This part covers a bit of the eight volume of the original Re:Zero novels.
After the main team seemingly decapitated the Sloth branch of the Witch’s Cult, they move on to ambushing the units hidden in the half of the forest they are covering, while Crusch’s crew handles the other half. This ended up being a larger than usual entry, about one and a half.
GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.
Your team, including plenty of unnamed half-beast mercenaries, is crouched in the shadows behind bushes and tree trunks, as you wait for a couple of scouts to come back. So early in the morning, critters are running around, sometimes between the team members, and the birdsongs cover your breathing no matter how loud.
Silently, the red and white head of a fox appears in front of you, from behind a trunk. You hadn’t hear the creature approaching. The fox’s head is the size of a human’s, and the rest of his anthropomorphic body is clothed in the Iron Fang’s white, orange-lined robe.
“Fifteen meters in front, general, in a clearing. Ten cultists. They aren’t alarmed.”
The fox man is looking at you, but at the mention of a general, you feel the need to look behind you to figure out who he’s trying to talk to. Thankfully you contain yourself, so they don’t realize you are that much of an idiot.
“Thank you, fox man”, you whisper. “Good job and all that.”
Ricardo leans towards you. His breath smells of meat.
“Let’s move up until we can see them. We need to know how they are located in the clearing, and then we’ll retreat and talk tactics.”
You are more nervous now than when facing Petelgeuse. You feel as if any small fart is going to end up with ten cultists ganging up on you. You let the mercenaries go ahead, and then you accompany Julius and Wilhelm, who don’t seem to have any trouble sneaking around. You realize that some multicolored lights, the size of a finger’s phalanx, are dancing around Julius, but before you have time to wonder about it, Ricardo returns with a grin. He motions Mimi to come over. When she’s close, thankfully while keeping herself from giggling, the wolf man grabs Mimi by her scruff and lifts her up towards his face as if he were about to bite a chunk out of it. Mimi remains unfazed.
“There is a group on the left and a line of cultists sitting on logs on the right. Those on the right you can blow up if you run towards them at an angle. You get those, I’ll cleave through the idiots on the left.”
“A few bad guys with the same explosion!”, Mimi says excitedly, and way too loudly.
Ricardo smiles and lets Mimi on the ground. He then turns towards the remainder of the team.
“The rest of you lot look for openings, especially when the fiends want to throw those toothpicks they use for swords. Got it? We can kill them hard and fast.”
The way your hulking, temporary pal puts it, you’d think this is going to be a fun fair. Still, with his size he can easily go through the enemy ranks. And you don’t want to be anywhere near Mimi’s mouth when she does that supersonic shit again. Still, you approach the Iron Fang’s captain as silently as possible, and you lift your palms towards him and the tiny lieutenant.
“I cannot overstate how little I want to interrupt you terrifying half-beast persons as you plan how to murder a bunch of people,” you whisper, “but I don’t think you understand how loud you are being right now. They’ll end up coming to us.”
Ricardo scratches the back of his head and offers an apologetic smile.
“Ah, right. We were doing that whole jumping from the shadows thing. Agh, how annoying. At least we can mow them through once the see us coming.”
The guy didn’t even lower his voice to respond.
“Yeah, we should probably assume the positions.”
You are looking at the clearing from behind a trunk and a thankfully voluminous bush. You had expected to gaze straight into a cultist’s eyes, but they are either sitting around on logs or standing in silence. One of the cultists is eating a ration. What a boring bunch for their chosen profession. They should be gutting babies or some shit like that.
You hear Ricardo grunt towards you, and the entire team understands what that means. You get ready, tightening your grasp on the spare sword one of the half-beast people had lent you.
Mimi sprints and leaps into the clearing with her staff ready. The cultists sitting in a couple of logs, in a convenient line from the angle that the half-beast Mimi is coming at them, barely have time to turn their heads when Mimi opens her mouth wide and produces her bone-scratching cone of distortion. As the waves pass through the cultists, their bodies burst apart as if crushed by a hydraulic press, splashing everything around them with blood and guts. Simultaneously, Ricardo surges from the forest while roaring at the scattered group of cultists on his side of the clearing, and he swings his enormous slab of iron, which cuts two of them in half. As Ricardo turns and a cultist attempts to jump out of the way, Ricardo swings vertically towards the ground, which cleaves the cultist in two halves. Another cultist retreats in a silent panic while he clutches his cross-shaped dagger.
