This part, like the previous one, covers a small portion of the sixth volume of the original Re:Zero series, although the events have diverted very significantly from the original; In the original version, by this point Emilia was already dead.
This part was the hardest to write, by far, of all fifteen I’ve done so far for this strange AI-fueled roleplaying/retelling of one of my favorite fictional series. There was little room for absurd humor, which is what I gravitate towards in the first place, and I couldn’t get the flow to feel right. Still, it’s done and gone. In the last couple of days I’ve accumulated many notes for the next part and the following, and I’m eager to start working on them.
GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.
You are following Emilia through the forest that surrounds most of the mansion’s grounds. Even so early in the morning, the thick tree tops, of trees that are significantly close together, keep you three in shadows. You assume that Puck is sticking around and that he hasn’t left to annoy someone else he knows; when you were making your way out of the mansion, Puck was perched on Emilia’s shoulder, but he must have vanished in the last couple of minutes.
“If I may ask, Emilia, what are these crystals for?”, you ask.
Emilia is holding near her waist a bluish magical crystal about the size of her fist. When back at the girl’s study she decided that you were going to leave through the forest, she made you promise that you were going to hold on to another identical crystal.
“It prevents certain monsters from attacking you”, she says with the tone of someone who isn’t entirely sure about forgiving you.
You look around nervously. A couple of chipmunks are running around on a trunk.
“Given what I went through to reach the mansion, I’d like to think that no forest beast can scare me at this point. But then again, everything tends to be going worse and worse.”
To feel some degree of safety, you touch the grip of the dagger you hanged from your belt. It belongs to Emilia; Roswaal had given it to her for self-defense, although she refused to use it.
Emilia is moving so fast that you are struggling to follow her, and getting left behind at a fast rate. Your breath is quickening.
“You used to do this, right? Being an elf and all that. It’s all about the forest with you lot. Curse the people who cut them trees down, all those nasty humans with their rock houses and metallic weapons…”
“My kind aren’t savages. At least half of my heritage isn’t.”
“Nevermind the idle chatting… Where on Earth are we going?”
She doesn’t answer. You don’t want to press her. If you understand her current indifferent demeanour, and you aren’t sure you do, maybe she regrets her outbursts at her study, the amount of tears she shed.
After a few minutes more of following her agile strides, your feet are hurting and you don’t know how much longer you can keep this up. All you can do is hope that she stops soon.
“Follow me and stay close… We are here.”
Suddenly you see it just above the tops of the trees. First you think it’s the ruins of a castle, but it seems to be a cliff wall of uniform rock. From the border of the forest you see that in front of the cliff wall there’s a clearing about the size of half a football field, that extends in both directions.
“What is it?”, you say.
“There’s a cave nearby. Back when Roswaal asked me to live here I tended to explore the surroundings to feel safer, or merely to be alone. So I found a natural cave that serves as a retreat.”
Emilia steps into the clearing, and you follow her.
“Guess Roswaal and company couldn’t stop themselves from bothering you when you first came here?”, you ask.
“Any company can become a bit of a bother from time to time. But then Ram found out about the cave as well, so it stopped seeming like a magical shelter anymore.”
While you’re having this conversation, you see the cave opened in the cliff wall. The mouth is like the maw of a beast.
“I used to be afraid of the dark”, says Emilia. “But after a while I learned to love when I had the place all to myself.”
You feel a chill running through you, and before you know it you’ve grabbed Emilia’s wrist. She turns as if to reproach you in the same manner she did in the study, but when notices your expression, her shoulders shrink.
“I can’t hear anything at all”, you whisper. “No birds, no insects.”
“I didn’t notice… Bit of an eerie place, isn’t it?”
“We should get out of here.”
You turn your back on the cave’s entrance and walk towards the forest as the leaves crunch under your feet, only to suddenly, as if a veil had slipped, you stare at a row of black-robed figures that stand against the background of trees. These figures hold sharp, cross-shaped daggers.
“W-who are you? What do you want?”, Emilia says.
You experience such a revulsion that you need to swallow to avoid throwing up.
