Having finished up the revenge match in the alley, Subaru had reached the deepest part of the slums― He was standing before the imposing loot house. The sun had already declined quite a bit and it was now evening.
“F-Finally found it… That took way too long, damn it.”
Now that he’d finally arrived, he sunk down to the ground as he used his sleeve to wipe the sweat off his forehead.
He had spent almost two hours running around until he finally found the place. He was at least able to confirm the passage of time with the phone in his pocket. Definitely two hours.
“I figured it wouldn’t be that hard since I came here just recently…”
Indeed, being unable to read any sort of signage had proven to be quite the obstacle for him.
The capital had very similar looking streets, and Subaru who was unfamiliar with the area could not even rely on the names of shops or places to guide him.
In the end, he had no choice but to brute force it while referring to his memories.
“I spoke with Satella and Puck in a number of places, so I’ve got a vague recollection of the path as well.”
This was especially true after he’d entered the slums.
Unlike a few hours ago, since someone had thoroughly cleaned his jersey, the reaction he’d received from the slum dwellers was cold and they were extremely uncooperative.
Subaru’s social skill wasn’t at the level where he could deal with this atmosphere of exclusion, so he ended up struggling alone here too.
As a result, he wanted to commend himself for managing to make it here. He decided to give himself a reward for his hard work.
“I’m finally opening you, corn potage flavor. To begin with, it was because I wanted to eat this that I went to the convenience store. It’d be no exaggeration to say this was the reason I was summoned to this world.”
As he made various excuses, Subaru opened the bag.
His nostrils brought him bliss as it gently released a sweet smell. He tossed some onto his tongue with trembling fingers. ― Supreme bliss overwhelmed his sense of taste.
“Declious… Super delicious…! Come to think of it, I hadn’t eaten anything. Amazingly delicious.”
He shoveled down more and more as he thought back to all that he’d been through.
His stomach had been empty ever since he’d been denied that apple-like fruit. He had been bearing it for about six hours now.
Though he’d distracted his empty stomach, Subaru realized that he couldn’t do the same to his mind.
His heart was throbbing violently, its pulse abnormally high. He could feel blood coursing throughout his entire body, this was at an entirely different level from that incident in the alley.
His limbs felt heavy and his mouth was dry for reasons unrelated to his snack. He was repeatedly tormented by a sharp pain as though he had been hit in the head, and this was accompanied by shrill ringing in his ears.
―The answer he had been seeking lay within the loot house.
He instinctively gulped as the scene he didn’t want to remember floated across his mind.
A room turned into a sea of blood, an old man missing his arm. His stomach torn up as he lay there on the verge of death, and Satella’s limp hand. It was his fault she’d ended up in that situation.
“Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, don’t freak out, damn it. Am I an idiot? … No, I’m definitely an idiot. As if I’d come this far and then head back without looking.”
Not like he even had anywhere to head back to.
He resolved himself and faced forward, when he attempted to advance he realized that his knees were shaking.
He couldn’t control his trembling lower body. He forcibly stopped the shaking by striking his kneecaps, and then he took a deep breath as he advanced.
Bathed in orange sunlight, it was as if the door to the loot house was rejecting him.
Suppressing such delusions brought about by his nervousness, Subaru reached the door and raised his hand,
“Is anyone in there?”
He thought it was an extremely faint hope, but he still tried knocking lightly.
That unexpectedly dull sound should have reverberated both inside and outside. However, he received no response, only unbearable silence.
Subaru found this silence extremely terrifying, and started banging on the door even though he knew it was hopeless.
“Someone… Someone’s in there, right?! Please, respond… Please.”
He didn’t want to think that they’d died in there.
Denying reality, Subaru pounded the door so hard it began to creak. Unable to bear his fury, the door slowly started to give in as its old hinges deformed.
“―Shut up!! You don’t even know the signal or password, you wanna bust the door down?!”
The door opened with great force, and Subaru who had been leaning on it was sent flying.
Subaru tumbled onto the ground in an unsightly fashion, almost five meters away. He then raised his head, bewildered.