Ricardo leaps towards the cultist.
“Where are you going, fiend? I’m bringing you a great death!”
He jumps while twisting around so his sword swings some three hundred sixty degrees, and the impact of the blade not only destroys the cultist’s torso, but also tears into the trunk of the tree that the sword had pinned the cultist against. The tree begins to fall backwards into other nearby trees.
As soon as you see Mimi’s victims bursting apart and you feel hot drops of blood hitting you, you along with other teammates run from the forest and charge with your swords into whatever cultist remains in the open. You get glimpses of swords plunging into black robes and some cultist’s human head falling from his hood. You push your sword into a cultist’s back, but when he falls to the ground, his throat had already been torn open by a half-beast mercenary.
In ten seconds, the entire unit of cultists is either dead of mortally wounded. Ricardo walks to a fallen cultist that was gurgling, and the wolf man stomps on his head, crushing it open.
You stand in place while your heartbeat calms down and you can breathe better. You are covered in sweat just from the tension. I’m surrounded by murder machines, you think, and although you can only thank Satella, as your only known higher being in the afterlife, that these monsters are on your side, you also want to piss yourself, hug your knees and cry.
Mimi has lifted her hands while holding someone’s intestines.
“They made beautiful red flowers in the air!”, she says as she giggles. “Can’t wait for more!”
Ferris keeps checking on every teammate’s well-being, but nobody seems to have gotten even a scratch.
Julius approaches you as he looks around with a somewhat apologetic look, as if he would have rather stabbed the cultists’ hearts and not have made such a mess.
“Are you doing good, Subaru?”
Why does this guy care, you think as you wipe the sweat from your eyes.
“Yeah, I stabbed someone in the back and everything. It doesn’t sound very honorable, but still… By the way, that mercenary over there is half-sloth. Isn’t this battle a conflict of interests?”
“I didn’t mean that. Subaru, it things continue as they are, I might not find an opening to do much of anything. How do you prefer to employ my abilities?”
You glare at him.
“Hell, I don’t know, man. Why don’t you run around the forest until you come across some deer that you can knock unconscious?”
Julius averts his gaze and sighs slightly.
As you were about to walk away, you stop in your tracks because Wilhelm stands in front, staring you down.
Receiving that look already deflates you and makes you feel foolish.
“Once an operation is underway,” Wilhelm says, “focus on putting your teammates abilities to good use. Even if out there you dislike those people, or even if you consider them your enemies, they are now your brothers and sisters in arms.”
You want to get annoyed at Wilhelm interceding, and yet only shame rises from your gut. That’s not the visage of someone who intends to berate and humiliate you, but that of a mentor who sees promise but knows you are rough around the edges. Like most people in your entire life, Wilhelm could have walked away, or ignored you to your face, considering you a lost cause, but he made the effort to tell you what course he believes you should follow.
“I’m just a little punk, huh… You are right, sir Wilhelm.” You swallow and turn towards Julius, who looks at you with a calm demeanour as if he could deal with anything. “Julius.”
“Your spirit arts give you an advantage over the regular swordsmen around, right?”
Julius arches his eyebrows.
“I am indeed a spirit user, although I prefer to call myself a spirit knight. Did you recall that from the royal summons?”
“I noticed the little spirits flying around you before, and then I remembered that decrepit bastard from the council mentioning something like that, yeah. So they can do magic things and stuff?”
“Indeed, when it comes to a battle they can throw low level elemental attacks, but they are mainly focused on shielding from both physical and magic attacks.”
“That sounds pretty good. Buff the hitters, particularly those who are most likely to die, and also cut people down if you see an opening.”
“I will do just that, Subaru.”
“If I knew you were such a reasonable guy, we could have been friends, Julius.”
The spirit knight’s eyes widen, and he smiles slightly.