“I already tried that back then. This is them, Emilia.”
Emilia gasps, and drops the magical crystal to free her hands.
“What the hell are you doing here of all places, you…!”
Someone behind you lets out a wild expression of delight. You both half turn towards the cave’s entrance, where you see him. Unlike the other cultists, this man has his hood down, showing a bowl cut of green hair and a pale face that would have suited a corpse that’s been dead for a couple of days. He’s grinning, and when your gazes connect, he claps and takes a few steps towards you.
“All this time, all this effort, and yet I had failed to find a devoted servant like you!”, Petelgeuse says. “Because of my sloth, you’ve been forced to find your way down to me! I apologize with all my heart.”
His black robe rustles as he takes another step forward. You feel a cold sweat break out on the back of your neck. Out of the corner of your eye, the line of cultists seem as if they are closing in, although you haven’t seen them move. Emilia is holding her palms upwards near her waist, alternating between looking at the cultists and at the strange man who welcomed you.
“Petelgeuse…”, you mutter.
He slaps his forehead, and then he performs something resembling a curtsy.
“Where are my manners? My name is Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti, Archbishop of Sloth for this humble institution. I sense you possess a blessing as well! Are you Pride by any chance?”
Your heart jumps on your chest. You want to reach towards Emilia, but she’ll be safer with her hands free. You wonder if she’s waiting for an opening.
“You asked whether I am Pride. What does that entail?”, you ask with a nervous voice.
Petelgeuse grins warmly, which wrinkles the lower half of his face.
“It can get confusing, does it not? She gives us Her blessings and yet it is up to us to understand, to figure out, to extract meaning and the exact purpose, so we can serve Her better. You have the blessing, and the seat of Pride is empty.”
“By blessing… You mean the Witch Factor, right?”
“Indeed! Indeed! You seem to hold a reasonable knowledge about our beliefs, although I sense a touch of fear in your voice. Nonetheless, you seem to have grasped the concept of Her powers that allow us to bring the world into a new era. Yet I gather that you haven’t been anointed to occupy the seat of Pride? I trust then that She guided your steps to us so we could accelerate the ritual, yet, despite your diligent efforts, this does complicate our goals!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Petelgeuse?”, you say with a raspy voice.
“We were to snatch her inside lord Roswaal’s mansion then bring her into the lord’s inner sanctum, where the source of power is located. Don’t get me wrong! I am overjoyed that I came across such a diligent disciple, that even without having received direct summons from Sloth would offer his services behind the scenes. In comparison, we’ve been wasting our time, and therefore delaying the final moment in which She can return to us! You humble me with your devotion!”
You take a pause and frantically try to make sense of all that was said. You are getting dizzy.
“You knew how to enter the inner sanctum… And the ritual, it consists on feeding the crystal’s magic into Emilia so the spirit of the witch wakes up in Emilia’s body?”
You are muttering nervously, expecting a response from the madman.
“That’s part of the ritual, indeed! How and when we would manage to kidnap the half-demon was the most unpredictable part of the ritual. Likely that’s why you’ve been sent by Her to do this, so there would be no way we would be failing! We are blessed in Her eternal love!”
“Sorry to contradict you, but…”
When you look over your shoulder at Emilia expecting to find support in her defiance, you realize she’s staring at you with a face drained of color, wide eyed and mouth trembling. When your gazes meet, she shakes her head slightly.
“It can’t be…”, she mutters with a breaking voice, “You couldn’t have possibly…”
You feel your heart tightening. You turn towards her and open your arms.
“Emilia, you are getting it wrong. I have nothing t-“
“A Witch Factor? You knew the Archbishop’s name, and that there’s a crystal of power in the inner sanctum… Who are you?”
“I’m your pal, Emilia, someone who wants you to be happy and not burdened with any of this getting killed nonsense”, you say with a wavering voice, stepping towards her. “I have been given a power by Satella herself, it seems, but that doesn’t mean-“
From Petelgeuse’s mouth bursts out a shrill laugh that makes the hair in your arms stand up.
