Chapter

9 "Imperial Way"

The poison that was slowly consuming his body, and the pain that felt as if his blood had turned to magma, was tearing Natuski Subaru’s existence apart down to nothing. It was a cruelness similar to peeling off a scab that hadn’t finished healing and exposing it to the cold. ...Except in this case, it was his soul that was being exposed to this harsh reality.


Will it be pain, sorrow, grief, or something else entirely that awaits him? Subaru couldn’t be sure of even that. If there could be any saving grace, it would only be the one.


The feeling of hopelessness was broken as his wish was granted, and a false sense of freedom came over him...


???: [Shut the fuck up, bastard!]


Subaru: [Ah!]


Subaru opens his mouth wide, which was starting to foam, freeing himself from the intense pain he had been feeling. His body, which had been emptied of oxygen as though his lungs had been pierced, greedily grasped for oxygen, and just as he was able to get back his sense of taste, something was forcibly shoved into his mouth.


In response, Subaru recoiled, coughing and cussing. But he couldn’t see exactly what had happened. The tightness on his face was a sign that something was wrapped around his face, covering his eyes. ...No, it wasn't just his face that was bound. His hands and feet were tied up as well. And now something had been shoved into his mouth.


Subaru: [Geez! Why am I all tied up…?]


???: [Bastard, are you trying to fight back? Do you not understand your position?]


Subaru: [Ahh...ku….…]


Immediately after spitting out the shoe from his mouth, Subaru was kicked hard in the ribs by his violent captor. His body starts to suffocate from the blow as he then gets spat on. The humiliation that came from getting spit on was completely disregarded by Subaru, who was more concerned with the pain in his chest. However, as his vision flickered from the pain, Subaru’s head was racked with confusion.


...The events of just a few seconds before were swarming Subaru’s thoughts.


Subaru: [...]


Todd woke him up and took him out of the tent, to show that the large forest was burning. Immediately after finding out that it was because of Subaru’s mistake, he was shot in the back with an arrow and collapsed to the ground. It was a young-looking girl that had fired, and as soon as he saw her, all strength was drained from his body and his whole body started convulsing. He was in agony, spewing bubbles of blood and trying to hold onto his consciousness that was about to be cut off as he heard Rem's voice rushing towards him.


Subaru: [Where…. am….?]


???: [Huh? You bastard, how long are you gonna screw around for?.]


??: [Hey, hey, calm down! He doesn’t understand what’s happening to him! It’s no use! Come on, let’s get this blindfold off him!]


???: [...]


His thoughts, which were in the middle of being swallowed up by a vortex of chaos, were brought back to reality because of the conversation that was going on above him. What he heard was a conversation between two men. One of the voices sounded like the embodiment of coarseness and roughness, and the other was a soft voice that sounded good-natured.


...He could easily imagine their faces even with his blindfold.


??? : [Tsk.]


With a click of his tongue and the sound of footsteps on the hard ground, the man who had kicked Subaru moved away. Soon after, he heard the other man sigh out of dismay with a tinge of relief.


Todd: [I’m sorry about that. I know you’re probably wondering what’s happening, but let’s start by taking off your blindfold, okay? I can’t take off the ropes around your hands and feet yet, I’m sorry about that.]


Subaru: [...]


As the man says this, he walks up to Subaru and removes the blindfold wrapped around his head. Before feeling relief at being released with only a small amount of pain, Subaru takes a deep breath and repeats it once, twice and then starts breathing normally again. Then, waiting for his eyesight to return, he slowly opens his eyelids...


Subaru: [...... I knew it.]


As his blurred vision slowly became clearer, he saw a tent, a fire, and Imperial soldiers busily attending to their duties in front of him. It wasn’t the familiar scene he had expected, but it was still the same Imperial camp, the place where Subaru had gone far and wide completing chores.


Subaru: [...]


There was nothing strange about the scene itself. In the first place, it was in this camp that Subaru fell victim to an arrow wound. There’s nothing strange about the possibility that he had been treated while unconscious and woken up here. However, what was strange is the fact that he had woken up to a shoe being shoved in his mouth while his hands and feet were bound. No matter how unfamiliar Subaru was to Imperial culture, if restraining someone’s hands and feet every time they got treated is common sense here, then he hoped such a country would be destroyed. And that meant...


Subaru: [I died.]


...His thought process naturally deduced that he had used “Return by Death”. And morbidly enough, he had an easy way to find out. All he had to do was turn his head and look beyond the camp to the green forest.


A dense forest that Subaru had, due to a mistake, doomed by giving the Imperials the idea of burning it down. The forest that was supposed to be burning and emitting black smoke, was right there. To the left and to the right, a lush green forest filled the horizon, alive and well.


Subaru: [...]


Having confirmed this, Subaru could still see his final moments clearly. Rem’s voice, her presence and her plea as she crawled over to the arrow-wounded Subaru, desperately crying out to him, begging him not to die. But Subaru betrayed her. Right in front of Rem, he died pathetically. It was heartbreaking for him to imagine the anxiety and fear that the amnesiac Rem must have been feeling when in an unknown place, the only man she knew, though she hated him, had died. Thinking about those feelings, he vowed to never let her go through that again.


??: [We were fetching water when we found you. I’m sorry, but you’re now our prisoner.]