“That’s a bold assumption, and yet I suspect you may be right.”
Julius had barely stopped speaking when Ferris called you from somewhere behind you. She was standing at the edge of the forest next to the ground dragon Patrasche, who was looking at the carnage without any discernible concern in her dragon face. Ferris puts her hand on the animal’s neck, and Patrasche moves her elongated head so she can look at Ferris and then at you as if saying, ‘is it okay for this person to touch me?’.
“I didn’t want to bring it up before, Subaru, but why did you make your ground dragon follow us?”
You walk towards Ferris, and shrug.
“I didn’t make her do anything. She decided to follow me of her own volition.”
“Why did you let her then?”
You stand next to Patrasche’s head and pet her rough scales. Patrasche closes her eyes and nuzzles your hand.
“For once a female followed me because she wanted to. I didn’t want to stop such a magical thing from happening.”
Ferris narrows her eyes.
“You aren’t funny.”
“I’m half serious. Don’t put such strain in your cat-face, Ferris. Your ground dragons seem very intelligent, maybe close to actually intelligent. She knows she shouldn’t ruin the ambushes nor make any noise. She’s a good girl. Aren’t you a good girl, Patrasche?”
Ferris rolls her eyes.
“Why are you so mad?”, you ask. “Ah, because of the whole Crusch thing. She’s fine, you know.”
Ferris walks off.
“Leave me alone.”
“What? You are the one who bothered me to begin with!”
“I’m sorry, I thought you were someone I wanted to talk with.”
You sigh and scratch Patrasche’s chin.
“You’re probably the only one who listens to me nowadays, along with my girlfriend, and a bunch of other people who consider me in charge of this operation.”
Your team repeats the same plan to locate and then ambush the next unit of cultists, and it results in a practically identical bloodbath except that you didn’t even attempt to stab anybody, that two of Julius’ spirits either burned or froze the hands of a couple of cultists that were trying to throw their daggers, and a cultist managed to wound a half-boar mercenary by sticking a thrown dagger into the guy’s abdomen. Ferris is tending to the wound, which doesn’t seem serious.
You walk around for a bit trying to avoid stepping on guts, and you end up coming across Wilhelm, who seems to have stood there looking at you.
“Maybe we overprepared for this”, you say. “I might end up feeling sorry for these deluded morons.”
“I’d say eliminating your targets while keeping all of your people alive is the most optimal of the results, Mr. Natsuki.”
“Yeah… Let’s not make it easier for the bastards.”
While a couple of half-beasts were looting what remained of some corpses, you notice Julius standing near a tree. He’s speaking softly to six multicolored lights that dance around over his palm. You approach him if only because the lights look cool.
“Do they follow you because of a contract?”, you say.
“You know about that, Subaru”, Julius says with some surprise. “That is the case, yes. These are minor spirits. They didn’t retain their full consciousness after death. The only one who remains mostly conscious and lucid is that red one. She calls herself Ia, although I have never known the details of her days as living creature.”
“Creature? You mean a human or a half-beast, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“How come you trained to become a knight, and trained really hard for years as you suggested at the royal summons, and then one day you ended up contracting spirits? Is that something that just happens?”
Lucius lets air out through his nose as in a contained laugh, and then he looks grateful that you want to know.
“Knights who can handle spirits are very rare. I was always suited for the spiritual arts, it just happened that I had the means to train to become a knight as well, and as I trained I realized it that I wasn’t opposed to the idea of joining the honorable ranks of the Knights of Lugunica.”
“Must be nice being talented.”
“You don’t lack talents yourself, you just don’t know how to handle a sword. Neither did I when I started.”
“I don’t know how to fight with my hands either. I just lifted weights to make myself feel better. I’ve developed pretty powerful wrists along the way, though.”
Julius looks away as in thought.
“In truth, a significant portion of those years I yearned for months of peaceful study in some library. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge to glean in the spiritual arts. You are, or were, very lucky in that regard, having access to the supposedly most impressive library of magical tomes anywhere in the known world.”
“The librarian is kind of a nut, though. Also, I can’t read.”
Julius snaps his head back and stares at you while narrowing his eyes.
