'm not satisfied with a compliment like that anymore."
Flop: "Was that a compliment? I didn’t know it was."
Flop's frankness hasn't changed even though he is now Flora. Anyway, that's fine in his case. Although he would need some acting guidance to follow the plan's directions, in this situation, it is Abel who would be the most important.
Subaru: "Flora and I can play instruments. Therefore, your role is..."
Abel: "Dancing huh? I don't need to be told, I have the plan in mind. The importance of my role. Besides..."
Abel: "I'm not as good at dancing as my dead sister, but I'm pretty close."
His cheeks twisted, and even his triumphant, arrogant smile was beautiful. Abel's confident attitude was reassuring, and at the same time, it made Subaru's heart burn with anticipation. In fact, Abel demonstrated his devilishness without regret as a complete Bianca. If Abel’s self-awareness was correct, Subaru could have high hopes for the dancing as well.
Subaru: "...After all, whatever words I spat are not something that can be taken back."
Abel: "Words that you spat huh…? Hmmm, like in spitting to the skies, you mean? That's quite a roundabout way of saying it, but alright. I'll teach you."
Abel: “It's the least I can do to reward you for offering this plan."
Abel's arrogance did not diminish, even when he was dressed as a woman, as if he never doubted himself. Feeling both reassured and threatened by this, Subaru softly looked at Rem. Unfortunately, he couldn't let her accompany him for his plan. But still…
Subaru: "Please pray for my safety. I'll do my best for you."
Rem: ".... ….. ……... ……….. Yes."
Subaru: "It took you long enough to pray, didn't it!"
Subaru shouted at Rem’s late reply, who looked sincerely mystified. Louis, beside Rem, pulled her head back in tightly as she heard this. It seems that even she could not recognize Natsumi as Subaru. For the moment, it was a good thing that the reaction convinced him that he had gained some momentum for the mission.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
...The Kumaso Takeru Operation.
That was the name of the operation aimed at Zikr Osman, the Womanizer, and Second Class General of the Empire. Inspired by the tale of Kojiki, the name for the operation was Subaru's suggestion, fortunately, no one had any objections. He was not sure if they respected Subaru, the planner, or if no one cared about the name of the operation in the first place, but it was a good thing that there was no trouble over it.
TL Note: The tale in specific is that of where Yamato Takeru dressed as a maid attendant at a drinking party to kill a Kumasu (region) leader
At any rate, there was no point in planning where the element of luck inevitably came into play. Of course, they would spare no effort to improve their chances of success, but it is difficult to accumulate luck. However, it was not a bad thing to gain a favorable condition, even if it was a small one.
…Leaving the Buddheim Forest, the group set course for Guaral.
The five members of the party were Subaru’s Natsumi, Abel’s Bianca, Flop’s Flora, Talitha, and Kuna. The rest of the People of Shudrak were led by Mizelda in a separate party. Rem, Louis, and Medium were among those in the second party. Hiding away from the city, they would need to attack the walls of the fortified city and act as a diversion if the need arose. However, that was only an insurance policy. A less-than-ideal insurance policy in case the plan fails. If the plan were to fail, Subaru and the others would be in a very dangerous situation by then. Anyway…
Subaru: "Personally, I think the first checkpoint is the most important one."
Subaru muttered this, looking up at the main gate, in which the front was glaring down at them from high above. They were going to challenge the main gate, which they had once forced their way through, again, albeit that was a few days ago. Naturally, after what had happened the other day, the security level at the checkpoint was higher than before. In preparation for another invasion by rebels, special emphasis was placed on dragon carts, ox carts, and other vehicles that could hide people in their cargo. Subaru could hear the shouts of the merchants and travelers as their tools of the trade were mangled, their carts turned over, and their straw carefully poked with swords.
To be honest, he felt quite bad for them. However, considering the chaos that would occur in the city ahead, he thought it might be wise of them to turn back here. Of course, there was no way he could give them that kind of advice, but...
???: "... Next, what about you guys?"
A stern man's rough voice struck Subaru's eardrums as he pondered. When Subaru looked up, he saw a bald-headed guard with a strong physique beckoning to him. The man called the group forward, and Subaru hung his head reverently at the head of the group.
Subaru: "We are a troupe of traveling entertainers. We come to this city from the north."
Guard: "Oh, traveling entertainers..."
Raising an eyebrow in curiosity, the guard also looked at the group behind Subaru. Flora, carrying a musical instrument on her back, waved, while Talitha, carrying her luggage on her back, bowed, and Kuna draped a parasol over the person next to her, whose face was covered by a veil, not allowing anyone to see her expression. Subaru could sense the guard's admiration for this rather atmospheric group.
On the other hand, while maintaining an amiable smile, Subaru's insides were tense. He was familiar with the guard. He was the one who had been in charge of the main gate when Subaru had first met Flop and Medium when he had entered Guaral. In other words, he could not have been a better choice for the first obstacle.
Guard: "But coming from the north, that must have been tough. It's rumored that the Lady Incandescent's territory is getting crowded over there. Flocks of flying dragons are flying around."
Subaru: "Yes, yes, that's true. That's why we couldn’t stay there for too long... On the other hand, this is a city protected by such a magnificent wall, so I'm sure it's safe, right?"
Guard: "Uhhh, that's..."
When Subaru flirted, with a faint smile on his face, the guard's expression grew uncomfortable. The reason for his reaction is probably that he too was aware that the Imperial soldiers, whose camp was burned to the ground, had fled into the city. On top of that, the commotion caused by Subaru and his compatriots the other day probably made the Imperial soldiers in the city more alert and the atmosphere tense. That must have been the reason for the guard's slurred speech. If that was the case, there was no way not to take advantage of it.
Subaru: "...Are you worried about something in this city, by any chance?"
Guard: "...Yeah, kinda. It's something that's easy to find out even if you try to hide it. As a matter of fact, there are Imperial troops stationed in this city right now, and they're having trouble with the tribes to the east. So..."
Subaru: "Oh Dear! That must be suffocating for the people of the city."
Guard: "That's right."