His eyes were wide with surprise, and reflected in them was a red-faced old man glaring at him from the doorway.
He was bald and had a large build.
Perhaps his garments had once been white, but dust and many years of sweat and the like had turned it brown, a very unsanitary sight. Could be the source of the unpleasant smell wafting through the air.
Under his clothes was a very muscular body. Contrary to his aged appearance, he didn’t seem frail in the slightest, he clearly had some toughness to him.
In summary, a huge bald old man in exceptional health was standing before him.
“Who’re you?! That’s not a face I remember, why are you here?! How’d you find out about this place, and how’d you get here?! Who told you?!”
The old man closed the distance between them with amazing speed and grabbed Subaru with his giant hand. As he felt his feet leave the ground, Subaru realized that he’d gotten carried away and returned to reality. What had happened earlier was an exception. He was just a mediocre, banal, commonplace guy at the end of the day.
Even if his strength was such that he would only lose under exceptional circumstances, almost all of his opponents would fall into this category.
As the almost two-meter tall giant hoisted him up, his will to resist was completely gone.
“―Please have this, a sign of my goodwill.”
He turned to the man’s rage-filled face― And tossed a corn potage flavored snack at him.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
Shortly after that violent meeting that probably gave them both poor first impressions, Subaru was invited into the loot house.
There were some guest chairs by the counter right past the entrance. Sitting in one, Subaru adjusted the position of his behind which was rather uncomfortable.
The seat was splintered which caused Subaru to feel various stinging sensations all over his bottom. If his bowels were at their limit, he would no doubt be discharging right about now..
“Why’re you fidgeting around like that… Your balls chafing or something?”
“That’s hardly the case. Wait, give that back. I didn’t say you could have all of it!”
The old man was stood on the other side of the counter, where one would expect the owner to be.
Compared to his colossal body, the bag he was holding looked so small one might wonder if their sense of perspective had malfunctioned.
“How stingy. You’ll go to hell if you try to keep something this delicious to yourself.”
“And where do you think you’re going, eating others’ stuff like that? Boomers, I swear. Always criticizing others while ignoring their own faults.”
“There you go with those weird words again. This is why you young… Mm, tasty.”
“Stop eating already!”
Subaru leaned forward and extended his arm, somehow managing to snatch the bag out of the old man’s hands. However, most of the bag’s contents were already in his stomach.
Subaru’s shoulders dropped when he saw that there were only a few left.
“Aah… My precious corn potage. I might never be able to taste you again.”
“What, it was that rare? Well, it is true that I’ve never seen anything of the sort. Then how about using duplication magic on the rest?”
“Magic that turns one of something into two. It can only replicate the appearance of a living organism, but it should be possible to reproduce something like food.”
The man said this as he rubbed his round head, and Subaru realized anew how convenient magic was.
It really can do anything, huh, Subaru thought with admiration as he nonchalantly looked around the interior.
The loot house at dusk ― There were no signs of the tragedy Subaru had experienced there.
There were still various items scattered all over the place, easily covering the place’s massive interior.
Perhaps having noticed Subaru’s eyes wandering, the old man’s eyes narrowed.
“What’s the matter, boy? ― Interested in my goods?”
With these words, he got to the heart of the matter.
The giant old man, who had introduced himself as Rom (He’d said Subaru could call him Old Man Rom). Negotiations with him had become unexpectedly smooth when in response to his rage, Subaru offered him a snack (Seriously, this was actually how it happened).
Once Subaru tossed it into his mouth, he became obsessed with the newfound flavor and immediately put Subaru down safely.
After that, Subaru convinced him that he had come here because there was something he had to do, and that he’d heard about the place from a middle-aged man in the slums, and in the end the two ended up at the counter like so.
On the other side of the counter, Rom used his huge arms to fill a somewhat dirty glass with alcohol, he had a slight smile on his face as he did this.
“Well, those who come here have one of two objectives. They’re bringing me stolen goods, or they want said goods― One of those two.”
“Certainly, that’s part of why I’m here.”