“Oh, how the truth slips out! The Witch of Envy herself has given him the gift of our so desired meeting! And this half-demon had no clue that one of our believers in Her love had been guiding her path so her worthless self could eventually be filled by our beloved witch!”
“You aren’t making this easier, Petelgeuse!”, you snap.
You turn towards Emilia again. Something in the girl has broken. Her cheeks are covered in tears. Her eyes have glazed over and she seems to be looking beyond you, beyond the cliff wall, to the horizon. She lets her arms fall to her side, and her legs go so wobbly that she collapses to her knees.
Petelgeuse’s voice goes lucid for a moment.
A few of the cultists of the line that had been waiting a few meters behind Emilia lunge forward, grab Emilia’s arms, and while twisting them to her back, they push her face against the grass and dirt. One of the cultists, his face blackened inside his or her hood, pulls Emilia’s right arm upwards towards her shoulders, until you hear a loud crack. Emilia emits muffled, teary cries against the dirt.
“A diligent work, and yet I fear you might break her neck before we can bring her to the inner sanctum!”, Petelgeuse yells. “Restrain your disdain of the half-demon until we can fill her vessel.”
Emilia’s cries become louder. She’s not attempting to move, and her sobs have turned into those of a child.
Why didn’t she shoot her ice magic at Petelgeuse, or any of the cultists or at you for that matter, given that she believed that you had betrayed her from the very first day you met? Her face as she processed the betrayal had looked as if her entire self had shattered, and that there was no point to keep living any longer. You want to vomit.
You need to do something. But what could you do? For all you know, Petelgeuse’s Unseen Hands are waiting a few centimeters from you, and it would only take one of them closing itself around your head to crush your brains in again. It would be a quick death, almost a magnanimous one, but that would mean that Emilia would end up dying. In that case, until her last breath she would believe that the only human being from beyond Roswaal’s mansion that she had given her trust to had used her goodwill to sacrifice her.
“I wondered when one of the most outrageous personifications of sloth, the half-demon’s great spirit, would make his appearance!”, Petelgeuse says. “Have you gotten tired of wasting your immeasurably long life allowing the world’s affairs to slip through your fingers?”
You turn your head towards where the Archbishop is glaring. A small figure, that of a smaller than average housecat, is hovering three meters in the air over the clearing, maybe a few strides behind the cultists that are pushing Emilia’s face against the dirt. Although you can’t tell the look on his cat face, Puck has crossed his arms.
“I am Puck of the Apocalypse”, Puck says in a surprisingly loud voice. “Remember my name after you die.”
The air to both sides of the little cat swirls in a bluish vortex, from which bursts forth something like a gust of wind. As they widened towards the line of cultists, they transformed into avalanches of ice. Every cultist to the right and to the left of the immobilized Emilia, except for the cultists that were holding her down, were swept off their feet and lifted violently towards the cliff wall. You distinguish their black-robed figures getting covered in frost and hardening, and when both icy tongues hit the cliff wall, the cultists caught inside shatter into pieces.
To your surprise, Petelgeuse laughs with delight.
“All that effort to prove me wrong! I know your kind very well, great spirit. All the perishable creatures have long been nothing more than distractions in your eternal slumber, insignificant motes of dust to amuse yourself. You have all that time, and yet you waste it all!”, the leader of the cultists says as if it were a established fact. “My name is Petelgeuse, and I am the Archbishop of Sloth. As long as I am here, this half-demon you pretend to care about will serve as a vessel for our witch.”
Petelgeuse himself couldn’t have put it clearer. As the cultists that were holding Emilia down show some degree of self-preservation and turn towards the great spirit, you approach the Archbishop calmly.
“Hey, Petelgeuse… Listen to me for a second.”
“My fellow believer in Her love! I’ll hear any words you wish to tell me, but not now. We need to deal with that slothful spirit.”
“Yeah, but listen anyway.”
As you grab the grip of Emilia’s dagger with both hands, you lunge forwards while aiming at the center-left side of Petelgeuse’s black robe. You feel the blade punching through his robe and his ribcage. When you let go and step back, the Archbishop stands there looking down at the handle protruding from his chest. The black cloth around the dagger is getting wetter. As Petelgeuse lifts his head towards you, a churning shadow swells from his shoulders.