Apparently exasperated, the guard leaned forward at Subaru's words. Although it was hard to distinguish between the two when they were not in contact with each other, the guards and soldiers basically had different positions. Guards in a city belonged to that city only. Soldiers, on the other hand, belonged to the country, in this case the Empire. Their chain of command was also fundamentally different.
The guard in front of him was also a member of this city and had a duty to protect it. However, the current situation was that the Imperial army had taken over the city hall, and the guards were being ordered to do this and that. The guard had no reason to be used as a toy by the Imperial soldiers.
Guard: "In addition, they took over the city taverns by themselves, calling it “night patrol”. And if they don't pay well, it's not good for business. I can't handle it anymore."
Subaru: "Oh dear, oh dear, how terrible! My heart goes out to you. Between you and me, I’ve had my share of rough experiences with the arrogance of the Imperial Guard."
Guard: "Oh, really? A beautiful woman like you...?"
The guard's response softened at once at Subaru’s deep and loud approval. Actually, the man seemed to be quite friendly, so Subaru lowered his voice slightly, then said, "Yes," and turned his head to look away. Seeing the meaningful gesture, the guard said, "Oh, miss?" before he became flustered.
Guard: "Are you okay? If you don't want to talk, don't bother..."
Subaru: "No, I'm fine. It's an old, old story. It's just that before, I was forcibly captured by the Imperial soldiers and put in a cage and treated like a slave."
Subaru: "They sometimes did things like intentionally extend their feet to make me trip and fall, and at other times they would even threaten me with blades..."
Guard: "Tha... that's unforgivable...!"
The guard clenched his fists in righteous indignation as Subaru tearfully recounted his past. Looking at the man whose ears were red with anger, Subaru muttered softly, "You're so kind."
Guard: "No, no, I'm not trying to be nice. Anyone would feel the same way you do."
Subaru: "Then, hey, Mr. Guard. If you feel sorry for me, please let me in. If you do..."
Guard: "Then what?"
Subaru: "Then I'll give a makeover to the atmosphere of this city, which the Imperial Guard has made so bleak."
His voice was quiet, but the enthusiasm in his voice was passionate. Hearing this, the stern face of the guard flushed with surprise. His gaze turned to the troupe of traveling entertainers lined up behind Subaru.
Guard: "...Ladies, what exactly are you going to show us with your art?"
Subaru: "Of course, we have traveled around the world and learned many different arts. I also like to sing, play a bit of music, and do a little magic. But..."
Subaru: "The best part of the show is the dance of the troupe's flower, the Dancing Princess."
Subaru pointed to a figure standing in the center of the group, protected by a parasol. Her face was hidden by a veil, and she was the main attraction of the troupe. The guard's eyes widened and stiffened as he took in the gaze from behind the veil. His throat was frozen, even though not everything was exposed.
It was natural to be blinded and unable to move. It was a masterpiece that would have frustrated even Subaru. Beauty can be created, he had boldly stated, but true beauty is a creation of God. After all, Subaru‘s beauty was nothing more than touch-up work in comparison to that. However, even that one step was enough to sharpen his devilish beauty even more.
Subaru: "In addition to the Dancing Princess, we will also sing and play music for you. We hope you will allow us to stay in Guaral."
Guard: "...Ah, aah, that’s right. I don't see anything suspicious among your possessions..."
The guard muttered to himself as he came back to his senses after being nipped in the shoulder with a little pinch. He then put his hand on his chest and looked around at the group, breathing softly to check the beating of his heart. And as much as possible, while consciously averting his gaze in order to not become mesmerized by that demonic visage.
Guard: "You can come in. If you're going to perform somewhere, it's better to stay away from the main gate. Main Street in the middle of town is a good place to start. City Hall is too crowded with soldiers to be a viable candidate."
Subaru: "Well, that's very kind of you. ..When will Mr. Guard be available?"
Guard: "Oh, me? My shift ends just before dinner at dusk..."
Subaru: "Then please let me know where the restaurant is. I'm sure that if you bring some of your colleagues with you, we will be able to thank them for their hospitality to us."
Subaru gently leaned in and whispered into the guard's ear.
When the guard raised his eyes in surprise, Subaru smiled at him and moved away. Then he turned to his troupe mates, who were impatiently waiting at the checkpoint.
Subaru: "Okay, here we go folks. Let's clear the atmosphere in this city as a gift."
With that, Subaru led the people who had stopped in their tracks and passed by the guard. With the guard holding his ears and looking on in amazement, Subaru and the others walked proudly and unhindered through the main gate into the city. Watching them go, the guard exhaled quietly...
Guard: "...Let's get some work done today."
As the guard blurted this out.
Flop: "Well, that was a thing of beauty, Husband-san! I'm beginning to think that maybe you have more talent as a merchant than I do!"
A few moments after passing through the main gate with his luggage, Flop, a.k.a. Flora, praised Subaru's behavior at the checkpoint with a twinkle in his eye. There was no lie in his open-hearted words, and Subaru nodded cheerfully.
Subaru: "Yes! I am honored by your praise. But I am not a merchant by any means. I have my own business that I need to attend to."
Flop: "Things you need to do? Like what?"
Subaru: "Of course, it's not about being a lady... It's about helping the people one loves."
Flop's eyes widened slightly when he heard Subaru's words. However, he quickly relaxed his gaze and nodded, "Well, yes."
Flop: "Then we need to make this plan work and reassure your wife as soon as possible."
Subaru: "And Flora, we don't want to make Medium-san feel uneasy, do we?"
Flop: "Ha-ha-ha-ha! My sister would never be worried. My sister is a very tough girl, both physically and mentally. I can't imagine her feeling down!"
Subaru agreed with Flop, who smiled cheerfully, albeit unlady-like. Like Flop, he couldn’t imagine Medium feeling down either. The two siblings must have helped each other through many rough times. That's why Subaru had a responsibility to help the two people who he got involved.
Subaru: "It's getting harder and harder to screw up, isn't it?"
???: "Wait, please wait, Subaru... no, Natsumi."