The man crouched down in front of Subaru, whose heart felt heavy. He recognized the soft smile and the gentle looking eyes. ...It was Todd.


He was the only one who was friendly to Subaru and Rem in this camp full of Imperial soldiers, and he was the one who patiently helped Subaru, who knew almost nothing of the Empire. Subaru felt lucky that Todd had even bothered to guide him along in the first place. Until he made the choice of burning down the forest due to Subaru’s words.


Subaru: [...]


Barely any time had passed, and he could still feel the chill down his spine at Todd’s carefree report. As soon as Todd found out how difficult it would be for him to attack the “People of Shudrak”, the whole reason for their operation, the Imperial soldiers mercilessly burned down the forest.Then the Imperials praised Subaru for providing the information necessary to completing their mission.


In the Sacred Vollachia Empire, the strong are praised and the weak are discarded. With the symbol of a wolf pierced by swords, the Empire teaches its population that only a “Sword Wolf” is qualified to live. Then maybe having a mentality like Todd isn’t uncommon in the Empire. It’s no wonder they decided to completely burn down the forest when they heard that a demon beast lived there. However, Subaru knew that such a mentality wouldn’t be compatible with most of the people residing in the Kingdom of Lugnica. Roswaal, who was a person guided by only rationalism, might be the only one. Whatever the case, Subaru can’t let the forest be burned to the ground this time around.


Subaru: [...]


Gulping down his saliva, Subaru sees his previous life as a complete failure. Subaru getting killed was one thing, but burning down the forest was a bit much, even if the Imperial soldiers were the ones who did it. If Subaru hadn’t made his mistake, Todd and the “People of Shudrak” might have been able to hold a peaceful dialogue and reach an understanding without the need for bloodshed.


But he took away that possibility and put the people living in the forest into danger… No, that wasn’t true. There was absolutely no way that no one had died in that huge fire. Natsuki Subaru took the lives of the people living in the forest because of his mistake. Even if they had no way of knowing what happened in the previous loop, before he had used “Return by Death”. Subaru would never be able to forget.


Subaru: [...]


And, because of that, Subaru is determined to not make that same mistake again. “Death” is heavy, and he can’t let it happen again, not to himself, and not to others. With that in mind, it was almost a blessing in disguise that he could meet with Todd and Jamal for the first time again.


The checkpoint for “Return by Death” updated, after being knocked out by Rem in the grasslands, he then escaped the attack from the hunter and the demon beast only to become a prisoner in an Imperial encampment.


From here, he’ll have to establish friendly relations with Todd, and if possible Jamal, and then negotiate with them in a way that won’t cause them to go to war with the “People of Shudrak” who reside in the forest. And to do that...


Todd: [Are you listening to me? I know you must be confused because we suddenly told you you’re a prisoner of war..]


Subaru: [...No, uh yeah. I guess I’m just a bit confused, but uh…]


Todd crouches down in front of the silent Subaru, understanding that he is most likely confused. Noticing Todd, Subaru pondered over his next words. Last time, his relationship with Todd was a good one. He wants to keep it that way and continue having Todd take care of Subaru and Rem. And to do that, he needs to choose his words very carefully to keep the extremist Todd pacified.


Subaru: [Well, I was a bit surprised to learn that I was taken as a prisoner. I remember jumping into a river. If you’re the people who pulled me out from there, then you saved my life...]


Todd: [Stop.]


Subaru: [Huh?]


Subaru had examined the situation he was in and tried to act as though he was thankful to have been pulled out of the river. However, Todd interrupted Subaru's words and struck Subaru’s face with his palm. With his five fingers outstretched, Subaru had his vision blocked, and he immediately choked up. And then--


Todd: [...You, why did you look at me like that?]


Immediately after Subaru heard Todd’s cold, hard voice, he felt something sharp in his right shoulder. With his vision blocked and his reaction delayed due to his confusion, Subaru turned to look at the strange feeling in his right shoulder and realized what had happened.


...The sharp tip of a knife had been stabbed into Subaru’s right shoulder.


△▼△▼△▼△

Subaru: [...URGH!]


The moment he saw what had happened, Subaru's throat let out an inarticulate cry. A tremendous burning sensation exploded around his right shoulder, and Subaru's entire body stretched out to numb the sharp pain. If he didn't stretch his body to disperse the pain generated throughout his body, his brain, unable to take in the unacceptable amount of pain, might have broken.


That was how immense the impact of the unexpected stab wound was.


Subaru: [Ggh, gaaaaaaaahhhh!]


The inaudible voice was followed by a scream that was clearly drawn out by the pain a few seconds later. Subaru wanted to flail, to rub his gouged shoulder, hold it down, or at any rate take some action to suppress the pain. However, Subaru's arms and legs are restrained, and he can't even take action to pull out the knife that has been thrust inside him. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.


Jamal: [Oh, hey! What the hell was that scream!?]


Subaru was writhing in agony and screaming repeatedly. Jamal, a rough-looking man with an eye patch, came rushing in with a panicked look. Jamal, who had been the one who kicked and violated Subaru in the loop before, opened his eye to see Subaru with a knife dug into his right shoulder, screaming, and coughing up blood. And then--


Jamal: [Todd, this isn’t what we discussed! You were the one who told me not to mess with this guy because he had the knife of a nobleman!]


