Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 46)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry, Emilia kissed the protagonist without his consent, and he went on to threaten a bunch of people with murder.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

Most of the people who matter in Sanctuary have gathered in the clearing right in front of the ancient witches’ tomb. Ryuzu repeated a few times that they consider each attempt to pass the trials a ceremony, so they brought some torches to line the path to the stone steps. The wavering light of the fire, under the chilly breeze, isn’t enough to light up the enormous entrance on the raised platform, and the combination of moonlight and starlight doesn’t make that stone mouth any less black.
You are standing next to Emilia at the base of the worn steps. Garfiel and his conspicuously young grandma are hanging out on one side of the path to the tomb’s entrance, and Ram and Otto on the opposite. Now it depends on when Emilia will decide to finally ascend the stone steps and venture into the cold darkness of a tomb that hosts the spirits of the worst witches to ever exist.
You want to put your hands on Emilia’s shoulders, and even hug her to make her feel better, but you realize that the presence of Roswaal’s dog, Ram, as well as Otto, who wants a piece of the half-elf, and Garfiel, who might at least mock you for displaying tenderness, make you contain yourself. This lovely girl who can shoot ice shards has already declared her love to you, and her sweet tongue caressed yours. You want nothing but the best for her.
Emilia turns to Garfiel, who was examining his long nails.
“Garfiel, don’t I need a torch to walk into the tomb?”
“Nah, the corridor will light up green. Just keep walkin’ straight and ya’ll hit the door of the chamber of trials. Could do it with yer eyes closed. The chamber is always lighted at night too, some magical blue glow or somethin’. Detail from that Echidna I reckon.”
Emilia turns her attention towards Ryuzu, who is standing there in her appropriately comfortable coat up to her mouth, and holding her staff-like cane.
“Have I forgotten anything, miss Ryuzu? Can I go in?”
“Yes, yes. You’re all set, dear. Good luck.”
Emilia tries to smile, but she’s too nervous even to pretend. She turns to you. You nod while corresponding her gaze with a calm one, although you are distraught that you won’t be able to help her inside of whatever kind of dream a four hundred year old witch has set up for the contestants.
“The traps won’t trigger for you, you know that already”, you say quietly. “You can do anything you set your mind to, Emilia. Quit stalling.”
She swallows, then nods.
She begins to walk up the stone stairs. Otto cheers her loudly, but he stops when Ram, standing close, shoots him a look of annoyance. Before Emilia ventures into the blackness of the enormous entrance, she looks back at all of you. You hold your hand up and she imitates you, but she looks somewhat gloomy. A few seconds after she enters the tomb, when your heart was beating louder, a bright, emerald-like glow escapes from the tomb’s entrance as if someone had turned on the lights.
“She did it!”, Otto says, “She solved it! Miss Emilia is the smartest and prettiest girl in the whole world!”
“Haah!? Ya get louder and dumber the more excited, small-timer”, Garfiel says, more amused than annoyed. “The green light is the tomb’s way of sayin’ that the hot princess is qualified, that’s all. She hasn’t had time to reach the chamber even!”
“You can relax for now”, Ryuzu says. “We already knew that the tomb wouldn’t reject her as violently as it did lord Roswaal, but now that we have the definitive confirmation, we can only wait for lady Emilia to finish, regardless of whether she passes the trials or not.”
You nod, and sit down on a stone step. It’s been a long day. You have wanted to sleep for a couple of hours. However, even if Emilia fails, you’ll go straight to meet with the clown. You can’t imagine how that conversation is going to play out. You haven’t seen him in so long that the lord must have turned into a sort of absent god for your deranged mind. You need to clear your thoughts.
A few minutes later, while Ram is speaking with Ryuzu far enough that you can’t hear their conversation, you notice that Garfiel, sitting on the grass but leaning against the lowest stone step, is stealing glances at the senior servant’s slender legs. Under the skirt of her outfit, her white stockings hug her flesh in a very appetizing way. Ram, as well as your girlfriend, have longer legs than their torso, which doesn’t hurt when them legs look so good. No, stop looking, you think. That’s your sister-in-law. Besides, you only need to remember Ram’s personality for her body to lose most of its sex-appeal.
You approach Garfiel from the side knowing that it will startle him, as concentrated as he is imagining himself fondling Ram. When you sit on the stone step that he’s leaning against, he turns his head towards you as if you were about to knife him, but he finds you smiling mischievously. Garfiel shifts his weight and shakes his head.
“Damn it, evil eyes! Sneakier than Yagomir Hurui at the siege of Turmedaf fortress! The hell ya want now!?”
“Be quieter. You are going to distract our senior servant, and she’ll stop offering that tasty view.”
“Hah! I’d say that’s a full time job for our eyes! But seriously, wut do ya want?”
“Just that. What, don’t you want to think and talk about Ram?”
After he responds so quickly without any hesitation, you know that you must be onto something.
“Is that so? Weren’t you licking those thighs of hers in your mind? She’s a pretty, fiery one, our senior servant.”
“Shut it! Damn half-pint. That Ram must be a master when it comes ta cookin’ and servin’. That’s it. And probably the sexiest one in the whole damn world, but her personality sucks!”
“Just your type, though.”
You smile, because Garfiel’s cheeks blush a bit. He then looks away from you as he crosses his arms.
“Ya schemin’ fool. Same as yer lord ain’t ya? Makin’ people feel weird all the time. So what if I like that Ram? Just says I got good taste.”
“Maybe you should tell her then. I mean, she seems so distant. Maybe she just needs a little attention.”
Garfiel’s expression darkens as he turns away from you. He clenches his fists and grits his teeth.
“She’s a servant fer a lord! Look at that pretty outfit. She’s livin’ the royal lifestyle while we’re stuck usin’ the shit leftovers! Are ya here justa make me feel bad, damn half-pint?”
“No harm in dreaming, though”, you say, barely containing yourself from chuckling. “Ram lying next to you on the grass, you stroking that soft pink hair, feeling her fit servant body against you, and as you come closer to her pretty mouth, she whispers the usual sweet nothings. ‘Consider yourself the luckiest man in the world because I agreed to lie next to you for a moment’. ‘You should clean your face more often, your pores are open’. ‘Your mouth smells like rotten meat. Do you ever brush your teeth?’ ‘You should do more exercise. Your body is all flabby’. ‘You call that a dick? I’d have more fun with the handle of a duster’. Thinking about it makes my blood run real hot.”
You stay silent as Garfiel makes a sour face. His expression then turns to one of gloominess.
“Ya damn lightweights must’ve so much fun out there with all them pretty gals, huh? Two girls come in from the world outside and they’re the hottest ever. Them Twelve Brides of Yseld makin’ everyone envious. Ya laugh at us because we must look like barn animals to ya damn noble-born, or noble-born look-alikes.”
You rest your face on your palm.
“You think too low of yourself, Garfiel. You are the strongest man alive. You just have to work on your approach. But I assure you that both Ram and Emilia are exceptions. If most girls out there were as hot as these two, we wouldn’t get anything done. Most men would lack enough blood in their brains. Truth is, the clown we have for a lord is a shady bastard, but he knows how to choose his servants. All of them gorgeous and dangerous.”
“Huh, not just ladies, but dangerous men as well”, Garfiel mutters. “Yer as weird and troublesome as they come.”
“You didn’t let me finish my point, though. Frederica is one of Roswaal’s chosen servants as well. I don’t know when was the last time you saw her, but man, she’s grown into one sexy lioness. When she offered me to wrestle for a bit, I almost fainted. Just imagining that blonde vixen pinning me down, pressing her chest against me… Shit, I think I’m getting hard. Don’t look.”
“… Ya know, yer breakin’ my damn brain. Things that come out of yer mouth, talkin’ about ‘Rica like that. If ya don’t want ta die, I don’t know what yer doin’.”
“What? I thought you didn’t care about that broad. Or did you pretend not to care but you actually hope Frederica was here squeezing you tight? Maybe I should return to the mansion and tell her to come over. I’ll reveal how much her bro misses her.”
Garfiel’s nostrils widen, and he snarls at you.
“Go eat a dick or something, will ya? Damn half-pint, things ya do make no sense! Craziest fool I ever met.”
You sigh.
“You know, when you called Roswaal a clown bastard, I thought that you were actually a cool guy. You can tell how much of a shady son of a bitch that lord of mine is.”
“Yer lord’s a fuckin’ creep, just like ya.”
“Yeah, well. We’re both stuck with him. You know, that damn bastard understood that a bad bunch of cultists were working on killing our hot princess, but Roswaal came to your hick town instead of staying home to figure out how to defend our lives. I had to break my back, rent a couple of armies and fight a real creep with multiple invisible arms. Plenty of our villagers were killed while our lord fucked around in your Sanctuary, mainly it seems because you didn’t let him leave.”
“Yeah? An’ what if I didn’t? Ya know, yer a moron fer ‘ssociatin’ with that clown in the first place. Ain’t that the truth? It is, I reckon. Clown’s as bad as they come, I can smell it.”
“As I said, I’m stuck with him.”
“More fool ya. I suggest ya off him an’ take his place, or leave.”
“Leave? Where would I go?”
“Dunno, about as far away as ya can, seems.”
“And leave Emilia, Ram, and all these people who matter? What kind of guy are you, Garfiel, to suggest such a thing? Maybe you are the one who betrayed Frederica, if you don’t understand something that simple.”
He holds his breath, but then shakes his head as if getting angry would play into your hands.
“Ain’t sayin’ I ain’t got regrets of my own, but whut I’m sayin’ is yer on a whole ‘nother level of regret. I’m just glad I ain’t in yer shoes. Sanctuary’s a small world, but it’s just how some like it. Big world out there. Too big, I reckon.”
You sigh and continue staring at the stars. You had expected Garfiel to sock you a couple of times during your conversation, but even after he didn’t, you were sure that he would have stood up and left, probably to return to his so called gran. However, he stays leaning against the rock step, not even bothering anymore to look over his shoulder in case you are about to stab him or whatever crazy shit he was imagining you were going to do. This damn idiot has spent his whole life in this dreary place. If there’s something beyond pity, it must be what you are feeling now.
Maybe an hour later the green glow shuts off. Ryuzu walks closer to the line of torches, and all of you imitate her. This must be the point in which the contestant appears at the mouth of the tomb, looking dejected probably, because nobody ever passed the trials. But a couple of minutes later, when Emilia should have been able to walk the distance from the chamber to the exit, nobody has showed up, nor can you hear anyone inside.
“This isn’t good, is it?”, Otto says, nervous. “I mean, I don’t know much about this ceremony or what the trials entail, but my gut tells me this isn’t right!”
“… It isn’t. Whether lady Emilia has passed the trial or not, she should have come out”, Ryuzu, despite her grandmother-like calmness, sounds uncertain. “There isn’t any point in lingering inside. But the trials are known to be emotionally taxing. Maybe we should give her a few more minutes.”
But when five more minutes pass with no sign of her, Ryuzu stares at Garfiel as if urging him to act. The punk stiffens, and looks as if she just ordered him to push his face into a spike.
“Ya kiddin’ me, old hag!? I ain’t gonna run in there! I ain’t gonna step into that place ever again!”
You take a deep breath.
“Well then. Cover me, Otto. I’m going in.”
Otto stutters as you walk by him.
“What are you talking about, Mr. Natsuki!? Cover you with what!? I know you managed to walk into that scary place full of traps once, but you don’t know if it’s going to work again! Maybe the spirit of that Echidna witch got confused the first time!”
“I guess I’m about to find out.”
Someone grabs your arm, which stops you. You had expected it to be Garfiel, because he didn’t want you to ruin the sanctity of the tomb or something, but you find yourself staring at Ram’s determined expression. She narrows her eyes.
“Mr. Suwen is right. You might walk a few steps into the tomb only for the traps to rip you apart. You don’t know what you are doing.”
You shrug and shoot her a look that you hope asks very clearly, ‘what do you care?’.
“In that case, Ram, I hope you stand over my mangled corpse, point at it and laugh.”
Ram is so stunned that despite her frown and the strength of her grasp, she lets you go when you yank your arm from her. You walk past, and she calls out to you.
“You better not die, Barusu. I don’t want to explain to lord Roswaal that I wasn’t able to protect you.”
You wave at her without looking back. You attempt to run up the stone steps only for your quickened breath to explain to you in no uncertain terms that you haven’t trained for this type of activity.
As soon as you find yourself shrouded by the darkness of the entrance, you extend your arms forward to run as far as possible but avoiding hitting your head on the door of the antechamber you are heading towards. A few meters in, the whole passageway lights up with the emerald-like glow that welcomed Emilia, that makes the stone passage look like a jungle exhibit in a zoo. You realize you have stopped in your path, and because you are holding your breath, you hear someone outside, maybe Otto given how loud he’s speaking, saying, ‘it recognized him as qualified’. You stop holding your hands in front of you, because the closed door to the antechamber waits a few dozen meters in front of you, and a slit of water-blue light escapes from under the closed stone door. You figure that this Echidna witch, who apparently set up these trials, had the means to create an automatic door that closes behind the contestant once he or she enters the antechamber. No wonder there’s so little technology in this world, in comparison with your previous home.
You sprint to the antechamber’s door and push it open. Emilia is lying on the flat stones, close to the center of the chamber, and she’s lying as if she suddenly fainted, barely avoided to faceplant, and as soon as she touched the flat stones she fell asleep. Her facial features are twitching like she’s suffering through a nightmare.
You were walking up to her to shake her, but someone speaks in your head. It’s your own voice, saying words you hadn’t thought.
“Behold the ungraspable past.”
You are overwhelmed with a sudden exhaustion that wins against your attempts to keep your eyes open. Your legs wobble, then fail to hold your weight. You find yourself falling to the flat stones, and only manage to break your fall with your forearms. A darkness envelops you.