Subaru braced himself, as he heard a weak voice from behind. He looked over to see that it was Talitha, who was carrying the group's luggage. Unlike her usual self, Talitha had changed her makeup and outfit after leaving the jungle. Instead of the amazon-esque Shudrak attire, she wore more fluttery clothes, and her image now was that of an exotic ethnic dancer. Rather, it was less revealing than her usual attire, but as Talitha glanced around, her cheeks dyed red with embarrassment.
Talitha: "Hey, isn’t this kind of attention grabbing? There's something weird about me and Kuna..."
Kuna: "Don't drag me into this, please. If you're talking about something strange, there's no one stranger than Natsumi. What the hell was that with that checkpoint just now? You are too good with men."
By the side of the flustered Talitha, Kuna touched Subaru with her usual low intensity. When she said that, Subaru put his hand on his cheek.
Subaru: "Oh, my. It's not the first time I've dealt with a gentleman. And don't worry Talitha. It's not that you or Kuna stand out. It's all of us who stand out… Because we’re beautiful."
Flop: "Because we're beautiful!"
Nodding profoundly, Flop and Subaru both agreed. Talitha looked incredulous as she answered.
Talitha: "Beau...tiful… Yes, that's the word, elder sister..."
Flop: "What are you saying, Miss Talitha? Your charm and your sister's are two very different things. First of all, by no means am I disregarding my admiration for Miss Mizelda when I pay my compliments to you. She is a different case, and you two are in entirely different categories!"
In an instant, Flop took Talitha's hand and said this with a radiant smile. Talitha's eyes widened at the vigor of it, and her mouth slowly opened and then closed rapidly. As the blush on her cheeks grew, Subaru put his hand over his mouth and said...
Subaru: "Geez. Give me a break. Talitha is particularly attached to the Chief and has hardly ever left the forest. That's why she's not very tolerant."
Flop: "Well, she is smiling. But she is calm, isn’t she?"
Kuna: "I've been sneaking out of the woods more often than not, and I've never had a great and fearsome sister... I have a younger sister who's quite a handful."
In the back of Kuna's closed mind, the person who comes to mind is probably Holly. They were like sisters, like best friends, like parent and child. However, Talitha's words could not be ignored.
Around them, attention was certainly focused on the cross-dressing Subaru walking down the streets past the checkpoint. In addition to their unusual attire, the entire city was on edge as the Imperial Guard was on high alert. Naturally, the citizens of the city would be very suspicious of strangers. If that's the case, then...
Subaru: "...It's an opportunity."
Abel: "Only for curious eyes, I suppose."
Under the parasol, a sharp gaze pierced Subaru’s profile from within a veil’s shadow. Nudged to stop talking nonsense, Subaru replied with a sultry, “Yes.” However, Subaru agreed with the Dancing Princess that this was a good opportunity. Therefore...
Subaru: "Let's follow the advice of the guards and make our debut on Main Street!"
Flop: "All right, Husband-sa... No, Miss Natsumi!"
Flop followed along as Subaru decided to start the performance off with a bang right on the spot. They took off part of their costumes, exposing their shoulders, stomachs, and backs. They then stepped out, each holding an instrument in his or her hand, poised beside Main Street. And then...
Subaru: "Come on, come by and take a look! I will now show you a song and dance that has been handed down through time and across the world from beyond the Great Waterfall of the far East! This is from a traveling troupe that has come to the city today to perform!”
Subaru proclaimed these words loudly as Flop made eye contact and began to play the lyre, a stringed instrument held in his hand. The light sounds combined to form music, which drew even more attention from the people who heard it.
???: "Oh, what's going on?"
???: "They say they're traveling entertainers! Music, music!"
???: "Wow, that's quite a collection of beauties..."
The people walking down the street, lured by Subaru's words and Flop’s music stopped or peeked out from the inside of buildings, having their attention drawn by the troupe. Subaru and Flop were on the lead instruments, as Talitha and Kuna followed with simpler percussion instruments, such as castanets. Subaru was grateful enough that since Flop was more skilled than he expected, Subaru had no problem with the music. More importantly, the odds of victory were roughly fifty percent.
Subaru: "From now on, we will sing and dance a story from a different world, far, far away! It is a story of people, dragons, demons, and strange beings who cannot be expressed in words. Please, everyone, relax and enjoy to your heart's content!"
With a smile on his face and an excited tone of voice, the anticipation built up as Flop’s performance with Subaru reached its first climax. Everyone was in love with their performance and the beauty of the musicians, but the real deal was right after this. And just as the music reached its crescendo...
A black-haired dancer slowly removed the thin silk she was wearing and stepped out into the street. When she lifted her veil with her hand and revealed her face, the people who had been listening to the music turned their gazes towards her as a shock that felt like a punch to the gut went through them.
Yes, that's right. He wanted that reaction, that look, and yet he was upset.
Subaru "It's so frustrating."
As he played his instrument, Subaru expressed his inner frustration of being beaten. Deep in his heart, he felt defeated. But it should feel good to be beaten by something of such high caliber. But that's a lie. A sense of defeat is ultimately a sense of defeat, and it's frustrating. However, this calmness just before it all turns into a frenzy is the key to this plan. Then, to the fullest extent, they could charm the people of Guaral with this dance.
Subaru: "Now, you're up, Bianca...!"
After glancing at Subaru with a flushed look, Abel slowly raises his arms in one fluid movement. In spite of this, his gestures had an elegance that exuded from deep within his being. It melted into the air and instantly dominated Main Street.
A flowing, beautiful, and solemn dance begins. The dance that accompanied the music was something that Abel had originally mastered, but with Subaru's own twist, was probably new to everyone. Yet, it even dispensed a need for any sort of manipulation or petty tricks. With Subaru's tweaks, what had been a solid dance was now far superior.
The audience forgot to breathe as their gaze was captured by the beautiful dance. It was the cry of beauty that appealed to their instincts, it told them not to take their eyes off it even for a moment. To put it bluntly, this is what the eyes were meant to behold. Abel's dance was arrogant and pompous, confronting his audience with such thoughts.
…Look at him, it said.
The sight of the mesmerized and stunned crowd was frightening to Subaru, even though he was the one who came up with the idea. If there was a thief here, the people standing around would have their pockets openly searched and would not even notice if someone took their wallets… No, that assumption is not valid, since even a thief would not be able to take his eyes off Abel's dance.