Todd: [Yeah, I was going to do that before I knew who these guys were. I can see why you're pissed off that we're not on the same page. My bad, my bad..]


Jamal: [...So does that mean you know who this guy is?]


Jamal, who had raised his voice, regained his composure when he heard Todd's answer as he stood up. Todd tilted his head in response to Jamal’s question, nodding his head with a “Well?”. As it was, Todd put his foot on Subaru's body, which was lying on its side and screaming in agony.


Todd: [I haven’t heard anything about him so I don’t know at all. But there's a good chance he is our enemy. So, this is our preemptive strike.]


Subaru: [Gu, Gyaaahh--!]


Todd: [Oh, that looks painful. I don't want to make you suffer too much, but are you good with pain? What's your self-assessment on that?]


Todd asks matter-of-factly as he puts the weight of his foot on Subaru's body. However, as Subaru collapsed on the ground, Todd put his weight on Subaru and the knife in his shoulder was pushed deep into the wound, leaving him no time to respond to the continuation of his excruciating pain.


Subaru’s vision flickered, his throat burned, and his blood-curdling screams rose again and again. No matter how many times he repeated it, the pain showed no sign of abating. Instead of disappearing, the pain became a fresh despair that continued to hit Subaru like a wave that was coming and going.


Todd: [No answer. You're defiant. I knew you were the enemy.]


Jamal: [...... If you keep pressing down on him like that, he won't be able to answer our questions.]


Todd: [Hmm? Is that so? Woops! If he is not insensitive to pain, he will inevitably do a poor job in this kind of situation. My bad, my bad!]


While saying this, Todd finally removes his foot from Subaru's body. The added pain was gone, but the intermittent pain was still stinging him, and blood was pouring out of his mouth as he bit down on the unbearable pain. Tears also flowed from the corner of his eyes, and miserably he was not allowed to wipe them away.


Jamal: [How can you tell me to leave him be then go and do this? ......]


Todd: [...? You’re the one who beats up prisoners and subordinates to relieve your gloom, right? Don’t make me laugh. I'm just doing what needs to be done.]


Meanwhile, ignoring Subaru's poor condition, the men continued their conversation above his head. A scene that would have been unthinkable not so long ago was unfolding, with Jamal attempting to pacify Todd over Subaru’s wound.


What the heck is going on here? Subaru can't think straight, even though he is using all of his being to endure the pain. Why would Todd, who had been so good to Subaru and the others, do something like this--?


Jamal: [So, why did you stab him?]


Oddly enough, Jamal asks Todd the same question that Subaru had wanted to ask. When asked this, Todd closes one eye, looks over at the writhing Subaru.


Todd: [When I took off the blindfold and looked at him, he had eyes that were trying to manipulate me. I can understand if he is anxious or nervous. It’s okay to be scared or to cry. ...But trying to manipulate me would be strange.]


Jamal: [Manipulation, huh?]


Todd: [Would an unconscious person, after being kicked awake while being blindfolded look to take advantage of the first face they see? There might be some people like that, but I'd be too scared to deal with such a person. Might as well just kill him.]


To Jamal's thoughtfulness, Todd stated his thoughts in a logical manner. The reason why Todd stabbed Subaru was because he judged Subaru to be dangerous. And that the best way to deal with a dangerous opponent was to neutralize them. Todd stabbed Subaru in the right shoulder because he knew that Subaru’s left hand was useless because of his broken fingers.


With his right shoulder stabbed and the fingers of his left hand broken, the function of both of Subaru's arms was greatly reduced. To ensure his own safety, Todd made that decision immediately and did nothing more than that. ...Hah. Nothing more than that, huh??


Jamal: [I don't know if he thought about that right after he woke up. Maybe he was awake while he was being carried and was listening to us the whole time....]


Todd: [No, that's not possible. I kept looking to see if he was pretending to be asleep. If he regained consciousness, he would have had a visceral reaction. If he was pretending to be asleep and I missed it, ......]


Jamal: [What if you did?]


Todd: [It would mean that he tried to manipulate us by deceiving us into believing that he was asleep. Which is even scarier. I still think it's a good idea to kill him.]


Listening to him, Subaru gasped with a shiver as he fought the pain. Jamal's words gradually faded as he listened to Todd's explanation. At first, he must have been surprised and angry at the fact that Todd had stabbed Subaru, but little by little, his rage was being dismantled. Todd's tone of voice and way of speaking had a magical power to soften the emotions of others.


Observing from a third party's perspective, Subaru could finally understand it.


Todd is approachable and understanding, and he offers an attractive proposal that would be beneficial to the other person. After their initial energy is suppressed, the softened mind of the other person examines the proposal and is tempted to savor it.


That's exactly what's happening to Jamal right now. And that's exactly what had happened to Subaru just before he used “Return by Death".


Todd: [I don't know what to make of the girls he was with, but those two are simple and easy to deal with. Let's get rid of this disease before we get into any trouble.]


Jamal: [Well, that's fine with me....]


Todd: [Or do you want to do it yourself? I stopped the blue-haired girl from rampaging on our subordinates and I'm sure you need someone to relieve your anger on. ]


Jamal: [...I guess that's true too.]


