Their investigation had them entering the slums, and as usual they were faced with signs of terrible― Or rather, contrary to expectations, an unexpected development resulted in Subaru proving useful.
“This place is super gentle for some reason. What is this… Could it be that my popular period has suddenly arrived?! For the first time since kindergarten!”
Subaru had very lovely features as a child, and his hair was long as well which caused him to be mistaken for a girl rather frequently. ― On the other hand, he’d ended up like this over 10 years later, so it wasn’t really a laughing matter.
“Well, this is just a guess, but…”
“Let’s hear it! If there’s a scientific… Wait, since this is fantasy wouldn’t it be magical? If there’s a magical basis for this, I want to hear it.”
“This probably isn’t the answer you’re hoping for, but it’s probably because of your appearance. You’re kind of filthy and you’ve got traces of blood on you, the people here seem to be struggling too so they probably find you relatable.”
“I understand completely, damn it all!”
It now seemed obvious why they were all so friendly. Among them was an old lady who offered him a small dry fruit, saying “Eat this and live strong.” When he nervously tried putting it in his mouth, he felt a slight sweetness under its hard surface. And then a terrible odor violently flowed out. The feeling of his nose being destroyed from the inside caused him to pass out.
“Damn it all! I thought she was being considerate but she poisoned me! That was poison! It’s like my whole body is burning! I might seriously end up dying here! Or I might strip and end up dead from a social perspective!”
“Looks like you received a Bocco fruit. It stimulates the mana within you when you eat it, and accelerates healing and stuff. The effect varies by person, for most it’s rather soothing…”
Satella put a finger to her lip and went “Umm,” as she watched Subaru heat up and sweat as he breathed ragged breaths.
“It seems to me that your body circulates mana very well. If you overdosed, you might die.”
“Tell me that before I eat it! What do I doooo?!”
Responding to her call, Puck emerged from within her hair. His movements were dull and his earlier liveliness had vanished. To put it simply, he was extremely sleepy.
It seemed like he wasn’t even listening to most of their conversation, he rubbed his large eyes as he said,
“Whaaat? I’m at my limit, you know…”
“You’d better fill up before going to bed then. There’s a feast for you right here.”
As he felt a bit of bite to her words, Subaru realized Puck was now looking at him, his sleepy eyes sparkling like he was looking at a delicacy.
“Can I really?”
Despite being a little worried that he was going to be chomped up, Subaru replied playfully. Puck gave a vague response and then stretched his tiny body on Satella’s shoulder,
“Alright, let’s eat.”
Immediately after, Subaru felt whatever had been rampaging around inside him start to drain out in large quantities. It was hard to say from where exactly. If he had to say, it was like it was being drained out of every pore on his body, rather uncomfortable.
“That was quite the treat.”
Puck joined his hands in thanks. Subaru wanted to reply with something along the lines of, “You’re more than welcome,” but he suddenly felt a terrible chill throughout his body.
The heat had directly transitioned into cold. And no ordinary cold either, he could feel it from his very core.
He instinctively grabbed his shoulders, the sight of this causing Satella to glare at Puck in reproach.
“Sorry, sorry, it’s been a while so I couldn’t quite control it. But his gate does feel strange. It doesn’t seem like it’s seen much use, but it pours mana right out, that’s why I ended up going a bit too far.”
Teehee, he laughed bashfully as he tapped his head, but to Subaru this was no laughing matter.
Yet again there were unfamiliar words being used, like ‘gate’ or mana.
“Probably something like MP, huh… And I’m in this state because it’s been drained.”
His gamer brain once again displayed.its ability to immediately grasp such concepts.
The problem then was just how important MP was in this world. If MP Restores were extremely expensive, it could be said that this was a very troublesome act.
“I apologize. We’ll talk about this later.”
“I’m reflecting on my actions. I don’t regret it, though, that was delicious.”
Puck’s attitude resembled that of the protagonist of a certain manga, and Satella hadn’t scolded him very severely. Judging by this, it probably wasn’t a huge issue. If that were the case, it’d be uncool for him to get hung up on this.
“Relax, at least I don’t feel like I’m going to burn to death now. More importantly, let’s keep pursuing the culprit, whose location was determined thanks to my efforts. Thanks to my hard work we were able to-”
“I understand that you’re happy to have been useful, but saying it twice reeeally isn’t cool.”