It was only one song and dance that lasted less than five minutes. The performers were concentrating on not making any mistakes, but Subaru wondered if anyone would have noticed if they had messed up? To be honest, Subaru's true thoughts were that it would be doubtful.
When the performance ended, Abel's heels and toes touched the ground. Seeing this posture, the audience finally realized that the dance was already over and Abel was just standing there. Immediately, Main Street was filled with applause and cheers.
Just as Subaru had hoped, just as he had aimed for, it was a resounding response. However, unlike Flop, who was holding up his instrument and responding to the cheers, Subaru was smiling to the crowd with mixed feelings. At any rate...
He had no idea what to say to Abel, who smiled triumphantly at him.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
The reputation of the troupe in the fortified city of Guaral was determined by the great success of their first performance. It was a demonstration of sorts on Main Street, but the response was far greater than they had expected, as the troupe's activities after that became much easier. However...
Subaru: "Don't forget that we were only brought into the spotlight because of our novelty. Our performance is just a hasty effort...... Our act now is merely a passing fancy."
Flop: "I see! In other words, we need to work on our skills steadily, don't we, Husband-kun?"
Subaru: "Yes. That's why we need to work tirelessly and be alert every day!"
Subaru clenched his fists firmly while Flop, who sat upright, nodded with a smile. In contrast to his loud voice, Flop was a very good listener and responded quickly. Admirably, Subaru’s speech gained momentum thanks to Flop. Anyway, it is not Flop that Subaru really should be talking to.
Subaru: "You two! Don't let your guard down."
Talitha: "Uh-oh, now we got caught in the crossfire."
Kuna: "W-we did...?"
When Subaru pointed at them, Talitha and Kuna immediately looked displeased.. Inside the inn, the two of them took off their festive clothes and went back to their Shudrak style, which appeared almost like underwear. When they were working as members of the troupe, they were properly dressed, but as soon as they entered the secluded inn, they looked like this.
Subaru: "You two are relaxing too much."
Talitha: "I'm not saying we’re not relaxeding but on the other hand, what about her...?"
Subaru: "What do you mean? Actually, what are you even talking about? You know, I find these conversations without a clear subject pretty annoying."
Talitha: "It’s about Natsumi. Why you would pretend to be something you are not, even when no one is looking, is beyond me and Kuna. Is it really necessary?"
Subaru: "Pretending to be something I'm not...?"
Having no clue, Subaru replied questionably, and Talitha and the others were taken aback. Naturally, “It’s a joke,” Subaru said, as he dispelled their surprise.
Subaru: "Nevertheless, I can't accept that notion. You know why? God is mindful of the details, as they say, and it is the seemingly useless details that bring about the reality of the situation. That is precisely why the places outside the public eye are essential..."
Flop: "It's important not to cut corners, is what you're saying. Hhm Hhm, as expected Husband-kun... No, Miss Natsumi! I'm learning a lot!"
Flop was truly a student worth teaching, as that was an answer worth one hundred points. Kuna casted a protestive glance toward Subaru, but he passed it off with a smile.
...At that moment,Subaru and his troupe of traveling entertainers were staying at an inn in Guaral.
It had already been three days since they began their infiltration, and during that time, they performed a total of ten times, receiving a more than adequate response. Originally, Subaru wasn't in need of money since he had the proceeds from the sale of the Elgina's horn, but a good amount of money continued to come in for each show, so he thought it was a really profitable venture.
Subaru: "I think it's time to move on to the next phase."
Gently placing his finger on his chin, Subaru hoped for a change in their stagnant situation. In fact, their current situation was going so well that it was almost too good to be true. Every show was a great success, and the citizens, including the guards, showed a lot of interest. This was due to the perfection of Bianca's dancing as well as the conversational skills of Natsumi and Flora. Bianca's mysteriousness was also a selling point, and since she rarely appeared in public except to dance, Natsumi and the others naturally took over the role of gathering information. It was originally planned that Natsumi-Subaru and Flora-Flop would take over the task, since Bianca-Abel could not speak in a female voice.
Subaru: "Strangely enough, no one is suspicious of Flora, right? She hasn't even changed her voice."
Flop: "Haha, I don't have any special skills like Miss Natsumi. But I've been traveling alone with my sister for a long time. Maybe I've picked up some of my sister's habits or something, and that could’ve given me this feminine-like aura."
Subaru: "So It's from Medium..."
Flop happily proposed his new theory, but the Medium that appeared in Subaru's brain was beautiful in appearance, and her ever-changing facial expressions were adorable and charming. However, the theory that her presence had an effect on Flora's current perfection was something that could be debated.
Abel: "...You've got a lot of time to waste, don't you?"
A cold, icy voice interrupted the conversation between Subaru and the others. It was Abel, the dancer of the troupe, who sat on a chair by the window without the wig on his head, that finally decided to join the conversation.
Abel danced in various places as the star of the show day after day, and although he tried not to show it, they could see a slight hint of fatigue. Of course he would never admit it, but spending time in Guaral places a heavy burden on the body and mind. That was because even if things were going well, they had to be extremely careful. Subaru, as Natsumi, was also constantly reminding himself to not lose his calm demeanor. One never knew what tragedy would await them if they lost their temper in the midst of the enemy.
At first, this strategy was seen as a joke by both Rem and Mizelda. However, Subaru had seriously proposed the plan, and they discussed it together to increase the chance for success. He was not so pessimistic as to give up and lament that the plan failed. That's why...
Subaru: "Bianca, why don't you get some rest? After all this time, I've never seen you sleep."
Flop: "I’m not sure what you’re talking about Miss Natsumi. It’s impossible that...huh? Huh? Now that you mention it, I don't remember seeing Miss Bianca sleeping either."
Flop tried to laugh at Subaru's point, but then went serious when he noticed that it was true. Not paying attention to Flop, Abel snorted and ignored it. Abel's strong sense of caution was ongoing, and he didn't lower his guard with Subaru and the others. Of course, Subaru understood that it was not easy for a man in his position to be able to open up to others. But the fact that he couldn't show any signs of relaxation, even to his comrades who were going undertaking this life-threatening mission with him, was more than a little tiring.