Jamal smiled at Todd's proposal made in a matter-of-fact manner. Quickly, Jamal slipped past Todd and closed in on Subaru, cracking his knuckles. The hint of Jamal's violent aura made Subaru cower, but it was Todd's remark that sent a shiver through Subaru's heart.


The fact that Todd had offered Subaru to Jamal to relieve his grievances was one thing, but even if Todd got rid of Subaru here, he was going to find another way to find out about Subaru and the other’s intentions.


Rem and, to a lesser extent, Louis, were to be used for that purpose. But no matter what they are asked, those two can't answer. No matter how harshly they are tortured, there is no information that Rem can reveal. In other words...


Subaru: [...Tch!]


Biting down hard on his back teeth, Subaru uses the taste of blood in his mouth as motivation to find a way to prevent Rem from tasting this. In a few seconds, Jamal's violent assault would begin, and Subaru would be killed or left half-dead by the savage, untamed attack. Even if Jamal had a conscience, Todd would not let Subaru live. Todd, who could set fire to the forest, would not mind extinguishing Subaru's life.


With a step or two, Jamal approached. Meanwhile, Subaru's thoughts heated up to the extreme, and he searched within himself for the answer he needed. Some way out of this situation, some possibility, some miracle to enact...


Jamal [Try your best to, scream with a nice voice to relieve my sorrow, you little shit. You'll have to pay for your woman with your own life.]


Subaru: [...The “People of Shudrak”.]


Jamal: [...]


Just before Jamal was about to unleash his violent attack on Subaru with the usual rant of a roughneck, Subaru's lips were spinning up words. Immediately, Jamal's movements stopped, and the expression on Todd's face behind him changed as well. Jamal's expression was one of clear surprise, and Todd's raised one eyebrow.


Todd: [Heh.]


And then he laughed.


Todd: [The “People of Shudrak” ......you played that hand here. You seem to know how to play the odds pretty well, don't you?]


Jamal: [Todd, this kid's got a point......]


Todd: [Well just wait, Jamal. You can punch or kick him later. But it's hard to hear someone who's had their tongue and throat restricted. It's best to listen.]


Jamal: [Damn it!]


With his anger out of control, Jamal kicked savagely at the nearest wooden fence.


His eyes cast at the literal distraction, Todd turned to face Subaru. The smile plastered on his face is, to his horror, no different from the one Subaru knows well. Just as he had done when he had healed Subaru's fingers, ate dinner with Subaru, and praised Subaru's contribution to the burning of the forest, Todd smiled at Subaru, who was on the brink of life and death.


Todd: [So you mentioned the “People of Shudrak”. Can we expect to hear something from you that will make us happy?]


Subaru: [...Yes. I know where the “People of Shudrak” are in the forest.]


Todd: [...! Oh, this guy’s good!]


Todd clapped his hands in front of his chest, with a hint of pleasure in his smile. Seeing his reaction, Subaru was convinced that the "miracle" he had pulled out of his ass had helped him to keep away from impending disaster. But at the same time, this is a double-edged sword for Subaru.


At any rate, Subaru had no idea where the “People of Shudrak” were. The masked man who gave Subaru his knife and the hunter with the bow and arrow who targeted Subaru, perhaps one or both of them are related to the “People of Shudrak”. But there is no way for him to contact them, nor does he have any idea of their specific whereabouts.


...In other words, this was a big gamble with Subaru's life on the line.


Todd: [How do you know where the “People of Shudrak” are?]


Subaru: [......Because I'm one of the “People of Shudrak”.]


Todd: [I see. I knew it. Aside from skin color, you have black hair, right? That's why I was wondering if you were one. It's a well-known fact that those from Shudrak have dark hair.]


Subaru: [....]


Subaru was greatly relieved to be rescued by luck, as he was later given information that he had no idea about. His whole body was covered in a cold sweat, Subaru’s cold sweat added to the tension of this discussion. The pain in his shoulder was still increasing, and the fingers of his left hand were beginning to scream in pain as well. On top of that, his body is still recovering from the commotion at the Pleiades Watchtower, the subsequent tussle with Rem in the forest, and his escape to that giant river.


Subaru has to keep his wobbly consciousness and fragile spirit together to face each deadly, and answer each one correctly. ...All in order to survive and save Rem.


To return to Emilia, Beatrice and the others, and reunite Ram with Rem.


Todd: [So, your position is that of a scout. You prepared your clothes and that knife in order to blend in here.]


Subaru: [...The knife was taken from a traveler. Same with the clothes. And.......]


Todd: [You were trying to find out what we were up to. That's a pretty bold plan. It seems to be true that you were drowning, but there was a chance that we wouldn't notice the knife. ......]


Subaru: [But that makes it more believable, doesn't it?]


When it was pointed out that it was a sloppy plan, Subaru gave a bullish laugh. The edges of his mouth contorted, showing his teeth and making his evil looking eyes appear even worse. By doing so, he was ready to make his statement more convincing. In fact, upon hearing it, Todd narrowed his eyes to examine the truth of his statement.


Subaru: [....]


The silence was heavy and tightened around Subaru's life like floss. To be honest, the pain and load was so painful that he couldn't reflect at all on whether his statement was convincing, or whether he was able to look and speak well enough to support that conviction.


