His first friendly interaction in this world.
About thirty minutes after he offered to help her in that heartwarming exchange,
“―What exactly is this?”
Their investigation had led nowhere.
The girl’s eyes were cold as she asked this, her dissatisfied gaze directed at Subaru who had just discovered something. Namely―
“That cold gaze is actually kind of exciting… Wait. No, it can’t be. I, I… Was an M all along…?”[T/N: M = Masochist]
“I don’t know about this ‘em’ or whatever, but it’s clear to me that you’re talking compleeete nonsense.”
Making no effort to hide her exasperation, she crossed her arms and sighed.
Her criticism was scathing, but it was probably appropriate considering what Subaru had managed to accomplish over these past thirty minutes.
Subaru himself had offered to help her search for her missing item, but there were a number of problems that made their search extremely difficult.
To begin with, he had no idea where he was.
As far that was concerned, it couldn’t really be helped considering he was just summoned from another world, but it was a major hurdle considering the girl was also unfamiliar with the area.
They had both assumed the other person knew the way, and ended up wasting almost ten minutes wandering around the back alleys. A funny story to tell at this point, but they couldn’t really laugh at it.
Secondly, he couldn’t read their language.
He’d neglected this since conversation wasn’t a problem, but upon examining his surroundings again he noticed what seemed to be hand-written hieroglyphics all over the place.
He didn’t realize this at first, but considering they were even written on signs and the like, unless mystic runes had become all the rage around here, they were probably this world’s alphabet. As a result he couldn’t differentiate shops by their signs, and he couldn’t rely on signposts to navigate either.
In summary, the typical cliche of “Why do they speak and write the same language?!” had only delivered on the former it seemed. But if one considered that he’d probably be dead in some ditch if he didn’t at least have that, it could be said that his situation wasn’t that bad.
“Even if that were the case, this explosion in difficulty is absurd…”
Far from the kind of story where the hero comes in with unbeatable cheats, it was more like he didn’t even have the minimum level of preparation. And most importantly, the crucial problem that had earned the girl’s ire―
“You’ve just been hiding behind me this entire time, you haven’t been helpful in the slightest.”
“I mean, it’s kinda scary talking to people you’ve just met…”
“You’re not some kid…”
Her well shaped eyebrows scowled as though she was having a headache, and she spoke in a rather pitying voice.
Just as Subaru feared, the hurdle of obtaining information from strangers proved to be too much for him. His communication ability had dropped precipitously over the past year. He merely clung to her silently, like a shy boy following his mother.
He certainly wanted to say something in response to her disappointment, but his cowardliness ran deep and the words wouldn’t come out. Thus, the cat on her shoulder who had been silent thus far started waving its tail and,
“Relax…. At least he has no ill intent.”
“That’s even worse. It’d be easier to believe he’s sabotaging me, honestly. To be so utterly useless with good intentions, it’s honestly harder to deal with than enmity.”
“Sure is enlightening, huh?”
The cat’s uncaring attitude made the girl sigh. She then looked at the street yet again and continued, “But even so,”
“This really is tough.”
A small complaint left her mouth. Having moved from the alley they were in earlier, and even from the street connecting to it, they were now far from the hustle and bustle of civilization as they entered the slums. Though discouraged, they continued their investigation and ultimately ended up here.
“They said that stolen goods were usually handled in the slums…”
“We know the location and the culprit’s appearance, so why not leave the rest to the poli… I mean, the guards? We’d find it right away if we had a lot of people working on it.”
A shopkeeper about two streets away had told them about a narrow alley connecting to the slums. It was true that the sun was going down, but despite being right next to the street, the place was gloomy for reasons other than the light source. The depressing atmosphere and foul smell caused Subaru’s face to scrunch up reflexively.
“The atmosphere, mood, and probably even the inhabitants’ personalities are all bad It’d be best to call someone.”
He wasn’t merely nervous or afraid, he’d suggested this after carefully considering his ability and the girl’s safety, but he was turned down on the spot. Subaru was bewildered by this declaration and the girl seemed somewhat apologetic.
“I’m sorry. But that’s no good. I don’t think the guards will come running over a little theft like this… And also, I can’t rely on them due to personal circumstances.”
Sealing her lips, she looked at him as if to say, “I can’t say why, though. Having understood she probably didn’t want to be questioned, Subaru raised his hand in compliance. To begin with, he wasn’t so boorish as to pry into others’ affairs, and getting too involved with others was a pain anyway. If he were interested in interpersonal relationships, he wouldn’t have become a shut-in.
“Alright, what do we do then?”
Even having heard nothing of her circumstances, Subaru asked about her next course of action.
Not seeking the reason and deciding whether or not to stop helping her were entirely different matters. He may not have known her circumstances, but he didn’t want to be an ingrate.