As usual, he wouldn’t blink both eyes at the same time, even if nobody here would do anything if he closed both of them.
Subaru: "That way of life is tiring, isn’t it?"
Abel: "...Are you really the one telling me this?"
Abel frowned back at Subaru, who frankly told him what he thought.Hearing this, Subaru couldn't understand. It was true that Abel's way of life was definitely suffocating and Subaru's was not.
Abel: "It's especially pathetic that you're not aware of it. But I forgive you. Keep doing your best."
Subaru: "You don't have to tell me, I'll keep living. As for you..."
Abel: "Closing both eyes means surrendering the right to life and death to the other. I don't take myself lightly enough to allow that to happen, even for a moment."
Abel: "Don't underestimate the tension, I'm sure you've said it."
When he said that, the words that Subaru wanted to say back were blocked. Subaru stared at Abel's profile with a bitter feeling, but he was no longer being taken seriously Abel, who had taken off his wig and jewelry, wore feminine outfits at the inn so that he could change into Bianca as soon as something happened. This is why he looked so good without his wig, even though he should be in an unbalanced state without it.
This was the beauty of the tense atmosphere that was the result of the ever-present battlefield mindset that Subaru had told the others, including Flop, to maintain. And while he was thinking about Abel's cold profile...
Abel: "...There's movement."
Muttering this, Abel stood up from his chair and went to his bunk. Subaru was taken aback as he witnessed how quickly he put back on the wig that was left there. However, the meaning of that action was immediately clear.
This was because loud and uninhibited footsteps came up from downstairs, and the door to Subaru and the others' room was violently slammed.
???: "So this is where the traveling troupe is. Open up. It's a messenger from City Hall."
Subaru: "Oh, wait a minute, sir!"
???: "Haha, don't make me laugh, I'm not waiting. We’re soldiers."
A hoarse voice mocked the panicked Subaru, and the door of the room opened unceremoniously. Then, a man dressed in a red and black soldier's uniform strolled into the room.
The man had two swords on his back, his face twisted with joy as he hid his violent impulses. It was a face Subaru had already seen; Jamal...
Jamal: "Don't be so frightened, I’m not going to eat you."
Jamal snapped his teeth at Subaru, who involuntarily gasped and stiffened. With an eye patch over his right eye, he glared at the room with his left eye and did not bother to hide his unrefined attitude, chuckling “Heh heh.” He then looked at Talitha and the others in their underwear, who had been slow to react.
Behind him, other than Jamal, there were four other soldiers. Apparently, it was Jamal who led them, and no one dared to interrupt his rough and brutish demeanor. With his men following behind him, Jamal nodded his head in agreement.
Jamal: "I see, we've got some beautiful ladies here. When I heard those lovestruck bureaucrats talking about it, I thought they were exaggerating..."
Subaru: "Great soldier, what can I do for you...?"
Jamal: "I'm talking right now, woman."
The tension in the air made Subaru chew the inside of his mouth. Jamal suddenly grabbed Subaru’s neck with his hand, not with the intention of breaking it, but with a soft touch to stop him from speaking. After all, Jamal, despite his appearance and bad attitude, was very good at what he did. Up to that point, he was probably the most skilled person Subaru had seen in the Empire. ...Although scary and strong are two different things.
Jamal: "You've got a nice, defiant look in your eyes. I like those sharp eyes, too."
Subaru: "...I'm flattered by your compliments"
Jamal: "I also like the fact that you don't talk too much. How about I invite you to my bedroom tonight and...."
Jamal's face was close to Subaru’s, as he looked at him with a lascivious stare. Even at such a close distance, he didn’t seem to have noticed Subaru's true identity. That in itself was welcome, but it seemed to have tugged at his heartstrings in the opposite sense. He had received such invitations before, but he had always been able to avoid them with a smile and a good story. But when one is dealing with Imperial soldiers, it's hard to refuse.
...It was then that a strong wind blew.
Subaru's black hair flew up and tickled Jamal's cheek. After a moment of annoyance, Jamal turned his attention to the window and saw a figure standing there. It was the black-haired dancer who was causing a stir in Guaral, standing there with her wig back on and holding her elbows in a relaxed manner. Catching the figure head-on, Jamal whistled in surprise. It was a great show of boldness, whereas most of the people were stuck admiring her.
Jamal: "Haha, so this is the Dancing Princess I've heard so much about. No wonder you could pull it off."
After Jamal released Subaru with a breath of surprise and admiration, he quickly approached Abel. He then grabbed him and made the Dancing Princess face him. Even though he didn't know it was the emperor in his grasp, he held Abel's precious face and gave him a crude smile. This was exactly what they mean when they that ignorance is bliss, Subaru thought.
Jamal: "You're a thick-skinned woman, unlike that one. But that's also okay."
Abel braced his jaw and quietly stared at his opponent. While Subaru was on edge, Jamal sniffed as he engaged in the Empire's utmost level of disrespect. Then, Jamal turned around with his grip on Abel's chin and...
Jamal: "Rejoice, traveling entertainers! I am here to invite you all to a feast at City Hall. Zikr Osman, Second Class General, who runs this city, would like your presence to be available."
Subaru: "Zikr Osman, the Second Class General...!"
Jamal: "Ah, isn't it an honor? For a traveling entertainer to be invited to join the Imperial Second Class General."
...Subaru clenched his fists imentally. Jamal's pompous words overcame the disrespectfulness of the scene and sent a shock of surprise and joy through Subaru. Zikr Osman, Second Class General! It seems as though they’ve caught the exact fish they were trying to hook.
Jamal: "No way you traveling entertainers are going to turn me down, right?"
Flop: "Of course not! We had hoped to bring song and dance to the Imperial soldiers! It was the true meaning of our trip!"
Jamal: "Good answer! I like that."
Subaru's hesitation was overshadowed by a more immediate answer from Flop. Flop's charm, which allowed him to open himself to any opponent, was on full display here against Jamal. Jamal, feeling good about Flop's crisp answer, quickly and roughly released Abel's face then staggered to the entrance of the room. And then...