“You double-crossed me!? You deceived the half-demon and brought her to me to usurp the seat of Sloth!?”
“There’s no double-crossing going on, because I didn’t deceive Emilia to begin with. I was never on your side, you creepy son of a bitch. I’ve wanted to kill from the first time I heard your deranged voice.”
The shadow’s churning becomes darker and more violent as the air goes cold. You distinguish the hints of fingers and articulations that look like elbows, silhouettes that emerge for a moment from the shadowy mass only to fall into it again.
“You were granted a blessing by Satella herself! That much is undeniable. And yet you have chosen to deceive a fellow believer in love in order to work against Her wishes?”
You are scared, your pulse is trembling, and yet you feel as lucid as can be. You are free of the rage that had clouded your thoughts, that had reddened your vision, the last time you faced this madman back at that clown bastard’s inner sanctum. You aren’t sure of what that means, but the spreading wetness around the dagger embedded in Petelgeuse’s chest suggests some degree of progress.
“Yeah, Satella might have given me a power, but these days I’m guessing that it happened by chance. Someone ends up getting shat on by a bird, right? You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Witch Factor or not, I’m not on the side of gigantic pieces of garbage such as the group you belong to. I don’t think you have any clue about what Satella wants, if she still wants anything at all. As far as it seems, she doles out endless love as mindlessly as water goes through a waterfall. She doesn’t give a shit about you.”
Petelgeuse’s cadaveric face distorts in a grimace of rage. He wrenches the dagger from his chest and stands, swaying.
“A receiver of Her blessing that nonetheless blasphemes against our witch. No greater evil could exist in this world or any other.”
“Oh, just shut your fucking mouth.”
“Authority of Sloth,” he yells in a crazed voice, “Unseen Hands!”
The shadow that had been churning behind the Archbishop explodes in half a dozen long arms that end in black hands with long fingers. You stare at them for a second, but when two of them trace an arc in the air towards you, you merely jump out of the way. Although they are strong, their main power is in remaining invisible.
“What!?”, Petelgeuse yells in disbelief. “Not even other Archbishops should be able to see the hands! Why can you see them, when you are nothing but a traitor to the witch’s designs!?”
Beatrice. It must be her doing. Her magic tricks weren’t for show after all. You avoid the long sweeping motion of the arms a couple more times, and then you try you focus on locating Emilia and figuring out how Puck dealt with the remainder of Petelgeuse’s pawns. You almost trip on the frozen, half-cracked remains of a cultist. Puck floats towards you with a angry expression in his otherwise mostly adorable cat face.
A shiver convinces you to stop.
“Kill me if you want, Puck, but I didn’t betray Emilia.”
“I know this is a misunderstanding, you dolt, but she’s not listening to me. Get her out of the way. I’ll deal with the Archbishop.”
Emilia is lying on her left side. The long silver hair, now smeared with watery dirt, is hiding her face, and her broken right arm hangs over her back. For a moment you are sure that she must have died, but then you feel that her losing all will to fight is even worse. As you hear Puck’s magic spells cracking behind you, you crouch next to Emilia and attempt to sit her up. Her face is half-caked with mud, and the waist area of her dress is glued to her crotch: she has pissed herself. You slide an arm under her left shoulder to help her stand to her feet, although her entire body feels limp. How could you carry her out like this?
“Listen to me, Emilia.”
You look into her eyes, now hidden behind the messy fringe of her hair. Her gaze is fixed on the grass, and she seems absent as if brain-damaged. Did you truly did this just by making her believe that you had deceived her from the moment you met her?
“You need to snap the fuck out of it, Emilia. We don’t have pissing ourselves time to spare.”
Your words have no effect on her. Emilia looks just as absent as before. No, not absent anymore. She looks as if in tremendous pain.