Someone pulls your sheets, and both the sudden movement as well as the loss of your bed’s warmth wake you up. Then you feel two powerful legs tangling yours in a wrestling hold, and the pain of the twisted tendons and muscles in your legs makes you want to groan and tap out.
Dad stares down at you as he smirks, holding you immobile seemingly without effort.
“Time to wake up!”
“You should respect clock alarms!”, you shout with a raspy voice. “They do their job well enough! I don’t need this pain in my lower half to start a whole new day!”
“Huh. Yeah, right. You’re just lazy!”
“How? I’m already awake, aren’t I?”
He chuckles as he releases his hold on your legs. You fling your limbs to a more comfortable position. You glance at the window: must be around seven in the morning. They usually just left you alone until you chose to walk down to the kitchen.
Dad stands near your bed while holding his hands on his waist. As usual at this time of the morning, he’s naked from the waist up, showing off the athletic torso of someone who was already a star athlete in high school.
“C’mon, son! Your mother has prepared your breakfast already. It’s a whole new day full of opportunities!”
You rub your eyes and drag yourself to the edge of the bed. You don’t even want to rest your feet on the ground. You just want to lie down again, and for the mercy of another series of dreams to save you from starting yet again. But these people won’t let you, as usual.
“You should put on a shirt when you enter people’s bedrooms, dad! How many times do I need to tell you? Do you want to put weird, uncomfortable ideas in my head?”
Dad laughs, taking you as seriously as he’s always done. You are his little boy, and he is the omnipotent man who can do no wrong. Without needing to repeat that your breakfast is ready, he moonwalks out of your room. You hear him walking down fast the steps to the first floor.
You sigh, then rest your forearms on your thighs. Another day, huh? Gotta struggle through another twenty four hours of this life, of people expecting things from you, of a whole world waiting outside when you can barely step out of your parents’ front door without your chest tightening and your lungs making it harder for you to breathe. It would have been far better to remain unconscious, to have slept for some hours more. For days. For your entire life.
You walk down the steps towards the kitchen. Before you turn the corner you know you are going to find your dad and your mom sitting at the table, and your breakfast waiting in front of your seat. You take a deep breath. As usual, you’ll need to keep your head down. You can’t look at either of them in the face. You are not worthy of doing so, and you don’t want to see how they regard you, whether it is with pity or with disappointment. You don’t want to face any human being.
As you shuffle to your seat you realize that a mountain of peas awaits you instead of rice and fermented soybeans. The day just keeps getting worse. You sit down.
“I told you I can’t stand peas, mom. Hell, dad’s gotten his usual rice! What’s the deal?”
Mom is looking down at her bowl, idly stirring the rice with her spoon.
“Peas are good for you, a good source of nutrients”, she says matter-of-factly. “They prevent diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.”
“Am I not a bit too young to worry about any of those diseases!? At the moment it’s far worse that my stomach churns at the thought of filling it with these nasty green pellets of vegetable crap.”
“Excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate and potassium, Subaru”, mom adds. “Part of a balanced diet. Will give you energy.”
“It’s because he’s been playing too much, isn’t it?”, dad interjects. “All that running around and falling and whatnot. He needs more energy!”
You feel yourself going red as you hear your dad chuckling beside you.
“Yeah, I need a whole lot of energy to spend another day in my room reading manga and playing videogames”, you say with a somber voice.
Mom looks at you and frowns with disapproval. You only manage to hold her gaze for a moment, before you look down again. You feel unworthy of looking at anyone in the face, of occupying any space. You are just bothering everybody, making them question why you would be there to begin with.
“You should expend the extra energy going to school, then”, mom says calmly. “Otherwise you’ll go to bed in the middle of the night, as usual.”
“I’m not a kid anymore, I don’t need to go to school.”
You regret your words as soon as they come out of your mouth.
“You are too much of a grown up for high school, but not to work. Something isn’t right there, is it?”, mom asks. “A whole life of work will await you after these three years of high school, dear.”
You feel the usual burn in your chest. You want to grumble, you want to argue, you want to yell at them to leave you the fuck alone. Did I ask for any of this?, you think. I was so happy not being alive before you dragged me into this world. No, I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel anything, I didn’t exist. It was so great. Now I’m thrown into this slavery in which I need to attend classes full of people who will look at me like I’m a complete idiot, a crazy person, someone to look away from because I keep embarrassing and annoying everybody. It’s torture. Is this truly what life ought to be? And then what, find a job in some office in which people will behave like in school, but just with older bodies. More responsibilities that I can’t deal with, more stress, more cliques that will never accept me, just so I can pay for a tiny apartment that will house my tired bones when I come back from work at night. This is the life you both condemned me to, mom and dad. Thank you so much.
You don’t look up at either of them again. You gobble down the disgusting peas trying to avoid tasting them, and once you finish enough of the bowl so mom won’t complain, you drink your tea in one gulp. You stand up.
“I’m going to my room”, you say with a hollow voice.
As you walk away from the kitchen towards the stairs, you can feel mom and dad’s gazes burning your back. Although they know that you won’t go to school today either, you don’t know if they’ll attempt to convince you or drag you somehow. You’ll need to be on guard, but it’s not like you can even avoid them entering your bedroom after they took the bolt out. Thinking you could hurt yourself, they said. That you were looking way too gloomy.
When you reach your bedroom and close the door behind your back, you take a deep breath and feel your anxiety lessening, although you know it won’t go away entirely. Never does. You sit on the edge of your bed and rub your eyes.
Hurt yourself, they said. And if you did, so what? It’s your life, they don’t own it. And you are a coward for not hurting yourself further. Those were cries for help. They shouldn’t have even had the chance to stop you, and if you were serious you would have done so. You should have ventured into that wide world out there, found some tall cliff and jumped headfirst. Just the thought of it is exhilarating. The moment that approaching ground crushed your brains, all this pain would cease. No more anxiety, no more dreading the future, no more living as if you are at the mouth of a long, darkened corridor that only leads to more blackness and loneliness and pain. Who would want any of it? Why should I want to struggle through it? There’s nothing out there waiting for me, nobody who would care. They all laugh at me, and I can’t understand them at all. I try to make them like me, but they just turn their backs. It wasn’t meant to be from the beginning. I’m just defective. I wasn’t built right. And it’s those two idiots’ fault. If they hadn’t thought, ‘hey, let’s bring an innocent soul into this horrible world so he can suffer through decades of this shit’, I wouldn’t have to feel this pain rotting me inside.
You end up as always at this hour: sitting on the floor while leaning against your bed and looking up at the clock that hangs on the opposite wall. One of those classical round clocks, cheap ones made in China. You are supposed to take a shower, dress yourself, grab your backpack and leave for school. The hands of the clock move from seven and a half forwards, second by second, minute by minute, as they approach eight, the moment you need to be in class. Your heart beats so loud it squeezes your throat. You feel light-headed, and the edges of your vision get filled with noise as if not enough blood is reaching your brain. You are looking at yourself from above. This isn’t your body anymore. You aren’t here, you are somewhere without anxiety, without pain, without this neverending dread. You feel dead, because you are supposed to be dead. This isn’t real, none of this is real.
Today wasn’t going to be it. Despite the piercing pain in your heart, you know you won’t find the strength. And it’s so hard to find the strength for something you have no wish to do. Why expose yourself voluntarily to shame, to ridicule, to anxiety? I can just stay here, can’t I? Is it so bad to spend your days in your bedroom, where nobody can bother you? There’s always more manga to read, and those wonderful stories will take you away from this miserable life. While they last, they will make you feel that things could be better if you were someone else, if you hadn’t been born to fail.
The hands on the clock move until you only have ten minutes to grab your shit and run like a madman to school. C’mon, Subaru. You can make it. Just dress yourself with some pants and a shirt, put on your shoes, grab your backback and run like hell. You just have to sit in your assigned seat in class. Maybe they won’t ask you questions. You don’t even have to look at the people that surround you. If they talk to you, you can ignore them. Just run there. It should get easier, mom says. Just pretend to be normal, and it will eventually become second nature. Reject all those defective parts of yourself that make you different from everyone around you. Whenever those impulses reach your brain, yell at them, push them down, lock them up in the abyss of yourself like the monsters that they are. But you are filled with those impulses, you can’t keep up. It’s a constant struggle. It’s so exhausting. Everything you feel is wrong. You should be like those people around you. You should be normal.
The hands of the clock move past eight. It’s too late. You can’t come late in your first day back, that would be ridiculous! You can’t go to school today either. It can’t be helped.
You let yourself fall to the carpeted floor and lay there. Your heart rate is lowering. Your lungs want to hold the air. You can rest for a bit. A few minutes later you’ll put on your earbuds, lie in bed and listen to music for a good while. You won’t have to think about your life, just feel that beautiful music made by people who have talent.
But they don’t want to leave you alone. It must be around nine and a half when you hear someone’s muffled voice over the music pouring into your ears. You lift your forearm from your eyes and look towards the door. Dad is standing there, and his mouth is moving. At least he’s put on a shirt.
You take a deep breath and clench your teeth, and when you feel that you will be able to speak without shouting, you yank the earbuds out.
“The hell you want, dad?”
He frowns at you.
“What did you say?”
“I said what the hell do you want, dad?”
“Shouldn’t it be something like, ‘did you want something from me, dear dad’? You don’t need to sound like a punk, do you?”
“Why are you saying that like it’s a bad thing? I’d think you, of all people, wouldn’t want me to start sounding like some stuck up rich kid.”
He sighs at that remark, but then motions for you to follow him.
“C’mon, get up, get dressed. We are going out for a walk.”
Your nostrils widen. Why don’t they leave you alone? Does everyone need to make your life harder, make everything more painful? Just leave me the fuck alone! Is it so hard, truly? Can’t you just forget that I exist?
“I don’t want to go out anywhere, dad”, you say with a thin voice.
“Yeah, some news. I’m not asking, Subaru. Get up. We’ll get some fresh air, talk for a bit.”
You obey, of course. It’s his house, and you know that if you refuse they’ll just keep giving you shit. You just need to give up a bit so they end up thinking they can’t possibly bother again you until some time has passed.
A few minutes later you are walking around the neighborhood. Dad is guiding you somewhere, and although you want to walk a few steps behind him, he makes a point of waiting until you both end up walking side by side. You walk through the path that runs along the riverbank, and at this hour you only come across people on their bikes, or older people walking their dogs. People your age are wasting their youth in school.
Quite a few people recognize your dad and greet him cheerfully. Maybe they know him from when he used to play sports, or from his job as a salesman. You don’t care who these people are, you just try to stand far enough from your dad that they aren’t so inclined to mention you or bring up your presence. Just ignore me, you think. Pretend I’m invisible.
One of the people that stop dad doesn’t get the hint. It’s an older guy in his late fifties, balding and with a carefree smile pasted on his face.
“Is this your son, Kenichi?”, he asks to your dad while pointing at you. “He’s grown so much, hasn’t he? I remember him from when he was a kid, running around with his friends, causing all kinds of mischief.”
“Yeah, that’s our Subaru. Always the joker.”
The guy keeps looking at you even though you are avoiding his gaze. Get the hint, old man!
“Ah, but at this hour, shouldn’t you be at school?”, the guy asks. “High school at this age, right?”
Dad scratches the back of his head, although he’s smiling.
“He’s at that age, that’s right, at which he doesn’t feel like going to school. We are working on that.”
“I’m going to be a big shot and not need to go through that hassle”, you attempt to reply camly, but it comes out whiny.
“Oh, of course! You have your dad’s genes, so you’ll probably win some competitions. Are you playing at any of the local teams?”
Although you want nothing more than to yell at the old guy to leave you the fuck alone, you stare at him.
“No, it seems that dad’s genes were wasted on me. I don’t have any talent, like at all. I’m completely worthless.”
The old guy’s face falls, but in a couple of seconds he just nods and smiles amicably as if you are bothering him for failing to respond in the way he had expected you to.
“Ah, you are joking. You are Kenichi’s son after all.”
You snort, and although you intended to seem defiant, you end up hanging your head low, shoving your hands on your pockets and walking further in the direction you were following before this old man bothered you. You hear your dad excusing you and then bidding the guy farewell.
You both end up in a large public park. Dad tells you to sit on a bench. The closest person is a housewife-looking woman walking her dog almost a hundred meters away. Dad comes with a couple of sodas, and after he sits down next to you, at least you enjoy the drink’s taste in peace for a minute or so, until dad brings himself to start bothering you.
“I wanted to have a serious conversation with you away from your mom. You know, talking man to man, or man to sort of man.”
“Very funny, dad”, you answer, annoyed. “Talk about what?”
“I know things have been stressful for you lately. So, you don’t have to say anything, but I’m just going to say a few things. I’m not telling you this because I’m your father, but as your friend.”
“Ah, we are doing the whole thing of you pretending to be my buddy instead of someone I have to obey because you produced my existence, and I live under your roof?”
Dad laughs.
“Well, you can see it that way if it pleases you.” He clears his throat and continues. “But listen, you know that you are stuck. I can’t push you to attend all of your classes all the time, because I would be a huge hypocrite. I used to ditch some classes to go have fun or train, or go after some girls other than your mom. Because I didn’t know your mom then, that is.”
“I don’t want to hear about you pursuing girls, dad! That’s horrifying.”
Dad puts on a silly grin.
“Well, those girls didn’t find it horrifying. I used to have so much action back in the day. You don’t want to go through life without having scored with high school girls!”
“I’m not listening.”
Dad takes a deep breath, and he suddenly sounds serious.
“Anyway, what I’m saying is that there comes a time in everyone’s life where they just need to choose a path for themselves. You are at that crossroad right now. But you don’t want to choose. Staying at home and refusing to even leave the house most of the days isn’t a choice. It’s refusing to face reality.”
“I’m facing reality. I know I’m talentless and weak, and annoying-“
“Stop right there.” Dad cuts you off. “You aren’t either of those things. You are a smart kid, you always were. You just gotta find out what you are good at. It doesn’t need to be what other people want you to do.”
You take a few seconds until you can loosen your throat.
“Maybe I don’t want to do anything anymore, dad. What’s the point?”
He looks at you with worry, even though he tries to smile as if there’s no problem.
“The point is to meet interesting people, to have great experiences, to find some great girl and romance the heck out of her. That’s the good stuff, isn’t it? That’s the whole point of all of this.”
“You don’t have a clue, dad.”
“This is just a bump on the road, pal. Once you start going to school again, you’ll get used to it. You don’t have to like it. I wouldn’t ask that. It’s society pushing these things on us. But getting through high school is what allows you to go to college, to find a good job-“
“And to wake up at six in the morning so I can work at some pointless nonsense and then return home, to the tiny apartment I should call a home, when it’s already dark outside? And romance a girl, huh? Let me tell you, dad, I don’t-…”
An image flashes in front of your eyes, blurrying and whitening the rest of the world. A beautiful girl maybe around eighteen or nineteen years old, with light blue hair, piercing blue eyes and a beautiful smile that lights up your heart. She’s wearing a black and white servant outfit that leaves her slender arms bare, as well as show a generous amount of cleavage. You can feel how much this girl loves you, and that you have loved her as well. No, you still do. More than anyone else in the entire world. You want to be there for her, embrace her, make her happy, spend the rest of your life caring for her, and one day marry her and have lots of children that you both will love so much. But you have never seen her before.
You tremble from head to toe. You hunch over and hide your face in your hands. This isn’t right. This world isn’t right.
“Subaru, what’s wrong?”, dad asks, worried, and he puts his hand on your shoulder. “You went pale all of a sudden.”
The image has already disappeared, but you can’t deny to yourself having seen it. You know her. You know that girl, that one person who loves you more than anything else. Where do you know her from? What’s her name?
You look at your dad’s face as if he could answer your questions. He is frowning with concern and his lips are moving, but you can’t hear him. A sweet female voice full of love sounds on your head instead.
“To be honest, I’m just happy we can be like this, just the two of us.”
Rem. That’s her name, you think. You exist out there. In another world. The world that ended up becoming my home.
You look around the park, at the couple of people walking their dogs. You hear the nearby cars, as well as a traffic light’s sound urging people to cross. Somewhere, someone is laughing. You turn towards your dad. He’s there, yet he isn’t. Your real parents must have seen your last moments in some security camera. There must have been some pointing at that spot of the street in front of the convenience store, where you suddenly popped out of existence. The police must have searched for you, even though they couldn’t have found you anywhere in the world. Your parents must have looked and looked for you. Maybe they are doing so still. You could hardly be any further away.
“Subaru, what are you thinking?”, dad asks cautiously.
You swallow, then you rest your forearms on your thighs.
“Dad… I wanted to be like you.”
He is stunned, as if he had only expected further dejection from you.
“What do you mean…?”
“Everything you did, it seemed as if it came easily. You were great at sports, everyone loved you, could get girls easily… You were living the life, weren’t you? You got married, you bought a nice two-story house, and had a solid job.”
Dad’s eyes cast downward as he starts playing with his wedding ring.
“I had a really happy childhood”, you admitted. “Even though I was a bit of a daydreamer, and didn’t keep the best of friends… I had something to look forward to. That’s what kept pushing me through the days. But as I got into middle school, when I had to push myself, I realized that I couldn’t cut it. I was barely average at sports, and in some sports even below average. Couldn’t run fast. Worse yet, people around me thought I was weird. The stuff that came out of my mouth… It came naturally. It was just the way I am. But it wasn’t normal, that’s what I kept hearing. I realized that I could find friends some other way. I didn’t have any talents, but I could make them laugh. I could bring them amazing adventures. So I kept pushing myself more and more. That one time that I left in the middle of the night so we could bike through town. That other time we broke into the school’s pool. Even stealing. You never found that one out, but plenty of the mangas and stuff I shared with my pals I never paid for. And every time, the stunt had to be bigger, wilder. One day I realized that some of the people I considered my friends weren’t finding it funny anymore. Then some others didn’t either. One day I found myself having to go out into the world, struggle through another day, and when I looked back I was alone. From then on, it never changed. The first days of high school were such an unmitigated disaster. I tried to interact with people the only way I knew how, but I guess I came off as a complete weirdo. The way they looked at me… I heard some girls calling me a creep. And one day I looked up from my desk only to realize that everybody had changed seats to be away from me. Then I understood that I was a pest. I would keep bothering or even hurting whoever I touched. I had tried, but I wasn’t made for it. I didn’t have anything to do in this life. It was a mistake, my whole being alive shouldn’t have happened.”
Dad is looking at the ground, but after a few seconds he stands up and stares at you with an intense expression. He raises one leg as if stretching.
“Dad headbutt!”
He suddenly lowers his leg to knock you on the head with the heel. You fall from the bench. As you try to stand up, you rub the sudden pain in your scalp.
“That’s not even a headbutt! At least learn the proper names of your moves!”
Dad is smiling as if he’s made a breakthrough.
“You were acting out because you couldn’t be as awesome as your dad? You idiot! You don’t have to be like anyone else, you just gotta be you. Was grandpa any good at sports? Do you think that it’s passed down like a family legacy? I just found out I was good at it and, more importantly, I liked it! You just gotta find something you are good at and you enjoy, no matter what it is. And those assholes at school, well, you were a bit of a weirdo, and that’s alright. Once you come back and don’t feel like acting out, you’ll find people who will like you for who you are. And if nobody does, it doesn’t matter. High school will end and you’ll move on to bigger adventures.”
You look at your hand in case there’s blood on it.
“Damn, I’m going to get a headache. Don’t worry, dad, I already found that out by myself. You come a bit too late.”
As you stand there and look at your dad, your throat closes up. He’s truly here, in this park. All of your senses tell you this is real, and yet it’s a temporary world that will cease. You used to have so much trouble even staring at him. You didn’t feel like you deserved to hold anyone’s gaze.
“You don’t have to worry about me. I can go to school, no problem. I’ll return as soon as possible.”
“Even today? You’ll have classes for a few more hours.”
“Sure. I’ll go home and get my backpack.”
Dad looks both happy and stunned, as if he can’t believe the sudden change he sees in you, and yet can’t doubt your sincerity.
“That’s great. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough. And believe me, once high school passes, you’ll feel like a fool for worrying so much about the stuff that went on there, even though any problem felt like the end of the world.”
You give him the thumbs up.
“Besides, I have already done all that stuff about girls and friends. I met some of the coolest people in any world, and most importantly I found the love of my life. She’s gorgeous, sweet, kind, she would let a flying whale eat her to save me, and she loves crushing people’s heads with a customized flail! I would love to introduce her to you both. She’s feeling a bit under the weather at the moment, but I’ll get that sorted out too!”
Dad is confused for a moment, but he pumps his fist and smiles triumphantly.
“She sounds fierce! Are you serious with this girl?”
“Oh yeah, I’ll marry her, have an irresponsible amount of children and everything.”
“Wonderful! Then I look forward to me and your mom living in your house when we get old! After all, you are our only son.”
Your throat closes up, your chest tightens, and a rush of warmth fills your head, blurrying your vision. You try to hold it by clenching your teeth, but you shiver from head to toe, and the tears fall from your eyes and your nose like from open faucets.
“I can’t… I won’t be able to do that, because I won’t see you guys ever again. I’m sorry…”
As you sob noisily and your back convulses, your dad approaches you carefully and pats you on the head.
“You are always a handful.”
A couple of minutes later you have calmed down. Dad is worried, but your genuine smile convinces him that you have left behind whatever came over you.
“I need to go run some errands”, he says. “You are getting your things and going to school then?”
“That’s right”, you say with a smile. “You don’t need to worry about that, I’m telling you. And regarding what we were speaking about, I know damn well I don’t need to be you, or anybody else. I’m Natsuki Subaru, and I’m the only one who can be me. You’d be so proud, dad. I’ll become a knight, confuse people with some magic spells, defeat some more fools, and return my love to life. I’ll be the founder of the Natsuki dynasty, which will become a legend in my new world. I am a bit sad for you, dad, getting stuck in this hick dimension. I’ve grown too large for it.”
Dad closes his eyes and grins.
“That’s a whole load of nonsense, son. I’m glad.”
With that, dad walks away for the last time.

Note from December of 2020:

Credit where credit is due, both the ‘dad headbutt’ as well as Subaru tearing up are moments from the original novel (as well as the anime adaptation), but they were too perfect not to use them in this weird, AI-fueled retelling. And man, this was one emotionally taxing scene to write.

