“―Quit spacing out, man. You want the appa or not?”
When Subaru’s consciousness returned, there was a red, ripe fruit before him.
As he gazed at this very apple-like fruit, worthless thoughts such as ‘they call it the fruit of wisdom, huh’ passed his mind.
A forbidden fruit that resulted in expulsion from paradise if you ate it.
Maybe if he bit into it, he’d be able to escape this incomprehensible situation.
“Hey, you listening?”
The middle aged man knit his brows and once again called to Subaru who had no reaction.
Some distant corner of Subaru’s consciousness perceived this which caused his face to jolt upward. He started looking around at his surroundings.
He was standing in front of a stall on a street bathed in early afternoon sunlight.
Within this shop there was a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This certainly wasn’t an unfamiliar sight to him, but there was a small difference.
Filling the crowded street, there were hair colors that were impossible in his old world, as well as races that were quite literally impossible walking around as if it were natural.
Watching all this hustle and bustle, Subaru scratched his head.
His left arm could now move, when it touched his abdomen he felt nothing unusual, and there was no sign whatsoever that his organs had poured out or that his eyes had been slashed.
“I have no idea what’s going on here…”
As he murmured this, his rising nausea and dizziness overwhelmed him, causing his knees to give out.
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“It’s water. Can you drink?”
Accepting the cup offered to him, Subaru gingerly sipped at the water poured within it.
The water was ice cold and spread as if soaking into his parched mouth from the tip of his tongue, it even relieved his dreary mood to some extent.
“Aah, just what I needed. Thank you. ―You really are a good guy, old man.”
“Quit it. It’d be no laughing matter if you suddenly collapsed in front of my store, it’d look like my products caused it. Rest in the shade until you’ve settled down.”
The man replied without a hint of bashfulness and then went back into his stall.
Subaru was still sitting on the ground near the road as he watched the man leave, he then leaned against a shop’s wall as he sighed deeply.
The one who had helped him when he was overcome by dizziness and was about to collapse was the shopkeeper he was now well familiar with.
Despite his rough appearance, he immediately prepared a wet towel and some drinking water once he guessed that Subaru was suffering from heatstroke, and then brought him into this shade so he could rest.
You really couldn’t judge people by their looks. There were muscly bald old men who were like good natured grandpas, and sexy women who took pleasure in murder.
“I thought my stomach and eyes were destroyed…”
He whispered as he felt his eyelids, and once again confirmed that he could see properly.
Naturally there was no wound on his abdomen, and his left shoulder was in good health as well. It seemed his wounds had once again disappeared completely, and perhaps due to some obsession he was placed before the man’s stall yet again.
“But even so… That was… Really bad.”
He moved his hands from his eyelids and looked at them.
Even though his fingers weren’t touching anything, they trembled slightly. This traveled up his arms until it finally became a terrible chill throughout his entire body.
Merely thinking back to it caused his teeth to chatter as he curled up with his head between his knees, the pressing horror so intense it even drowned out the hustle and bustle around him as his body trembled.
It was repulsive, alien, overwhelming, absurd, and the very personification of despair.
He had never been exposed to such malice, he had never experienced such pain and violence, and he had never had his body destroyed to such an extent.
He and his acquaintances had lost their lives, the terror was so heartrending that all he could do was curl up.
He refused to even think of facing such an aberrant entity.
“Stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it, this is absurd. It’s hopeless, there’s nothing I can do. That was death. That couldn’t have been anything but death. That I’m even alive is unbelievable luck, isn’t it?”
Seeking agreement from no one in particular, Subaru desperately begged for forgiveness.
The scenes of Rom’s grisly slaughter and Felt’s final moments after she was cut down repeated in the back of his mind.
And after that came the horrifying memory of being sliced up, broken, opened up, and having his sight stolen.
He felt nausea and dark emotions surge up and he immediately splashed his remaining water on his head.
There wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to cover his head in the cool sensation.
He wiped away the water dripping from his bangs and then repeatedly slapped his face to restore his emotional state.
“Alright, let’s cheer up. It’s simple. Just forget all about that place. There’s a mountain of other things I have to do and think about. For instance, I’ll have to think about how I should live in this world. I happened to get caught up in some trouble while I worried, and then…”
―I was saved, and wanted to return that favor, and then felt like I was going to die.
“Come on, I said not to think about that.”
Even if he tried not to think about that, the silver-haired girl continued to shine within his memories.
To begin with, most of what had happened to him in this world was in some way related to her, so it was impossible for him to forget about her and focus on the world.
However, if he thought back to his time with her, he would ultimately end up at that painful and despair-inducing memory.
His thoughts were once again in a downward spiral.
His shaking wouldn’t stop, and his negative thoughts kept going in circles as he completely lost sight of any hope.
What should he do and how should he do it to succeed, would it be fine if he just stood around and did nothing, right now he couldn’t grasp even the slightest hint.
“Hey, how do you feel now? Any better?”
With his face peeking out of his stall, he asked this considerate question.
Despite his attempts to act tough, the concern he displayed showed that he was a good man at heart. It wouldn’t do to just rely on his kindness like this, Subaru thought as he decided to leave the area for now.
