‘Time itself stopped’, a phrase reserved for moments like this. At the entrance to the alley stood a single girl.
She was a beautiful girl.
She had tied up her long silver hair which reached her hips, her piercing gaze was brimming with intelligence, her soft features were both seductive and youthful and she exuded an air of nobility that was dangerously charming.
She stood about 160 centimeters tall, her royal blue-toned garments weren’t particularly flashy, and yet their simplicity emphasized her presence even further. The one conspicuous feature was the emblem on her coat, a bird resembling a hawk, and even its magnificence was nothing more than a supplement to her sublime beauty.
“I won’t let you run amok like that. Stop at once.”
She spoke once again, her voice so exciting it could send tremors through one’s body.
Her voice was like a silver bell, it was pleasant to the ears and her speech held such power it could shake one’s heart.
Subaru was overwhelmed, to the extent that he’d completely forgotten his predicament. He could only think of her.
The bandits were no different, faced with her animosity their earlier vigor vanished. Even the man holding the knife turned pale as they retreated into the alley.
“Waitwaitwait! Please wait! We don’t really get it, but we’ll let him go! So please forgive us…”
“It’s good to see you’re so gracious. It’s not too late, so return what you stole.”
“It was our bad… Eh? What we stole?”
“Please. It’s really important. I’d let go of anything else, but not that. － If you return it now, I’ll spare your lives.”
Though her words were only that of an entreaty, the last few were clearly filled with anger.
Her gaze was sharp, and the hand she’d extended as though reaching out was empty. However, there was something hard to put into words gathering in her palm, something everyone there could feel.
“W-Wait! … Um, perhaps there’s been some kind of mistake?”
They pointed to Subaru who was still under their boots.
“Uhh, you’re not here to save this guy, right?”
“… What strange clothes he’s wearing. Perhaps there’s been some internal strife among you? I can’t say I approve of you ganging up on him like that, but if you were to ask whether or not I have any sort of connection to him, I’d have to say I don’t.”
Perhaps thinking they were trying to distract her, her tone was one of irritation. Seeming flustered by this, the men started talking in a hurry.
“Woa-W-Wait! If you don’t want this guy, we have nothing to do with each other! About whatever was stolen from you, it was probably that girl from earlier!”
“A-Ah, right! The girl from earlier, she ran up the wall onto the roof!”
“Yeah, over there! She’s probably three streets away by now!”
As they gave their rapid-fire explanations, her eyes met Subaru’s.
Her eyes seemed to ask if they were telling the truth and Subaru nodded instinctively, unable to lie.
Having seen this, the girl reluctantly nodded in understanding.
“It looks like you weren’t lying. So she went that way…? I’ll have to hurry.”
She turned her back on them, prepared to leave.
The men were blatantly relieved, and Subaru cursed his own foolishness for getting wrapped up in the atmosphere and squandering his only chance. However,
“Be that as it may, I can’t overlook what’s going on here.”
She turned around with her palm facing them － And aimed the ‘rock’ in her palm at the stock still men as she fired.
Its speed would fit right in at the major league, and its course was that of a bean ball.
The sound of a regulation ball striking flesh rang out thrice, and the men were blown away as they screamed in pain.[T/N: Major league refers to high level baseball, bean ball means a ball intended to hit the opponent, a regulation ball is a hard ball.]
Having scored direct hits on the men, there was a high-pitched din as lumps of ice fell by Subaru. Lumps of ice the size of a fist― Their existence defied any sense of season and even physics itself, and they dispersed as if consumed by the atmosphere once they’d served their purpose.
The word most suited to explain this phenomenon immediately spilled out of his mouth. He didn’t hear her chant or anything, but that ice just now was definitely formed in and fired from her palm.
Having seen this actually occur before him, he realized something.
“This isn’t nearly as fantastic as I thought… It feels disappointingly real.”
He’d imagined light scattering around or energy flowing wildly, but in reality it was just some lumps of ice rapidly coming into existence and disappearing just as quickly. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of atmosphere to it.
“You’ve… Really gone and done it now.”
Setting aside Subaru’s impressions, the men who had been hit by that disappointingly real attack had sustained serious damage. Two of them could barely keep their footing steady as they stood back up and the third may have been hit in a bad spot, because he was out cold. Despite their bleeding, the two who were still standing appeared ready to fight. Even the man beside the guy with the knife was holding an object resembling a rusty nata as he prepared for battle.[T/N: Nata = A type of blade]
“I don’t give a damn whether you’re a mage or whatever. The two of us together are going to kill you… You think you can win against both of us?”