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 45)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry we learned that some blackmailing kidnappers can be quite nice, that the shy princess is the only one who can pass some psychologically scarring trials, and that the protagonist freaks Garfiel up.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

During the meal, that had already started when you managed to find your pals, Ram told you that Roswaal had congratulated you for your enormous effort in defending the village from the Witch’s Cult, but that he wasn’t ready to meet with you until tonight, around midnight. Ram didn’t seem to know why, but you figure that she’s simply following orders. When you all finish eating and people start getting up, Emilia, concerned, tells you that she’s going to speak with someone by herself. You end up hanging out with Otto and checking out a couple of local taverns, or what passes for them in Sanctuary. Your efforts at regaining some normality by lounging in a tavern turn into a bunch of half-beast people asking you loads of questions about the outside world. Fortunately they seem curious instead of hostile, and word has gotten around that you are here to help, so you didn’t even have to pay for your drinks.
You try to avoid getting drunk, although you are a bit light-headed by the time you exit the last tavern. You both head back to what looks like the center of the village, that church-like building with the big clock which you can see often in the distance, despite the tall trees of the enclosing forest. Once you spot Otto’s carriage as well as both ground dragons, who are curled up and sleeping in a nearby, mostly open barn, you see that Emilia is leaning against the carriage as if waiting. When she sees you she looks relieved, although the underlying worry is obvious. She runs up to you.
“Subaru, can we speak? I’m sorry, Otto, but I mean to speak with him in private.”
Otto’s pleased smile, one that lights up his face whenever the beautiful half-elf is around, fades a bit. You guess the merchant dreams with being in your shoes, but then again he doesn’t actually know what’s like to be in your head. In he did, he likely wouldn’t associate with you.
“That’s alright!”, Otto says. “I hope you are doing well. You have certainly regained the color since the meeting… Anyway, I’ll go check out the church and see how the villagers are holding up!”
Once Otto leaves, Emilia gets closer to you and looks up at your eyes as if she wishes you both were sitting against that rock planter in Roswaal’s yard, when the rest of the world seemed to have disappeared.
“How are you feeling, Emilia?”, you ask softly. “I’ve been wanting to ask you ever since Ram told you about being trapped here.”
She looks towards the forest that starts behind the line of villager houses.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m well at all, but at least I’m moving on to figuring out what to do about this. Please, let’s venture further into the forest for a bit of quiet.”
You both start walking towards the dense treeline.
“Are you sure that it’s fine? Aren’t we going to come across monsters or something?”
“I’ve been walking along the treeline, and nothing’s happened. Besides, we’re in the daylight and I’m with you. I should be fine.”
You are content enough that the half-elf is making a joke. As if you could protect her at all. However, if there were monster nests around, Sanctuary would have probably ceased to exist hundreds of years ago.
“Well, if you say so.”
The two of you walk into the forest for a good five minutes. You find yourselves in a secluded part where the fallen trunks of a few long dead trees make the closest thing to a clearing here. You are surrounded by trees and silence. Not even the birds chirp. It’s like the world forgot about this place.
“This is nice change, I admit”, Emilia says with a tired voice. “As we were travelling here, the forest didn’t suggest it would contain safe, quiet places like this. And all the forests near our home are the homes of monsters and bandits.”
“One would think that Roswaal would do something about that. But then again, I guess I know better.”
You sit down on one of the fallen tree trunks while Emilia leans against it, her eyes closed and taking in the silence.
“Why do you put up with him? He’s using you.” You realize that you have spoken without realizing it. Apparently you have reached that point in your relationship with Emilia in which your brain lets your mouth verbalize some thoughts unimpeded. “Sorry, it just came out. I know that even if you didn’t like him, you need him for the royal candidacy.”
You were a little worried that your verbal jab would bother her, but instead she opens her eyes and sighs.
“Yes, I know he’s using me. And I’m using him. I prefer to interact with people with which I can just be myself, as it is the case with you. But I’d be dead without lord Roswaal’s help. The Witch’s Cult would have gotten me. For that alone I owe him my loyalty, and I guess royalty.”
You chuckle nervously. You can barely believe what you are hearing.
“Emilia, I don’t want to brag or anything, or maybe I do, but Rem and me organized the defense. We were the ones who convinced Crusch’s as well as Hoshin’s armies to rush to Roswaal’s mansion. And even if Roswaal got injured here, it still doesn’t explain why the hell he came to Sanctuary when he knew that the cult would attempt something, after he presented you at the royal summons.”
The half-elf smiles gratefully at you.
“I meant beyond what you have done. Believe me, I have integrated how you defended me. I only meant that I call Roswaal’s mansion my home, and that the other camps wouldn’t have helped you if I were some random half-elf milling about, instead of someone under the care of lord Roswaal.”
You shrug.
“Yeah, you have a point there. Not that I like it.”
Emilia slides her foot back and forth for a while, and you enjoy the silence until she speaks again.
“I met with lord Roswaal a while ago.”
“What? I had asked Ram if I could speak to him, and she told me that he would only see me around midnight.”
“… That would be after I attempt to pass the trials. It seems he wants to speak to you after he learns the result, or maybe so you could tell him.”
You stand up and walk up to her side, so you can stare at Emilia from up close. She smiles, but she lowers her face.
“You will enter the witches’ tomb tonight?”, you ask slowly. “Already?”
“Of course, Subaru. I want to leave this behind as soon as possible. And it’s what Roswaal recommended as well.”
“But you don’t even know if you’re going to pass. And that’s a really dangerous thing, Emilia.”
“Well, you’ll be there, so it should be fine.”
You wince a little as she says this. Emilia means it. Your heart hurts partially because someone you like has managed to care for you this much, but mainly because you know that you can’t help Emilia pass the trials at all. Support won’t be enough.
You put a hand on her bare shoulder.
“Listen, Emilia… If you don’t pass the trials tonight, don’t lose hope, alright? It seems you can try over and over. Even the hardest, most painful thing can be tolerated if you get closer to success each time. And of course I’ll be there for whatever you need.”
She looks up at you with watery eyes and swallows air as if to hold back tears. She sniffles a bit and then smiles as she touches your hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you, Subaru.”
You let her have a moment, but then you ask about what’s been burning on your mind.
“What did Roswaal say, Emilia? How did he justify his actions until this point, or what course of action he suggested for getting out of here in one piece?”
Emilia looks to the side as if putting her thoughts in order.
“First I was shocked by how injured he seemed. I mean, his face didn’t suggest any pain, but I don’t think you could ever tell with our lord. I have never seen him look any other way than like someone who knew what was going to happen, smiling as if could have said for you the sentences that would come out of your mouth.”
“Yeah… That’s terrifying.”
“He was bandaged from the neck down. Most of the bandages were bloody as well, although the blood seemed dry. When I managed to focus on our conversation, Roswaal suggested that my presence in Sanctuary was an opportunity, that by passing the trials not only I would gain the favor of the villagers, and I mean our villagers, but also gain points for my candidacy for the throne.”
You frown and shake your head.
“I’m not surprised that he sees everything from that angle, but still, how is breaking a barrier in a secret village deep into the lord’s territory going to help your candidacy?”
“Apparently Sanctuary is a secret for regular people, and even for some members of the most important households, but not for the higher-ups, and certainly not for the council of elders. Spies everywhere, I guess. So they would know I managed to solve a problem that nobody had for hundreds of years. And they believe me to be related to Satella, so helping a town instead of, I don’t know, drowning it in shadows, might make them lean towards leaving me alone with such accusations.”
“Must be so exhausting constantly having to think in those terms. But then again, I wouldn’t know what to do if I were a royal candidate. What a disaster that would be.”
Emilia nods, then sighs.
“I’m sorry, the meeting ended with Roswaal suggesting that I attempted to pass the trials, or at least the first one, tonight. I was so dazed, as I have been since I woke up from whatever the barrier did to me, that I didn’t think of bringing up anything else, such as the Witch’s Cult assault on the village and my life.”
“It’s alright. I’ll speak with him around midnight, regardless of what happens with your trial. I will force him to explain himself. I haven’t fought so hard to return to your side to let the guy pretend that he didn’t shirk his duties. Roswaal should have been there, fighting alongside us.”
A small tear escapes from her right eye, and she gives a sad smile.
“I’ll try my best, I promise.”
Emilia hugs you tightly. You embrace her as well. A few seconds later, as you feel her heart beating against your chest and her breath warming your neck, she speaks as if she wished she didn’t have to.
“Frederica betrayed us, Subaru.”
You pull away from the hug and look into her eyes, which are now watery.
“… Yeah, what she did was shady as hell. I had been thinking about her words, how she approached you when she gave you that magic crystal. She knew what would happen.”
Emilia closes her eyes tight. It squeezes a tear, which runs down her cheek.
“You grabbed the pendant because you thought it would hurt me, even kill me, and as a result you were sent close enough to the witches’ tomb. I think I would also have wandered in, which would have started the trials, but in your case it should have killed you due to the traps. It’s a complete mystery why it didn’t affect you. Frederica’s negligence almost killed you, Subaru. I don’t think I will be able to forgive her for that.”
“It’s my damn habit of putting myself in danger so others don’t have to suffer. I’m more annoyed because Frederica should have said that if you came you wouldn’t have been able to leave. It means that she intended you to go through the trials, which will fuck with your mind. We are getting used left and right.”
“Mind fuck is an understatement.”
You chuckle softly.
“I hadn’t heard you say that word or a variation in too long.”
“You were the one who taught me it. I was a proper lady when you met me.”
Even though Emilia is joking around, you feel guilty, as if you wiped your ass with a painting.
“… Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine, I’m just messing with you. But Subaru, even though it’s probably not a good idea to bring it up now, you said that you have a habit of putting yourself in danger so others don’t have to suffer. And it’s true, of course. You have done it for me, you intended to do it at the royal summons, and after what you explained of your relationship with Rem, it’s obvious that you want to die for people you care about. You need to value your life more.”
You avoid her gaze. Beyond the fact that you can’t make her understand that you can save people through dying, horribly even, you want to disagree.
“Maybe the value of my life is that I can sacrifice it for the people I love, or even like to a significant extent. Is that a truly a bad thing? I’m okay with it. It’s not like I’m some awesome person that can do great things otherwise, or has some special talents.”
“That’s not true. You have so much potential, Subaru…”
You hold the back of her head to hug her again, and like she was waiting for it, she leans against you and lets out a soft noise of satisfaction, as if she wants nothing else than to stay like this for the rest of the day.
“Love makes people say some wild things”, you reply. “I can do important stuff now, but I remember clearly that for most of my life I couldn’t do shit. I would have lived an unimportant life, probably working at some office or shop, and after I died I would have been forgotten by history. Buried to become one with the dirt. I hold some regrets from who I was before I met all of you, particularly things I never got to say, but right now the fact is that because I sacrificed myself, risked everything, I can hold on to you now, Emilia, and for that I’m as happy as can be.”
Emilia puts her hand on the side of your face and stands on her tiptoes, and before you know it you feel her warm lips on yours. Her wet, hot tongue enters your mouth and licks yours slowly and lovingly, as if you both were lying in bed and holding each other under the covers while draped in darkness. Emilia keeps her eyes open the entire time, staring into your own.
Your mind had gone blank, and when you snap out of it, you feel the blood accumulating in your crotch like a red tinge in your senses, and Emilia’s waist is pressing your hard dick against your abdomen.
You two separate from each other’s lips, and the half-elf exhales a warm sigh. You feel yourself blush profusely, and look away. You would have thought that after the shit you’ve gone through or even done of your own volition, you wouldn’t feel this embarrassment, but you have enough reasons to feel the burn of shame.
With one finger, Emilia moves your head back to look at her. Her face shows a mix of guilt and joy.
“That was on me, Subaru”, she says softly. “My first time, for my knight.”
You swallow, and hope that your dick starts going down soon, even though Emilia keeps leaning her weight against you knowingly. You suppose that in comparison with the prospect of having to pass some trials that nobody has succeeded at for hundreds of years, or else she will get stuck here, Emilia must have been searching for a moment of heaven. But the guilt is already burning in your chest. Emilia’s saliva tastes good, the way a girl you’d take for yourself should, without a hint of snot and blood like back during Emilia’s true first time. You hate yourself for liking it, and you hate that your body reacted without your consent.
The two of you separate, and Emilia turns away from you to hide her burning red face, like the proper lady that she is. You catch a glance at her eyes, which show pools of despair and regret.
Neither of you, or anyone as it seems, really knows what you are doing. Feels right one moment, wrong the next. There are far worse things a person could have done to you than make you feel guilt because your girlfriend is in a coma. You put your hand on Emilia’s upper back, and slide it up until you are touching the warm skin of her nape.
“It’s fine, Emilia. Tell me, what needs to happen now? When are we heading for the trials?”
She looks at you over her shoulder before turning. She seems to understand that you won’t berate her, nor bring up your Rem. She smiles shily, but then her expression darkens and she glances towards the village, even though the dense forest obscures any view of civilization.
“I’m going to do something very uncomfortable and that I’d prefer not to do, but I understand it’s for the best: I’m going to address our villagers. Roswaal suggested it, because they should know and understand the kind of sacrifice I’m making for their sake, as well as for all of us. I will expose myself again to people for whom my very birth was a mistake.”
It only takes recalling the crowd of villagers every time you have faced them for you to get annoyed, but you understand what Emilia won’t bring herself to say.
“If you want to do it as soon as possible, meaning now, let’s go. I’ll stand by your side.”