Jamal: "Get ready to go. I'm taking you all to City Hall."
Subaru: "What? If you've invited us, we'd like to join you lat..."
Jamal: "Hahaha, don't worry about it. We've been told to bring you there. This is our job, too. You can change right now. I'll also have my men in the back carry your belongings."
Jamal: "It's a generals only banquet tonight. We lowly soldiers can only hope for more after tomorrow. So..."
With no intention of letting them go, Jamal's vulgar gaze harassed everyone in the room. Apparently, they could not afford to ruin his good mood. Fortunately, Subaru, Abel, and Flop were all at least dressed as women. Talitha and Kuna, who were in the most danger, were clearly women, so there was no need to worry that their lack of preparation would derail the mission. That said...
Jamal: "Take your time!"
But the humiliation of having to clean up the room while they watched them unceremoniously change their clothes and pack their bags was hard to shake off. However...
Flop: "Got it! Come on, everyone, let's get ready! We don't want to keep the soldiers waiting! Let's get this done right!"
Subaru: "Flora ..."
Flop: "This is so unlike you, Miss Natsumi! You can't back off right now, can you?"
His boiling anger disappeared at Flop’s words, who then smiled at him.
His last words, which he had taken the trouble to add at the end, were taken as a dare to remind Subaru of the purpose of the Bloodless Siege.
Subaru: "...Yes, you're right. Here, you and Bianca prepare yourselves! Especially since Bianca is a clod who can't do anything but dance!"
Taking advantage of Abel's inability to speak, Subaru delivered a scathing assessment of Bianca. Abel's gaze stabbed him, but Subaru brushed it off. He quickly cleared up the luggage in the room, changed his clothes to go up to City Hall, and forced himself to behave as Jamal wished.
At best, Jamal could only whistle and enjoy watching Subaru change. Subaru was sure the biggest shock and regret of Jamal’s life would be waiting for him when the operation went to plan. That's why...
Flop: "No! I don’t think you have to go so far as to need to shake your butt, Miss Natsumi!"
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
Even to the untrained eye, there was nothing in the city hall that looked like military equipment. Since the building was used for the management of the city during peacetime, it was only natural that no military equipment was prepared here. Even so, there were currently more than three hundred Imperial soldiers in the city, and more than five hundred if you include the guards, so the defensive power was sufficient. More importantly...
Subaru: "We have succeeded in sneaking into their bosom, but..."
Inside the building, Subaru chuckled as he took a look at the map in his mind.
Operation Kumaso Takeru was progressing unexpectedly smoothly. He hoped that if the beautiful traveling entertainers became the topic of conversation in the city, the general, who was known as The Womanizer, would take an interest in them - and ultimately invite them to a banquet which would allow Subaru and the others to seize their target. By being invited directly to City Hall, Subaru could see an opportunity to realize their plan. At the same time, however, another problem surfaced.
Subaru: "We're going to have to carry out the operation tonight. ......"
There was no time to tell this to Mizelda and the rest of the team. Jamal, who had come to pick up Subaru and the others at the inn, had not allowed them to make contact with the outside world, not out of caution, but because of his pervertedness. There’s no mistake that Jamal was a troublesome person, as he had bad intuition, yet compensated with good skills. Even in City Hall, Subaru and his team's activities were restricted, and since they could not separate for any reason during the course of the meeting, they had yet to inform the other team of tonight's plans. Therefore...
Subaru: "We need to contact the outside world from inside City Hall."
There was also the possibility of failure, but if Subaru and the others' operation succeeded, it would be necessary to disarm the other Imperial soldiers inside the city. Naturally, this would require a certain amount of strength, so regardless of the success or failure of Operation Kumaso Takeru, they needed to be in a position to cooperate with the outside world. That's why he went through a lot of trial and error.
Subaru: "I don't know what she's thinking, but Bianca is unreliable..."
It sounds good to say that he was concentrating on this evening’s banquet, but ever since he was invited to City Hall and isolated in confinement within the waiting room, Abel had been silent. Of course, he understood that cooperation with the outside world would determine the success or failure of this plan, but he had not responded to Subaru's advice. Flop was also extremely supportive, and to be honest, he's been a great help, but he wasn’t an appropriate person to discuss the plan to bring down City Hall with. First of all, Subaru didn’t want to do something that would cause him any more trouble. In otherwords...
Subaru: "I have to do something about it."
Clenching his fists, Subaru steeled himself in the bathroom he was led to. Subaru and the others were ordered not to leave the waiting room, but as expected, they would never forbid them from going to the bathroom. Nevertheless, they could not act recklessly, as the City Hall would immediately be flooded with Imperial soldiers if they showed any suspicious behavior.
Subaru glanced at the windows, but unfortunately they were fitted with iron bars. The waiting room itself was located on the third floor of the building, so he couldn't even try to go outside. He didn’t think the soldiers were particularly wary of Subaru and the others. However, the idea of leaving them completely unguarded was out of the question. That may be the manifestation of imperialism. In the worst case scenario, the idea of reconsidering the decision to go ahead with the operation tonight at the banquet came to Subaru’s mind.
Subaru: "...Even if we could miss the banquet, we wouldn't be able to avoid the invitation afterwards."
They were a troupe of traveling entertainers with beautiful women. In the first place, when it comes to bringing down the so-called Womanizer, it was easy to imagine that the goal was dancing, performing arts, and the nightly fun that lay ahead. Even if he could avoid the advances of the citizens, it would be difficult for him to refuse the advances of an Imperial soldier, especially a general. And there is nothing he can do if they take him to the bedroom. After all, this is still just cross-dressing, and there is no universal guide to what to do from there on out.
Subaru: "I mean, if that happens, it's game over with a bad end."
So, He needed to settle things tonight at all costs. Besides, even if by some miracle they were able to avoid tonight's invitation, if Jamal's words were true, there would be a banquet tomorrow that would be attended by ordinary soldiers other than the generals. Common soldiers of course would include the one Subaru wanted to meet the least.
To be honest, when Jamal came into the inn, Subaru thought his heart would stop.