“You can’t read…?”
You want to reply something clever to balance your illiteracy, but you realize that if Beatrice, a great spirit herself, met this guy, she would probably prefer the continuous visits of someone who wants to study the arts, and who can handle spirits to begin with. That makes you feel down.
“I acted like complete punk back then”, you say.
As soon as the words escape your mouth, you wonder why, because you weren’t even thinking about that. Julius lowers the hand that his spirits were dancing around, and he turns towards you with a serious expression.
“I can’t read, I can’t fight”, you say. “And yet I wanted to help her, to protect her, even though Emilia can throw ice shards and has a tremendously powerful little cunt of a guy as a personal guardian. If I had thought about what I was doing before I insulted those bastards and stepped into the line of royal candidates, I suppose I would have believed that I could make them understand what a bunch of idiots they were, for dismissing Emilia’s entire existence because she was born somewhat related to that deranged ghost, Sat-… Nevermind, I know you people don’t like her being mentioned.”
“That’s fine. I already told you, you did the right thing, with the wrong methods as far as my tastes go. But I didn’t beat you up to such an irresponsible extent because of that.”
“Because you were ordered to do so as a punishment that would satisfy that decrepit bunch?”
Julius looks down, but then he sighs and stares at you for a few seconds while tightening his lips.
“Because I’ve had to punish myself every time I wanted to tell anyone ordering me to study, to train, to obey, that they should let me be. I saw you there and I thought, you are just a little boy who can’t do what he ought to, what he’s supposed to.”
You laugh in spite of yourself.
“I am glad that the excruciating physical pain you caused me resulted in an epiphany that contributed to your character development. Ah, whatever. I can’t be that mad at you still, not when I’ve had to fly around as a detached head like a hundred fifty times.”
“That’s a strange analogy.”
You shake your head and put your hand on Julius’ shoulder.
“We live in a world filled with spirits, magic, dragons, witches and an impending Apocalypse. You don’t have the right to say shit like that.”
“It’s not like we can compare it with any other.”
“Yeah, well. This conversation has gotten too serious for me, and my headache has returned. Talk to you later, Julius.”
You turn around and walk away as you narrow your eyes and massage your temple. You hear Julius talking softly to his spirits. After you take a few more steps, you feel more than see a glow out of the corner of your eye, and suddenly a warm sensation swirls inside your body like a liquid. You stop walking and breathing, but a moment later the sensation has gone away, and you feel as normal as you can feel with a terrible headache.
Your team has learned from the first three ambushes when you ground the cultist units to a pulp, and the remains of the fourth unit lie around mostly dismembered and ripped apart in the blood-stained clearing without having wounded any of your people. Mimi complains about a stomach ache after the random, uncooked human meat she’s been gulping down, but otherwise the rest of the team chats around casually.
Still, you can’t shake off an increasing nervousness. Your guys defeated Petelgeuse almost immediately, and you can believe that the rest of the isolated units could be ambushed to oblivion one after the other if it wasn’t for the knowledge that another Petelgeuse with the same peculiar speech patterns had existed elsewhere. You look for Wilhelm, who is standing near Ferris as the cat-girl checks on the recovery of a few previous wounds. Even though the old man’s expression rarely betrays his stoicism, you get the feeling that he’s thinking something similar. You approach him.
“We haven’t learned anything new, Wilhelm.”
The old man nods slowly.
“That is correct. In the best possible scenario, these so called Fingers have all died through our precisely executed ambushes, and they never had any chance to reveal themselves. If that’s the case, I will be content with letting the matter remain a mystery.”
“I have been trying to recall Petelgeuse’s exact words, that I suppose I was the only one who could hear clearly. I tried to make him keep blabbing about it. He said that all the positions were filled, that he had reached the limit, that he couldn’t hold more than ten. He didn’t refer to a limit as something implicit to the organization of this branch he was leading. He referred to the limit as belonging to himself. And that use of the word hold…”
“Interesting. It sounds like an ability, does it not?”
“Some ability linking other people? Linking them to him?”