You are standing next to Emilia inside the church-like building. It looks older than the surrounding village, yet the masonry is made out of huge stones piled without cement, and cut into complicated shapes without apparent fault. The vaulted ceilings are a thing of beauty, closer to a cathedral’s, and in the large footprint there’s more than enough space to house all of your villagers comfortably. The mayor of Sanctuary, or maybe some of the locals, have prepared makeshift beds as well as some courtains, and a few people of the crowd that has gathered to listen to you are still eating from the bowls they are holding. The children, mothers and the elderly that you had missed when you went down to the village for groceries came here. There are very few able-bodied men, and the most prominent from that group, although he’s not able-minded, is the village chief, who is wearing his wizard costume. No, a different one. Motherfucker must keep a collection of them, and probably no other type of clothing. Why is this man alive?
Emilia and you stand side by side waiting for the people to settle down. You are surprised that the shouts of ‘witch, let’s kill the witch’ haven’t started yet, but you figure that they must feel so out of place and confused by their circumstances that they are taking things as they come. After around half a minute, when there is relative silence, you begin to speak.
“Thank you all for gathering. As you know, we are currently trapped in Sanctuary. We are working on the known solution, which involves passing some witch-created trials, and for that-…”
The village chief puts his hand on his chest, which makes the loose sleeve of his wizardly robe slide down to his elbow.
“I welcome you both to our humble village. I’m the mayor of Sanctuary.”
Your left eye twitches, and you clench your teeth.
“No, you are not! Why are you so resilient!”
The mayor remains surprisingly calm after your outburst.
“If not yet, I will be eventually. We have been stranded in this village for centuries, and nobody tells us when we will be able to leave.”
You take a deep breath, then try to look as professional and reliable as possible. You realize that both you and Emilia have fucked up. You don’t recall any instance in which you haven’t addressed the villagers without Ram being present, so she could threaten to murder whoever got too annoying.
You hold Emilia’s gaze for a moment. She has deflated a bit from her resolve to face the villagers. She must be remembering how terribly they have been treating her all along. Now she must be waiting for you to introduce her properly. You are in no way or form the appropriate person for this task.
You turn to the crowd again and clear your throat.
“Listen, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the cult’s attack on our village back home is that we need to be as clear and truthful as possible, even though it might hurt or cause panic. We are in this predicament together. As it stands, we are trapped in Sanctuary because the locals who hold power want us to break the barrier that has kept them trapped in this isolated forest for hundreds of years. You are all hostages, I’m afraid, although they are going to treat you as kindly as possible otherwise. However, we know the solution to our problem: we need to pass some witch-created trials in a nearby tomb, because that’s what will break the spell holding the barrier.”
The villagers whisper to each other for a while, before a man in his sixties, with a balding head and old-fashioned clothing, steps forward.
“The lord attempted to pass the trials to liberate us, but that damned tomb almost killed him! What would you be able to do when you don’t have remotely as much power as him?”
“I don’t know if you people are aware of this, but the tomb has magical traps set up that trigger if someone who is fully human goes in. Our lord was stupid enough, or possibly brave, to venture into the ruins, because he wanted that hard to free you all. However, our beautiful lady over here,” you extend your arm towards Emilia, who holds her hands in front of her waist and bows slightly, “is half-human as you all are aware. She’s Emilia, our lady and royal candidate for the throne of Lugunica. She will face the trials so all of us can be liberated.”
The old man eyes the half-elf with suspicion and fear, as if at any moment she would decide to transform him into a toad.
“Oh, great! So not only are we trapped here, but also at risk of being subjected to whatever tyranny this young demon-worshipper imposes upon us!”
Your nostrils widen. Here we go. You aren’t sure how to maneuver through these people’s prejudices, and you can’t do what you would want to: walk up to every one of them and clock them as hard as Emilia did to you that one time you lost your legs.
“If you think she’d do something like that, then why the hell are you standing around calmly?”
“We are just scared!”, a woman holding a baby shouts from the back. “I was there, in the village’s plaza, when the witch walked up to that horrible cultist woman and killed her with ice magic. She could kill us all whenever she wanted!”
“And whenever you wanted you could strangle your baby, and that creature couldn’t do anything to defend itself. Isn’t that right? Then why don’t you do it? Same reason that Emilia doesn’t attack any of you.”
The baby’s mother looks down to her child, as it innocently blows a spit bubble. His eyes don’t know enough to be afraid of someone like you.
“Because… because we’re good people!”
“No. You’re not.”
You feel someone touching you in the forearm, and you realize it’s Emilia. She has walked up to you and looks worried, although understanding, as if she knows you are trying to defend her and yet will end up causing more trouble for her. You look at the crowd again.
“Emilia wants me to stop talking, but I can’t. This lady here has done nothing wrong to you all. She was born a silver-haired half-elf, and that’s all any of you seem to need to despise her for stuff Emilia has nothing to do with, and that happened hundreds of years ago. She’s as sweet, and kind, and lovely as they come, and yet she’s afraid of leaving her home because any of you might attack her.”
The village chief points at Emilia with a trembling hand, although his face evidences that at the moment he fears her more than hates her.
“Be.. because she’s a witch!”
Emilia steps towards the crowd, and although she straightens her back, the anxiety glistens in her eyes.
“I can do magic, it’s true. I’m a spirits user. But I would only use it to help all of us”, she says softly.
The village chief barely glances at her, as if holding her gaze would contaminate him.
“Shut it, demon.”
“No, I won’t shut it. Please, just listen to me. I only want to help you-“
“I said shut it!”, the village chief barks loudly.
Emilia’s eyes then widen, and she ever so slightly shakes her head. You know that look.
You lower your head and scowl at the village chief, while you concentrate your anger on your clenched fists. Is there a point in being polite with these people, with most of them anyway? Maybe there are a few decent ones, or maybe even most of them, but they stay quiet. They allow the others to keep spouting garbage, and somehow they keep this lunatic in charge of them. Roswaal should tear their village down and build a new one with entirely different people.
Your voice comes out so angry that it disturbs you.
“You are misunderstanding both your position as well as who you are speaking to that way. Lady Emilia is a candidate for the throne of this kingdom, and you are a worthless lunatic who believes himself to be a wizard because he dresses with a ridiculous costume. You have berated an innocent that in a second could push an ice shard through your rotten brain, but she doesn’t do it because she’s too good-natured for that, and will just take the abuse. Rest assured, if I had her power I would cull your numbers so you understood your place.”
The whole room is silent. Emilia’s eyes widen as she tries not to look at you, while the chief just furrows his brows and stares at you in an attempt to intimidate you. It doesn’t work.
“You dare threaten me with death?”
“I’m not threatening, I’m promising. You will respect lady Emilia, not only because she’s the lady of our house, but because she’s the only one who can move a finger to pass the trials and risk her health, or her sanity, or whatever it implies for her to risk, so you ungrateful scum will be able to return home. Did my words pass through your rotten brain?”
The village chief shakes with anger. The rest of the crowd stands around aghast, not even whispering to whoever is close.
“You fool, I’ve lived long before you were even conceived. I have no doubt in my mind that you are vastly underestimating my capabilities.”
“Then go to the witches’ tomb and try to pass the trials yourself. The local head of security will bother himself picking up your bloody remains to feed the pigs.”
“I’ll do it, and you will do nothing to stop me, because if you try, I will kill you. Do I make myself clear?”
You stare at the chief, your face twisting into a cold malicious grin.
Emilia lets out a noise of surprise and puts a hand on your shoulder.
“Please, Subaru!”, she turns to the crowd. “No, if any of you attempts to pass the trials, you will die! The traps will kill you! I’m the only one who can risk it, and I will! And if I fail, I will try again and again until the barrier is broken. Please, nobody needs to get hurt.”
The crowd stays silent, but the tension can be cut with a knife. Then a woman in her early twenties raises her hand timidly while looking at Emilia with caution.
“Lady witch, why would you want to help us? The people in the village have been terrible to you.”
Emilia lowers her head. Everybody in the crowd must be able to tell how anxious and timid the half-elf is whenever she faces them, and yet they keep harassing her. You are having trouble staying silent as well as controlling your breathing.
“Ever since I remember,” Emilia begins with a quiet voice, “I have only wanted to live in peace. I wanted to get along with everybody, to meet interesting people and have a good time with them. Eventually I wished to get married and have a family of my own. Yet I feared that my children would face what I’ve had to go through. I wouldn’t want that suffering and fear on anybody. I can’t change how you think about me, I’m beginning to understand, so maybe I shouldn’t care, and yet I think that behind the hate and fear of some of you, there are others who don’t understand any of this either, who just want to return home and live in peace as well.”
There’s a silence after her words, followed by some whispers. The young woman who questioned Emilia walks towards her cautiously. She’s short and a bit plump, her blonde hair tied into a pony tail. She looks like the kind of girl you’d see at a market, selling vegetables.
“You’re right about some of us. I’m sorry for ever hating you. We were just confused and angry. We want to return home as well.”
You find yourself smiling at the girl’s words. The atmosphere has improved already, most people seem to be agreeing with her.
Emilia holds her hands in front of her waist again, and bows towards the girl.
“I will face the trials. As soon as I succeed, we can all leave Sanctuary and return to our homes. Please, lend me your support.”
The girl nods, then goes as far as reaching for Emilia’s hands and holding them in hers. Her eyes are watering while she stares pleadingly at the half-elf.
“My brother has stayed behind at the village. I know we can’t do anything to leave if the locals won’t let us. Please fight for us, lady Emilia, even if we don’t deserve it. I will pray for your success.”
Emilia swallows, and blinks to dry her eyes. The girl stops holding the half-elf’s hand, and walks back slowly towards her place in the crowd. Emilia sniffs, then turns to address the rest of the group.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure our safe departure from this place, and back to our homes. I will attempt the trial this very night.”
The mood of the crowd has improved. A few isolated voices thank Emilia, even though they address her as witch.
Emilia has lowered her head, and she looks as if she will tear up the moment she opens her mouth. You step forward, clear you throat and address the crowd while trying to avoid looking at the village chief.
“Any questions before we leave?”
Your statement is met by silence, you don’t know if because nobody has anything to say or because they hate your guts. The villagers slowly begin to melt away. However, after most of them have left, the village chief is still standing there glaring at you as if he would lunge for your neck if he could get away with.
“I am not going to forget your malicious and disrespectful words towards my being”, he says with a raspy voice. “The gods won’t condone such affront.”
You walk up to him to speak in a low voice right to his face. You hope the way you are holding his gaze clarifies how much you wish you’d meet alone in some secluded place, and not precisely for sex.
“You don’t understand, chief. I’m the one who has a grudge on you.”
He seems taken aback by your words, probably expecting you to be cowed by whatever authority he believes he has. You turn your back on him and head towards Emilia. You hear this idiot’s voice behind you.
“Remember what I said! None of you are safe! The gods will protect me from your malice!”
You wave him off without turning around, then put your hand on Emilia’s shoulder.
“Let’s get out of here. A bit of fresh air will do us good.”
You both step out of the village, and after walking aimlessly down the road for a while, you decide to break the silence.
“That could have gone much worse. At least they got the message that you would be the one to free them from this situation.”
She smiles at your remark, but it quickly fades and is replaced by a worried look.
“Subaru, you scared me back there. I don’t think I have ever seen you so angry.”
You don’t like one bit how Emilia is looking at you, as if you have done something wrong and need to be handled with gloves. She’s too good-natured, which is part of the problem for you. Rem would have gotten her flail from her bullshit magical pocket and threatened the bastards in the crowd with more practical ferocity. Your throat closes, and you want to be alone. As you have faced often since your beloved demon servant fell to that curse, you can only keep walking when your brain allows you to forget for a while that you have lost the most important person in your life.
You take a deep breath and smile at Emilia.
“We needed a bit of a good cop, bad cop routine. And it worked, I think. They got the message. Now they’ll know who to thank when you lift the barrier.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word, ‘cop’, but I think I understand. Still, did you mean that about culling their numbers so they would understand their place…?”
You want to ease her concern, suggest that you were only riling them up so they would be mad at you instead of her, that you wouldn’t kill anyone, but you prefer to be honest.
“… I don’t know, Emilia. It just came out. You don’t understand how angry it makes me when they mistreat you like that. I see red. I want to protect you, to make sure you are safe, that you can get to feel happy and free, but those people keep making everything worse. They are like a bunch of wild children.”
“You don’t need to keep protecting me. I want to protect you…!”
“Well, I appreciate that. It’s not as if I wouldn’t need it, and you are far more useful when it comes to protecting people than me. I mostly just have my relentless determination to push myself to the brink for the people I care about.”
She hugs you tightly. You feel her warmth and her breathing.
“You can absolutely trust me on that one, I love you. I really do.”
That makes you blush a bit, and the way she washes over you with her sincerity lessens the remains of the anger that were tingling on your hands.
“Emi, speaking of protecting people as well as of hindrances, where the fuck is Puck? I haven’t seen him ever since we left for Sanctuary.”
Emilia goes silent as if she had been dreading anyone bringing it up.
“I have no idea”, she says with a thin voice. “I have called out to him, and he usually ends up appearing. But he’s gone.”
You put your hands on her shoulders to separate her a bit, because you want to look at her worried face.
“Has this happened before?”
She nods slowly.
“Yes, once. Back when we were traveling through a forest, a few years ago. He disappeared during the night, shortly after he told me we would speak in a while, and didn’t show up for days. It was really scary… I thought something bad had happened to him.”
“Well, what explanation did he give?”
She gives you a timid smile.
“None… Which is why I’m worried about him now. Is he playing a joke on me? Has he gotten himself into trouble?”
You shake your head, and thinking about how much Puck has annoyed you ever since you met him, even involuntarily through the way he can’t care properly for how much human beings hurt, makes you want to insult the cunt out loud.
“Emilia… I don’t want to say this to you, given that you have been close to Puck for many years, ever since you were a child, and that he’s called himself your adoptive father. I don’t want to dredge up whatever horrible stuff happened in your childhood. But the fact is that Puck has the unique talent to not be there to protect you whenever you need it the most, whether or not he has a convenient excuse.”
She looks away from you. It seems she doesn’t want to say anything bad about the little cunt.
“We have a contract. He promised me he would always be there for me.”
You sigh. You pat her head gently.
“Contracts can be broken, and promises can be forgotten. I don’t know what Puck’s deal is this time, but I do know that this world is shit. Every world is shit, as far as I can tell. You need to be strong.”
She nods.
“I will, then.”
You kiss her forehead, then hold her head against your cheek for a moment.
“We better rest a bit, particularly yourself, before we head for the witches’ tomb. I can’t even anticipate what’s going to happen in that bleak ruin.”

Note from December of 2020:

In the original the villagers are far more willing to accept Emilia at this point, because the protagonist had managed to repeat the Witch’s Cult’s assault until nobody died (in his second run, actually). But in this strange, AI-fueled retelling, they have the justification to hold on to a permanent grudge on the sweet gal, because plenty of people did get killed. I went into the scene not having any plan for it, not even if the villagers would end up accepting her as their lady and savior, and the unexpected result is one of the joys of writing this stuff.

Also, I have mentioned before, that idiotic village chief was made up entirely by the AI many, many parts ago. I thought he would be some comic relief, but the hate the protagonist has developed towards the crazy bastard is as real as can be.

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 1 (GPT-3 fueled short)

I love Alazne, and I have grown beyond caring about the damage it will cause me to admit it. I love her pale, freckled face, those big hazel eyes that always seem minutes away from tearing up. I love her soft voice, and how intimate feel those few instances in which she speaks to herself at home while she’s conscious. I always yearn for the next time she will get undressed, rest her guitar on her thigh and play for a couple of hours, caring very little about the neighbors. I love how she sits on a stool under a warm shower and pleasures herself for twenty minutes. I love how she spits on her toilet paper before she wipes her ass. I love lying in bed next to her naked body and admiring the pink skin of her nipples or her pussy from a few centimeters away. I love when she returns exhausted from another meaningless day in the office and she collapses onto her wrinkled sheets. I love how she breaks her silence from time to time to admit to nobody that she wants to die. I love how she mumbles in her sleep, and how some nights she barely gets an hour of respite and spends the rest rolling around, half of the time crying. But I hate that I will never get her to look into my eyes. I will never hold her in my arms, nor drink the pain away from her mouth.
Today was one of those days in which I can’t bear it. I leave her place and walk the very long path to my pal Iñaki’s dilapidated home to spend the night. I don’t bother taking the train today; walking it off will do me some good. As soon as I leave the populated streets behind I feel my anxiety washing away. Iñaki’s place has been abandoned for quite a long time now. The guy hates opening up about his past, and I like people who don’t talk much anyway.
Close to nighttime I reach the half-ruined front of his house, all those busted windows and graffitied walls. As I walk through the doorless doorway I spot Iñaki standing in the middle of what remains of his living room, if one can still call it that. He’s staring down at the open pages of a yellowed, piss-stained hardcover novel. He must have read the same words hundreds of times, but I guess it’s better than following the spiders and cockroaches.
Seeing him cheers me up. He always listens. I can’t say that about most people.
“What’s up?” I ask. “Haven’t seen you in what, like a week and a half?”
“Seems like forever, doesn’t it?” Iñaki shrugs. “I don’t know how you can stand living with one of them.”
Carefully, I lower myself onto the ruins of the sofa until it holds whatever passes for my weight.
“Yeah, you would hate it. And I haven’t enjoyed all those others, to be honest. They were more like distractions. But this woman… she’s the one.”
Iñaki turns from his book to look at me. I recognize his exhausted expression in the shadowy frame.
“Has she brought someone else over to her place?” he asks.
“Well… not just someone. She brought her soulmate.”
Iñaki chuckles, although it sounds like wood creaking.
“I think that only about one in millions would willingly bring one of us in. And those are crazy.”
“Her music called me. She wasn’t just playing, she was pleading for something to the uncaring world. It’s just too bad that I can’t give it to her…”
Iñaki wanders out of the room. I hear his footsteps for a bit. He likes to do this kind of shit, he gets fed up with the company that quick and needs to release his anxiety. I don’t mind. He returns a few minutes later.
“And how long do you plan on staying with her?” he asks.
“Until I disappear, like I should have done.”
Iñaki takes a seat next to me. It only happens once every blue moon.
“Does she hear you at all?” he asks with a hint of sadness. “Sense you at least?”
“I need to yell very loud for that, and she has never understood the words. I don’t like confusing her, she has enough on her plate. She already thinks that she’s this close to losing it.”
“I don’t understand your types. Then why do you stay with someone who doesn’t care nor can hear you?”
I can’t give him an answer. Why do I stay? Maybe because I retained some shred of hope, or because she’s all I have now. Hope of what? There’s nothing better coming. There can’t be. We can’t even look forward to the changes in our decaying bodies. And I have no clue if they ever recovered my corpse.
“Sometimes… it gets too much,” escapes from my mouth.
“I understand,” Iñaki says with a smile. “Knowing that all this is going to come to an end one day, and you are never seeing any of them again. It makes it even worse that you don’t even know when it’s coming.”
My friend stands up from the ruined sofa and walks out of the room once more. I’ll give him some time to cool down. But I should have caught this guy on one of his silent days, because my anxiety isn’t decreasing, and the old weight, the black mass, is pulling me towards the ground.