“Part, huh. Then you’ve got some other business too?”
Rom raised an eyebrow at Subaru’s conditional agreement. Subaru nodded, and then he hesitantly asked his question, prepared to be mocked for it,
“This is pretty stupid, but… Old man, have you died recently?”
With your neck and right arm chopped up.
He decided not to include those words. As far as he could see, there were no signs of such a thing on his arm or his neck.
As he received Subaru’s question and his gaze, Rom’s gray-tinged eyes widened for a moment, and then his face suddenly broadened into a smile as if time had just started flowing again.
“Gahahaha, I was wondering what you were going to say. It’s true that I’m an old man at death’s door, but I’m sorry to say it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t imagine it’s far off at this age, though.”
Rom laughed as if he’d heard a terrific joke as he pushed a glass toward Subaru, “want a drink?”
Subaru turned him down with a wave of his hand, the smell of the alcohol irritating his nose, and briefly apologized for what he’d just said.
He’d apologized, but the unease within him continued to grow.
He was talking to Rom right now, but ― Subaru had seen his corpse.
Right here, in the darkness, his arm and throat had been ripped apart by a blade, and he’d died an unspeakably gruesome death.
However, as if to deny the sight that had been scorched into his eyes, Rom’s huge body was right before him, stuffed into that counter in a manner that seemed somewhat uncomfortable.
Rom’s face was red as he emptied his glass, there was clearly blood flowing through him, he was nothing like the pale corpse that had lost a great deal of blood.
Old Man Rom was definitely alive. And the same went for Subaru as well.
Thinking back, Subaru too had sustained a grievous injury. But despite this, he was here with no traces of this having happened.
Subaru was no longer confident in his own perception as he started to wonder if he was merely daydreaming.
“Don’t tell me all of that was a dream…? If so, how much was a dream and why am I in this world?”
His complaints briefly let him forget about his uneasiness, but now that he was in a place where he could sit and calm down, they once again plagued him.
The feeling of guilt, the scorching pain of that fatal wound, the warmth from the girl’s ever so slight touch, if all of that was supposed to be a dream, then why was he here?
If that were the case, it’d make more sense if everything since his summoning was all a dream.
He found that much easier to accept than the idea that he’d suddenly started dreaming after arriving in another world.
“Old man, have you seen a silver-haired girl around?”
“Silver hair…? No, I can’t say I have. I wouldn’t forget something that conspicuous. No matter how old I might be getting.”
Rom boldly laughed it off, but Subaru’s expression clouded over.
Perhaps having perceived Subaru’s sincerity from his attitude, Rom suddenly stopped laughing.
Without hesitation, he once again pushed the glass toward Subaru.
He tilted his bottle into the glass, and an amber liquid filled it to the brim. Subaru watched this silently, and Rom once again repeated, “Drink.”
“Sorry, but I’m not in the mood. And I’m not so much of a brat that I’d drink to look tough.”
“You stupid? Drinking and acting tough is what being a kid’s all about. Gulp it down and feel the burn in your belly. Whatever’s bothering you won’t be able to bear the heat and you’ll cough it right up.”
“So drink,” he said yet again, nudging the glass toward Subaru.
Subaru accepted the glass as if overwhelmed by Rom’s stubbornness, and brought the amber liquid to this nose. The thick smell of alcohol assailed his nose and he almost ended up choking which caused his expression to go sour.
But despite this stance of refusal, part of him still wanted to follow through with Rom’s advice.
Subaru thought that relying on alcohol was the mark of an uncool adult, but even so,
“Ah… .To hell with it!”
Tilting the glass, he downed it all in one gulp.
He didn’t know how strong the stuff was, but immediately after he’d done this he felt as though his body had ignited.
The alcohol seemed to burn its way down his throat, causing him to scream and slam the glass onto the table.
“Pha! Gah! Terrible! Hot! Horrible! Nnaa, this sucks!”
“That’s enough already! Guys who don’t get the taste of alcohol are fools who miss out on half the fun in life, you know.
As Subaru coughed up the heat welling up inside him, Rom yelled at him and took another swig.
