This part, like the previous one, covers a small portion of the sixth volume of the original Re:Zero series. My real problem writing this part was that, for some reason, GPT-3 produced very little of value; the first time in ten sessions I’ve gone through that GPT-3 vastly underperforms. I don’t know why, but I think I’ll insist the AI to produce more during the next portion to cover. What comes next is hard from the perspective of doing something new for this strange AI-fueled roleplaying/fanfiction I decided to use my free time on: logistically, until the characters reach Roswaal’s mansion again, most of the stuff needs to happen like in the original. But we’ll see when we get there.
GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.
As you push yourself to keep walking through the streets, you feel a hand on your shoulder. It’s Rem. She pulls you close and holds you tightly.
“What… what was that all about?” she asks.
You only sigh.
The girl keeps looking at you with concern in her face. Then, she hugs you again.
“It’s just bad, Rem”, you say. “Normally I think something dumb would have come rushing out of my mouth, which I’d end up regretting some day along with the growing mountain of shame. The fact is that we didn’t get Crusch, and we better forget there’s such a thing as a Priscilla Barielle in this world or mine.”
Rem nods silently at your words, then squeezes your hand.
“Well then,” she says, “let’s take a little walk to clear our heads, okay?”
You let Rem guide you through streets that she knows to at least a bigger extent than you do. Even though there’s plenty to see and listen, you can’t concentrate on anything. There’s a coldness stuck in your body that threatens to make your spine tremble every few seconds, and your back hurts where you took the fall against the carpeted floor. Where was Rem going? Did she have a plan in mind? You see that she’s leading you, half-dragging you, through some market-like area full of colourful stands and noisy vendors.
“You are a fan of ice cream, right? I think there was a stand around here…”, Rem says with a smile.
Your stop for a second, and Rem’s hand slips off your arm. Before you know it, you’ve wandered away in a daze. Ice cream? Nothing good has happened recently when ice cream is involved. But more importantly, why would Rem think about procuring you ice cream when there’s a massacre to prevent? Ah, she doesn’t believe you, you had forgotten. She had humored you because she likes you, and now that you’ve had your fun, and maybe even realized the foolishness of pursuing that fun, you’ll comply sheepishly with what Rem wants, which is merely to be with you. Yet, it is too late, is it not? This night won’t take that long to fall, and you can’t go out at night with the carriage. That means that you have failed, again.
Your sixth sense informs you that someone is staring at you with purpose. You’ve already raised your head and looked around before you thought about doing so. Regular citizens, human and demi-human alike, are just browsing wares or arguing with vendors. You notice, however, a tiny figure wearing a white robe lined with orange, and who is holding a staff taller than the figure. It’s a half-beast, maybe half-cat, half-person, as tall as a child and with the appropriately adorable face. She’s standing near a candy stand, eyeing the children whose parents buy them sweets, and she, because it’s clearly a girl, keeps looking towards the candy apples on display. No parents around.
Some desires used to be so easy to satisfy, weren’t they? No massacres to prevent, no politicians to negotiate with… Merely stuffing your damn mouth with sugar that would rot your teeth.
You sigh and dig in your trousers for the spare change that Rem had given you. When you ask the vendor for a candy apple and you give him the coin, he looks taken aback.
“I’ll have to give you too much in change! Are you nuts?”
“Sorry, I can’t read the price.”
The vendor’s expression doubts between sympathy and annoyance.
“Whatever”, you say. “Keep the change.”
You turn to the little half-beast, who was eyeing you now with her huge eyes, and hand her the candy apple. She smiles widely.
“Ah, you are a good guy! Thank yee!”
As you were walking away, you see Rem approaching you quickly with a concerned look. She glances at the little half-beast and then at you again.
“Subaru, what’s going on?”
You realize that you just gave candy to a child you have no relation with. You get nervous and raise your hands in apology.
“It’s not what it looks like!”
“That insignia on her robe… She’s from the Iron Fang! And according to the rank, a lieutenant.”
The tiny beast-child keeps munching on her candy apple happily as if you were never there.
“These people are from Kararagi”, Rem says. “A mercenary band usually contracted by very powerful people.”
“One very powerful person, usually”, says a pleasant female voice near you.
You turn to see a woman maybe in her mid twenties, who wears a fur coat and a fur hat, both white and fluffy. Somehow she has the looks of the woman you would have expected to see behind the counter at a family business that had already been passed down through generations. She’s no Priscilla, is what you mean. You recognize her, and point at her.
“You are Anastasia something, from that royal summons thing.”