Around one in the morning, a van parks on the overgrown yard, maybe twenty meters away from the ruined front of this house. I stand on the doorway as three excited guys wearing coats start unloading a bunch of strange equipment.
“What the fuck are they doing?” I ask out loud.
Iñaki is standing next to me.
“Those idiots again. They scouted my place a few days ago.”
“And what exactly are they doing?”
“They blabbered all about it. Some ghost hunting garbage, for that internet thing.”
I roll my eyes. I know all about the internet, but Iñaki hates computers. My Alazne loves wasting her time online, and I usually stand behind her as she watches YouTube videos, browses Reddit, or touches herself. I still don’t know why she bothers going incognito for the porn sites. It’s not like anybody enters her apartment.
In five minutes, the three idiots from the van have gathered their electronic equipment on the nasty floor of the living room. As one of them unpacks something that resembles a video game console, he kicks Iñaki’s open book. The guy turns and notices that it’s a book instead of some ghostly shit, but then he complains about the piss stains. He kicks the book again towards a corner, causing the hardcover to close. Iñaki narrows his eyes. If he could control it properly, he would probably poltergeist the crap out of him.
I walk up to the ghost hunter and yell in his ear.
“Get the fuck out of here, punk!”
He jumps and turns towards me. I take a step back, as I don’t want his face that close.
“Did you guys hear that? It was like a whisper.”
“I’m pissed off, that’s who I am! You want some of this?”
The other two idiots listen in silence for some seconds, but then shake their heads.
“No, I didn’t get that,” one of them says. “But this place is promising. Let’s get rolling.”
The three of them have set up a camera on a tripod, and are unpacking stuff that looks like a mixer, a cassette recorder, and a bunch of wires. Also a couple of handheld cameras. They’re talking among themselves about frequencies or some equally boring shit. One of the guys is fiddling with his camera’s settings, while another one takes out his phone.
I would have expected Iñaki to curse at them and then walk off either to the second floor or the basement, but he has crossed his arms and is staring at the intruders as if evaluating their performance.
“Yep, this should do it,” says the ghost hunter who placed the camera on the tripod, as he checks the screen of his phone.
They mess with the wires and the cassette recorder until they seem to be done. They look at each other and nod, smiling in satisfaction.
“Let’s do a test recording,” one of them says, and starts pressing some buttons on the device.
“Alright, if there’s any ghost in here, please speak into this recorder. It should be able to catch your voice if you speak loud enough or put enough energy into it. Say whatever you want.”
I look at Iñaki, in case he wants to try. He doesn’t move, nor even look at me. Maybe it would embarrass him. I lean in towards the recorder and shout some insults. After twenty seconds or so, one of the guys replays the content.
“You hear that? It sounds like a girl.”
“Can’t quite catch what she’s saying, though.”
“A girl ghost.”
“I’m fully grown,” I say.
They listen to the recording a couple more times, and seem content. They try recording again.
“We heard you!” one of the guys speaks into the recorder. “Please talk to us some more. What’s your name? Are you lost? Do you know you are dead?”
I find it amusing enough, so I talk into the device again.
“I’m Irene. I would prefer to pretend I don’t know I’m dead, because my demise was pathetic. It happened around twenty years–“
They interrupt me by stopping the recording, and then they listen to it. I can’t hear clearly enough, but as the guys do, they lift their heads and look at each other.
“You heard that, right? She said ‘mommy’. She must be looking for her mom.”
“Oh my god. That’s so sad,” one says while the others nod in agreement.
I stomp on the dirty floor.
“There was nothing close to that word in my sentences!”
The ghost hunters enjoy their conclusion, because for fifteen minutes they walk around Iñaki’s ruined place while calling out to a little girl. I keep insulting them, but they only hear whispers. They say they are going to post this recording online.
“I hope the comment section rips you guys a new one,” I say angrily.
Iñaki then makes a very loud grunting noise, which scares the living daylights out of the ghost hunters. One of them suggests they should leave. What a bunch of pansies. Oh well, it was a good enough night. But the guys decide to stay and instead ask more questions with their cassette thing while they record it with their cameras.
As the guy holding the recorder is about to ask new questions, one of the others pats him on the shoulder.
“That sounded like a demon. Maybe it’s a demon pretending to be a little girl.”
The guy with the recorder seems troubled. His gaze darts between his friends and the corners of the room. He stops the device.
“Maybe we should leave this place,” he says. “I’m getting really bad vibes all of a sudden. Like we are messing with something evil.”
“I would punch you if I could,” I say.
“We already brought over our stuff,” another one of the ghost hunters says, and snatches the audio recorder. “Let’s get some more evidence.”
He asks for whoever grunted to speak to them. I was going to try recording my voice again, but to my surprise, Iñaki steps forward and speaks loudly, with a grave voice.
“Here I am.”
When the guys listen to the recording, they are amazed.
“You heard that? It said ‘I am’, or something like that.”
“Here I am,” suggests another.
“Let’s get more. What’s your name?”
“That was a name, wasn’t it?” one of the guys says.
“Was it Íñigo?” says another.
“How old are you? When did you die?” asks the guy with the recorder.
Iñaki leans in so his mouth almost touches the recorder. He speaks so resoundingly that it sends chills down my non-existent spine. There must be some ghost magic involved.
“What was that?” the guys say.
After they try again, Iñaki, looking irritated, insists.
“Go to the basement.”
After the ghost hunters listen to the recording, they all confirm that they understood loud and clear. For a couple of minutes they compare how the hair on their arms has stood up.
“Will you move on?” I ask them, annoyed. “People get chills and their arm hair stands up when ghosts are around. You don’t have to keep repeating it.”
The ghost hunters are too excited to pay attention to me, and they can’t hear me anyway.
“Let’s go, to the basement!” one of them exclaims.
They descend the half-ruined, dusty stairs to the basement. I follow them. I notice that Iñaki is sticking close, but seeming even more somber than usual.
“Hey, are you that sick of these idiots that you are planning on trapping them somehow?” I ask him.
He gives me a funny look.
“Why would I want them dead?”
“Because you can’t stand them. They remind you of the fact that you’re dead.”
“Being dead reminds me that I’m dead. The boredom and resentment of having so much free time and no way to affect the world reminds me that I’m dead.”
I don’t have an answer to that, so we descend to the basement. The ghost hunters burst out in applause when they step onto the cold floor. Some people get excited about anything.
“It’s so dark…” one grumbles, “and cold.”
“How else did you expect a basement in a ruined house to be?” I ask.
“Do you feel that?” asks another. “The temperature has dropped.”
“Nerves,” says the first one.
“You bunch of cookie-cutter bastards,” I tell them.
They ignore me and start setting up their gadgets, some of which they carry on their belts. One shines a flashlight here and there, looking for something to catch.
I had turned to look at Iñaki, but he’s no longer standing behind me. Instead he is half-crouched near a corner of the basement as if he’s waiting at the starting line of a race. It looks wrong on such a lanky ghost. And then he bursts into a sprint that disturbs some dust. The ghost hunters turn towards the sound. Iñaki had put all his effort into the run, and his footsteps had broken into the realm of the fools whose hearts still beat.
“Those were footsteps!” one of the ghost hunters says while he records the general area of the sounds.
“As if someone ran,” another adds.
“Where are you?” asks the third as he sweeps the space with his flashlight.
Iñaki’s sprint had taken him to the opposite corner of the basement, and there he hides, unseen.
One of the ghost hunters tries to follow Iñaki’s path along, hoping to catch some evidence, and he suddenly stops and crouches towards something on the floor. He lifts a yellowed newspaper, and whatever he found under it startles him.
“Oh shit, a ouija board!” The ghost hunter’s voice trembles as he holds the board. “This explains everything!”
“What the hell is it supposed to explain?” I ask.
“They must have summoned the ghosts,” a ghost hunter says as he shakes his head. “Some idiots that didn’t know what they were doing.”
“Some kids, probably,” the previous ghost hunter adds.
Iñaki has returned to my side.
“How come you have a ouija board now?” I ask him.
“It was some kids. They came to drink down here, act tough and have sex. They ended up fleeing, but left that here.”
“What a mess. Watch out, these bastards will end up conjuring a demon.”
The ghost hunters are stupid enough to gather around the ouija board and dare each other to try talking to us. I sigh, but then again this is my entertainment for the night.
The three so-called ghost hunters join fingers on the planchette. Iñaki and I haven’t even approached them when one of the guys gasps and lifts his index fingers off the small wooden board.
“There’s someone writing!” he says, spooked. “It’s moving!”
“Hey, keep your fingers on the planchette!”
Both me and Iñaki walk up to stand over their shoulders. The planchette isn’t moving any longer, but it must have been one of the guys sliding it by mistake.
“If you don’t help them move it, Iñaki,” I say, “they’ll get bored and leave. Is that what you wanted?”
Iñaki doesn’t answer, and instead he bends his long legs so that his hand can reach the planchette. He concentrates as he nudges the small board to make it spell out something. H-E-L-P.
The ghost hunters freak out for a moment, then laugh nervously.
“It’s a sign!” one of them says.
“You are still recording, right?” the second one asks to the third.
“I think so!” the third one answers as he fiddles with his handheld camera.
I want to crouch next to the planchette and spell out FUCK OFF, but I have never been any good at moving stuff in the plane of the living. And although some ghosts insist that you can train for these abilities, I never had to train for mine. I don’t want to put in the effort anyway.
I feel like joking around, and I turn towards Iñaki’s shadowy face before I have thought of what to say, but the determined look in his eyes unsettles me.
“I need your help, Irene,” he says.
“With what?”
“Take one of these guys.”
“Excuse me?!”
I nearly jump back. It felt as if he was demanding me to shove a knife into my eye, if I had been able to interact with physical objects for the last couple of decades. The very thought makes me dizzy.
“Hey, don’t joke around with that. I have told you how that feels! You can give these idiots a scare with anything else.”
Iñaki steps closer and places his hands on my shoulders. It feels cold, and not entirely solid. One never gets used to another ghost touching you, even as a ghost.
“I never forgot your description of it. But do it for me, just this time. Because this is it. This is the end of my plan.”
“What plan?”
“My plan to make it right.”
“Iñaki, I don’t want to help. Look at you, you are nothing but a rotten soul.”
“Yes, sure. That’s why you come by so often. To gape at a miserable, bitter ghost.”
“It’s better than television.”
“You come by because you don’t want to be reminded that you will never be alive anymore, and you remain among the damned because you haven’t come to terms with it.”
My ghostly eyelids twitch. I want to turn around and leave, but I get the feeling that Iñaki would force me to stay.
“I came by for your stories, and that’s all,” I mutter. “Stop hitting below the belt.”
“Look at me. Look at what I am. No light, no body to speak of. No one will ever know. And you will not remember either, in the end.”
“I’m sure you were a miserable bastard even when you could breathe.”
“And that’s why you’ll help me.”
I close my eyes and try to calm down. Iñaki truly wants this, that much is obvious, for whatever reason, and he has never been as forthcoming with me.
“Let’s get this over with. It better be important.”
As the ghost hunters wonder out loud how come the talkative ghost has abandoned them, I jump-crouch into one of the idiots as if I were cannonballing into a pool. Possessing a breathing human is the worst feeling in the world. The person’s soul engulfs yours, touches you all over as if it were a thousand greasy tongues, and the more you spend in the body, the more insisting the licking becomes. In the past it made me so angry that I even started beating up the people who had come to figure out why my vessel was rolling around on the floor of the supermarket.
I can hear Iñaki to my left, even though I am trying to get used to looking through someone else’s eyeballs.
“You can talk and move the guy’s body, right?” He sounds impressed. “To be honest, I thought you had been lying.”
“L-lying?!” I blurt out through a stranger’s wet mouth. “Who do you take me for?!”
“I apologize,” Iñaki says.
In front of me, seated on the dirty floor, the remaining two ghost hunters are trembling as they stare at me wide-eyed.
“Jokin, what’s wrong?”
“I think… I feel…” this so called Jokin whispers through his body I’m possessing, as I have gotten distracted.
When I take the control away from him, my eyes roll to the back of my head, and the body becomes limp for a moment. I’m feeling as if I were sliding through goo filled with pubes.
I glare at the two idiots.
“There’s no Jokin here any longer,” I mumble, showering them with spittle as my lips twitch. “Only the devil.”
The two ghost hunters scream. For a moment it feels as if they’ll scramble to their feet and run away, but they seem to fear that the moment they turn around I’m going to leap onto them.
“Irene!” Iñaki shouts. “I didn’t want to give them a scare! Please, listen. You need to get them to break through a section of the wall behind you. That’s why I wanted you to suffer this uncomfortable process. Turn around. It’s a reddish stretch that looks as if the bricks don’t belong, and that were put together by someone who didn’t quite know what he was doing.”
I look over my shoulder as my possessed hands tremble. I can’t see shit, but this Jokin guy had left his flashlight on the floor next to him. I pick it up, switch it on and light up the dusty wall. I spot the reddish bricks immediately. They look as if some kind of mold had grown on that specific area.
The other two ghost hunters are talking to me when I turn towards them again. I haven’t paid attention to what they were saying.
“Hey, I was kidding about being the devil,” I say while drooling. “Typical ghost joke. You must be new at this, huh?”
To his credit, one of the ghost hunters hasn’t peed himself. He’s holding his handheld towards me while looking at his possessed friend in the eye.
“Y-you want our help? So you can finally rest in peace? You better not be joking around, Jokin!”
“I’m getting mad with all the licking,” I groan. “Listen to me, you pair of cocksu–… Do you see the wall behind me? That spot with the different looking bricks? I need you to break through them for whatever reason. There must be something behind, I’m guessing.”
“Y-you want us to break a part of the wall?”
“Am I talking into a recorder here?”
“Because you left something inside?”
“I mean, probably! Go ahead and get to kicking or punching or hitting it with something or whatever. If you don’t do it, when I leave your friend’s body I will follow you home, and for the rest of your life I will witness how you touch yourself.”
The two idiots, excited and scared, run over themselves to reach that dodgy spot of the wall. One pushes the bricks, and they shift slightly. He takes off his shoe and starts hitting them hard. The dust makes him cough.
I stand up with this wobbly body, but I trip and nearly faceplant. They aren’t looking at me, though. I stumble towards them to oversee their efforts.
“You are lacking in power! Puny humans!” I scream from inside the body of their friend. I also drop his flashlight, but pick it up in time to shine it directly at their faces.
“A-are you gonna help us or what?” one of them dares to say.
He has guts, so I shrug.
“Let’s trade places. I’ll be on the left and you on the right! Go!”
We hit the bricks with more intent. This Jokin guy is going to have to visit the hospital to get his knuckles fixed. Serves him right for being alive.
As we continue damaging our precious fingers, the bricks start crumbling, and soon their pieces pile up into the cavity behind. One of the ghost hunters shines the flashlight at the newly formed hole, and the three of us are hit at once with the old, stale stink of a dead body.
“Oh crap!” shouts one of the ghost hunters.
He reaches towards a trash bag that even these morons would realize it contains the remains of a previously living creature.
I had assumed that we had found Iñaki’s corpse, that he had been murdered and sealed inside the wall, and that was why he had remained nearby and turned into such a miserable bastard. But I realize that the almost mummified corpse that the ghost hunter has revealed carefully is far too small. About the size of a toddler.
Because I got distracted, I was pushed out of this so called Jokin’s body. I return to being a regular ghost, and Jokin falls on his ass and breaks into coughing.
“You wanted us to find this child, didn’t you?!” the ghost hunter lighting the hole with his flashlight says over his shoulder, but then he notices that Jokin has returned to being himself. “The ghost left!”
“Because we did what he needed help for,” the man handling the trash bag and its contents says solemnly, with a self-satisfied tone.
He takes the trash bag out of the hole and places it on the floor ceremonially. Then he straightens his back and searches his coat until he finds the phone.
“We need to call the police. Maybe this proves a murder or something.”
“Finally, some evidence!” the other ghost hunter says excitedly as he pats Jokin on the back. The previously possessed guy looks traumatized and keeps whining about his bloodied hand.
I don’t understand. I turn around to locate Iñaki only to find out he was standing behind me. I take a step back. He’s looking down with sadness in his eyes at the toddler-sized, mummified corpse.
“Iñaki, what…” I begin.
“That’s my daughter,” he says with the thinnest voice.
At first I thought I was imagining it, and the ghost hunters moving around and talking are distracting me as well, but I can’t deny it any longer: Iñaki’s form is lighting up to the extent that I can’t consider him a shadow anymore. He looks at his own hands as if he just noticed he had them. I can barely tell apart his features any longer when he faces me, holds my gaze and smiles.
“I enjoyed having you around,” he says.
“What… What the hell…?”
Iñaki vanishes. Nothing remains, not even a hint of him having existed.

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 44)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry we met tigerman himself, strongest man in the damn world. We also came across Ram, who is as dutiful and competent as she’s a complete bitch. She also mentions that Emilia is trapped in Sanctuary or something.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