He splendidly overturned the whole bottle and drank right out of it.
Having downed an amount that was well over three times what Subaru drank, he belched crudely and smiled.
“Shtill, yuu hanjled jat well! Doncha feelike yer gunna throwep?”
“… Yeah! Just a little! Old man, let’s move on to my other objective.”
Turning his face away from the smiling old man, he started wiping the spilled alcohol with his sleeve as he pointed deeper into the interior. Unlike the crap strewn about here, the stuff in there should be valuable.
Rom’s expression turned serious. Seeing this, Subaru directly,
“I’m searching for an insignia with a jewel embedded in it. ―I want you to give it to me.”
Announced his objective.
His original goal ― Aside from confirming Satella’s safety, the reason he came here.
The jeweled insignia that had been stolen from Satella. She hadn’t told him the reason, but she was willing to confront any danger to retrieve it, that’s how important it was to her.
If it had been brought into the slums, it definitely had to be in here, or so he was told.
If the insignia at least existed, Subaru would know for sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“An insignia with a jewel embedded in it… Sorry, but there’s nothing like that around here.”
“… Are you sure? Try to remember, maybe you’re going senile?”
“I’m in peak condition when I’ve got booze in me. If I can’t recall it now, I can only say I don’t know about it.”
As it seemed like Subaru’s final hope had been ripped away, Rom smiled meaningfully.
“I head there’s supposed to be a large haul coming in today. ― It could very well be this insignia you speak of.”
“The one bringing it in… Perhaps a girl named Felt?”
“What, you even know who stole it?”
Rom seemed to think this was anticlimactic, but Subaru couldn’t help but strike a triumphant pose.
The string of hope he thought for sure had snapped still held strong.
He had just confirmed that Felt existed. If the girl who stole the insignia was real, then Satella, from whom it was stolen, should also be real.
“I was wondering if my love for silver-haired heroines was making me see things, it freaked me out…”
“Sorry to rain on your parade, but whether or not you’ll be able to buy it once she brings it here is a different matter. A jeweled insignia would have a price befitting it, no?”
“Ha! It’s no use trying to size me up, I’m flat broke!”
“There’s nothing to talk about then!”
Perhaps having wanted to start negotiations early, Rom seemed disappointed as he yelled. However, Subaru waved his finger in response.
“Tch, tch, tch. It’s true that I don’t have any money. How-ev-er! In society. money isn’t the only way to obtain goods. There’s also the barter system, right?”
Rom didn’t object. He silently prompted Subaru to continue to which he nodded and reached into his pocket. And what he pulled out was,
“―What’s this? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“This right here is a magical item that can freeze an object in time, I call it a ‘cell phone’!”
A compact white cell phone. Rom seemed confused since it was his first time seeing something of the sort, but Subaru was already nimbly using it ― Immediately after, the dim interior was filled with a white light.
There was the sound of a camera shutter, and the light enveloped Rom who was so shocked he collapsed behind the counter. Subaru couldn’t help but smile at this extreme reaction,
“What was that just now?! You trying to kill me?! Pulling those weird moves, you’re taking me too lightly.”
“Wait, wait. Take a deep breath and calm down, and then look at this.”
Rom’s face was red for reasons besides his inebriation, and in response Subaru showed him the phone’s display.
Rom stepped back, his eyes full of suspicion as he strained to see the phone’s small screen ― and then his eyes widened.
Displayed on the screen was Rom’s face, which Subaru had just photographed. He had used the phone’s camera function to do so. Of course, this technology did not exist in this world.
Just as Subaru predicted, Rom stared at the screen intently and,
“That’s… My face, isn’t it? What’s going on?”
“I told you, didn’t I? That it could freeze things in time. What you see in here is the Rom from just a little while ago.”
As he said this, he turned the camera toward himself and snapped another photo.
He once again showed Rom who seemed to want to see the result, and this time the screen showed Subaru throwing up a peace sign.
“This is basically how it functions. Well, it’s usually used to commemorate important moments and store them, not to fool around like this.”