Wilhelm gazes over the carnage, and a couple of seconds later he furrows his brow and begins to walk around the mangled corpses. After he’s glanced at all of them, he lifts his head sharply towards the opposite end of the clearing as if he realized he could have made a mistake.
“All the other units were formed of exactly ten people. There’s nine here.”
Someone small tugs on your pants. Mimi looks up at you with big teary eyes, watery mucus dripping from her nostrils, and the bare skin around her mouth, as well as some orange fur under her chin, stained with dried blood.
You swallow your sudden fear.
“Oh God… Yes, Mimi?”
“Mimi’s tummy hurts!”
“What do you exp-…? You shouldn’t go around half-cannibalizing people, Mimi.”
She tugs again and stands on her toes.
“Please help me, mister!”
You motion for her to shove her fingers down her throat.
“Make yourself vomit. You’ll probably feel better if you get all that random, uncooked human meat out.”
Mimi looks at her hands as if she had never seen them before. She sniffles.
“My arms are too stumpy!”
“Yeah, can’t argue with you on that one. I can’t believe…” You sigh, kneel on the grass and move Mimi around so you can slide your fingers into the lieutenant’s horrifying mouth. “Your tongue is so wet. Please don’t bite me, nor do that terrible shouting thing. This seems like the back of your tongue. Poke, poke.”
Mimi’s body convulses as she gags. You take your hand out before a stream of bile and poorly chewed human meat splatters the grass. The half-beast, hunched over, breathes loudly through her mouth.
“You’ll feel better in n-…”, you begin to say.
You were standing up when you stop and fail to finish your sentence. Four half-beast mercenaries are hanging in the air near the opposite end of the clearing, because a few smoky, elongated arms have grabbed their limbs and torsos. When you open your mouth to shout, the smoky hands twist and pull and crush, tearing apart limbs, bursting torsos open, in a shower of blood.
A chaos of shouting and running around breaks out. You can’t tell what your teammates intend to do, except that some are moving way too close to the flailing and swinging ghostly arms they cannot see. A mercenary who had gotten injured before attempts to run, with his sword drawn, against an arm that was swinging his way, and the arm knocks him away into a tree trunk. The arms are coming from someone hidden behind the first line of trees on that border of the clearing.
You run around, while pushing mercenaries out of the way, as you point at the source of the ghostly arms.
“You can’t see the arms! Stay out of that area!”
While you try to keep every ghostly arm in sight as their movements disturb the tree tops, you look around for the people you can name. Julius, who is holding his sword, is shielding Ferris while out of danger, because it doesn’t seem like the arms reach that far. Patrasche has sneaked behind you and she growls towards the shaking tree tops. Wilhelm has unsheathed his sword as well and is standing closer to the ghostly arms. Ricardo is dragging someone unconscious towards Ferris, while shouting something you can’t hear.
One of the mercenaries that got exploded is the half-sloth guy. Not the half-sloth guy, you think. What can you do? You can’t guide your teammates to avoid the ghostly arms reaching for targets, there’s no way you can describe their movements. You need to attract that cultist’s attention.
You run past Wilhelm towards the ghostly arms. He shouts at you.
“Mr. Natsuki, stay behind! You will get killed!”
“I can see the arms, Wilhelm! Look for an opening!” As soon as you get close enough, you yell towards where the elongated arms converge in origin. “Hey, you dickhead! I’m over here!”
The cultist has heard you, because the arms stop for a moment, and then swing and coordinate themselves to reach you with their open hands. A burst of dirt and grass coming from your side rises towards a couple of the arms. Wilhelm seems to have struck the ground at an angle with his sword so the debris would delineate the invisible arms on its path. What a genius!
As you half jump out of the way of a couple of smoky hands, half admire how Wilhelm slices an invisible arm at the wrist, you feel a huge hand grasping your right leg under the knee. Before you know it, the smoky arm is dragging you into the forest. You attempt to shout, but you end up with a mouthful of grass.
When you manage to turn and lie on your shoulder as you get dragged, you realize that the tree tops are shadowing you. This cultist is retreating from the border of the clearing, deeper into the forest. As the smoky arm that grasps you passes by a trunk, you hit it with your ribs, which takes the air out of your lungs and produces a burning pain in your ribcage. Suddenly two other ghostly arms grab yours and they lift you into the air, then push you against a trunk with your back to the tree. Your feet can’t touch the ground.