For all he knows, it’s likely that he would get brushed off as a fool and even have his face kicked in after they snort in laughter at his ridiculous excuse. The fact that Todd's demeanor was unreadable also added to the tension. And after a while...


Todd: [...You, you would sell out your tribe to spare your own life?]


As Todd asked this, Subaru gulped down his saliva. He got the words he wanted out of him. Now, he just had to answer correctly.


Selling out one’s tribe in order to spare one’s own life. Subaru would be selling out the “People of “Shudrak”, after claiming he was one of the “People of Shudrak”. This must not get noticed as a bluff. On top of that, he’ll make up the face and voice needed to pull it off.


...The face and voice of a miserable, despicable man who sells out his tribe to save his own life.


Subaru: [...Yes, that’s right. I’ll sell out my people.]


Todd: [....]


Subaru: [Please... I'll do anything! If you want, I can lure those guys out! Anything, anything at all!]


Stammering, cheeks twitching, and covered in cold sweat, Subaru begs for his life. Obsessed with his own life, and despising the lives of others, he would act as a self-centered being who would never be accepted favorably by others.


Nothing to it. Subaru has seen such models of humanity many times in his days in this world. He had no idea that the day would come when he would have to model himself after the worst of humanity, the Sin Archbishops.


Jamal: [You disgusting bastard. I don't like the way you look at me.]


Hearing Subaru's plea for his life, Jamal spat out his heartfelt disdain and anger. At the very least, it seemed that Subaru's words and actions have steered Jamal in the wrong direction. But Subaru isn’t bothered, he doesn't have time to deal with Jamal at the moment.


Todd is the one who has the right to decide what to do with Subaru. His actual position or title has no meaning in this situation. The strong oppressing the weak, that's exactly what the Imperial way is.


Todd: [... That desperation, it looks like you're not lying.]


And Todd finally spoke to Subaru, who maintained a sneering expression through his efforts. Hearing this, Subaru felt a sense of being held by the scruff of the neck, even though he fears that Todd may not be happy. At the same time, Jamal reacted unpleasantly to this.


Jamal: [Hey, Todd! Do you seriously believe this bastard? This is the kind of scum who would sell out his tribe for himself.......]


Todd: [Wait, wait, what are you talking about, Jamal? This is coming from a guy who is so despicable that he would sell his tribe for himself? That's it, he's already desperate to show us his cards. Otherwise, we won't be able to spare his precious life.]


Jamal: [...Tch.]


An enraged Jamal was blocked by Todd's words. It was exactly the right assessment of a despicable man that Subaru wanted Todd to have. A man who would sell the lives of his friends to save his own. In order to make Todd believe that the information Subaru was bringing was worthwhile, he needed to bring down his reputation to the lowest level. In this respect, the fact that he had been stabbed in the shoulder and had ranted and raved must have had a positive effect. The pain seemed too great a price to pay for consoling himself like that, though.


Jamal: [Fine, I don’t care dammit!]


In the end, Jamal is persuaded by Todd, just as Subaru intended. While scolding Jamal, Todd patted him on the shoulder.


Todd: [Trust me, trust me. I'm pretty sure he's obsessed with life. ...Whether it's yours or not, only you know.]


He said as he looked at Subaru, who bowed his head with a sneer.


△▼△▼△▼△


Rem: [...Hey! Wait! What are you going to do to him?!]


Rem was clutching at the bars of her cage, shouting with anger in her eyes. They were still in the Imperial camp, and Todd and Jamal, after listening to Subaru’s pathetic pleas, were about to leave the camp along with him. While leaving, they had gone near the cage where Rem had been locked up after she had gone on a rampage and was taken prisoner. Only now had Rem shouted out in anger.


[...]


As Rem glared at him, she saw that he looked to be in a terrible state. His half dried clothes were still heavy from his time in the water, and the stab wound in his right shoulder had only been treated to stop the bleeding. The broken fingers on his left hand hadn’t been treated and although the shackles on his legs had been removed, the handcuffs still deprived him of his freedom.


Natsuki Subaru was brought out of the camp looking as if he were a slave. When Rem saw this, she was in a state of confusion and surprise. And Subaru wasn’t in a position to be able to explain the situation to her. His “Return by Death” had reset Subaru and Rem’s relationship from slightly close friends back to Rem hating him. Rem sees Subaru as an enemy because of the “Witch’s Scent”, and Subaru hasn’t had the chance nor the opportunity to try and clear up the misunderstanding, and if that wasn’t bad enough…..


Rem: [...The smell is even worse than before….. What the hell is he up to?]


His miasma is getting thicker and thicker every time Subaru has to use “Return by Death”, and that made Rem’s suspicion level increase with each use. From her point of view, Natsuki Subaru is the very embodiment of evil. And as long as her perception stayed the same, Subaru’s feelings would keep getting hurt, but no action could be taken to clear up the misunderstanding right now.


Todd: [.... You two have quite the complicated relationship, don’t you? Even though she’s supposed to be your companion, that bad attitude towards you says otherwise.]


Subaru: [That girl....no, the two that were with me.]


Todd: [Both of them?]


Subaru: [I brought both of them along to help get closer to you guys.]