He was relieved that he didn't recognize Natsumi as Subaru, but that didn't erase all of the danger. ...There was still a chance that he could have been killed by that arrow.
Subaru: "I don't want to call that too high a hope, do I?"
It was a difficult state of mind to be in. He didn’t want to see Todd again, yet he also didn’t want him to be dead. It was complicated. Even Subaru knew that there was evil in this world that could not be allowed to live. The Sin Archbishops were one of them, and they all stood for unforgivable sins. So, if it were a Sin Archbishop, Subaru would be willing to let them die without hesitation. But Todd was not one of them; he was only the object of Subaru's fear, he wasn’t evil. First of all, if you put it that way, what about Louis, one of the Sin Archbishops of Gluttony, who continued to be overlooked without a second thought?
Subaru: "... It's no good. Right now, I need to focus on the plan in front of me."
It was ridiculous to be worrying about his foundation collapsing now. Generally speaking, it wasn’t just his foundation. Although he is wearing makeup now, his body and mind were still in tatters everywhere. Subaru was good at making use of what little he had, and that's what made him special.
Subaru: "I can't stay here much longer, can I?"
After a thorough search of the bathroom, he concluded that unfortunately there was nothing that could be used. He needed to think about other methods of contacting the outside world. There was also the guard waiting in front of the bathroom, the watchmen who kept outsiders from wandering around, Subaru really didn’t want to be suspicious. They may have to rethink the plan. If the situation became more pressing, Abel might understand this viewpoint.
Subaru: "I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I've been a little nervous."
Guard: "Hmm, oh, don't worry. I just found someone to talk to."
Subaru: "Someone to talk to?"
As Subaru quietly walked out of the bathroom, the soldier on guard duty who had been waiting for him responded. He seemed to be talking to someone who was passing by, of whom with a twitch of their chin, looked over and said...
???: "Oh, so you're the dancer who was invited as this evening's entertainment."
...Subaru's heart froze as he saw a face there that he definitely did not want to see.
Subaru: "Ah, ku..."
???: "Hm? What's the matter? You look so startled. Oh, come on, I'm not going to eat you."
Seeing Subaru's throat tremble, the other person laughed and joked with him. It was a joke that he had heard from Jamal at the inn only a short time ago. But unlike Jamal, who said it because of his dirty mind, he couldn't brush it off this time. He wanted to ask if he really didn't want to eat him.
Guard: "What, did you do something, Todd?"
Todd: "Me? Don't be ridiculous, there's nothing I can do. My wounds are so severe that I've been bedridden for quite a bit. I'm barely able to walk around."
Guard: "That’s true, too. So it's like she hated your face physiologically?"
Todd: "That's rather hurtful ......"
The man scratching his head and having a friendly conversation with the soldier on guard… was Todd. The object of fear that made Natsuki Subaru most wary, and the one that made him question the morality of killing those outside of the Sin Archbishops. That was the nightmare personified that was chatting in front of him.
He need to say something... Subaru thought, his brain spinning at high speed. Silence was not good. He mustn't give even a hint of suspicion. Todd would find out and use it as an excuse to attack. He didn’t need evidence or proof. If he had a suspicion, he would try to crush it. Therefore...
Todd: "Hey, seriously, what's wrong with you? Wait, Have we already..."
Subaru: "Ah, I'm sorry... it’s just that..."
Todd: "It’s just that?"
The same words were repeated quietly, but his heart felt like it was going to flip over. He wanted to end the conversation by saying he just don't feel well. But just before he said it, he wondered if it was really okay. Illness was a common excuse, but it would be a lie. He felt like Todd could see through a lie. If Subaru tried to use his knowledge gained from Return By Death, Todd would understood his intentions and thrust a knife into him. Lies would be found out, definitely.
Lies must be avoided. He was not just feeling bad, Subaru was having a hard time breathing right now.
Subaru: "I'm a little, well, scared..."
Todd: "Scared? Of me?"
Subaru: "Not just you. I hate to say this, but ...... I was brought here a little too forcefully."
He averted his gaze, and tried not to look Todd in the eye. Each and every movement caused doubt to swirl in Subaru's mind, as he tried to ascertain if he succeeded or failed. He felt like if he were to be looked in the eye, his lie would be found. He felt like if he lied, they would see through him. He was not lying. He was definitely afraid of Todd. There was no twisting that fact.
Hearing Subaru's desperate answer, Todd closed one eye.
Todd: "When she says they were forced to be brought here, who was it that took them?"
Guard: "Uh, I thought it was First Class Soldier Aurélie."
Todd: "Oh, Jamal. That makes sense, then. Well, sorry if I scared you."
Todd, who was convinced by the exchange with the guard, said so and apologized to Subaru. When Subaru peeled his eyes away at his unexpected attitude, Todd scratched his cheek with his fingers.
Todd: "I wouldn't say he's a bad... guy. Jamal has a bad mouth and personality, and he's not very smart. But he's not a bad guy. He's just being himself."
Subaru: "Ha, ha..."
Todd: "If you could, would you please be open-minded and forgive him? It looks like he's going to be my brother-in-law. His angelic sister, who looks nothing like him at all, is my fiancée."
Subaru was puzzled by Todd's words that came with a wry smile. From the looks of it, Todd didn't seem to be distrustful of Subaru's words or actions. Rather, he seemed to be sympathetic and concerned about Subaru's involvement with Jamal.
Here, Subaru couldn't hide his astonishment at the skill he had mastered for the art of cross-dressing and the fact that he had been saved by Jamal, who was usually crude and problematic. His days of pursuing beauty, having thought they were for nothing, were not in vain. Even the sexual harassment he had received from Jamal was useful.
???: "...Oh! Hey, Todd, what the hell are you doing out here!"
While Subaru was thinking about it, a shout of anger echoed through the corridor. It was Jamal, raising his voice and making rough footsteps. When Todd noticed Jamal's approach, he put his hand on his forehead.
Todd: "Oops. You found me..."
Jamal: "I didn’t find you! Anyways the guy with the hole in his stomach should rest! You thought you can’t trust what you don’t see with your eyes, didn't you?"
Todd: "No, no, no, I trust you. I trust you. You're surprisingly diligent and you do your job well. But even if you work diligently, some people will still screw up, right?"