“I see… Certainly, this is… Hmm…”
With a hand on his jaw, Rom seemed to be pondering something as he looked at the phone.
The bait had been even more effective than Subaru expected, and he felt that he had already succeeded as far as negotiation was concerned.
As if to boost Subaru’s confidence even further, Rom took the phone and examined it closely as he said,
“It’s my first time seeing one, but… From what I’ve heard, this might be a ‘Meteor’.”
“Meteor?”[T/N: The WN actually does not use the term meteor until Arc 5, he actually just calls them something like spellcasting devices.] [T/N: The reason I’m using meteor instead of metia is because they’re supposed to be named after shooting stars]
Subaru tilted his head at this unfamiliar term. Rom nodded,
“They’re devices that allow people who don’t have open gates to use magic. They’re extremely rare, though, even I’ve never seen one before.”
Rom sighed in admiration once he was finished staring at the phone and placed it on the counter.
And then he once more turned to Subaru,
“I can’t estimate its value very precisely. I’ve been in this business a long time, but… This is my first time handling a meteor. However… It’s definitely worth more than anything else I’ve ever sold.”
Seeing a meteor for the first time and the potential to use it for trade seemed to have aroused Rom’s interest. He continued with a slightly shaky voice, “Even so,”
“If you put this up for trade, you’d be sustaining a huge loss. I don’t know how much this insignia you’re looking for is worth, but it definitely can’t match this meteor. From a financial perspective, you’d be better off just selling this meteor on its own.”
A shady business in the slums that dealt with stolen goods. Rom’s advice to him was completely unlike what one would expect of the boss of such an establishment.
His proposal was definitely an attractive one.
Subaru was basically worthless in this world.
He couldn’t use magic, and he wasn’t especially powerful. He knew nothing and he couldn’t even read, and on top of all this he was totally broke.
If he were able to sell this phone, it would definitely help him break out of the corner he was backed into. At the very least, he wouldn’t have to worry about money for a while.
The future before him was one where he would have to struggle just to get some food, so it seemed completely obvious what choice he should make here. However,
“Nah, that’s fine. I’m going to trade this meteor for the insignia that Felt girl brings in.”
“Why go so far? Could it be more valuable than this meteor? Or are you saying its value isn’t monetary?”
Subaru’s obstinacy seemed to baffle Rom. As he asked about the insignia’s value, the latter half seemed to contain a hint of ridicule.
That was how it was for someone who lived here. The idea that something could be more important than money, though they could entertain the concept, probably wasn’t one they could easily accept in reality.
Accepting that people had such values, Subaru shook his head,
“To be honest, I haven’t even seen the thing. Even if I were to exchange it for money, I don’t really think it would go for more than this meteor, I’m definitely taking a massive loss here.”
“If you understand that, then why?”
“It’s obvious. ― This isn’t really a loss for me.”
Subaru felt a thrill of excitement as he saw Rom’s eyes widen yet again.
Yes, that was the answer.
Even if he wasn’t sure he’d have anything to eat tomorrow, even if his future seemed completely hopeless, even if he was throwing away a boatload of money, there was meaning to his loss.
“I want to return a favor. I always repay my debts. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. I’m pretty high-strung, being a child of the modern generation and all. ―That’s why, no matter how much I’m losing here, I have to get that insignia.”
“Hm… In other words, the insignia didn’t belong to you to begin with?”
“It belongs to a silver-haired girl who saved me. I don’t know why, but it’s really important to her.”
“And where is she now? Not with you?”
“I’m currently looking for her! Or rather, the fact that I was saved by her and even her existence itself may merely be delusion on my part!”
Suddenly clenching his fist, he spoke his earlier worry out loud and laughed it off.
The conditions all connected properly. It was impossible that Satella didn’t actually exist.
He would definitely meet her again once he’d obtained the insignia.
As Subaru strengthened his resolve, Rom watched him with eyes as though he was looking at something extremely strange.
“―You really are an idiot, huh.”
With this, all other feelings were forgotten and all that was left was laughter.