“Ah, I think I’ve calmed down somewhat. Sorry to trouble you.”
He tried not to look weak as he stood up, and then returned the empty cup. The shopkeeper seemed to want to say something as he took it, but he didn’t press the matter further.
“I’ll definitely pay you back someday.”
“That’s unnecessary. But if you ever make some money, come to buy some appas.”
Subaru’s face was meek as the shopkeeper lightly tapped his shoulder, after which he raised his hand and returned to his store.
Feeling good about the man’s laid-back attitude, Subaru took a deep breath and stepped toward the road. The crowd continued to move just the same as when he was curling up, and the main street lined with stalls seemed as bright as ever.
“… The loot house.”
He should probably go there, he thought vaguely.
He thought about it, but his legs did not move in its direction. Going there meant facing that terror.
If things went wrong and he encountered Elsa again, his life that he had somehow kept would essentially be wasted.
Having been summoned to another world, he would simply rot away without accomplishing anything.
“Ha. It’d be just the same if I run.”
He ridiculed himself as he smiled, and then put his hands in pockets and started walking.
In the opposite direction from the loot house. That was what he had decided.
He would throw it all away, give up completely, and turn a blind eye to the favor he had received.
After all, that was what he did before he came here. He never did anything he didn’t have to, no need to rock the boat. Stuff like give and take or whatever, human interaction in general was a pain to him, that was the sort of life he lived.
At this point, that couldn’t possibly―
When he raised his head and took his first step, an expression of bewilderment left his mouth.
Within his widened field of view, the crowd moving back and forth seemed to be avoiding him as he stood in the middle of the street.
There was a tall figure with reptilian skin, a beastman whose height only reached Subaru’s waist, a young pink-haired dancer, a knight with six swords,
―And a girl in a white robe, her silver hair fluttering as she walked.
The girl glanced at him and then as if to avoid touching him, she shifted to the side and passed by.
Her bundled up hair swayed, and a flower-like scent permeated the air and tickled his nostrils. Her strong-willed amethyst eyes had already disregarded him, they had a sharpness that only looked forward, toward the path she was supposed to walk.
Her dignified atmosphere hadn’t changed and that shimmering beauty hadn’t the slightest blemish, the girl he had been looking for was walking right before him.
He couldn’t immediately call out, the sound stopped in his throat as he ran after her.
The girl smoothly weaved her way through the crowd. His mental state was lost, confused and disordered as he chased her silver hair, and he called out in an almost tearful voice.
“Hey, wait… Wait up… Please wait…”
She looked at him for a moment, her eyes cold as though she was looking at a stranger.
They’d only interacted a few hours, to her he was just a passing acquaintance. Maybe he was even someone she despised, considering he couldn’t even heed the simplest warning and put her in danger.
Even if she thought of him that way, Subaru continued to pursue her.
He didn’t know how she felt about him. So at the very least, he wanted her to tell him that much.
If he was going to be hurt by whatever he imagined she thought of him, he’d much rather end up hurt by her real opinion.
Once he stopped her, what exactly did he want to say?
The instant the answer appeared within him, he shouted her name as if he just remembered it.
His shout tore through the noisy road and even reached the girl who was getting further and further away.
The silver-haired girl stopped immediately.
He pushed the crowd aside to reach her, and placed his hand on her slender shoulder.
“Please don’t ignore me. It was my bad for disappearing, really. But I don’t get what’s going on either. I even went back to the loot house to look for you, but I couldn’t find you…”
Satella seemed surprised as his hand lay on her shoulder.
When she turned around, all that left his mouth were excuses. He spoke rapidly, justifying himself as if afraid he’d be hurt.
Perhaps her gaze that seemed to see right through him was the cause.
However, even with this gaze on him, Subaru felt some relief in addition to his anxiety.
At a glance, there didn’t appear to be any serious wounds on her. Maybe she had also been healed by someone after the loot house incident. It was also possible that she’d healed herself, but what was important was,
“Sorry, I’ve just been blabbing about myself… But I’m glad you’re okay.”
The fact that they were able to meet again made him happier than anything.
Come to think of it, what worried him next was her partner― Puck’s safety. Subaru had far too many things he had to apologize to him for.
He couldn’t uphold a promise made man to man. That was a sin he ought to be condemned for.
Once Subaru stopped talking, Satella started speaking as if to fill in the gap.
It had only been a few hours, and yet it felt like he hadn’t heard that silver bell-like voice in forever.
He could see her standing before him, he could even reach out and touch her, he had finally caught her, such out-of-place emotions welled up within Subaru. However,
“What are you thinking―?”
As Subaru felt this sense of relief, Satella directed an angry look at him.
Her white cheeks flushed slightly, and she twisted her body a bit to shake his hand off. She took a step backward to put some space between them, and her eyes were filled with hostility as she looked at him.
Her unexpectedly harsh reaction caused Subaru to gulp and fall silent.
But thinking about it, it was obvious this would happen. To her, it must have been a wonder that he even dared to show his face.
He would accept any abuse she wished to rain upon him. This resolve of his―
“I don’t know who you are, but to address someone by the name of the Witch of Envy, just what are you thinking?!”