While you cough and try to think what to do, a female cultist approaches you. She’s wearing the black robe but with the hood down. She’s a redhead in her early thirties, and her face is spattered with freckles. Despite her pleasant appearance, her expression is twisted in mad anger.
“What makes you, a blasphemer, able to see the Unseen Hands, when nobody else should be?” The woman’s otherwise pleasant voice is distorted into a piercing tone as if she doesn’t quite know how to use it. “You do have a blessing granted by our witch, and yet you mock Her, you defile Her love! Nobody like you should have existed, there’s no trace of you in the book!”
As you fight to fill your lungs with air, which fires up pangs of pain across the injury in your torso, you think that this must be it. There’s no way you are going to survive getting caught by someone with this ability. At least you can attempt to squeeze out as much information as possible out of this madwoman.
“H-Hey, are you a Finger?”
The cultist yells from up close while showering your face with spit.
“Didn’t you hear me, blasphemer? Didn’t I ask you to tell me who you are? Natsuki Subaru, you said, but that doesn’t mean anything to me! Why would She grant a blessing to someone who wants to deceive and betray those who intend to bring our witch back into the world?”
“Yeah, well… She works in mysterious ways and all that. How do you know my name, by the way?”
A smoky arm punches you in the gut, which makes you convulse against the other hands that hold you in place. Everything inside your abdomen hurts and burns, and you wouldn’t be surprised if you end up shitting yourself. Still, that wasn’t a punch intended to kill you.
“An idiot as well!”, the madwoman yells. “Don’t you know who you are speaking to!? You pretended you had been called to offer your body and your soul in service of our witch, but you only intended to make a mockery of Her love and distract me so other unbelievers could murder me! What cowardice! What a shameful display!”
You go cold when you realize that this isn’t a new lunatic. You are speaking to the same person you had approached back at that clearing in front of the cave. Petelgeuse, or whatever this consciousness you face actually is, has jumped from the Archbishop’s corpse into this one. If not, all the Fingers share the same information as if they see and hear through the same eyes and ears. You don’t know which possibility is worse.
“Well, Petelgeuse or whatever your name is,” you say with a husky voice, “you want to murder Emilia, who is a friend of mine. That’s kind of a shitty move, so I needed to stop you, didn’t I?”
“What good will your efforts do? Your resistance will be quelled, and the ritual will come to fruition! But what is your connection to our witch? How have you attained Her favor with a heart so foul?”
“You know, I’ve wondered that myself. All I know is that Satella did shower me with her endless love. She’s kind of a great gal, doing it for someone who doesn’t deserve it. I can see her appeal!”
The madwoman shakes her head as she hunches, and then she bites hard on her nails, making them bleed. No, not her nails, but the ends of the fingers themselves, as if they were chicken wings. You feel nauseous. The cultist lifts her face towards you again. Her lips are smeared with blood.
“You don’t understand Her love! You couldn’t have understood it, having mocked it like you did. Satella wants us, needs us, accepts us, and is eager to embrace us so we will be freed from the nightmare of unending time, even from the short-lived, pitiful bodies that barely begin to bloom when they start to rot!”
You try to move your hands, but this bastard has got you pinned up good.
“I know how much she loves everybody. That’s all the witch can do anymore. It has made me sad, to be honest.”
The madwoman snorts, and as she tilts her head, the rage that twists her facial features gets mixed with puzzlement.
“As if you would know! You dare claim you have a connection with Her to that degree!? You don’t appear in the predictions! You don’t have a Gospel!” The cultist must have remembered your tirade regarding how you ravaged your imaginary Gospel, because she roars incoherently, and then pushes you harder against the trunk. You risk peeing yourself. “I can’t erase your rotten words out of my soul! Our beloved disgraced to such an extent… Destroying one of our holy books, even in mockery, when they are the path to salvation for all of us… I would have never imagined such evil!”
The madwoman digs in a pocket of her robe, but then her face turns even paler with a sudden terror.