He hesitated for a moment, but decided to feign cruelty. The current Subaru was a cold-blooded man who would sell out his tribe to save his own life. Naturally, such a person wouldn’t have compassion for Rem and Louis, and so he needs to be completely and utterly selfish. He has to prevent Rem from being taken hostage no matter what.


Subaru: [So, they don’t know anything. It’d be a waste of time to interrogate them….. But,you already seem to know that.]


Todd: [Well it didn’t look like an act, did it? The little girl really is crazy, and that one doesn’t seem like she’s lying. That’s what makes this so strange though, I can’t understand why she went on a rampage.]


Jamal: [Tsk.]


Todd put on a bitter smile, and Jamal clicked his tongue in annoyance. The two of them were the first to leave the Imperial encampment, followed by around twenty Imperial soldiers. From there, Subaru will take them to the village of the “People of Shudrak” in the forest. He will tell Todd where they are, and contribute to the victory of the Empire. As a reward, he gets to save himself and his companions and get rid of the hatred he feels for his clan...


For the story of a despicable man, this is about as good as it gets. That is, if you disregard the fact that it was impossible.


Subaru: [Wouldn’t it be wise to just toss them out? I brought her for a reason. If she’s just going to stay there then I might as well take her now. I’ll get her back once this is over anyways…]


Todd: [Let’s not get too hasty now. It’s good that you’re so confident, but don’t forget that whether or not you can live depends on if you can help us or not, okay? I’m much more worried about my own goals then the treatment of your two friends.]


Subaru: [Eh, you’re right. Just got greedy is all.]


Subaru immediately changed the conversation, knowing that if he persisted, his attachment to Rem would be exposed to Todd. The shackles around his hands prevented him from fidgeting with them, but he responded to Todd calmly. Fortunately, Todd didn’t push the subject any more and just waved his hands at Rem.


Todd: [Be quiet girl. I’m not going to do anything to you as long as you don’t give me a reason to.]


Rem: [You think you can convince me with that?]


Todd: [I don’t really care if I’m convincing, it’s your problem if you don’t believe my words missy.]


With a frustrated look, Rem stayed quiet. Regretting that he couldn’t provide any covering fire to their conversation, Subaru burned Rem’s image into his mind, as fuel for his own fire.


...Somehow, he will get Rem out of the Imperial encampment and escape.


Subaru didn’t want to make friends with Todd or any of the Imperials to help protect him and Rem. ...They were too dangerous, whether they were friend or foe. As an ally, they couldn’t be controlled, and the danger of having them as an enemy couldn’t be imagined. They shouldn’t be getting close to the people of the Vollachia Empire in the first place.


Subaru’s position is very complicated, and if he wasn’t careful, it could quickly become more than a personal problem.


Todd: [Alright then, we’re off. Everyone, stay sharp.]


Jamal: [I’ll give the orders!]


Todd called out to his allies, accompanied by Subaru who raised his awareness. Amidst the replies of the Imperial soldiers, he could hear Jamal shouting angrily.


△▼△▼△▼△


...After that, the group of Imperials, led by Subaru, invaded the Buddheim forest.


Their objective was to locate the village of the “People of Shudrak” living in the forest. ...The only problem, however, is that their navigator, Subaru, is bluffing and has no idea where the village is. In fact, even the identity of the “People of Shudrak” is unclear to him.


Subaru: [...]


As they made their way into the dense forest, Subaru was looking around for an opportunity to escape. His opponent was a large group, but even if they were only wearing light armor, they wouldn’t be able to move as quickly as Subaru. If he could somehow get away, he might be able to get back to the camp and escape with Rem. Rather, that was his only option at the moment.


Fortunately, the cage where Rem is being kept can be easily unlocked from the outside. What's important is that Subaru figures out a way to get there, and that Rem decides to follow him once the cage has been opened. And then there was Louis.


Subaru: [If I say that I’m leaving Louis behind, Rem won’t ever agree to run away with me…..]


Another problem is that Rem’s trust in Subaru has worsened because of the miasma that came along with Subaru using “Return by Death”. Even if Subaru desperately returned after escaping, Rem wouldn’t accept Subaru’s idea of leaving Louis behind. Then, there was also the possibility that Rem would knock out Subaru on the spot and escape with Louis. Leaving Subaru alone in the Imperial encampment. That would be the complete opposite of what he wants.


Subaru:[Rem can’t even do that, she can barely move her legs.]


The only thing keeping her from doing that is the poor state of her legs. If she were in perfect condition, she’d likely be capable of doing so. If Subaru lets that happen, it would be a huge problem. Thus, he would have to bring Louis with them. It was becoming thoroughly difficult to get rid of this negative factor, which would be his handcuffs. And...


Todd: [So, how long does it take to get to the village?]


Subaru: [...... It should be around two to three hours I guess.]


Todd: [Two to three hours! That's pretty fast. If it really only takes that long, it's a blessing. I was thinking that this was a mission that would take years to complete.]


Todd’s cheeks relaxed at the answer. Equipped with light armor and a hatchet hanging from his belt, those words reminded Subaru of the fact that Todd had left his fiancée behind to do this mission. Of course, his relationship wouldn’t change drastically, even if he made the decision to hurt Subaru.