As you look around to see where it would be safe to carry the girl towards, you see that Puck is hovering some distance away from the Archbishop, whose legs up to his thighs are trapped in what looks like an ice crystal. You probably pierced his heart, but why isn’t Puck blasting that creep away like he did with the rest of his crew?
“Are you the only group of cultists that were going to attack the mansion?”, Puck asks with a steely tone.
Petelgeuse spits blood, but he grins.
“Would we leave filling the half-demon’s vessel to the diligence of a single group? When this body has ceased to run, my remaining Fingers will find you, murder you and drag the princess to her role in the ritual.”
“How many other units?”
“Enough, hidden in this forest.”
“Very well. That’s enough, I guess.”
Why isn’t Puck reacting to the black, shadowy hands that are extending to his sides, clearly moving towards converging on him? Your mouth lets out a noise as you realize that even a great spirit cannot see the Archbishop’s authority. You leap forward and yell.
“His Witch Factor is a bunch of very strong, long arms that can hit very hard or even tear you apart, but they are invisible! Get back, you ineffective cunt!”
Petelgeuse accelerates the arms’ movements so they clap against each other catching the small figure of Puck in the center like a mosquito, and at that moment you hear the noise of something bursting. When the hands separate, the space they had occupied is empty as if nothing had been there. You almost fall to your knees. Did the arms truly crush Puck?
Petelgeuse groans as he attempts to break away from the ice crystal that has restrained his legs. After realizing he can’t, much less in a body that is dying by the second, he coordinates his shadowy arms so they swing towards you from all sides.
You run back towards Emilia. She’s kneeling, even though you had left her lying on the ground before. She lifts her head, and through the mud-caked silver-hair you distinguish a teary eye that glares at you. Emilia lifts her left arm extending her palm towards you. Before you know it, you glimpse a bright flash, and you hear a sound of something cutting through the air fast as your left leg from the knee down crumbles away in bits of ice. You fall face first on the grass.
For less of a second, which feels like a long time, you think that maybe it was just an accident. Emilia’s purple eyes widen, and she lifts her left palm towards you once more.
A long, shadowy arm that was aiming at the space you had occupied before your leg crumbled under you sweeps Emilia as if she were a deer hit by a truck. Her body twirls as it flies towards the cliff wall, and when it hits with a horrible thud, it falls limp to the grass.
Without even thinking about it, you half run, half crawl away from the other shadowy arms that attempt to grab you. You don’t feel any pain in your maimed leg; it’s as if the wound has been immediately cauterized. Emilia has hit a part of the wall out of reach from Petelgeuse’s Unseen Hands. When you finally get to her limp body, you want to deny what you are seeing, but your body, which has gone completely cold, already knows. You drop to your knees. You attempt to move Emilia’s head, return it to its proper position, but it feels as if it’s just connected to her spine by the muscles. In Emilia’s half-caked face, her purple eyes are frozen wide open.
You look over your shoulder even if just to glare at Petelgeuse, while you clench your teeth and you taste the bile surging from your gut.
Petelgeuse is leaking blood from his mouth, and he looks as if he’s wheezing. He would have fallen to the ground if the ice crystal wasn’t restraining him.
“Oh, no!”, he laments with a teary voice. “No, no, no, no, no! The half-demon, I killed her! I didn’t meant it! Now she won’t do, she can’t serve as a vessel for Her! She was the most suitable by far, as if chosen from birth, to host our witch, but now I’ve ruined it! How could I have been so slothful!”
You would have expected a rage to fill you like hot magma from a volcano, but only tears come to your eyes. You want to repeat Emilia’s name and ask her for forgiveness. This world was over before for you, you knew it, and yet… You will keep going, and you will have to see Emilia’s face, that expression in which the extent of your betrayal set in, for the rest of your many, many lives to come.
As Petelgeuse’s now mostly shrunken shadowy arms flail ineffectively, you maneuver to sit against the cliff wall and move Emilia’s corpse so part of her torso and her head rest on you. You caress her dirty hair. As your eyes burn and hot tears keep falling on her face, you hug her tight and close your eyes.