The two-story house that is the closest thing to a normal village abode in Sanctuary, of those you’ve seen so far anyway, belongs to someone named Ryuzu. This Ryuzu person, however, hasn’t made an appearance yet. You all sit around a wooden table in a cozy living room where you can smell the dried meats and hanging vegetables from the kitchen next door. Ram, dutiful servant that she is even away from home, has prepared tea for everybody. Emilia, sitting next to you, looks more worried than anyone, but nobody could blame her when she’s been told that she’s trapped in the village.
Ram finally sits down, takes a sip of her tea and goes straight into the main issue.
“The magical barrier set up hundreds of years ago prevents half-humans from leaving. I suppose that the original intent was to protect people with mixed blood from persecution, particularly during those times in the past when wars were waged between humans and demi-humans. However, the barrier has never been lifted, and as a result generations of half-beasts and half-humans of other types have been born and have died inside Sanctuary without ever seeing the outside world. As things stand now, lady Emilia, you cannot leave either.”
The half-elf stares at Ram in dismay, failing to find any words. You rub your eyes.
“You know, Ram, although I’m about to reprimand you, I understand that this is Roswaal’s doing. However, you are his representative at the moment, so I’ll say it to you: you should have told the other members of the household, particularly Emilia, that if she came to this secret town she wouldn’t be able to leave it.”
Ram glares at you. She doesn’t need to repeat another variety of ‘I’ll do whatever I want whenever I want’ for you to understand her expression. However, you doubt she could deny your point.
“For lady Emilia to leave,” Ram goes on with a steely voice, this time looking at the half-elf, “the barrier will need to be lifted. There seems to be a single way of achieving that: passing the trials set up at the witches’ tomb.”
You turn your head towards Garfiel. The guy is snacking on some homemade cookies, and he either doesn’t seem to notice the amount of crumbs that have fallen on his lap, or he doesn’t care. The punk seems completely unconcerned about this barrier business, but you figure that he doesn’t know anything else than Sanctuary. The outside world might as well be a myth for him.
“Garfiel, you mentioning this witches’ tomb was one of the first things you said to me, right before you hurled me through the air proficiently enough to break world records. How does that tomb relate to witches exactly, and what witches are we talking about?”
“Them witches, everybody knows those! Witches of old, most powerful people before that Witch of Envy swallowed half of the world! It’s a tomb because people were buried there, it’s the witches’ tomb because them witches were buried there.”
“Are you telling me that Satella herself is buried in Sanctuary, in that very same tomb I entered?”, you ask with a thin voice.
Garfiel shoots you a look as if he wants to say something to you but he can’t, maybe because of your company.
“What are you talking about, Barusu?”, Ram says irritated, as if you are spouting nonsense again. “You cannot have entered the witches’ tomb, because otherwise you wouldn’t have survived the magical traps.”
Before you can answer, Garfiel clicks his tongue.
“Don’t want to correct ya of all people, Ram. Hurts my heart. But it just happens that this bastard entered that damn tomb. I saw him leavin’ it in one piece, before I grabbed him and tossed him.”
You aren’t used to that look of uncertainty in Ram’s face, nor do you like it. Your current circumstances seem more grim if Ram wavers. Both Ram and Garfiel are staring at you as if you should explain yourself.
“I don’t know what you expect me to tell you”, you say, and shrug. “I saw some ruins, I ventured into them, I fell unconscious in some chamber inside, and then I came back out.”
Ram frowns as she considers your words seriously for once.
“Why did you faint?”
“Dunno. I just suddenly felt like I was going to pass out, and I barely avoided hitting my head.”
Garfiel is shaking his head while snarling.
“Lyin’ bastard. I already told, all ya noble-born are a bunch of liars. Ya ain’t tellin’ about what ya saw between goin’ to sleep an’ wakin’ up.”
“Subaru isn’t noble-born, I assure you”, Ram says.
“Haah?”, Garfiel answers, taken aback.
“Regardless of my condition of birth,” you say, “please let’s go back to the suggestion that I’m withholding some information. I passed out and I don’t remember a single thing. It wasn’t like dreaming, that when you wake up and you get the sense that you’ve spent hours imagining some crazy shit. There was no sense that any time had passed. It was like waking up from an operation. I truly don’t remember shit, if anything happened at all.”
You would have expected Garfiel to accuse you again, but he holds your gaze almost with sympathy.
“Yer sure? I mean, it’s possible yer blockin’ it out or somethin’.”
“What would I be blocking? Some nightmare?”
“That chamber inside, the one with the pillars of light, that fancy floor an’ all, is where the trials take place. You were there, you fell asleep, and then the trial must have happened. But I can see in yer eyes you ain’t lyin’. If you went through the trial, it would show on yer face. I don’t think ya half-pint would keep that all inside.”
“It really doesn’t seem like Subaru, you know?”, Otto says. He sounds shy about contributing to the conversation. “I can’t see him keeping quiet about something like this, if it happened.”
“Shut it, ya peddler”, Garfiel says casually, then looks at you again. “Ya didn’t go through the trial, so somethin’ else must have happened. Somethin’ new. No clue what. And them traps were set up by number one witch herself, lady of Sanctuary. Dunno how you avoided gettin’ torn to pieces. Don’t like it one bit.”
You drink some more of your tea if only because it will give you a few seconds to think. Your head is already spinning, even though your group has barely begun to unravel this situation.
“Can any of you clarify for me, please, if the witches’ tomb truly holds the remains of the witches associated with the Apocalypse that everyone keeps referring to? And if so, how many of those witches?”
Garfiel shrugs dismissively.
“Them great witches were mentioned a lot in those fairy tales, and people here believe that all of them are buried in that tomb, but who knows? The trials are real though, and they were setup by the Witch of Greed, so Echidna is for sure restin’ there, if she’s even restin’ at all. Wouldn’t think so for what I’ve heard of the lady. About them other Witches of Sin, who knows, who cares.”
“And what do you know about the Witch of Envy, Garfiel? You reckon she might be actually rotting in that tomb?”
He frowns at you, but he chews and swallows part of a cookie before answering.
“Didn’t I say that I don’t care? It’s folk tales, lotsa stupid bedtime stories that mostly gran told us to scare us children into bein’ good. Truth is almost never as scary as people think, an’ those stories are ridiculous.”
Ram sighs deeply and speaks with a tone that suggests she doesn’t want to bother uttering the words.
“The Mathers family has been tending to Sanctuary for many generations, as you all should be well aware of. The witches’ tomb does indeed hold the remains of all the Witches of Sin. So Greed, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and, yes, even Envy herself, who drowned all the others.”
Even though you try to contain a shiver, you still tremble. For some reason, although facing Satella in the black space between your lives doesn’t bother you any longer, knowing that the remains of her body, and maybe even her restless spirit itself, are hanging out so close to your current location makes you want to jump on Patrasche’s back and ride away from here as fast as possible.
“Beatrice told me that those witches were too powerful even for death, and now they are all trapped in the same place, with the one who murdered the others no less. I don’t think I would wish such a fate on anybody.”
“Are you a fan of the witches of old, Barusu?”, Ram asks with a hint of disdain.
As you hold her red-eyed gaze, you want to make some joke to alleviate the mood, but you remember that being a fan of witches has caused terrible troubles in this world, and is usually incarnated in the Witch’s Cult’s attempts to return Satella to life. You clear your throat.
“I know that the Witch of Envy is as troublesome as they come, with the whole dissolving half of the world inside of her and all. I can’t say anything about the others. Satella killed them, so maybe they don’t like the looped witch any more than we do.”
Ram arches her eyebrows and looks away.
“I don’t think it matters whether they like her or not. They’re all stuck in her company, forever.”
You place a hand on your chin and sigh before speaking again.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Even if the Witch of Envy managed to drown the rest of the other witches, how did she drown herself as well?”
Garfiel laughs, then slaps the table next to his plate of cookies.
“Damn half-pint, didn’t ya even pay attention to the fairy tales? That old Satella got sealed by some group of heroes or another. The Five Corcomisants of Tullidor joined forces to vanquish evil and all. Damn old bitch didn’t drown herself! Foolish thing to say.”
“Can’t say I’ve paid much attention to fairy tales, nor to this group of Five Corcomisants of Tullidor or whatever you just said.”
“Nobody has heard of such a group, Barusu”, Ram says, then sighs. “I suggest you don’t listen closely to Garfiel’s words.”
“Hey now!”, Garfiel complains with some embarrassment, particularly you guess because it came from Ram. “Ya gotta listen if ya wanna learn somethin’! Wouldn’t spout stuff for no reason. We are all tryna figure things out here.”
“I’m sure. But we’re also wasting our energies discussing the background of the tomb, so can we please stop this topic?”
You nod silently. You don’t like that the three of you are monopolizing the conversation. When you look around, your gaze first falls on Otto, who looks back concerned. Even though Emilia healed his facial bruises, as well as the pain in your ribcage for that matter, his posture suggests he wants to be as small as possible so people, particularly one violent hick, won’t notice he’s there. When you look at Emilia, your blood goes cold. The half-elf is hunched over with her gaze fixed on the table. No, way beyond, because she isn’t focusing her eyes. She has paled, and her mouth has frozen depicting her desolation. The newly learned fact that she won’t be able to leave this secret town until these trials have passed must have sunk in, and you can’t even pretend that you understand how she’s feeling, because you aren’t half-human. Nothing would stop you, you guess, from leaving Sanctuary and returning to the mansion. But the half-elf needs a hundreds of years old barrier to be lifted.
“H-Hey,” you begin, and although you had been staring at Emilia without her noticing, you turn towards Garfiel. “Has anyone lifted the barrier in these last four hundred years or so?”
“Haah!? Didn’t ya see yer princess friend fall asleep for a while because she passed through the barrier? It’s there for sure! It was already protectin’ Sanctuary as far back as I can remember.”
Ram closes her eyes for a moment, then she addresses you with a voice drained of emotion.
“It’s not a physical barrier, Barusu. It cannot be forced open, nor literally grabbed and lifted so someone can pass under it. Lifting the barrier that prevents half-humans from leaving Sanctuary means breaking the spell, so making the barrier disappear. It has never been achieved.”
“One of the toughest jobs there must be, I reckon”, Garfiel adds solemnly. “Barrier was made by the lady herself, who knew everythin’. Every damn fact of the world, Echidna knew. Could tell you where to find some vossalios’ nest and what color were the eggs safe to eat. She told damn kings and queens whether they were actin’ like fools an’ all, even though Echidna wasn’t noble-born herself. Musta been some strikin’ lady.”
Ram sighs, then lowers her head.
“It seems she spent her last years researching how to live forever. In a way, she succeeded.”
“Haah!? Didn’t live forever at all, our lady!”, Garfiel says, both confused and amused. “She must be a skeleton now. Not a lotta life in some buried bones.”
Ram closes her eyes, holds her breath and clenches her teeth behind her tightened lips.
You had intended to rely on the past experiences of people who had dealt with lifting the barrier before, which must have happened quite a few times in four hundred years. However, the situation feels more grim now. Emilia has barely moved, and it seems that she hasn’t looked up once. It reminds you of yourself, but from when? You breath thickens as you realize it. You must have looked like that many lifetimes ago, back in your old world, when you were expected to return to your regular life, attending your high school classes, even though you couldn’t find the strength to even leave your bedroom most of the days. It’s the impossible weight of having to succeed at a task for which you were born to fail.
You hear a door closing somewhere else in the house, and you realize that someone must have entered through a back door. Ram stands up calmly and passes you by to stand in front of the teapot, which is still steaming on the other, smaller table where she had left it.
“Must be gran”, Garfiel says, and turns his head towards the kitchen.
The supposed grandmother appears in the doorway. It’s a girl of around Petra’s size, and she doesn’t look older than twelve as well. She’s holding a cane-looking staff almost as tall as herself. She has long, straight, pale red hair that curves upwards at its tips. She’s wearing a ship grey, worn coat that covers most of her mouth. Her long, pointy ears are striking, much more pronounced than Emilia’s, but most importantly, this is the girl who had stared at you back at the clearing, when something, maybe Frederica’s magic crystal, teletransported you there.
Is this elf person truly the same girl you saw back then? The eyes of this elf seem intelligent, wise even, while those of the elf you chased had looked as if she hosted the soul of a deer. And also, she’s way too young to be anybody’s grandmother.
“Good day to you all”, she says.
Her voice had sounded kind and welcoming but somewhat tired, like an old person who has been taking care of her grandchildren even though she should have gone to take a nap by now.
Garfiel finishes swallowing the rest of another cookie. He lifts the plate towards the elf.
“Ya outdid yerself with these ones, gran! Love the new recipe.”
The corners of the elf’s smile peek out from under the neck of her coat. She sits carefully on the empty chair at the head of the table.
“I am glad. I will make lots of them. But you didn’t offer any to our guests, did you, Young Garf? They must have been hungry after their trip.”
Garfiel puts the plate down, then shifts his own weight on his chair. He looks apologetic.
“Yeah, forgot about that… But they ain’t guests, because they weren’t invited! Buncha weirdoes! Don’t have any problem with the shy princess and all, but that one with the evil eyes gives me the creeps.”
“Oh dear, you’re being rude again.”
Now both of the elf’s cheeks are smiling as she turns to face her guests. Before she speaks, though, you lean towards the plate of cookies and grab one. Garfiel is startled for a moment because your hand appeared in front of him.
“I guess I’ll take a couple of them”, you say. “And me being so evil and all, I don’t even have to ask.”
The elf places her hands over the top of her cane and smiles as she looks at the three new people.
“I assure you, you are more than welcome in Sanctuary. You have come to help.”
You sink your teeth into the cookie and chew slowly, then swallow. After all the bullshit you’ve gone through, this cinnamon flavored, homemade cookie tastes like heaven.
“I don’t know you at all, Garfiel’s grandmother, but you must have truly outdone yourself with these cookies. They taste amazing.”
“They’re nothing special, I’m afraid.” She says. “You must have special taste, dear.”
You point at her with the hand that holds what’s left of your cookie.
“More importantly, though, haven’t we seen each other bef-…?”
Something burns your cheek. It almost makes you jump from your seat. You lean away from whatever burned you, and you find yourself staring at Ram’s unconcerned eyes looking down at you. She’s holding a steaming teacup as if offering it to you, even though you have an empty one on the table.
“Ram, what the hell!?”
She leaves the teacup next to the empty one, and pushes the previous one a bit.
“Some more tea will go well with the cookie you stole.” She leans into your ear, and her whisper alone makes you shiver before you understand her words. “Refrain from making unnecessary comments.”
Ram then leaves the teapot back on the other table, and sits gracefully at her chair while folding the skirt of her servant outfit.
You want to stare at the senior servant, but you realize she’s not going to clarify her words. Why did she suddenly give you an impossible task?
This young grandma looks at both of you, but seems to decide that she shouldn’t comment on what just happened.
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Ryuzu Bilma, something like the mayor of our little community. Will you tell me your names?”
Otto clears his throat and speaks way too loudly.
“W-Well, I’m someone unimportant, and who has nothing to do with the comings and goings of this place, but my name is Otto Suwen! I’m a completely harmless merchant, I assure you.”
“Good to know, Young Otto. We are always in need of goods. And you over there?”
“I’m Natsuki Subaru, I can… Uh, I’m not really good with social situations, nor do I have any particular skills, but I can travel through dimensions, save people with some heroics, and stuff like that.” This Ryuzu elf seems amused. For some reason, you continue. “I’m an honorary knight, a wanderer without a purpose, a flirter without much success and…” You look at Ram, who is trying to murder you with her gaze. “…and nothing more.”
Ryuzu Bilma nods agreeably.
“Huh! That’s a rare ability you have there, Young Su. Most humans can’t just u-turn like that without preparation.”
You shrug, trying not to look as uncomfortable as you feel.
“It’s nothing really.”
Ryuzu turns her head to address Emilia, but the full elf ends up arching her brows.
“Are you okay, my dear? You look pale as a ghost. Are you troubled because of the barrier?”
Emilia tries to correct her posture, although everybody must realize how uncomfortable she feels. The half-elf combs her long, silver hair with her hand and forces herself to smile at the elf mayor.
“Ah… Well, to be honest, I’m a little afraid of the barrier. I’m trying to process the news that it has trapped me in your village.”
“I understand. We have brought it up with Young Ros over the years, that it was time for the barrier to be lifted, but the world always produces troubles more pressing than solving a situation that has remained frozen for hundreds of years. It’s understandable. However, now that Young Ros visited us again, and that miss Ram brought over plenty of villagers who would want to return to their homes, we finally had an opportunity to apply some pressure. Suddenly all you three have joined us as well, and lady Emilia is qualified to pass the trials herself. The stars are finally smiling at us.”
Emilia’s expression darkens at that idea.
“But… what if I fail your trials? What then?”
“Well, you wouldn’t be the first. But that means you would remain trapped here for the rest of your life.”
A silence falls over the room as all eyes turn to regard the mayor of Sanctuary.
“Isn’t there any other way?”, Emilia asks with a thin voice.
“Not that I’m aware of. But don’t worry! We’re all behind you, and we’ll be supporting you through this ordeal. You’ll have all the resources of Sanctuary at your disposal.”
Although Emilia’s distress is making it hard for you to think of anything else, this situation doesn’t sit well with you.
“You said apply some pressure. What do you mean? What do the villagers that Ram brought over have to do with anything? They aren’t half-beasts, or half-human, or whatever. They should be able to pass through the barrier and return to their lives. Roswaal as well. Being such a powerful wizard as he’s supposed to be, he probably could just have flown out of here before Ram even came to his rescue, or we did for that matter.”
“That clown bastard came in alone first”, Garfiel says with a voice that suggests that thinking about the lord annoys him. “We asked him again, that people wanted to leave, that it wasn’t fair. Same old shit. Young people ‘round here want to see the wide world, don’t know what to tell ya. Ain’t fair and all. This time the clown decided to stick around, even though it didn’t seem to me he was doin’ anything. Other than schemin’, I reckon. That’s all that damn clown does. Then his hot as hell senior servant came in to rescue the clown, and she had brought over a good bunch of small fries, lightweight full humans, because they were afraid of some cult outside or some shit. Guess there are the tides of fumanbos to account for, roamin’ the wastes and all. Makin’ a mess of the place, shittin’ every damn where. Anyways, so them villagers, the fully human I mean, were here, and we could tell the clown, we figured, or gran did mostly, hey, ya damn clown, how ‘bout ye finally do somethin’ to lift this barrier of ours. Ya know, that damn thing the bastard and his clown ancestors had heard over an’ over. Then the schemin’ bastard said, ‘well, sure’. Figure he had somethin’ to prove to those small-timer subjects of his. Lord has responsibilities or somethin’, he said. I don’t listen to that clown’s words too much, makes my head hurt an’ all. So we gathered there at night in front of the witches’ tomb, all ceremonial like, and bastard goes in and we heard the noises of them traps triggerin’. I had heard them before when some fools wanted to loot the dirt inside that tomb, but this time I had thought that the damn clown, being so powerful an’ all, well, he would have been able to stop them from firin’ or somethin’. But he didn’t, couldn’t or whatever. To the clown’s credit, he did drag himself out, even though he looked slashed all over as if he had kicked a bambolabe while it was hibernatin’. Damn fool!” He laughs heartily, but a mere look at Ram’s cold scorn makes him stop himself so quickly that he almost coughs. He clears his throat. “Anyway, he’s been restin’ at one of gran’s places ever since, and we thought, damn, it’s all meat for the rodamunos now! But then ya bunch of half-pints, and the hot princess, who is royalty an’ all, came in, so we can do somethin’ more about this barrier business, can’t we? I reckon that’s the case.”
“Yes, indeed”, Ryuzu says.
You rest your elbows on the table and hide your face with your hands. When you have managed to coalesce this punk’s words into something resembling information, you take a deep breath and look at Ryuzu.
“What would happen if we gathered the villagers and walked them out of your Sanctuary?”
Ryuzu, whose face hasn’t shown anything else than calmness, seemed about to answer when Garfiel raises his hand to stop her.
“Let me, gran. What would happen, half-pint, is that I would stand there in front of the barrier and I would grab all of ya and push ya back, or maybe even grab ya and toss ya so ya land on some pigsty. Know what I mean? Ya want yer people to leave now? Then either ya lift the barrier or ya kill me. And if yer thinkin’ of killin’ the beast, I’ll tell ya that nobody has managed to do that, not once.”
That sentence would have held some weight if you had said it. Although you frown in disbelief at the punk, he must be seriously strong, maybe the strongest in the world as he said, if Roswaal, supposedly the most powerful magician in the kingdom, can’t force Garfiel to stand aside as every outsider leaves. You have to admit, you are a little afraid of him.
“You put so much faith in your abilities, yet you’re stuck here in Sanctuary acting as security? Can’t you pass the trials yourself?”
Garfiel’s mood sours, and he glares at you as if you are picking on a wound of his.
“I ain’t stuck here, half-pint. I do this because I wanted to. My reasons are maybe not the cleverest ones, but it’s what’s right.”
This fucking hick is responsible for your current troubles, or at least partially so. And Emilia’s distress has made you despise this village already.
“Right? All I hear from you is a bunch of mindless babble about strength and being the best.”
“It’s maybe all I have, half-pint. If I’m strong, it means I’m good at somethin’. It’s who I am.”
“But are you content with being stuck guarding the prettiest invisible door in the world with no chance to go out there and prove yourself?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I want to guard the beauty of ma’ybara? If she sets me apart from others, then it’s a great honor.”
You shake your head. After you take a deep breath, you look at Ram, who now glares at you as if to remind you that you are making plenty of unnecessary comments.
“Ram, have we seriously met with the very people who are blackmailing us into remaining in Sanctuary? Could you, I don’t know, have given me a heads-up or something?”
“I didn’t think it was necessary, I thought you had figured it out for yourself. However, I keep making the mistake of believing you hold some intellectual capabilities.”
“Please, Young Su, if you will allow me”, Ryuzu says with a conciliatory tone. “You are in trouble, and so are we. You can help. We are desperate to solve this quandary, we have been for a long time. We are well aware that if you all left back to your lives, Sanctuary would remain as it always has, maybe for another four hundred years. We have a good chance of breaking the barrier once and for all.”
Otto raises his index finger, and clears his throat.
“Wait a second. I don’t want to draw the ire of such a strong man by making a bold suggestion, but the idea that came into my mind doesn’t sound half bad. If only half-humans are forbidden from passing through the barrier, and they can physically pass, because lady Emilia did, why not use our full human bodies to carry you out of Sanctuary?”
“I… I actually think that might work”, Emilia says, perking up a little. “We would have no issues carrying any of you out.”
Garfiel shakes his head and sucks air through his predatory teeth.
“‘Fraid not. Good idea though, particularly for a follower, but the old witch already thought of it. I told ya she knows everythin’ in the world. Even what buttons to push for the puzzle at the palace of Gromblelidan. The barrier repeals half-human souls. If ya carried us out, our souls would get sucked out and maybe keep flyin’ or somethin’, and you’d be carryin’ empty shells. They would keep breathin’, but ya can’t go through life when yer just a husk. Ain’t no fun in it.” Garfiel crosses his arms, and lowers his head. “This damn barrier business… I wish it was a huge wall, stone-like, that went up straight into the heavens. Them villagers wouldn’t see a path going out, so they wouldn’t dream of leavin’. But there’s lots of noble-born and wombalimbos to gape at out here I guess.”
Emilia rubs her eyes slowly while a silence falls over the room. She then opens her tired eyes to stare at Ryuzu.
“What do the trials consist of?”
“Our lady of Sanctuary wishes to peer into the contestant’s past, present and future”, she says with a weighty tone. “Her woven dreams force you to face them.”
“That’s… vague,” you say.
Emilia has shrunk as if she had gone to the hospital for a headache only to discover she has a brain tumor. Garfiel has hunched over, and is scratching absent-mindedly the leathery skin of the horrible scar between his eyebrows. He genuinely seems to pity the half-elf.
“Wouldn’t wanna be in yer shoes, princess, let me tell ya…”, he says quietly. “The trials are impossible to pass. Echidna was one devious bitch. Her dream forces ya to face the past, an’ against the past ya cannot win. Nobody can. Ya better get comfortable in our little town, ‘cause ya ain’t gettin’ out any time soon.”