The man with the knife raised his voice in anger as he pressed down on his broken nose with his other hand, but the girl showed no signs of faltering.
“I suppose two on one might be unfair.”
“Then two on two should be okay, right?”
Yet another voice filled the alley, androgynous and high-pitched, as though speaking for the girl.
Subaru started looking around in surprise and the men shared his reaction. They couldn’t find anyone who might have spoken those words, not at the entrance and of course not within the alley.
The three of them were confused and bewildered, and as if to show off, the girl held out her hand.
Her palm faced upward, and ‘it’ floated above her white fingertips.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to be looked at like that.”
It said as it bashfully groomed its face. ‘It’ being a cat small enough to fit in a palm, standing upright.
Its coat was gray and its ears were floppy, to Subaru it looked very much like an American Shorthair. Well, setting aside its pink nose and the length of its tail. The sight of this bizarre cat-like being caused the man with the knife to tremble as he screamed.
“―A spirit user!”
“Correct. If you withdraw right now, I won’t pursue you. Think fast, I don’t have time for this.”
The men clicked their tongues at her words and started to carry their fallen friend out of the alley. As they passed by Subaru and approached the exit, they glanced back at the girl and―
“Just you wait, you damned brat. You’d best be careful the next time you decide to wander around here.”
“If you lay a finger on her, you’ll be tormented until the end of time. You’ll be in the afterlife well before that, though.”
They desperately tried to make threats, but the reply was dismissive in tone although its contents were rather severe.
The cat in her palm behaved rather frivolously, but their faces turned paler than ever before as they silently fled out of the alley.
Now that they were gone, only Subaru remained before her.
Forgetting the pain coursing through him, Subaru had tried to get up to thank her.
But she stopped him in his tracks, her ice cold voice devoid of any sentiment.
Her eyes were filled with caution. Even having understood Subaru wasn’t with them, she clearly didn’t think of him as a good person.
Despite this, he was enthralled by the beauty of her amethyst eyes. He wasn’t used to dealing with beautiful women, so that alone caused him to turn red and avert his eyes. Seeing this, the girl smiled boldly as she maintained her cautious gaze.
“Your guilty conscience made you avert your eyes. Looks like my judgement was spot on.”
“I wonder. I didn’t sense malice whatsoever, that was probably just an instinctive male reaction.”
“You be quiet, Puck. ― You, you probably know who stole my insignia, right?”
The girl silenced the cat as she tossed a question Subaru’s way. She seemed rather proud of herself, but,
“Sorry to disappoint, but I have no clue.”
Her prideful front crumbled, allowing her usual expression to come through for a moment. Her imposing attitude had also vanished as she turned to the cat in her palm in a panic.
“W-What now? Did we really just waste our time…?”
“You’re wasting time as we speak, you really should hurry. The culprit definitely has the divine protection of wind considering how fast they ran.”
“Why are you treating it like someone else’s problem?”
“You were the one who told me to stay out of it, though. Besides, what are you going to do about this guy?”
Subaru smiled bitterly when he once again became the topic of conversation. The girl seemed as though she’d just now realized that he was still there. Subaru put on a brave face for her and stood up,
“You’ve done enough. You’re in a hurry, right? You’d better get going.”
―I’ll help you out if you so desire, how about it?
He’d planned to say this while his fingers combed through his hair and his teeth sparkled, however,
“Ah, you’d better not try to sta―, too late.”
His head felt heavy and his body was wobbly. He tried to support himself against a wall, but his hand only grasped air. In the end, he had a reunion with the ground he was just recently laying on. He fell completely undefended right onto his nose, the sharp pain making his consciousness drift.
“―Well, what now?”
“Well, it’s not like we know him. He won’t die, so let’s leave him be.”
As his consciousness faded away, he could make out bits of their conversation. This was parallel world fantasy alright, harsh even when it came to kindness.
He was going to be abandoned in some alley, a negative viewpoint.
Well, he was about to die so merely being alive was a blessing in itself, a positive viewpoint.
These half-hearted thoughts floated across his mind as his consciousness slowly―
On the verge of losing consciousness, he caught sight of the girl turning around, her face red.
“―I definitely, definitely won’t stick around to help him.”
―So cute even when she’s angry, a true parallel world fantasy.
Those were his last thoughts before he blacked out.