Maybe ten minutes later you hear the last complaints coming from the madman’s mouth, who then falls silent. The few times you open your eyes, you merely register the sun’s location having jumped in the sky towards sunset. And it was around that time, with half of the sky turning pink, when you hear an increasing rumbling, first a noise in the distance, then so loud that the ground under you trembles. Some compelling force is toppling trees in the forest that surrounds you. As the first stars show up in the darkened sky, you see it: a towering, dozens of meters tall mountain of fur, a silhouette of a legendary monster. Its figure grows until his front paws crush some trees in the border of the forest, and then you look up to where the creature’s face must be located. You can’t see any feature in the silhouette beyond two enormous feline ears and two glowing golden eyes that seem to be staring at you.
You don’t feel any fear. None of this matters.
“We failed.” A voice you know says in your head. “I failed.”
The air around you seems to vibrate as the creature’s growl gets louder and louder, and you close your eyes while the sound shakes your mind. And then, it stops. You open your eyes.
“Finally your body matches how big of a cunt you are”, you say with a hollow voice.
Puck doesn’t speak for a few seconds.
“Did she say anything, right at the end?”
“Emilia didn’t speak beyond the point when she believed with absolute certainty that I had betrayed her. To end like that… There was no convincing her then, I understand that. We could never understand each other properly, and this blessing, or curse, that I have been given and that I use to help, to help everybody, didn’t help me at all.”
An unnatural chill licks your exposed skin. It feels like a tough winter has fallen in seconds.
“You aren’t afraid of dying,” Puck says with some surprise. “You are going to die. There are no ifs or buts. In a few minutes you’ll be gone.”
“You know as well as I do that we can’t live past this point.”
Puck lowers his gargantuan head, and then his glowing eyes stare back at you again.
“As per my contract, I will now destroy this world.”
“Of course. A deal is a deal. Go nuts.”
As if emboldened by your words, the chill turns into the worst freezing wind you have ever felt, that freezes your tears in their course and makes your teeth clack together. You don’t move a muscle even though it breaks your heart to see Emilia’s features, and her open eyes, frosting as if she were in a freezer.
“It was true, that thing about me having a blessing possibly given by Satella herself”, you say with effort, as your teeth chatter. “If Satella did choose me in particular, it might be true that she intended to use me to bring her back into this world.”
“None of that matters now.”
“It does, because I will use this blessing for what I want, and nothing else: to save everyone I care about. The Witch’s Cult and Satella can eat shit.”
“Are you losing it, this close to death? Emilia is already gone. Nothing matters anymore.”
You can’t feel your remaining limbs, and every breath is filling your lungs with piercing cold.
“My friend, I was given the blessing to return back in time whenever I die. The universe will rewind and I will wake up in Crusch’s mansion a couple of days ago. Rem will be alive, Emilia will be alive. And so they will as many times as it needs to happen until I get past this. Just in case it makes you feel any better.”
You don’t know how much time passes in silence. You can barely see anything but white, and you can’t feel your eyes anymore.
“Is that true?”, Puck asks. “Can Emilia be saved, even in a world I will never witness?”
You want to say yes, but you can’t form the words. You want to nod, but the order doesn’t reach your neck. You feel the pull into the black and the world disappears.
Some observations about this part: Petelgeuse is the hardest character to write for me. Not only his motivation in the original is somewhat hard to grasp, but he’s unpredictable as they come. Plenty of the flavor of the original comes from the fantastic voice acting and the many ad-libbed lines. I had to tone him down quite a few notches so the whole thing wouldn’t go off the rails. His strange nature is also not fully understood by this point, and you only get it after events that happen near the end of this arc, which further complicates things.
If you’ve read or seen the adaptation of the original, you know that Satella either punishes the protagonist or kills people around him if he tells people about the power he was granted. I chose not to use that for the retelling, because it annoys me: I hate conflict based on people not being able to say things. In the original, the protagonist goes to meet with Emilia and has the idea to tell her that he can travel back in time. Satella gets mad and crushes Emilia’s heart, killing her immediately. Therefore, most of the events that happen in this part of the retelling don’t happen at all in the original, or in a different form.