He’d wanted to change the topic, but ended up sounding like a bragging kid. Satella looked like she regretted raising her opinion of him, and Subaru simply forced a smile. It was about time they decided to go further into the slums.
“Sorry, I’m out of time.”
Saying this, Puck who was still on Satella’s shoulder feebly leaned against her neck. His gray coat was tinged with bits of light, lightly wavering as though he could disappear at any moment.
“It kinda looks like he’s about to die, huh.”
“It’s because I really pushed myself. I use mana to manifest, so it disperses when I disappear. ― My crystal, please.”
“Got it. Sorry to push you so hard, Puck. Take it easy.”
Satella retrieved a green palm-sized crystal from her bosom. It felt somewhat different from what one would call a gem, as far as Subaru knew he could only say it seemed crystalline.
Puck walked down Satella’s arm to reach the crystal, and then he turned to her as his small body embraced it.
“I’m sure you know this, but you mustn’t go too far. If the situation looks desperate, use your Od to force me out.”
“I understand. I’m not a kid, I can handle myself.”
“I wonder. I can’t say I trust my daughter very much in that regard. I’m counting on you, Subaru.”
Puck’s smile was full of compassion as he looked away from a displeased Satella and toward Subaru.
Subaru thought their interactions were very much like that of a parent and child as he watched them、he then struck his chest when he was called to,
“Aaalright, leave her to me. You can expect great things from my jitter sensor, if my danger alert goes off we’ll retreat immediately!”
“I don’t understand half of what you said, but I’m trusting you. ―Alright then, good night, Puck. Take care.”
Puck looked at her one last time before he vanished from the world. Just as he said, his form started scattering into particles of light. This sight wouldn’t have been possible in Subaru’s old world, and it sent shivers through his whole body.
Once Puck was gone, Satella started stroking the crystal as if it were terribly precious to her, and then put it back in her chest.
Following the typical flow of things, Puck’s essence was probably stored in there in an ethereal form.
“We’re alone now, but… You’d better not try anything strange. I can use magic.”
Not knowing what he was thinking, perhaps she thought he was just staring at her breasts. In response to her words of caution, Subaru instinctively put his hands up and started shaking his head,
“No way! I haven’t been alone with a girl since elementary. I couldn’t possibly try anything, you’ve seen my people skills, haven’t you?”
“That’s soooo nonsensical and yet also reeeally convincing… Alright, let’s go. But we don’t have Puck looking out for us, so we’ll have to be more careful.”
Perhaps dumbfounded by Subaru puffing his chest out with pride, Satella tightened her robe and moved ahead of him. She then turned her head toward him without moving from her spot,
“I’ll be the vanguard and you’ll look out from behind. If something happens, call to me immediately. Don’t try to do anything on your own. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but… You’re weak.”
“Prefacing it like that, I really can’t dislike you…”
If she wanted to preserve her cold image, she should have omitted the part before “You’re weak” and said it more harshly.
It showed her kindness that she just couldn’t hide, she really was sweet to the core. Enchantingly so.
Satella looked like she wanted to complain as he urged her onward, their two member search had begun.
Having said that, their task hadn’t really changed. Find some inhabitants, describe the culprit’s features, and ask if they know anyone like that. Rinse and repeat.
Subaru was in charge of this, and he became more and more used to it the more he did it.
“Maybe it could be Felt. A tricky little blonde, right?”
This useful piece of information came from the fourteenth man they’d asked. He was another person Subaru had called to in an over-familiar fashion such as “Yo, brother. How goes it?”
He looked at Subaru’s dirtied appearance with sympathy and,
“If it’s Felt, your lost item’s probably in the loot house right now. Stolen goods are tagged and stored there, and the owner gathers them up to sell elsewhere.”
“What a strange system… What if this owner just ran off with the goods?”
“He’s the owner because they trust that he won’t do that. But well, even if you tell him you had something stolen from you, it’s not like he’ll return it just like that. You’ll have to negotiate for it.”
Because the theft was on the victim for being careless, such was the logic of the slums, and he forced it on them with a laugh despite his favorable attitude.
They’d managed to obtain the loot house’s location from him, and it seemed like she would very soon be reunited with her stolen item.
However, a different problem had manifested. The problem being that they were both totally broke.
“He told us to buy it back, but what now? On top of our shortcomings in this regard, this seems like the kind of event where we get overcharged or something.”