“Oh, no! I had my Gospel in that other body! I can’t get to…” Twisting her face in a rage again, the cultist lowers you until your feet touch the ground, and then she leans so close that the tips of your noses almost touch. “What have you done with my Gospel, blasphemer!? A Gospel in your foul hands is unforgivable!”
So the Fingers don’t share a consciousness. That’s good, a silver lining for your impending death. Petelgeuse existed as himself in that former body, and then jumped, maybe automatically, into this one, to the extent that he had forgotten that his book didn’t teleport along with him.
“I’m sorry, you deranged shithead. I already came all over it as soon as your former body hit the ground. You can always order a new one. I’m sure that’ll help Satella’s Amazon ranking.”
The grasp on your right leg gets tighter, and then it twists. The affected soft tissues burn and creak, which makes you groan in pain.
The madwoman grins with her trembling, blood-smeared lips as if she had just found a solution.
“You asked me, didn’t you, to make you one of my Fingers? My essence has already seeped into you, you are a suitable vessel. You will host me if not soon, eventually. And if it doesn’t come to that, it will be because Sloth will have succeeded in filling the worthless half-demon with our witch. You have taken the Gospel with you, haven’t you, blasphemer? You don’t keep it in your pitiful body, but you must have stored it somewhere.”
You groan, spitting saliva on the madwoman’s face.
“Doesn’t matter, Petelgeuse, or whatever your name actually is. That so called magical book ain’t worth shit. Your ritual won’t bring Satella back, but it does cause the destruction of this entire world. Even when drunk out of my mind it made me smile to know that you never reunited with that crazy ghost.”
The madwoman steps back, and she drops you with her ghostly arms. You collapse to the ground suddenly. Although you attempt to stand up, your right leg hurts a lot.
“You will believe, blasphemer. Even if your rotten mind will never accept Her love, you will have to witness Her looking through your friend’s eyes. And you will be embraced by the resurrected witch, along with the rest of this hollow world, and dissolved for all eternity in Her everlasting love.”
Your head hurts, you feel an electric pain running through your ribcage, your leg burns, you feel as if you are going to discharge the contents of your bowels in a spray. While a chain of coughs prevents you from replying, suddenly a red glow comes out of your chest and hovers between you and the madwoman, who flinches and jumps back.
“A minor spirit!? What is a slothful, disgraceful spirit doing here!?”
The madwoman’s ghostly arms tremble mindlessly like an anemone’s tentacles as she staggers a few steps back. A flash runs through your vision from left to right. The madwoman stares at you surprised, and then from her open mouth pours blood. The cultist’s head falls before the rest of her body collapses.
Wilhelm looks around for threats, and then he sheathes his sword and crouches in front of you.
“I still find it hard to believe that the cultist didn’t kill you as soon as she grabbed you, but fortunately I found an opening. Your wounds don’t look fatal.”
You cough as you cry.
“Please, call Ferris over. This really fucking hurts.”
The rest of the gang were already waiting out of danger. Ferris runs up to you, crouches and illuminates your torso with her healing magic. A warm sensation, like a balm, begins to soothe you.
“You’ll be fine, but cry all you want.”
“Again with that…”
Julius stands close to Wilhelm, who is cleaning his blade. The knight looks worried and somewhat ashamed. As he opens his mouth to speak and yet fails to produce words, you speak.
“That was Ia, wasn’t it. Your main groupie.”
“… Indeed. I asked her to enmesh herself with your soul temporarily to protect you.”
“She didn’t do much, but she did do enough. Thank you, Julius. I guess I’ll stick around for a while longer.”
Something cold and damp touches your cheek. You are startled until you feel Patrasche’s breath on your face. You lift your tired arm to pat her neck.
“Everything is fine, girl.”
Wilhelm sheathes his sword and looks at you with his brow slightly furrowed.
“You can see the invisible arms.”
“Yeah, don’t know how. Might relate to a blessing I was given. Nevermind that, I figured out something important about these superpowered cultists.”
“She was a Finger, was she not?”