As an Imperial soldier, Todd had followed instructions and gone to the forest, which had forced him away from his fiancée. The same is true for Jamal and the other soldiers, they each have their own reasons for doing what they do.


In that sense, there was no reason for Subaru and Todd to fight. It was all just bad luck. The wind wasn’t in their favor. That was the best way to put it. But still...


Subaru: [... I don’t really think it’s my place to say this, but aren’t you being careless by bringing only this many people to the village?]


While leading the way, Subaru called out to Todd, who was walking right behind him. There were about twenty soldiers in the Imperial squad, and even counting the guide, it was hardly enough to search through this vast forest. Todd simply shrugged.


Todd: [Well it can’t be helped. You’re a good source of information, but I’m not expecting much from you. You’ll only become valuable when we verify that your information is correct. Besides...]


Subaru: [Besides?]


Todd: [If this turns out to be a trap and we don’t return, then our allies will know it isn’t safe to go into the forest. Ha, “Long Live Vollachia”.]


Soldiers: [“Long Live Vollachia”!]


The Imperial soldiers cried out to Todd, who in an easygoing tone, had just said that he was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of victory. The chants of “Long Live Vollachia” that seemed to shake the air were a testament to how dedicated the Imperial soldiers were to their nation. In any case...


Jamal: [You sure you have the time to be worrying about us, eh? There’s no guarantee that your head is still going to be connected to your torso when this is all over. You better not do anything to put us in a bad mood.]


Subaru: [Jamal-san…]


Jamal: [Don’t you dare say my name, you lowlife traitor. You should be chopped up and thrown away, and the women should be presented to the Second Class General…. the womanizing Zykl. I’m sure he’ll be pleased with that.]


Todd: [Jamal… stop spouting bullshit. It gets tiring.]


Jamal’s gaze and tone gave away the poor impression he had of Subaru. On top of that, Jamal also had a bad relationship with Rem, so letting Jamal be in control of the situation would be the worst possible situation for Subaru. It was Todd, of all people, who confronted Jamal and told him to calm down.


Todd: [If anything, we can’t forget that we’re the ones who have to keep him happy. He’s giving us information that will greatly benefit our lives, and in return, we’ll spare his life. Otherwise, the second we get near the settlement we’ll get ambushed by the Shudrak.]


Jamal: [Bring it on then. If that happens, we’ll kill them all...]


Todd: [Are you serious? I'm not going to get into a fight I can't win. You don't want to leave your sister a widow before she's even married. Right, brother-in-law Jamal?]


Jamal: [Guh...]


Todd swiftly shut down Jamal, who had started speaking without thinking again. Subaru could see the type of relationship that the two men had, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be moved by it. Subaru was already “ready” to deal with Todd and the other imperials.


...It was bad luck that they had met, and even worse, that they were now enemies.


Subaru: [But Rem is more important.]


That’s why Subaru decided to fight against Todd and the rest of the Imperials.


Soldier: [...?]


Suddenly, at the back of the search party’s formation, one of the Imperial soldiers made a small sound in the back of his throat. He turned his head as if he had noticed something, and he began searching for what had gotten his attention.


He had felt a faint sense of discomfort, but not small enough that it could be ignored, he let his gaze wander through the forest, when...


Soldier: [Huh?]


In the darkness of the forest, his eyes were met with a red dot of light that seemed to appear out of nowhere.


Soldier 1: [It’s a demon beast!]


Soldier 2: [What!?]


Immediately after they had met eyes, the Imperial soldier alerted his comrades of the danger. His reaction up to that point was perfect, and he had made no mistakes. The same could be said about his comrades who heard his call and immediately went into a fighting stance.


However, as soon as he drew his sword, he tried to slash at the demon beast. ...That was a needless act of bravery.


Soldier: [Haaaa!]


The Imperial soldier who drew his sword quickly ran through the forest, roared and jumped at the huge snake, a ten-meter-long snake-like demon beast covered in green scales. It was the same kind of demon beast that Subaru had encountered in the forest before, and it was a true shock to the imperial soldiers who had no idea that there were demon beasts inside the forest. The decision to immediately attack the demon beast threat was the right choice, but also completely off. ...The demon beast’s target wasn’t the squadron of imperial soldiers.


The beast’s target was none other than Natsuki Subaru, who was currently covered in a large amount of miasma.


Demon beast: [Ooooooo!!!]


Receiving the sword's strike onto its scales, the serpent howled and pushed back the Imperial soldier with its huge tail. It’s red eyes glowed furiously, and a tremendous roar hit the group.


After acting as a lure for demon beasts for more than a year now, Subaru was now a professional in the field. Most of the time, demon beasts would actively target Subaru because of the miasma, but that would change once someone or something tried to harm them. It doesn’t matter whether it was the white whale or a giant snake.


The white whale had aimed at Wilhelm after he started carving it up, while the serpent turned its fangs to the hunter that had shot it. The same rule was applied here. The serpent’s aim changed from Subaru to the Imperial soldiers who all looked like his attacker.


Jamal: [A demon beast huh? I didn’t hear anything about that!]


Jamal's voice trembled with anger as he drew his twin swords, facing the threat that is the howling serpent. To Subaru’s surprise, he moved swiftly and confidently to attack the beast, who was nimble and showed it’s high level of ability. But Subaru wasn’t going to support Jamal in this fight.