Perhaps sure that Subaru would leave her, the girl’s eyebrows rose in surprise at this. The cat started doing a little dance on her shoulder,
“I told you, didn’t I? Not a hint of ill will.”
Fooling around as usual, it seemed terribly cheerful as it pointed at Subaru. However, its expression suddenly became serious.
“But you’d better decide carefully. ―It’s almost nightfall, so I won’t be able to help you. A few hoodlums wouldn’t be a problem, but… Be careful.”
“Yeah, you’re right… Okay, I’ll think about it. I’ll think about it, but”
Her answer was indecisive. As she seemed to struggle with her response, Subaru suddenly became curious and asked the cat,
“What were you just talking about? You can’t be around at night?”
“To put it more precisely, despite my cute looks I’m actually a spirit, you see. Manifestation alone consumes a great deal of mana, so at night I fully return to my Yorishiro and focus on building up mana. I’d say on average a nine to five schedule would be ideal.”[T/N: Yorishiro = An object that contains or summons spirits.]
“Nine to five, you sound like a civil servant… Spirits’ terms of employment are unexpectedly severe.”
Unusual terms like spirit or Yorishiro were flying around as though it were natural, but a modern otaku corrupted by games and anime wouldn’t have a hard time understanding them.
Anyhow, the cat before him―Or rather, Puck’s contract did not include a night shift. He didn’t look reliable at all, but considering how terrified those thugs from the alley were, setting aside Puck himself the beings known as ‘Spirits’ did seem to possess power befitting them.
A being who inspired far more fear than the girl who could magically create ice. Contrary to his unusually idyllic atmosphere, his true nature might have been that of a maneater that craved blood.
“Thinking of it that way, you’re unexpectedly terrifying. Let me just say this, I’m really sinewy so I probably taste really bad!”
“I can kind of read your mind to some extent so… You really are a nut, huh?”
It felt like he intended to say that in a roundabout fashion, but completely failed to do so. Puck’s fluffy forehead then moved in a gesture similar to a frown,
“Come to think of it, I don’t even know your name. I don’t believe we ever introduced ourselves.”
“Ah, I guess so. Then let’s start with me.”
Subaru cleared his throat and then spun on the spot, striking a pose as he thrust his finger into the sky.
“My name is Natsuki Subaru! I’m utterly lost and completely broke! Nice to meet you!”
“Sounds like you’re in a real tough spot, huh. Alright then, I’m Puck. Nice to meet you.”
Subaru had extended his hand in a gesture of goodwill, and Puck flew right into it, a dynamic handshake with his whole body. From an outsider’s perspective, it looked like Subaru was crushing him.
Puck was just as fluffy as he was in his giant form, once he’d had his fill of the sensation Subaru turned to the girl next to him. Her gaze was sour as she watched this exchange between man and animal.
“Why can’t you ever set that overly familiar attitude aside for a moment? It’s unnecessary.”
“I was at my wits’ end and found a thread I could cling to! Damn it, I’m never letting this go, this encounter… My life itself depends on it…!”
“Your determination is compleeeetely pointless… Say, do you even remember under what pretense you joined us?”
“Of course. You’re now searching for a person rather than an object, and I’m the only the one who knows what they look like… You think I’ll let you get rid of me just like that, I’ll never leak my secrets…!”
“Although I do recall you murmuring “Blonde hair… And her teeth… Ah, never mind” and the like as you hid behind me while we questioned people, so you’ve leaked quite a bit.”
“Curse my own foolishness!!”
He grabbed his head and bent over on the spot. It was like he was playing poker while showing his opponent his hand. Attempting to negotiate like that was simply laughable. Even though she was his first friendly contact in this world, it seemed like she was about to slip away from him and that made him terribly anxious. Puck smiled wryly as he watched Subaru struggle.
“Well, you’ve both got your own problems to deal with. Let’s hear you out later and prioritize the issue at hand. Be that as it may, that’s an unusual name. Has a nice ring to it.”
“I guess so, it’s not a name you hear around here. Speaking of which, your hair and eye color, and even your clothes are all rather unique… Where are you from?”
“According to the template, a small nation to the east, probably.”
A well worn pattern when it came to parallel world stories. An isolated land in the far east, akin to Zipangu.[T/N: Zipangu is a term commonly seen in games/anime etc, seeming to originate from Marco Polo]
A magical cliche where you could just say you were from some other country and most people would simply accept it, since in such worlds international relations were generally very lacking. However,
“Lugunica is the easternmost country on our continental map… There’s nothing to the east of here.”
“No way, seriously?! This is as far east as it goes?! Then what about the well-beloved Zipangu?!”
“You have no clue where you are, you’re penniless and you can’t talk to others because you’re scared… Your future doesn’t look very promising, in a number of ways.”