Jamal: "That's what I mean when I say you only trust your eyes...!"
Jamal stuck his tongue out at Todd's reply, who raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. But when Jamal, who was approaching with a snort, noticed Subaru beside Todd, his expression changed from anger to a smile.
Jamal: "Oh You're that sideshow girl, aren't you? You're the one I like the most out of all of them. Hey, if you don't get invited tonight..."
Todd: "Ah, yes, yes, enough enough."
Jamal, with a fond look in his eyes, reached out and tried to grab Subaru's shoulder. However, of all people, it was Todd who stopped Jamal's hand. Todd grabbed Jamal's wrist and gave him another "enough" as his cheeks contorted.
Todd: "You're scaring her with your attitude. You really don’t have any delicacy, do you?"
Jamal: "I don't know why you're interrupting me in the first place... No way, you... with that woman...!?"
Todd: "Don't joke about it, Jamal. Your sister is the only one for me. You know that, right?"
Jamal: "It's complicated for a brother to be told that his sister is someone’s only love. ......"
Jamal muttered with a venomous look on his face and shook off Todd's hand.
He then glanced at Subaru, but the way his cheeks were drawn together seemed to dissuade him from messing with him any further. Surprisingly, Jamal also had some sense. Or perhaps he had the heart to be hurt by being scared by someone he thought was a little too nice. Either way...
Todd: "Whatever the case, let's get going. We're not going to be able to attend today's banquet anyway."
Jamal: "That said, I'm getting tired of trying to close the holes in the city’s defences."
Todd: "You're not bored. I guarantee, guarantee. ...Absolutely, that’s where the enemy will come from."
With a chuckle, Todd's sharp words scratched Subaru's chest. He praised his choice in his heart, thinking that the idea of using a secret path had been seen through. Then, after praising himself...
Todd: "By the way, what's your name?"
Subaru wasn’t sure if Todd saw that he was distracted. The feint-like question made Subaru seriously think that he was going to lose consciousness.
He asked for his name. Why, why, why, the questions raged. Wouldn't he at least ask his name? ...No, Todd wouldn't ask. That's why Rem had been wary of Todd from the beginning. Because of his bad relationship with him, Subaru didn't exchange names with him this time. Should he give his name, or not, what should he do?
Todd: "Please, just tell me."
The request was repeated, and Subaru gasped. Resigned to not being able to pull off an answer, he smiled as nonchalantly as possible and reluctantly said his name.
Subaru: "...Natsumi Schwartz, that's my name."
So he said his name. He couldn't think of any other choice but to do this. He hoped and prayed that it was the right answer, and waited for the other person's response. When he heard the answer, Todd nodded his head, stroking his chin.
Todd: "Hmm, You heard her, Jamal. It's good to hear your name."
Jamal: "Shut up! I’m getting the hell out of here!"
Todd: "Okay, okay... Oh, can I follow you outside too?"
Jamal: "You're a really untrustworthy guy... Do what you want!"
Todd followed, shrugging his shoulders when he heard Jamal's angry voice barking with a red face. With that, the two men disappeared from Subaru's sight, never once looking back. They turned a corner in the hallway and disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind.
Guard: "Hey, are you okay? You're looking really pale."
Subaru exhaled as he looked away, wondering if he would ever come back. The only remaining soldier on guard was concerned about Subaru, as he saw how exasperated he was. There was no time left for him to respond. However, he managed to make amends with the soldier on guard, and accompanied him back to the waiting room to join Flop and the others, who were waiting inside.
Flop: "It took you long enough, Miss Natsumi! ...Are you okay? You look really pale."
Subaru: "I've already heard that... For the moment, the storm has passed. But the problem remains."
Back in the waiting room, seeing the worried look on Flop's face, he finally had time to worry about his heartbeat and his breathing. Slowly, Subaru calmed himself down by taking deep breaths to correct his rough physiological reactions.
Yes, he had escaped the storm he had suddenly encountered. Probably. They couldn’t let their guard down until the very end, but for now, the storm should be over. However, they still hadn’t overcome the big obstacle that was their initial problem.
Subaru: "We have to find a way to contact the outside world. If we go on like this, even if our plan succeeds..."
Talitha: "Ah, then don't worry, Natsumi. Kuna and I left a signal that my sister will understand ."
Subaru's eyes widened as he was easily told that the problem he had been facing was solved. Talitha looked apologetic for his reaction, while Kuna seemed unconcerned. His look at them asked what was going on.
Talitha: "Well, Natsumi will be the bait and I will signal the others, so get your job done. That's what Bianca said.”
Subaru: "Wha, wha, wha...?"
Subaru's eyes widened and he looked at Abel in the corner of the room. Then, noticing his gaze, Abel narrowed his eyes, shook his head loosely, and said
Abel: "Rather than telling you and having you move unnaturally, I used you as a natural decoy. Fortunately, you seem to have done your job reasonably well. I'll praise you for that."
Subaru: "Shut up! Do you know what I’ve had to deal with...!?"
Flop: "Oh, calm down, Miss Natsumi! You're ruining your pretty face!"
Subaru: "Shut up!"
He was about to get mad at Abel's attitude, but Flop stopped him from behind. He really wanted to punch that arrogant demonic face, but Subaru had no choice but to remain calm because this strategy was not possible without that face. It was unbelievably terrible that he would use his own face as a hostage.
Subaru: "You, I'm definitely going to hit you when it's over...!"
Abel: "If you have so much time thinking about what you'll do after it's over, then I'm sure you'll be able to perform without fault."
Subaru: "Flora! We’re going to rehearse until it's time!"
Flop: "Okay, okay, okay."
Subaru gritted his teeth in anger. Whatever the case, if they had made contact with the outside world, all they had to do was wait for the time in question.
At most, yes, at most...
Subaru: "...It'll be awful if the plan doesn't work."
He muttered in defeat, but Subaru had been convinced over the course of the past few days that it would definitely work. It was really frustrating, that was because it seemed as though there was nothing that wouldn't fall in love with this arrogant Dancing Princess, except perhaps a Sin Archbishop.