The meeting ends shortly after, and Ryuzu announces that she will gather a few local cooks to prepare a meal for you that will, you guess, offset being blackmailed into staying in Hick Town. Ram is about to accompany Ryuzu and help, maybe because the senior servant just can’t break character, but after you get out of the two-story house and everybody is scattering, you manage to pull Ram her aside and use the cover of a big tree to talk in a semblance of privacy.
“Ram, is our lord unconscious?”
“I thought you would have wanted to brag about your deeds, as well as explain how you managed to score points for two opposite camps through your operation. Roswaal is awake. I will ask him if he wants to see you, and I will inform you of his response.”
With that, Ram turns on her heel and follows the small, elf leader of Sanctuary. You are left alone with your thoughts under the big tree. After a few seconds you resolve to approach Garfiel like you had intended. Frederica’s blood runs through his veins, so he can’t be entirely worthless. You end up having to run around for a bit, because the guy has diverged from everybody else in the meeting to head towards some area of the village where the ancient buildings become sparse. When Garfiel realizes you are walking behind him, he gets first startled and then annoyed. He eyes you suspiciously.
“Ya followin’ me now?”
“I figured we could talk for a bit without everybody else in the way. I’ve grown fond of your Frederica. You haven’t seen her for a long time, right? She told me that she had left Sanctuary behind, but you have stayed here.”
Garfiel puts his hands on his waist and grimaces at you.
“Yeah, I’ve stayed. What’s it ta ya? And did I look like I wanted to talk about damn ‘Rica? Called ya a buncha fools for ‘ssociatin’ with her and everythin’.”
“I just thought it was odd that you would have separated. She said that her mother came to Sanctuary for shelter, right? You must have grown up here, then Frederica left for the big world outside. It’s odd that you didn’t follow her. With the lioness being so easy-going, she would likely keep going on about you, how proud she is of your strength or some shit like that.”
Garfiel’s nostrils widen, and his grimace opens a side of his mouth, displaying his menacing teeth. Any sane person would have stayed away from this punk, but then again you only learn things by prodding people.
“Well if ya know so damn much, then why’d ya ask?”
“I don’t know, I just wanted to hear it from you.”
Garfiel steps towards you to glare from up close.
“I had enough of ol’ freakin’ furryburglar when she turned her back on us, ya hear!? She’s a damn traitor, that’s what she is. Some sister… Never came back. Never cared about us.”
“That’s not the Frederica I met. She takes good care of Roswaal’s place, she’s very kind to the useless trainee who shouldn’t be there in the first place, and is always sure to make us feel welcome and lighten the mood. She’s a great gal as far as I can tell. And she revealed to us Sanctuary’s secrets, at least regarding how to reach it from the mansion, so we could help you all. I wish she would have mentioned the stuff about the barrier and half-beasts, though…”
Garfiel looks away and narrows his eyes. You look down towards some movement, and realize that his fists are trembling.
“Listen here, small-timer. Yer friends with a traitor, but ya don’t know nothin’. Yer a damn fool. Damn Frederica is only concerned with herself. Always has been.”
“Well, I don’t know about all that, but whatever happened between you both clearly hurts still.”
Garfiel growls, and he narrows one eye further while staring at you. He must not be used to people either asking or caring about a personal relationship of his like this.
“The hell ya think ya are, evil eyes? First noble-born, then not noble-born. We pals now? Whaddya want? It’s not like ya can do a damn thing.”
“It’s just that after meeting Frederica and her being so different from what you are telling me, I want to correct you. It must annoy the hell out of you, holding on to the twisted image of someone you cared about so much. I don’t know why Frederica hasn’t returned, but she certainly cared, and does still.”
Garfiel growls like a wild animal, then steps forward, grabs you by the shirt and raises that fist until you stand on your tiptoes. You are surprised by how little you care, even though you feel Garfiel trembling through his fist.
“Ya know, yer pretty damn brave sayin’ all that to my face. Don’t know what ta make of ya, and it makes my skin crawl. But whatever went on between me and that bitch ain’t any of your business. Besides…”
“You know,” you begin to say calmly, “one of the first moments with your sister in which I thought that she was a real good gal happened when we were speaking about some other horrible troubles, unrelated to you of whom I didn’t know anything at the time, and Frederica started crying. She tolds us something to the effect that the bonds of family anchor us to the world, that we only got one, and that the fact that the memories and feelings associated with a sibling could be taken away was unimaginably awful. Didn’t mean anything in particular to me at the time, but it sure does now.”
Garfiel lowers his head and closes his eyes tight.
“Ya really are a fuckin’ asshole…”
With those words, Garfiel releases you, and you have to take a few steps back to regain your balance.
“We will help you lift the barrier, or break the barrier, or whatever”, you say. “Even though nobody in four hundred years has managed to achieve it. I tend to hold on to delusional hopes.”
The guy is breathing faster, and when he manages to hold your gaze, he’s gone wide-eyed.
“Ya went inta them witches’ tomb although yer just a full human. I should have bothered meself pickin’ up yer bloody remains to feed the pigs. There’s somethin’ wrong wit’cha.” He begins to walk away, even though he refuses to turn entirely in the direction he’s heading. “I’ll be keepin’ an eye on ya, small-timer. I don’t like weird people hangin’ around, messin’ my place. Makes me all nervous.”

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 43)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry we finally met the dried up best girl of this arc, good ol’ Witch of Greed. I’ll always look forward to writing her scenes. We’ll keep meeting plenty of new characters in the following parts.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

You are lying on the flat, cold stones that make up the floor of this ancient antechamber illuminated by four pillars of light. As you support yourself on your forearms, you attempt to breathe, but you end up coughing for a while. You must have breathed plenty of dust. What the hell happened? You remember entering this room because you had felt someone here, and after taking a few steps in you just passed out. You must have breathed some noxious gases accumulated here over the centuries. If you had died from it, you would have been embarrassed. After so many brutal deaths, dying from breathing bad shit would feel like beginner stuff.
Emilia! You had attempted to save her cute half-elf ass from getting blown to bits, but you ended up getting teletransported somewhere else. Did both her and Otto end up passing through the invisible barrier? You can’t imagine that if they saw you disappear, they wouldn’t have attempted to find you. You need to search for them.
You exit the antechamber and venture through the darkness of the passageway towards the gargantuan lighted entrance that shows the canopy of the enclosing forest. No need to run your hand through the cold, damp stone wall when you can see where to go.
Once you finally stand on the raised platform outside and the morning light, despite the grey, cloudy sky, forces you to squint, your tingling hands relay to you how anxious you had felt inside this centuries or maybe millennia old ruin. If you had a modicum of common sense you would have understood that wandering into random ruins in a fantasy world would have been suicidal, even if they just contained a few animated skeletons, but fortunately you don’t feel as if whatever made you pass out has produced lasting consequences to your body.
You sigh and advance towards the descending stone steps, only to stop in your tracks. Otto’s carriage is parked in the clearing below, maybe around twenty meters away, as if it came this way. Both ground dragons are standing around the carriage; they must have been detached from their duty. Patrasche raises her head to gaze at you. Your merchant pal is sitting on the driver’s seat, but although you would have expected him to look relieved for having found you, he waves at you as if alerting you of some threat. The couple of bruises on his face, including a swollen eye, suggest that someone has punched him hard.
You tense up and follow Otto’s gaze to the surroundings, scouting for anything peculiar that might be a potential threat to you. The sky has no anomaly, the trees are swaying gently, the wind is quiet, and…
“Went right into the witches’ tomb, didn’t ya! Damn invaders gettin’ bolder these days. Heads up, half-pint!”
When you turn around towards the voice, you get a glimpse of a blonde set of messy hair, and in particular an arresting scar, as if from a wound never allowed to heal, that spans most of the space between two blonde eyebrows. This guy grabs you like a bouncer would and he hurls you over the stone stairs towards the carriage. You are flying as if launched by a catapult. As the air blows on your skin and the sight of the carriage below, as well as both ground dragons, gets larger and larger, you can only wonder how a human being could have such strength.
Patrasche whines. She runs up to where you are going to hit the ground, and she breaks your fall with her own back. However, the strong impact squeezes the air out of your lungs. You hold on to what you can grab of the saddle so you won’t fall over. Your vision is blurry, your ears are ringing.
You gaze up towards where Patrasche is growling. At the top of the stone steps, the man who threw you is crouched in a slav squat while grinning at you maliciously. He doesn’t look older than eighteen. His light blonde hair is messy and uneven as if he doesn’t know what a hair comb is, and whenever his hair felt to long he just chopped it here and there. He’s wearing some worn pants, and on the upper half of his body an open vest covers part of his athletic physique, as if he’s used to running around and throwing fools.
You want to sit up on the saddle, but stumble about and slip to the ground. Patrasche moves next to you and nuzzles your face with her snout.
“Never ride a dragon, small-timer!”, the blonde guy shouts. “They’ll only betray yer trust an’ send yer flyin’ inta somethin’!”
You manage to raise your voice despite how much your lungs are bothering you.
“Can’t speak for the remainder of the ground dragon race, but my Patrasche here is as loyal as they come. She once killed an Archbishop and everything.”
“Watch yerself, small-timer. I don’t take threats lightly.”
You manage to stand up. Your sides ache from the impact you suffered, and you’re not sure if a rib is broken or not. Your vision is still blurry, so you rub your eyes.
Your Patrasche is snarling at the blonde guy like she wants to attack him, but stays put. It takes two jumps for the guy to stand on the grass at the base of the stone steps. His legs are unhurt as if he leaps from trees regularly for fun.
As you were about to speak, Patrasche launches into a charge. The blonde guy stands there with his hands on his hips while smirking, and at the last moment he leaps out of the way. Patrasche attempts to brake, but she hits the stone steps. The blonde guy laughs while he retreats strategically, which only infuriates Patrasche, who jumps back to her feet and charges again. This time the guy hunches over and extends his arms at his sides.
“No! Don’t kill my ground dragon!”, you shout, even though your legs refuse to move. “She’s just trying to defend me!”
“As if! This ain’t a monster, just an oversized lizard! Best kinda dragons!”
In a sudden move he leaps onto Patrasche’s head and wraps his legs around her neck, forcing her to the ground. She now has an arm around her throat. The ground dragon struggles to reach for his leg with her claws, but he keeps pulling it away.
“This girl just needs to know who’s boss!”, the blonde guy says. “See? She’s already under control!”
He lets go of her and jumps to his feet. Patrasche quickly gets up and retreats to your side, while keeping a watchful eye on the blonde guy.
You need to leave this clearing. You have a carriage and Otto is already sitting on the driver’s seat, but it will take too long to attach both Patrasche and the other ground dragon, who is standing further away dumbfounded.
You suddenly remember Emilia. She should have at least witnessed the scene. You gasp and run towards the driver’s seat, climb it and, while Otto tries to talk to you, you jump onto the back of the carriage. Emilia is lying face up on the floorboards, and looks unconscious.
You freeze, but you snap out of it and crouch next to her. You shake her shoulders. Emilia doesn’t react. She’s reminding you of Rem so much right now that you feel a warmth rushing to your eyes.
“Emilia! C’mon, get up!”
You shake her harder, then you just pick her up to a sitting position. While holding her you look for wounds, but she looks unharmed.
Otto speaks from the driver’s seat.
“She’s been like this every since we passed the barrier, or at least that mark on the map! I have no id-…”
The punk pops up next to Otto, who snaps his head back and stares in fear. The guy however is focusing on you, as if Otto didn’t pose any threat.
“What the fuck happened to Emilia, you unnaturally strong bastard!?”, you yell.
The guy smirks. You notice the sharp, triangled tips of his teeth, and your lips separate although you remain too dumbstruck to speak.
“Damn right!”, the punk says. “Strongest man in the world. Even the invaders know it! Obvious for all.” He glances at the unconscious Emilia and raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t do nothin’ to the hot gal, not my style. That’s the barrier’s doin’. All the half-breeds who enter it go beddy-bye for a while. She’ll wake up in a bit, I reckon.”
This guy seems too straightforward to have lied about Emilia’s situation, so your shoulders relax a bit. However, you are fixated on the huge scar slightly above the root of his nose. It’s like he had hit his head hard against something, and he kept picking the wound until no healing magic would help anymore. The patch of scar tissue is distracting you, as well as suggesting beyond the guy’s actions that he’s seriously unstable, possibly crazy.
“You are Garfiel, aren’t you”, you say with a thin voice.
This punk lifts his upper lip in a somewhat menacing smile, although he seems pleased that you’ve recognized him. More importantly, you’ve seen those teeth before. Pointy, triangled as if filed. A carnivorous smile.
“The beast himself! Known throughout the world it seems. Legend travels far. Polisarus the Sage breezin’ through town after town to sing of my deeds an’ all!”
“And you are related to Frederica. You must be.”
Garfiel’s upper lip twitches. His smile slowly fades, until he grimaces and turns his head to groan.
“Why ya gotta ruin my mood like that. Ya know her, huh? I ain’t surprised then, ya bein’ a buncha fools an’ all. But I guess ya ain’t invaders then.”
“That’s what I tried to tell you immediately before you spoke with your fists!”, Otto whines from the driver’s seat.
Garfiel barely turns towards the merchant.
“Shut it, small-timer. Barely grazed yer mug. Ya breached the peace of our home, an’ for what? Whaddya all want? Frederica told ya to come?”
You sigh. You have to maneuver around this punk’s unpredictably violent nature, but he’s not going to kill you anymore.
“Your possible sister or cousin or whatever decided to reveal your secret village’s location because shit had gotten too real for us. We belong to the same household. I personally consider myself Frederica’s best friend.”
Garfiel snorts.
“Ya, yer also noble-born. So, a liar. House of Fobinstania brought the nation to its knees. Frederica ain’t the type to have friends. Too rough and rowdy like.”
You blink twice, but you already know that listening to this guy closely is only going to give you headaches.
“I hear she likes to wrestle.”
Garfiel snaps his head back and frowns as if you had been prodding him repeatedly.
“Haah!? Ya know the gal enough then. Bruises would last for days. Damn bitch…” He tightens his lips, and then shakes his head. “Enough talkin’ about her! I asked ya whaddya wanted! Ain’t confusin’ me with all these zoobizangos in my ears!”
“Subaru…?”, Emilia says behind you, sounding confused. “What happened…?”
The half-elf is supporting herself on one arm to stand up, while rubbing her temple with the free hand. She has narrowed her eyes as if her head hurts. When she notices Garfiel, a rough-looking stranger standing between you and Otto, and then she sees the merchant’s bruised face, Emilia straightens her back and frowns.
“Lady Emilia, you are alright!”, Otto says, pleased. “Goodness, I had been so worried! And I couldn’t help at all!”
“I told ya”, Garfiel says as he holds his hand in front of him with the palm turned towards the carriage’s roof. “Nothin’ we ain’t seen before.”
Emilia is glaring at Garfiel as if he’s about to leap onto you both and tear you apart. She extends her left arm at her side, urging you to hide behind her, and you obey. Might as well. Emilia extends her right hand towards the menacing punk, as if she’s going to produce an ice shard and impale the guy.
“Who are you?”, Emilia asks seriously with her bell-like voice. “Why have you attacked us?”
Garfiel is too busy guffawing. He points at you.
“Hidin’ behind the hot lady! What a coward!”
“Hey, this hot lady is a half human ice gun”, you answer. “No shame in hiding behind someone stronger.”
Otto raises his voice while shaking his hands to stop the confrontation from escalating.
“We already realized that this is a huge misunderstanding! Mister Garfiel over here is just a bit too carefree with his fists, and he thought we were invading Sanctuary. But we are all friends!”
“Yer too loud. Damn lightweight… Nothin’ wrong with throwin’ a few punches to people who annoy ya. I was enjoyin’ myself before you chose today to visit our home.”
Emilia seems too dazed from having just woken up. You put your hand on her extended arm to lower it gently. She looks at you with worry, but you nod.
“It seems we are okay, Emilia. Let’s calm down.”
Emilia turns her attention back to Garfiel.
“So you are the person they warned us about…”
The punk looks proud.
“Ha! I’m Garfiel, head of the village security for this here place. Ya know, bruise a few troublemakers, throw invaders out, rip some to shreds. Usual business. But I think I heard about ya. That fancy face, all hot like, with those big purply eyes, and yer a half-breed, ain’t ya? Must be that silver-haired witch they chose for the throne of this kingdom or whatever. Is like, you stay in Fergul’s Marsh only for the trankasors to come pay ya a visit!”
You realize you must be staring at this punk as if you had come across a gruesome car crash and you can’t look away from the carnage. Is this how I sound like to others?, you think.
“What’s your deal, Garfiel? Do you belong to a bike gang in the eighties?”
“Haah!? The hell’s this bike thing, an’ what eighties ya mean? Eighty what? Ya speak lot of nonsense even for a noble! It’s like ya hide behind the karropazoos in yer teeth.”
“You know, lotta rich people have veneers to cover up their bad teeth. I suggest you do something like that. Predatory teeth look good in Frederica, but in a guy like you, it just freaks people out.”
Otto gasps and goes wide-eyed as if you have just punched a lion in the balls. Garfiel looks taken aback, but he laughs.
“Yer mocking me, huh? These teeth are strong, so were ‘Rica’s back then. Playin’ around is fine an’ all, but this tiger here can have really bad days! Even gran wants to handle me with gloves then, not that I’d to anythin’ to the old hag.”
“Yes, well, some of us do not have strong teeth and cannot flatten metal poles with them, so we use them for civilized conversation!”
“Bah! Civilized… It’s all a load of durangos anyway.”
Emilia steps forward. She’s wringing her hands. You can’t imagine how she must feel having to deal with an unstable punk like this.
“We aren’t enemies, then, and you know now that we didn’t intend to invade your village. We came looking for our lord, Roswaal Mathers. He’s been missing for days, far too long now, and we are really worried thinking that something must had happened to him.”
Garfiel’s facial features twist as if he had bitten into an apple only to discover a worm. He spits on the floorboards. Otto opens his mouth to say something, but he realizes the kind of guy he was going to tell off.
“Missin’?”, the punk says with a mocking tone. “Wouldn’t call lyin’ in bed for days missin’! He tried to pass the trials at the witches’ restin’ place and almost got torn into pieces. Serves him right.”
“Shit, so he was actually injured”, you say out loud.
Garfiel shrugs.
“Traps got him good. Gotta have traps. Never know how many looters might try to take somethin’ from yer places. Fools all. Only dirt to take in them witches’ tomb, and tryin’ will kill ya. If you ain’t a half-breed that is.”
“Will you guide us to lord Roswaal?”, Emilia says calmly as if trying to focus the guy’s thoughts.
Garfiel rolls his eyes and shifts his weight.
“Sure, I’ll take ya to the hot gal who guards that clown bastard. Ram’s the name. Guess you know her, bein’ from the same household an’ all. Damn, that Ram gets me all fired up…”
It takes you a moment to realize that the words ‘clown bastard’ hadn’t come out of your own mouth for once. You walk up to Garfiel and extend your hand towards him so he can shake it.
“You must be an okay guy, Garfiel. Nice meeting you.”
Garfiel looks down at your hand as if you had smeared it with shit. He looks to the side and tsks.
He just tsked me, you think. This motherfucker.