The girl seemed restless, her eyes somewhat worried as she looked at Subaru’s panicked state. Despite her attempts to hide it, her extremely helpful nature seemed to be overflowing. His completely helpless state was probably making her very uneasy. Puck watched over them with a smile as they agonized over this. He then started plucking at his whiskers,
“Well, just suck it up for now. Right now we should head… I have less than an hour left. Make a decision.”
“―I’ll go. I don’t intend to let her get away, it’ll be too late if she manages to take it somewhere we can’t reach.”
That was her reply to Puck, she then turned to Subaru.
“I’m going to head in now, but… The path ahead will be a lot more dangerous. When night falls, there will probably be some hoodlums up to no good, and to begin with this is a place where battle-hardened people live. If it’s scary, you can wait here, or follow behind me like you were doing before.”
“How much of a chicken would I have to be to decide to stay behind! I’m going! I’ll stick right behind you the whole time!”
“There isn’t the option of heading out front, huh… Well, that works for me too since I won’t have to worry as much.”
She’d sighed so many times now he’d lost count. Subaru reflected on how he only ever made her expression worsen. Thinking back, he hadn’t seen her smile even once. She looked like that when angry, so her smile was probably the cutest thing in the world.
“Can a match box? No, but a tin can!”
“… What’s this all of a sudden?”
“Strange. No effect, but why… Ah! Damn it! Does this world not have tin cans! Uh. um…Is your refrigerator running… No refrigerators either?!”
“This abnormality in his speech and mannerisms… It’s not a curse or something of the sort, is it?”
“No, that was completely voluntary. He put his heart and soul into it too. For an utterly meaningless pursuit.”
Perhaps having guessed the reason for Subaru’s incredible struggle, Puck explained things relatively favorably. On the other hand, it only resulted in the seed of doubt being planted in the girl to whom it looked like Subaru had suddenly started malfunctioning.
Regretting that his terrible puns only worked in his original world, Subaru desperately shook his head. Focusing too hard on what was in front of him and losing sight of the bigger picture, this too was one of his flaws.
“What’s the difference between snowmen and snowwomen? Snowballs!”
He’d finally found one that didn’t rely on modern knowledge, but the girl’s reaction wasn’t favorable in the slightest. She coldly turned away.
Her eyes were on the alley, probably indicating that she wouldn’t play along any further.
His momentary desire to see her smile had completely backfired.
“―Are you satisfied, Subaru?”
The girl called to Subaru, whose self-hatred was currently maxed out due to his terrible attempt and the equally terrible outcome.
The fact that she’d said his name for the first time, and also the idea of a member of the opposite sex using his name so casually made him just a little nervous.
“Y, yeeah. T-Totally chill. Completely cool. I feel great, I can win!”
“Why are you trembling like that… I get that you’re scared, but we haven’t even entered yet. You really would be better off waiting out here if you’re that terrified.”
With this misdirected worry, she let out a small sigh and turned her attention away for real.
As he watched her walk into the alley, Subaru suddenly realized she did not intend to leave him even if she was successful.
By telling him to wait here, she was signaling that she would come back for him upon finding it. In the less than the hour they’d known each other, her strange inability to deceive for personal gain had become apparent.
“This sucks, I’m so uncool.”
Despite having offered to help, he was absolutely useless to her, and on top of that he was even making her worry about him. He was far beyond the point of being a deadbeat.
Striking his cheeks, he used the pain to force himself to focus and advanced forward. He still had a mountain of complaints. Anyone would be helpless if they were suddenly forced into such a harsh world. He didn’t think badly of himself for this. However,
“Relying on her for absolutely everything would be pathetic. I should at least have her back.”
Though dependent, he’d have to stand on his own two legs. ―But despite having focused, he ended up zeroing in on the small stuff.
“Come to think of it, there’s one more thing.”
When he called out from behind her, he saw her glance at him through a gap in her silver hair. Even this sidelong glance was dauntingly attractive, but Subaru managed to get his question out.
“So I’ve heard your cat’s name, but I never caught yours.”
This somewhat playful question caused her to look ahead and fall silent for a bit. This caused Subaru to panic, wondering if he screwed up. Perhaps her earlier silence was to indicate that she didn’t want to tell him her name. His communication disorder that rendered him unable to read others’ hearts, much less a woman’s, could it still―
As he agonized over this, her sudden whisper surprised him. She didn’t even turn to look at him, and she repeated without any emotion,
“You can call me Satella.”
As she gave her name, her attitude suggested that he definitely shouldn’t call her that. Subaru had wanted to learn her surname if possible, he couldn’t call her name just like that so he ended up falling silent. For now he would just refer to her in the second person, a rather pathetic compromise. Behind the scenes of this exchange, Puck muttered from within her hair,
“―That’s in terrible taste.”
These words did not reach either of them.