“Well, that’s more or less correct. And you appeared at the summons as well. A surprise appearance! You had many interesting things to say, that’s for sure.”
She raises her palm to her mouth and snickers, which doesn’t make you feel good.
“It’s a parade of royal candidates these days”, you say painfully.
“Yes, it is an important time for this kingdom, and for Kararagi as well. We need stability for both.”
“Can’t say I care about this Kararagi place…”
Anastasia glances at Rem as if she was calculating something, and then turns to you again.
“Natsuki Subaru, isn’t that right?”
“As far as I remember. What is it to you?”
“My, are we in a mood? You both came out of that woman Priscilla’s den not too long ago, didn’t ya?”
“I’ve heard rumors about what goes on there. Horrible things, unspeakable things. Is it true a girl was made to eat her own feet by the royal candidate herself?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised that she forced others to do pretty much anything involving feet.”
“And it seems she has left a mark on you. What a plan! You belong to Emilia’s camp, right? Were you expecting to get a deal from Priscilla on something?”
“No. We just went there for some information.”
“Ah, information gathering. How like a spy you are!”
Rem takes a step forward. She’s put her serious, ‘don’t fuck with us’ face.
“Miss Hoshin, what is this about? Clearly meeting us hasn’t been a coincidence.”
“Oh, I do apologize. I’m just having a bit of fun, you know. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet you both in person, particularly sir Natsuki. Such a colourful man!”
You glance at the half-beast lieutenant, who has approached the woman that this tiny girl was clearly contracted to protect.
“Is it a custom in whatever country you come from to use children as bodyguards?”
“My, Kararagi doesn’t have much of a nobility system. As for children, you should know that not all of us are born with the luxury of not being adults the moment we’re out of our mothers! But that’s irrelevant in the case of our tiny Mimi. She’s a young adult for her species, and a tough one to boot!”
You feel the heat escape your face, and you take a step back. As your heartbeat pulses on your neck, you end up crouching and pushing your face against your palms.
“Another Mimi!? What are the odds…!? It’s too soon!”
“Miss Rem, is your friend okay?”, Anastasia says with concern.
Rem seems to have realized that she better do something, because she crouches by your side, she rubs your back and then helps you back on your feet.
“Don’t like my name?”, says the half-beast lieutenant in a cheerful, carefree voice. “Was another Mimi mean to you?”
“She gave me the best time of my life during the worst time of my life.”
This Mimi who isn’t that other Mimi tilts her head, and then keeps munching on her apple.
You shake your head. Why are we bothering with this garbage?
“Well, Anastasia Hoshin, I guess it was something meeting you. I’m either team Emilia or team Crusch anyway. Good luck.”
“Mr. Natsuki, it wasn’t a coincidence for us to meet. I was meaning to steal a bit of your time for a chat. An informal one of course.”
“What could you possibly have to speak with me?”, you say, tired.
“My, you had delved into the viper’s hole around an hour ago, but you seem wary of chatting with silly old me?”
“I guess I must prefer Priscilla’s horrifying, naked honesty.”
“Ah, the baroness can be very scary at times. But to answer your question, I wanted to chat for a bit and see if anything interesting comes up.”
You grit your teeth and don’t particularly care if it shows. What a waste.
“We don’t have fuck around time, Anastasia. We have urgent matters to deal with.”
“I know, I know. Bothersome royal candidates and their advisors, either getting or holding on to their power.”
“Far more important than that.”
“… You look down, mouth drawn into a frown. I don’t know who you are or what you’ve been through. But I can see it. Behind the quiet frown and slow movements, you’re in pain.”
You openly glare at this Hoshin broad. You grab Rem’s hand and attempt to walk past Anastasia, but this Mimi mercenary steps towards blocking your path as if playing around.
“You are in need of resources”, Anastasia says with a firmer tone. “And I am, as I said, a very powerful person, and a royal candidate to boot. Am I not? Why don’t you try me?”
That wakes you up. Your voice turns cold as you hiss your next sentence.
“That’s the problem with you lot. You’re so eager to get power that you offer deals without considering if they’re not worth the maggots it’d take to swallow.”
Anastasia chuckles slightly.
“Let’s talk, just for a bit. There’s a good, quiet restaurant nearby. Just the two of us. Very calm, yes?”
Rem holds on to your arm and scoots closer.
“You won’t meet with Mr. Natsuki alone. I’m his bodyguard, after all. Same as Mimi for you.”
Anastasia seems like she hadn’t expected Rem to interrupt you or even be present, but she redraws her smile soon enough.