Was smashed to pieces by this completely unexpected reaction.
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Faced with these unexpected words, Subaru felt as if time itself had stopped.
The sound from the crowd had vanished. All that he heard were his heart’s pounding, and the silver-haired girl’s angry voice.
It was as if all other sounds were gone― No, they were gone.
He muttered as he awkwardly turned his head to look around and realized.
Every single person around them on this street filled with stalls and pedestrians was now focused on the two of them.
They were all shaken and had fallen silent, as though even the slightest movement was forbidden.
It was as if the conversation between the two of them had completely dominated the street.
“I’m asking you what you’re thinking. Speak up.”
However, Satella wouldn’t allow any hesitation despite his bewilderment.
Her tone was harsh, but Subaru had no response since he didn’t even know why she was angry.
They seemed to be on completely different wavelengths as to what the problem was.
“I’ll ask this once more. ―Why did you refer to me by the name of the Witch of Envy?”
“No, I mean, I was told…”
“I don’t know who told you that, but that’s in very poor taste. You’re at fault too for going along with it. ―The Witch of Envy, the symbol of all things taboo, merely mentioning her name is frowned upon, to think you’d actually call someone by that name.”
Her anger clearly on display, Satella―The silver-haired girl plunged him into a sea of confusion.
The crowd gathered around them all nodded at her words. Which is to say they were proof that her words were correct, and this confused him even further.
He didn’t understand what she was saying.
He had just said her name.
And yet she took offense to this, and the people around them acknowledged that she was correct to do so.
He didn’t know what he was doing wrong, he was just being reprimanded for being wrong. He couldn’t reflect on his actions or change his behavior.
“―If that’s all, I’ll be on my way. I don’t have time for this.”
She said as Subaru hung his head, she then walked off gallantly, her silver hair fluttering. Subaru wanted to call out to her, but the name froze in his throat.
He’d be making the same mistake twice if he called her that again. But then, what should he call her?
This hesitation dulled Subaru’s judgement.
Consequently, he simply watched what took place before him without doing anything.
There was a small gasp atop the canopy of a nearby stall about a head taller than Subaru.
It leapt, its small body was gently pulled downward by gravity, and the instant it landed it rode the wind to accelerate.
That swift wind was wearing somewhat dirty clothes and had golden hair flowing behind it. She easily slipped through the crowd as if divinely inspired, and her quickly extended arm entered a white robe with a hawk embroidered on it.
It was only a moment of contact, but that was enough for the wind.
The wind made the robe flutter, and then took off as the girl turned.
“Don’t tell me―!”
The silver-haired girl raised her voice in surprise and stuck her hand into her robe.
She didn’t find what she was looking for, and her eyes widened as she looked toward the wind that was fading into the distance.
That wind held an insignia symbolizing a dragon in its hand, and watching it from behind Subaru instinctively yelled,
This caused the wind to waver as if perplexed. But its speed did not decline and it disappeared from the street into an alley in an instant.
That was some incredibly fast work. A chance meeting of an instant. He had only seen it momentarily, but that was most likely―
“It’s gone. Was this why you stopped me…? You’re in on it?!”
The girl groaned at Subaru who had just stood still, unable to react to the hectic situation.
She immediately pointed her palm his way, but as if rethinking this decision, she ran off toward the alley the wind had disappeared into.
“Hey, wait! It’s a misunderstanding! I’m not…”
Subaru ran into the alley as well, chasing after them so he could resolve this misunderstanding.
As he ran, his mind was filled with doubts toward many mysteries.
There was far too much information being unloaded onto him, and his flustered brain could not process it all. Even if this weren’t the case, he felt like he had died twice today and that really messed with him.
“Someone please be nice to me! Why the hell was I even summoned here?!”
The absurdity of the situation made him yell this as he stumbled through the dim alley.
He wasn’t sure his stamina would last, but he didn’t think he’d lose to those two over a short distance. He’d catch up to them right away, and clear up all these doubts.
That was what he was expecting as he ran, but,
“Damn… A wall?!”
Subaru spat as a dead end blocked his path.
The two he was chasing weren’t there. If he recalled correctly, Felt was agile enough to easily scale walls. And Satella probably wouldn’t have any trouble getting over a wall or two with her magic.
“I don’t mind climbing, but… I don’t think I could catch up that way.”
Most importantly, if the gap between them widened Subaru couldn’t just keep running.
Even though he had trained his physical strength inside his room, it would be impossible to do the same with aerobic exercise. His lack of stamina was his fatal flaw, and even here it caused him to give up the chase.
“If this is no good, how about the loot house? Satella and Felt are both alive, so… Rom must be too.”
He decided that it would be ideal to go on ahead of them and link up with Rom as soon as possible.
For now he should get out of this dead end and head toward the slums. Thus, he turned around,
“… You’re kidding.”
Before him were some figures blocking his way out of the alley.
There were three of them, they were somewhat filthy, and they had a rough aura about them as if their violent nature had manifested on their faces.
By this point it was a pain to even bother describing the three standing in his way.
These bandits who made the back alleys their hunting grounds had encountered him for the third time that day.