“I’m just retrieving what was stolen from me, why must I pay to do so I wonder…”
Once the problem had become one of funds, Satella’s expression suddenly clouded over. Her spontaneous mutter was certainly correct, but it was also true that their opponent wasn’t the sort to be swayed by that. To settle things peacefully, and moreover reliably, it would be best to take the man’s advice.
“Does this stolen insignia look expensive? Even if they overcharge us, without knowing the market value, it would be….”
“… It has a small jewel in the middle. I don’t know its monetary value either, but it definitely isn’t cheap.”
“A jewel, huh… That’s troublesome.”
Any buffoon could immediately recognize it was valuable at a glance, that was the sort of convenient effect jewels had. It didn’t look like this world had the technology to create imitations, so it seemed certain that almost everything that appeared to be a jewel would be the real thing. If that were the case, their inherent value would be obvious.
He understood that they had nothing to be relieved about, but there was also something else about her statement that bothered him. She said she didn’t know how much her insignia was worth.
It was certainly possible that it was given to her, but he still felt somewhat uneasy.
“Anway, let’s try going there first and then think about it. I might be able to negotiate a decent price depending on how I go about it…”
Worst case scenario, Subaru had a method that could prove disastrous for him.
His vague wording made Satella frown, but Subaru waved his hand in response to her doubt.
They had walked for about ten minutes, agonizing over their financial situation and coming up with no solutions.
―Having arrived at the so-called loot house, the two looked at each other.
“It’s bigger than we thought, huh.”
“Shows why they call it that… If everything in there is stolen as the name implies, there’s really no helping it.”
Of course, since they were periodically selling things off, it probably wasn’t filled to the brim with loot.
Subaru thought this as he looked at the loot house, its appearance not quite fitting its coarse name as it beckoned to them.
By Subaru’s estimate, it was probably around the size of a convenience store. Parking lot included.
It only had one floor, but it was large enough to fit twenty cars with ease. Their surroundings had changed too, the various ruins and hovels were nowhere to be seen, and behind the loot house was a giant wall. It was quite literally in the deepest part of the slums.
“That tall wall thing…”
“Probably the capital’s border wall. Looks like we came to the very edge without realizing it.”
Her statement caused Subaru to idly imagine what a map of the capital might look like.
It was probably square-shaped, guarded by these walls on all sides. Within those walls, perhaps in the center or the northernmost area there would be a castle, and far away from there one could find these slums.
He felt like it had been two or three hours since they started their search, so he had an idea as to the capital’s size. But then, if he compared it to Japan which didn’t have such clear divisions, its size wasn’t really comparable.
“Well then, if the rumors are true the owner of the place should be in there, but… Considering our position, how do we approach this?”
“I’ll be upfront about it. I had something stolen, so return it if it’s in here, that sort of thing.”
Subaru insisted that this wouldn’t work any number of times, but she refused to listen.
She was virtuous to her core. She couldn’t bring herself to consider using twisted means so easily.
But it was precisely because she was that kind of girl that she stopped to help Subaru even though it brought her no benefit.
“Ahh―, got it. Then, leave this to me.”
There was a high possibility that things would go south, so Subaru reluctantly offered to go himself.
His last resort ― This was too hasty so it didn’t really feel like a trump card, but it would also be a problem to lose the timing entirely. Subaru wouldn’t hesitate when it came to such matters.
Meanwhile, Satella seemed puzzled by this suggestion. His newfound confidence made her look at him with suspicion.
“Alright, I’m counting on you.”
“I get that you can’t agree just like that. After all, I myself understand that I haven’t done anything to win your trust. But I do have an idea, so try to believe in… Ehhh?!”
“W-why are you so surprised?”
“I mean, this is completely different from the typical pattern, isn’t it?! “Leave it to a good for nothing like you, who can barely even talk to others? Don’t make me laugh, even a dog would be better,” I was prepared to hear something like that!”
“As if I’d say something so terrible.”
His paranoia had offended her. However, she cleared her throat and fixed her amethyst eyes on him,
“It’s true that you haven’t been particularly useful thus far, and you haven’t done or said anything to inspire any sort of confidence, but…”
“What kind of appraisal is that? I can’t refute it, though!”
“But I believe you think things through, and I don’t think you’re a liar.”