“Of course. The more, the merrier.”
You raise an eyebrow.
“…Fine. You two come too.”
The four of you head down the road, into a modest restaurant the size of a somewhat larger than normal bar. Anastasia was guiding you to an empty table in the middle when Rem tugs on your arm and whispers to your ear.
“Everyone else here belongs to the Iron Fang.”
As you look around, you realize the obvious. The other seats occupied have people wearing white robes that are lined with orange. Most of those people belong to different species of half-beast as well. The bartender looks at you seemingly confused, or troubled.
You take a seat and put your hands on the table. The bartender comes immediately, and shortly after he’s brought a few drinks. Mimi, however, excused herself, climbed to a stool in front of the bar counter and ordered a hamburger.
“Well, Mr. Natsuki. I’m sure you’ve become a bit versed in negotiations, given that you reside with the duchess, and that you’ve approached miss Barielle.”
“I’ve learned that you can’t ask for things without offering anything in return.”
Anastasia chuckles against her hand.
“First lesson, sure! Why don’t we state what we want, and then we see if we can work with each other?”
You open your mouth to speak, but you feel that the effort isn’t worth it. It’s too late, isn’t it? You keep repeating it in your head. This is a bad dream. Maybe you should just throw yourself in front of a dragon carriage. Will you wake up in that bed at Crusch’s place if you off yourself?
You turn your head and see Anastasia staring at you, eyebrow raised.
“What is it that the duchess is seeking?”
“What is it that she wants? That’s what I want. That’s my request. You are her guest, and you don’t belong to her camp. Now, what do you want?”
“Probably an entire army, and a way to get somewhere really fucking fast.”
You sigh and put your hand on your forehead. The reality of the situation hits you, and it’s not a comfortable feeling. You’re not in a happy place right now.
Anastasia’s face suggests she hadn’t expected an answer of that kind.
“Don’t tell me it’s starting.”
It’s getting harder to breath. Your back hurts.
“I guess you are used to speaking like you do, the same way I’m used to mine. But people like you, who seem demand a trade for every word you intend to utter… You make me sick.”
“Subaru…”, Rem says with a soft voice.
“Starting what, god damn it? Will you be clear?”
Mimi comes back while munching on a hamburger. She hasn’t bothered to ask for a plate, nor to wait until she reached the table. She glances at you with bright eyes as she stuffs her mouth.
“The best hamburgers are the cheap ones with lots of onions!”
“You are talking with your mouth full, Mimi. They don’t like it here”, Anastasia says.
“Hoshin, for the love of God…”, you groan.
“The Witch’s Cult. What is starting is the Witch’s Cult being on the move. It was clear, wasn’t it? After lord Roswaal presented a silver-haired half-elf. And you belonging to that camp, your words suggest that them being on the move has crossed over to them rushing to their target. Is that right?”
You nod slowly, unwilling to speak.
“I’m sensing you know more than that”, Anastasia adds.
You shake your head. Your hand trembles as you put it back on your forehead. What is happening to you? You feel as if you need to hide in some dark corner.
Anastasia takes something out of her purse. It looks like an official document of some kind.
“I could give you the fastest carriage that can be rented at this moment in the capital. The market is still recovering from the royal summons. Does that sound good?”
You blink, but can’t avoid a bead of sweat from irritating one of your eyes.
“In exchange of information about what Crusch wants, you offer me a fast dragon carriage?”
“A super fast one. Straight to Roswaal’s domain, right? Probably could get there by tomorrow morning, if you rush through the night.”
“It’s clear you understand that the cult is rushing to attack. You knew something like this was going to happen. And yet you want to trade for our chance to get there in time and save lives?”
“… Mr. Natsuki, I am, above everything else you could say about me, a businesswoman. My company has expanded more than any other in this generation, as I’m sure you know…”
“I don’t know shit.”
“… And now we are moving into this kingdom. Kararagi got a bit small, you could say. It’s a fact of all life that if you want something, you need to give something in return. Animals know this as well. And even parents who provide for their children have their own selfish reasons, don’t they?”
“Spare me your philosophies. You damned schemers… I feel sick. I could vomit for real. I need a bucket.”
“You just came from Priscilla’s. Can’t say I’m surprised! Didn’t lady Emilia alert you about her, or lord Roswaal for that matter?”
You hide half of your face on your palm, resting on that elbow. You are sweating profusely.
Anastasia looks you over for a bit.
“However, I was expecting someone different. You hardly seem like the boy who stepped in between the royal candidates at the palace and boasted about impossible feats. Did I chase your twin by mistake?”