Subaru had walked through the forest with the Imperials for hours, waiting for exactly this.


They weren’t aware of the presence of demon beasts, and Subaru was coated with the thick miasma. Subaru, had used his foul body odor along with the presence of demon beasts to his advantage, Subaru was a great “Demon Beast User”. When he joins back with his friends, he would have to fight Meilli for her title. But now wasn’t the time to think about them.


Subaru: [Right now...]


He’ll take advantage of the opportunity to return to the Imperial camp and free Rem. As he was about to rush into the forest, Subaru felt imminent danger on the back of his neck. Then, obeying his instincts, he ducked immediately. Not even a second later, an axe flew through the spot where Subaru’s head had been, and implanted itself into the large tree right next to him.


Subaru: [...!?]


If he hadn't lowered his head then, he would have died. Shuddering at the thought, Subaru turns to meet the gaze of his attacker.


Subaru: [...]


His gaze met Todd’s, who leered at him with sharp eyes.


Subaru: [Shit...]


Trying not to get caught in his gaze, Subaru began to run through the forest with all his might. If he stopped, Todd would catch him and if he was caught, Todd would certainly take his life. There was a strong will in his eyes. A deep, jet-black will.


It was a different kind of fear than what Subaru had felt from the Sin Archbishops, from demon beasts, and from Reid Astrea. These eyes were full of relentless obsession. ...It was a jet-black, murderous intent like he had never felt.


Subaru: [Gah!]


A hard impact pierced Subaru’s back as he ran. A knife had been thrown at him and hit him deep in his shoulder blade, ...a knife that, oddly enough, had now been returned to its owner in an unpleasant way. With the knife stuck in his shoulder, Subaru let out a ragged breath but kept running away


Behind him, there were signs that the battle between imperials and demon beast was still ongoing, but Subaru was desperately trying to put space in between him, the demon beast and Todd.


Desperately, desperately, running, running, he keeps running and running. Out of breath, coughing up blood, almost falling down several times and then actually falling down and getting covered in mud, but still running, desperately trying to get back to the Imperial camp.


Subaru: [Rem….Rem….Re...m….ugh]


At a speed slower than a child would walk, panting with his dry throat hurting, and on the verge of passing out, out of oxygen, strength, and mental strength, Subaru clings to his only care in that moment, his obsession.


Get to Rem, get Rem out, rescue Rem, return to everyone. Back to Emilia and Beatrice, back to Ram, Petra and Frederica, back to Garfield and Otto, and maybe even, back to Roswaal, and then Rem can go back to living happily with them.The time that she should have spent with them, so…


Subaru: [...Hah.]


Subaru's feet stepped onto air as he reached out to his fleeting dream. Suddenly, he lost all foothold and, unable to put enough force in his arms to stop his fall, he started falling. He was going to fall head first somewhere. He can’t even scream. Can’t open his throat.


He just kept falling. Falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling.


Subaru: [Rem.]


A dry throat leaked out, and Subaru’s consciousness faded.


△▼△▼△▼△


???: [...How long are you going to stay asleep, you fool?]


Subaru: [A little bit!?]


Suddenly, from the darkness of the abyss, a shock draws Subaru into consciousness. He had taken a blow to the side of his head, which felt as if it had been stepped on ...no, not as if, that’s exactly what happened. With the right side of his head pressed against the floor, and the left side that was stepped on, both sides had taken a beating. Thanks to this, the sharp pain brought him to consciousness.


Subaru: [...... Ah, what? I'm ......]


Feeling the taste of blood in the back of his throat, Subaru sat up in a daze. Immediately, he felt intense pain all over his body, including his right shoulder, back, left hand, and foot.


His vision flickered red from the tremendous pain, he lay back down while trembling like a fish out of water. The pain, which had been somewhat negligible due to adrenaline, had returned once he had regained consciousness. But the fact that every part of him ached like this meant that...


Subaru: [...... I didn’t die.]


???: [Of course not. Do the dead speak for themselves? Your little spectacle was far more impressive than an act of a half-hearted clown. I'll grant you some praise...]


Subaru: [Huh?]


Subaru, who was muttering without realizing it, was taken aback by the arrogant manner of speaking.


As his understanding of what was being said caught up with him, Subaru slowly raised himself up again, wary of the pain that would come back. Looking around him, he saw that he was lying on the ground, with a number of thick branches sticking up around him ...no, these were wooden bars.


The image of Rem that he had recalled so many times flashed back to him, and he realized that he was trapped in a wooden cage. Realizing this, his mind became confused. He wondered impatiently if he had failed to escape and Todd and the others had caught him, but...


???: [Don't be so hasty. Your pursuers are not here. Though it's a bit too cramped in here to tell you to relax.]


Subaru: [You are .......]


Masked Man: [I never thought I'd see your face again. ...Natsuki Subaru.]


Calling out Subaru's name, the man who was staring at him, smirked and twisted the corners of his mouth. Since he was wearing a mask that only showed his eyes, Subaru could only guess that the masked man was going to laugh, and so he did.


...The masked man laughed arrogantly, locked in the cage, just like Subaru.