She stopped his self-deprecation in its tracks, and then took a breath and continued,
“I’ll try believing in you… It’d be a great stroke of luck if you actually succeeded.”
“Instead of that last part, something like “Do your best for my sake” would really get me motivated, you know?”
“I can’t be that demanding. But, do your best.”
A girl who could not lie, in every sense of the phrase.
Subaru responded with a broad smile and turned toward the entrance.
This definitely wasn’t easy on him, but he felt like her expectations and that little bit of trust were giving him the push he needed. If he came back without accomplishing anything, he really would be completely useless.
As he walked, Subaru looked at the plastic bag in his hand, which had never once become the topic of conversation thus far.
Within it were the items he’d brought with him from the other world. As far as Subaru was concerned, they were all that he had in this world. He might be able to barter with them.
He didn’t know how much this insignia was worth, but surely it couldn’t be more than his cell phone, which would be the only one of its kind in this world.
This would be a great loss for him, but negotiation should be possible if he used them to trade.
That was the last resort he’d kept secret from her. Of course, he also had a bunch of cards that would be useless in this world. If he had the chance to use them, he should do so.
“Umm, is anyone home?”
Standing before the wooden door, he tried knocking on it. The sound was deeper than he expected, but there was no response from within.
He hesitantly reached for the handle, and the door readily opened as if there were no lock on it.
The interior had no lighting, it was so dark that one could only fumble around. It was supposed to be a place where stolen goods were stored, and yet for some reason there was no one standing guard.
“Maybe they’re in the toilet or something… Uhh, anybody there?”
Subaru poked his head in to look around, but not even the moonlight reached the room, leaving it pitch black. As he was welcomed by stale air and an unpleasant odor, Subaru built up his resolve and took a step forward.
But first, he turned to Satella,
“If the two of us walk in just like that, we might look like burglars. How about you stay out here?”
“Are you sure? Perhaps I ought to be the one…”
“I’ve already called out a bunch, so I probably won’t be cut down just like that. It’d be dangerous if the owner were to misunderstand, so please leave it to me.”
Subaru bowed his head to her as she contemplated this. She then reached into her robe and pulled out a white crystal which she held out toward him.
“You should at least have some light. Whether or not someone’s there, call out to me.”
“I understand. Carefully, huh… How do I turn this thing on?”
“You don’t even know how to use lagmite? You really are ignorant, huh?”
She said in a tone that was both amused and surprised as she lightly struck the lagmite against the wall, causing it to produce a pale white glow. It was very dim, barely illuminating a few meters at most, but it would be enough to discern imminent danger.
“These days most people use mana-based lights instead, but this is a lot simpler and I quite like it. If it goes out, just do that again and it’ll light up.”
“I see… Seems pretty convenient. Alright, I’ll head in for a bit.”
Lagmite in hand, Subaru timidly walked in. “Don’t force yourself,” Satella said from behind him, and he responded by raising his hand.
When Subaru passed the entrance, a small counter entered his dim field of view. Perhaps this place was originally a tavern or something. On the other side were some broken boxes, one might guess that the owner or someone else had been sitting there.
The counter also seemed to play the role of a reception desk, and had various items on it.― Small boxes, jars, and all sorts of blades were carelessly strewn about.
He was in the dark in both the physical sense and the intellectual sense so he couldn’t hazard a guess as to their worth, but to the untrained eye they definitely didn’t look very valuable.
“I suppose it’s obvious, the valuables must be further inward.”
The stolen items also had wooden tags attached, it seemed like characters had been carved into these with something sharp. According to what the man from before had said, these were probably the names of the thieves who had stolen them. It seemed like they could catch all of these guys in one shot if they just gathered these up and handed them over to the guards.
“Well, there’s also the possibility that they’re using fake names. And in a situation like this, there’s plotlines where the country has a dark side that’s in cahoots with the criminals…”
There was also the question of just where these stolen goods were going.
He could just skim ahead if this were a novel or manga, such were his detestable thoughts as he walked further inward.
There were still no signs of life, but even with his dim light he could make out that the goods were increasing in size and value as he went deeper.
An insignia with a jewel embedded in it would surely be all the way in the back, then. As he thought this, his footsteps unintentionally quickened― And then,
Subaru stopped when he suddenly felt something strange under his shoes.
It wasn’t the discomfort of stepping on something hard. On the contrary, whatever he had stepped on had some give― It felt like he’d stepped on something sticky.