“Yes, but more importantly she was Petelgeuse. Or who we know as Petelgeuse, that same consciousness. And due to his or her or whatever words, it’s obvious that killing that other Petelgeuse back at that clearing transferred his consciousness to this other body. He likely cannot reside in more than one body at a time. These Fingers must be vessels prepared somehow, ready to be filled by his consciousness. Safeguard measures.”
A shiver runs through your body as you remember that this version of Petelgeuse had called you a suitable vessel. It’s impossible, right? You don’t see how it could come to a point in which your own consciousness would be thrown out of your body, so the madman could control you from inside like a puppet.
Your gaze casually lands on Ferris’ concerned one.
“Guys, leave Subaru some space until he can stand up by himself again.”
Some minutes later, with only Wilhelm standing guard next to the healer, you feel able to return to work, and Ferris certifies so.
“I still feel bruised all over”, you say, stretching your arms.
“You’ll need to rest as soon as you can”, Ferris says. “So will I, for that matter.”
When you return to the clearing, someone has arranged the corpses of the fallen in a row. They are covered by sheets except for the feet that stick out, in the case of those whose legs weren’t torn off. You suddenly feel ill, and your throat closes.
Wilhelm seems to have noticed, because he stands next to you and stares as if he knows exactly what you are thinking.
“They gave their lives so we could win. It’s our responsibility to push forward and succeed.”
“I’m not as strong as you are, Wilhelm.”
“And I pray you never will. Ricardo is busy. I’ll gather our team so we can figure out how to adapt to this new information.”
Ricardo is crouched next to one of the sheet-covered corpses. He has put a hand on the corpse’s chest, and the wolf man looks down like deep in thought. His huge mouth isn’t smiling nor denotes any feeling, which disturbs you after you have associated this huge guy with a boisterous confidence.
You approach him from the side, and he looks up at you without moving his head.
“I’m sorry they got killed, Ricardo”, you say with a hollow voice.
“But it really isn’t. You all came to fight because I made the move. Otherwise they would still be happily alive somewhere else.”
“General, I hate to lose brothers and sisters, but they fought to make the world a bit better. Their spirits go in peace.”
You don’t know how to reply to that, and your throat is closed anyway. You nod and wander away.
After the few injured mercenaries sported bandages, given that Ferris didn’t have enough time to heal them entirely, all the survivors gathered near the border of the forest to talk strategy. Wilhelm first explained Petelgeuse’s ability to jump from body to body whenever he dies, which caused confusion amongst the mercenaries. Clearly they had never dealt with any similar enemy.
“We can only suppose that Petelgeuse remains alive,” Wilhelm continues, “but now in charge of another unit. It might be that some unit remains in our half of the forest, or maybe they camped in the half that the duchess is covering. Petelgeuse already knows we are here and how we have dispatched the fallen units, so he will likely attempt to regroup with the remaining units and begin his assault. I suggest we leave the forest and guard the village as well as speed up the villagers’ evacuation.”
Ricardo twists his head to crack his neck.
“I want to kill whatever number of cultists remains in this forest. Even if we take care of the crazy guy, I don’t want any of them to escape. General, let me take a few of my people to hit them hard while we are this close.”
They keep asking for your input or even your permission, when you feel as if a steamroller just ran over you.
“Both of your ideas sound good. I suppose we can split.”
“Mimi, do you have any fire left in you this morning?”
Mimi has been moping around since she emptied her stomach, mostly hiding behind her distraught brother. Those sad eyes don’t suit her, and along with the dried blood and vomit around her mouth, she looks as if she might collapse at any moment. However, she nods.
“I think some explosions will do Mimi some good…”, she says with a pitiful voice.
“Crusch doesn’t have a clue about any of this”, you state, having just realized it, because you had integrated that the enemies she would face wouldn’t present her any danger. “She doesn’t know about the number of Fingers, and she certainly won’t guess that Petelgeuse can reappear after he’s been murdered. Let’s regroup with them as soon as possible.”
As a minor observation, two of my favorite little moments in this part are due to the AI making up in the previous part that Mimi gobbled down parts of Petelgeuse. I never thought of that, but it contributes to rounding her as a character, along with the great moment of the protagonist causing her to vomit.