Anastasia’s last words were filled with sarcasm. You slowly turn your head to look at her, as she gives you a goofy smile.
“I could just reach over and snatch your permit from under your hand”, you say gravely.
“Subaru, calm down”, Rem says.
You realize you had stopped in the middle of raising from your seat. Mimi had crossed her staff over the table towards your face, while with her free hand she munched on the remains of her hamburger.
“I could explode you, you know”, she says like a child playing. The skin around her lips is stained with some ketchup, and a couple of bread crumbs are stuck. “Your bits would get all over the walls and make everybody all dirty.”
You sit down slowly while staring at the half-beast girl.
“After I bought you a candy apple?”
Mimi retracts her staff, and for a moment she looks apologetic.
“Sorree! Lady comes first!”
Anastasia opens her mouth, but closes it immediately. She sighs deeply and turns her attention to the menu instead, as if to clear her head.
“One either gives now or gives later, Mr. Natsuki. You know why some can give later even though they receive plenty now?”
“Not really, but I’m sure you’ll tell me in your own words as usual.”
“It’s those that are given to, that are indebted. One should never be in an overly-indebted state, but most are anyway. All stuck in endless cycles. Yet the person who gives expects being able to receive in turn some day, right? That’s the whole trade part. There’s a good reason I wouldn’t give you anything in advance.”
“Get to the fucking point.”
“With your display at the royal palace you showed everyone that matters in this kingdom that you are a jester, and nothing more. You happen to be in a position, due to your temporary relationship with a royal candidate, in which you can be of use to someone. At least you have eyes, you have ears. You’ve seen the movement at Crusch’s camp. The stuff they load, where they go, the kinds of people involved.”
You want to reply, but your throat is closed.
“Emilia, she’s not long for this world if things continue as they are”, Anastasia continues. “But even before that, she already booted you from her side. She did, right? And why wouldn’t she? How you choose to act reflects on those who choose to support you. Supporting a fool makes you a fool. At least you can be a useful fool.”
“Miss Hoshin…”, Rem says coldly, “You think you know him, but you don’t. And you don’t understand what you saw either.”
“Oh, but I do. What I saw, Mr. Natsuki, was a man who needs to be set free. You were never meant to be a soldier or servant. You’ve tasted freedom before, you know it is vastly superior over anything else.”
“You have all the damn time in the world, huh?”, you say with a raspy voice.
“Regardless, you don’t. So what are you going to choose? It comes back to one’s choices always. I built my empire through small choices. You seem used to choosing poorly from what I know of you.”
If you owe to someone, it’s to those who had taken you in initially, for sure. Those you might be able to come back to if you repent. Doesn’t matter whether you like others. At the end of the day, someone procures your food and your shelter, whether or not you need to work for it, and Crusch is Emilia’s opponent.
“Crusch has an army ready. Don’t know if it’s hers personally, as a duchess. The traffic brings metals to blacksmiths, often returns weapons and armor. They are mobilizing for something, maybe to fight the Witch’s Cult, or maybe for some other display that will help her candidacy. Do you figure that these eyes and ears would have noticed anything else?”
Anastasia smiles, and after a few seconds she nods. She slides the permit over the table to you.
“That’s really it?”, you say, exhausted.
You look the permit over, but then you realize, as you’ve had to do over and over, that you can’t read. Nobody had bothered to teach you. You pass the permit to Rem, who seems content with it.
“And for the Iron Fang?”, you ask.
“Oh, they’re already mobilized.”
“I mean lending the band to me. What would you want?”
Anastasia narrows her eyes, and bends a side of her mouth upwards.
“Far more than what you can offer me now, for sure. Maybe some other time.”
It makes you want to lash out, beg, plead, and do anything for what you need. You take a deep breath, close your eyes, and exhale slowly.
“Well, thank you for this carriage anyway.”
Anastasia closes her eyes and smiles. After she grabs her purse, both she and her half-beast mercenary stand up. Mimi turns towards the back of the restaurant and raises her staff.
“Let’s go!”, she announces with a short jump.
Every other client, all of them wearing the mercenary band’s insignia, stands up, turns and leaves the restaurant without looking at you. Anastasia and her bodyguard follow them after minor pleasantries towards you both.
With the mercenaries gone, the bartender sits down and sighs.
Rem puts a hand on your shoulder as she gets to her feet.
“We should be leaving.”
“Are you okay with this, Rem, riding through the night?”
“If that’s what you want, or needs to be done.”