When he raised his leg and felt the sole of his sneaker, he noticed a thick liquid sticking to it. When his finger felt its strange stiffness, he felt a primal fear surge from within.
“What… is this”
He brought his finger to his nose to smell it, but the stale air prevented him from realizing exactly what it was. Even so, he simply didn’t have the courage to bring it to his mouth for a taste.
He rubbed it off on the wall, and pointed his light forward as if prompted by his unease. At his destination was the source.
His voice leaked out when he finally saw ‘it.’
Under the dim light, what he first saw was an arm sloppily lying on the ground. Its fingers were open as if reaching for something, and strangely, there was nothing above the elbow.
He raised his light as if to look for the rest of it, and there he found a leg. Perhaps it was fortunate that the leg was still attached to the torso, and the body had most of the parts it was supposed to have.
―With a torn up neck and a missing arm, what lay before him was the corpse of a large old man.
Once he realized this, his mouth produced a meaningless noise. What filled his mind right now was not fear, despair or shock. His mind was overwhelmingly blank, all thought had completely ceased.
Even the options to ‘run’ or ‘stay’ did not exist in his brain. The blankness simply had him stand stock still until his brain fully absorbed the sight before him. This would ultimately decide his fate.
“―Aah, you saw it. I have no choice then. Yes, no choice at all.”
A woman’s voice, he thought.
Low and cold, and somehow enjoying herself, he felt.
He didn’t even have time to turn around. The instant he decided to turn toward the voice, he was blown away by a colossal impact.
His back slammed against the wall, knocking the lagmite out of his hand which left him in complete darkness.
But that wasn’t what Subaru was focused on, his entire consciousness was devoted to,
―He felt a terrible ‘heat’ coursing through his entire body.
―This is really bad.
He felt the hard floor against his cheek, and realized that he had collapsed onto his face.
His strength was completely gone, and he had already lost sensation in his fingers.
The heat from his core was so excruciating it made him want to tear his throat out.
―Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot.
The moment he opened his mouth to scream, what spilled forth was no shriek, it was a clump of blood.
He vomited up large quantities of his lifeblood as he coughed. Frothy blood started foaming up at the corners of his mouth as he gurgled. Within his dim field of view, the ground had been dyed red.
―Aah, this is all, my blood?
There was enough to soak his fallen body. Blood comprises about 8% of the human body, and it is said that losing about a third of that would be life-threatening, but ― It seemed to him that he’d already lost just about all of it.
He had stopped vomiting blood, but the ‘heat’ that felt as though it would incinerate him still persisted. He moved his hand toward his abdomen with great difficulty, and having felt an impossible sensation there, he understood.
―My stomach’s been torn open, huh.
It was no wonder he felt so hot. It seemed his brain had confused ‘pain’ for ‘heat.
He was almost torn in half, only a bit of skin at his back held him together.
In short, it seemed that this was ‘checkmate’ for him.
The moment he realized this, his consciousness started fading.
Even the heat which was making him writhe in agony had disappeared, Even the unpleasant feeling of blood and the sensation in the hand he’d used to feel his organs, it was all fading away along with his consciousness.
All that was left was his body, which would not be able to accompany his soul.
This body used the last of its disappearing consciousness to move just a little. It turned its head upward.
Black shoes formed ripples in the pool of blood before his eyes. There was someone there. And that someone was most likely the one who killed him.
Strangely, he didn’t feel like looking at their face. This person was the one who took his life, and yet he still decided to simply remain a spectator to his own demise. He had no clue who they were, but right now he didn’t really care about that.
He only wished for the girl’s safety.
He felt like he heard a voice like the chime of a bell.
He was beyond the point where he could even differentiate his senses, so he probably just imagined it.
Despite that, even supposing it wasn’t real, he found it extremely comforting.
A short scream, and then the carpet of blood welcomed yet another person.
She had fallen right next to him, exactly where his arm was.
Her fair hand dropped powerlessly, and intertwined with his.
―Probably just a coincidence.
He felt her fingers move slightly, as if squeezing his hand.
He forced his disappearing consciousness to return for a moment. The pain and the heat, everything had faded away. It was a meaningless effort, nothing but a loser wasting time.
But even so―
“I will, definitely―”
At that moment, Natsuki Subaru lost his life.