As your carriage travels slowly through what passes for a road in the village of Sanctuary, you could hardly be more disappointed. This secret village isn’t a Soviet nuclear town, but something like a community of squatters. Most of the buildings were clearly built hundreds of years ago, and have been partly claimed by the surrounding forest even though people are living in them. You pass by small orchards and vegetable gardens. A bunch of pigs run across the road, and the ground dragons almost trample them.
Every single person you’ve spotted, whether they were peeking out confused from the unglazed windows, standing nearby and looking up at the carriage’s passengers, working on the gardens, or just playing around, is some variety of half-beast. Their partially human nature is either combined with dog, cat, bear, fox, deer, boar, and a few others you couldn’t identify. And there are quite a few children gazing at you travellers with curiosity, as well as old folks, so plenty of isolated generations must have been born and died here. A hidden village of outcasts and refugees, possibly from wars of persecution and genocide won long before you were even thought of. Despite what some documents would say, this place doesn’t belong to the surrounding kingdom, and possibly neither to Roswaal’s domains.
Garfiel guides Otto to a huge building that looks suspiciously like a church. It’s not exactly the same as any church you’ve ever seen before though. Its round tower has a large clock, and is topped with a spire that’s wider than it is high. It must have been built long ago as well and merely maintained, because you can’t imagine that any of these people nor their recent ancestors managed to put together the machinery of such a clock. It reminds you of plenty you saw in the capital.
Garfiel jumps out of the carriage, and the rest of you get off warily. As you rub your neck and look around at the somewhat claustrophobic community, enclosed as it is by a dense forest that threatens to encroach it, you spot a few full humans chatting with each other near the church-like building. They are drinking from mugs, and look untroubled. When you point them out at Emilia, she’s also curious. You have taken a few steps towards the guys when a confident female voice calls out to you.
Once you understood that Ram had survived, you were dreading the moment when you would see Rem’s sister again. She won’t remember anything about the precious sister she lost, or that you are his future brother-in-law, but when you swallow and turn towards the pink-haired servant, a pang of pain hits your chest. Ram’s face is so close to her sister’s, and she’s conscious, she’s looking at you, she can talk to you. You take a deep breath as the pink-haired servant approaches both you and your half-elf friend.
“Lady Emilia as well. Someone broke the secrecy about this place, but it’s for the best given the circumstances.”
You look down for a moment. You can’t wipe Rem from your mind at the moment, even though it will prevent you from dealing with this troubling situation in a village you had never seen before. You take a deep breath and hold the pink-haired senior servant’s gaze.
“First of all, I’m happy to see you. I always worry that the next time we come across you will be missing your head.”
She narrows her eyes.
“Always a way with words, Barusu, if by way I meant having the uncanny ability to spew sentences that don’t make sense probably even to you. You said something similar at the village, when I was resting from my valiant efforts against the cultists. What is this obsession with having me beheaded?”
You sigh.
“You know, I did miss your constant disapproval, the same way you would miss your mother’s cooking even though it gives you diarrhea. Never mind the whole getting beheaded thing, I’m just happy you are alive, that’s all. For all we knew, you and our peculiar lord had gotten mauled by manticores or something.”
Ram’s stern gaze falls on a two-story house close to the church. It’s bigger and better maintained than the rest of the village, as if it belongs to a local important person.
“I would have taken a few manticores instead of our current troubles. What do you know about why the lord and I hadn’t returned to the mansion?”
“That Garfiel punk told us that Roswaal tried to loot the witches’ tomb but couldn’t handle some lousy traps.”
Emilia, who had been standing next to you silently, looking guarded, speaks up.
“Subaru, what are you saying? That troublesome man did say that some traps did injure the lord, but he had ventured into those ruins to… pass some trials?”
You scratch the back of your head.
“Sorry, I guess I got confused.”
Ram rolls her eyes at you.
“We will need to sit down and speak about this matter carefully, lady Emilia. I’m afraid we are trapped in Sanctuary. Particularly yourself.”
Emilia snaps her head back and looks worried, but before she can speak, Garfiel addresses you all with his loud, brash voice while he approaches your group.
“I brought yer friends to ya, Ram. Wasn’t that nice of me? Must have made ya a bit happy.”
Ram’s nostrils widen. She glances at Garfiel as if giving him the time of the day hurts her.
“You’ll need far greater deeds to gain points with me, Garfiel.”
“Haah!? I guess I’m just outta luck with you then, ain’t I?”
“Yes. Quite.”
“Fine then. I’ll leave ya to it. Heard there are some idiots mess’n about near the north road. I’ll go give ‘em a thrashin’.”
Garfiel turns around to leave, but Ram says his name to stop him.
“No. We need to gather in Ryuzu’s house to speak about the barrier. Now that my friends have joined us, we could improve all of our circumstances.”
Garfiel smirks.
“Y’know Ram, that’s really good thinkin’. Hot as fire an’ a whip-smart brain. You must have been born under the sign of the Hegiledes, as I keep sayin’.” He nods at Emilia, who lowers her head. “Princess, follow me. Ain’t gonna hurt ya. Ah, we also need to get that small-timer. Where is he? Still at the carriage?”
When both Garfiel and Emilia walk away, after she shoots you a look of disquiet over her shoulder, you notice that Ram isn’t moving. The senior servant then sighs, but when she was taking a step forward, you put a hand on her shoulder. She looks at it and then at you as if she hardly believes you dared touch her.
“Are we really okay with this Garfiel guy?”, you ask in a low voice.
Ram looks away.
“We have a better chance of getting back to our old lives if we work with the people who hold power around here.”
“Apart from that, Ram, me and my merchant pal, to whom I might have offered to join our household, had gone down to the village to buy some groceries. The place is a bit of a powder keg now. A few are thinking of taking over the mansion. Don’t know how serious they might be, but… How come you chose to come to Sanctuary with quite a few of our villagers? Did they ask you to?”
Ram snorts.
“I don’t know what makes you think I have to justify my decisions to you. I brought some villagers to Sanctuary, and that’s as much as you need to know.”
Her disrespect barely fazes you anymore, and you enjoy talking to her anyway.
“Well, I’m surprised they didn’t cause you more trouble! Some of the worst ones must have been there. That crazy village chief who believes himself to be a wizard, the wart guy who lost his entire family and berated Emilia for it… I missed quite a few unpleasant faces when Otto and I visited the village.”
“The village is caught up in superstition and ignorance. It’s no place for a half-elf or anyone with a shred of empathy.”
“I don’t know how I feel about you bringing up empathy. More often than not whenever people keep bringing up the lack of empathy in others, they tend to lack it themselves.”
Ram turns her whole body to face you, and glares at you intensely.
“What do you mean by that? I have as much empathy as anyone else.”
You smile and raise your hands.
“Then you wouldn’t keep hurting my heart. I just want to be the best brother-in-law you could have.”
She squints.
“You constantly dismiss serious topics, some that even you yourself bring up, by spouting nonsense. And yet you want people to respect you, Barusu? If you want to know, that man you called ‘wart guy’ hanged himself back at the village.”
The news surprises you. You had expected that man to be broken, but it felt he had more fight in him.
“That’s fucked, Ram.”
She shrugs.
“He left a note blaming the half-elf for his family’s death, as if he hadn’t made it obvious enough. His choice. Everybody is in charge of his own life, and it’s their right to end it if they do not wish to struggle anymore.”
“Although I don’t disagree, I’m still inclined to do so because that opinion came from your mouth.”
“I understand that feeling. But look at it this way: if any female were stupid enough and had such terrible taste as to partner herself with you, to the extent that she even agreed to create life made out of half of your deficient essence…”
“C’mon, Ram. Chill.”
“… Would you want to keep living if your wife and child were murdered?”
Your chest has gotten tighter during these last couple of minutes. It feels so wrong for Ram to behave this way towards you, without the hint that one day you would become part of the same dysfunctional family, although with her having forgotten her beloved sister it can’t be any other way. What kind of memories does Ram hold of you in her brain? How did the memories that involved both you and your girlfriend change? Did your beloved demon servant’s deeds become yours?
And you can’t help but return to that moment of the Witch’s Cult assault when you were holding an unconsolable Emilia and realized that you could choose to run away, find a knife and kill yourself so you would try again and again if necessary. You would fend off Petelgeuse’s assault until maybe you managed to save every single villager, and of course your friends. But you chose not to, because you didn’t feel strong enough. Maybe you truly aren’t strong enough to withstand the inevitable trauma that would mount up. You wonder if anyone would be. And still, you can’t lie to yourself and pretend that you hadn’t chosen.
“This is my fault”, you blurt out. Ram blinks and frowns at you, but you lower your head. Doesn’t matter if she doesn’t understand, because none of them do. “At that point, I would have returned… I would have woken up at Crusch’s place.”
Ram seems to wait for you to raise your gaze and face hers again, but she ends up taking a deep breath.
“You aren’t the center of the universe, Barusu. You clearly have a complex involving such thoughts. That disagreeable villager’s misery was the fault of the cultist fiends who murdered his family members.”
If Emilia finds out, you think, she would be seriously distraught on top of how jumpy she’s been ever since she met that punk. You stare at Ram’s red eyes. The senior servant always looks as self-assured as if she would be able to stop a train by standing in its way and demanding that it turned around.
“Please, don’t tell Emilia”, you ask.
“I will tell the lady whatever I consider necessary, whenever I wish to. However, I do agree that revealing such details would only serve to upset her during these circumstances.”
“You can just say, ‘you are right, I won’t tell her, Subaru. Thank you for your invaluable input’.”
Ram snorts.
“Perhaps you believe others to be as submissive and easily pliable as yourself, Barusu.”
She begins to walk away. You stand there while clenching your teeth. Rem was balancing the universe by being as sweet as Ram is a bitch. However, you realize that she’s been calling you Barusu. Why would she address you that way? She had begun doing so because she must have felt closer to you after you declared yourself her future brother-in-law. She had asked you to please make sure her sister didn’t drink too much during the celebrations at the capital.
You swallow to clear your throat.
“Wait, Ram!”
The senior servant stops, and even though you can only see her back, you imagine her closing her eyes tightly and steeling herself to deal with your idiotic ass for some seconds longer. She turns around with a stern look in her face.
“What is it now, Barusu?”
You walk up to her.
“That’s exactly my point. Why would you call me Barusu? Think about it. When did you start calling me that way?”
She shakes her head while blinking as if you are just wasting her time, but then her face darkens and her facial expression loosens. Disturbed, she looks to the side, but it only lasts a moment.
“I don’t recall now. I’m sure I had my reasons. Probably wanted to remind you that you aren’t important enough that people should remember your actual name.”
You nod, and hold her dismissive gaze as if that way you could watch her manipulated memories like a movie.
“We tell ourselves such stories, huh? Just so it all makes sense and we can keep walking.”
She clenches her hands, and then turns around again.
“I don’t know what’s going through your head at the moment, Barusu, nor do I want to. Follow me. We all need to face how both your and Emilia’s intervention has changed our predicament.”

A Poor Player (GPT-3 fueled short)

As I rest against the worn desk of my office, I hear the clickety clack of my secretary’s typewriter right outside the thin wall. In a short while, someone I know will enter my business, head to my office and reveal that they need my skills to save them from their troubles, which will always seem far simpler than the tangled mess they would end up becoming. And even the times I have wished with all my heart to stay away from all of it, the people involved wouldn’t let me be until I forced myself to endure through it all again.
I have closed my eyes to try to control my breathing, but I hear the tapping of heels approaching my secretary’s desk. I wouldn’t forget that rhythm in a thousand lifetimes. Then I hear her muffled voice as she introduces herself to my secretary, Doris. Seconds later, the door to my office opens. It’s a woman in her late twenties wearing sunglasses and dressed in a black flared dress. She walks inside and closes the door behind her. As she stares with black holes for eyes, as dark as her own, she smiles, parting her painted lips.
“Hello,” she says.
Betty again. The old rollercoaster. The first impression always jumpstarts my heart, no matter how long I’ve known her. Every man dreams of having a such a woman concentrating her attention on them. She knows it, and and how to use it.
“Hey,” I say. “What can I do for you?”
She sits down in the leather chair in front of my desk and crosses her legs. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail. Although in the following days I will learn to hate her all over again, I missed her long, painted fingernails, her shiny, straight black hair, and how she handles herself on her high-heeled shoes.
She takes off her sunglasses, which belonged to her mother, and her dark eyes meet mine.
“Mr. Fairfax, I want you to find my husband,” she says. “He left me last weekend and I need you to find him.”
Fairfax’s Finest, a private investigation company I own and run, has been built thanks to solving cases that the police couldn’t or wouldn’t. I’m known as the best in town. Then again, I can’t be proud about it, can I? Anyone with my knowledge would ace every case, would know them by heart even if they wished to forget them.
I want to take a deep breath, but I contain myself.
“Sure, I will find whoever needs finding,” I answer with my raspy, weary voice. “Work with people I’d rather avoid, dredge up the past, and poke around the lives of others. Usual state of affairs. You have caught me a bit more worn down than usual, so I feel like asking something new, Betty MacDougall. How often do you feel as if someone is staring at you, someone you don’t ever get to see?”
For a second her pleasant, calculated smile wavers. She has asked herself how come I know her name. Then again, she came looking for the best.
“Never,” she answers, her voice flat. “Should I? Who has been spying on dear old me, Mr. Fairfax?”
“You might want to ask that question to yourself, madam,” I say. “You came to me for a reason. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t heard of my work.”
She ponders that for a second.
“True,” Betty answers. “I can pay for the best, which is the level of skill I require. My husband, poor old Roy, is a troubled man. Suffers from chronic melancholia, you see, and any little misunderstanding might trigger him to simply run away from those who love him. It just happens that he’s good at hiding, and this time, in his confusion, he has left with something that doesn’t belong to him.”
Good old Roy is hiding in Whitstable, and he has indeed fled with something that didn’t belong to him. It just happens that it didn’t belong to Betty either.
“What has this thief of yours stolen from you?” I ask, barely performing my part.
“He’s not a thief, he’s my husband. And the missing item is a music box. He took it with him.”
“What’s so special about it?”
“It belonged to my mother,” she explains bitterly. “The person I loved the most and whom I will never get back. I’m not sure why Roy took the box from me. Maybe he wanted a memento of our relationship. To be honest, it might be the case that he has already lost it along the way, the silly bugger. However, I won’t give up on either.”
“Of course you shouldn’t.”
“I’ll pay you to find him and retrieve the music box. You can charge extra to prioritize it.” She challenges me with her stare. “Roy tied my hands, I’m afraid. I don’t think I have any other choice but to deal with this nonsense.”
She opens her purse and takes out a thick wad of bank notes. She peels off a few so new they aren’t even creased, handing them over to me.
I briefly examine the money, even though I have already held these very same notes. Of course Betty is so carefree about money, given that she never worked hard to earn it. Well, I suppose that she does consider it working hard, in her peculiar way.
“You handle a small fortune very casually, Betty MacDougall.”
“It’s only money. In the scheme of things, it isn’t that important.”
“That’s true, but I would imagine that someone who never had enough wouldn’t throw it around so much.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about it. I have more than enough, even for my simple lifestyle. And I make sure to put some aside for a rainy day. It isn’t raining anyway.”
I can almost see her eyes narrowing as she declares this last bit.
I cross my arms and hold Betty’s stare with the blankest expression on my face. I’m not reacting to her charms, and if there’s anything my dear old Betty hates is not being able to play people like an instrument.
“Few would call your lifestyle simple, Mrs. MacDougall, if they knew about it.”
She smiles, the cold grin I know best.
“You’d be surprised, Mr. Fairfax, about what some people have and others don’t.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised about anything. That’s a experience that I miss. I am aware that you could pay for anything in this town and it wouldn’t affect your finances.”
Her eyes narrow.
“You have my attention, Mr. F. Are you going to tell me that you did preliminary research on someone you didn’t know was going to walk through your door?”
I take a breath and lean into her personal space. Her face is so expressive when she’s annoyed. I open my palm to reveal a silver crucifix on a heavy chain.
“Do you recognize this?”
For a brief moment I wonder if she will try to snatch it out of my hand. But she’s too smart for that. Her eyes narrow again as she looks at the silver cross pretending to see it for the first time.
“Should I know any random crucifix that many of the people in this wretched town happen to own?” she says with an amused yet dismissive tone.
“This isn’t your average crucifix, darling. It has a history that goes far beyond this old town.”
“I really don’t have time for riddles, Mr. Fairfax. I can see why you come with such recommendations if you manage to unnerve even your clients in such a manner. But I have more important things to do than play a guessing game with you.”
I smile. All I have left is to either be swept by the current or indulge myself.
“The man that last owned it was an eccentric to say the least. He was also an infamous murderer of many young women, along with being a pimp. He used to lure women with promises of work as a model, dancer and the like. Those ladies had come into America and quickly fell into such debt that they felt forced to prostitute themselves. In return, he got them addicted to various drugs and abused them to his heart’s content.”
Betty’s face doesn’t change from its annoyance, except for the briefest of flickers in her eyes. As if she’s trying very hard to not let me see something.
“A veritable monster, and an uncouth subject for small talk.”
“But that’s history now,” I continue. “This crucifix was found in a bathroom stall with prints all over it. In another room of that floor, the police kept busy handling the poisoned corpse of the man that the crucifix had belonged to.”
“So?” she says with a grunt. “Another dreary tale in this boring world.”
“One of his whores ended up in prison for his murder. Lord knows she had enough cause, and she had already attacked him with a knife before. It just happened that the prints on this crucifix didn’t match those of the woman who now rots in jail.”
“So?” Betty repeats. Nobody would be able to read her expression even if they knew.
“She’s innocent. We’ve never been able to figure out who the real murderer was, but we know it wasn’t her. Still, I couldn’t pin it on anyone.”
“Do you make a show of trying to solve previous cases by framing for murder your new clients, Mr. Fairfax? I suppose it must have worked one time or another.”
I smile at Betty as the familiar warmth spreads through my chest.
“This is evidence that you murdered someone, and that none but your victims knew what you are capable of.”
“I’m capable of a lot, that’s for sure. The world deals in proof, though. Surely you know that, investigator.”
“I’m fairly certain that you can’t bluff your way out of this one.”
She sits there in silence for a minute or two, staring at the crucifix. Then she smiles. It’s a dark smile that makes my blood run cold. A power of hers, one you never become immune to.
“You are playing a strange game,” Betty says. “I wonder what your connections in the police would think of you accusing random young women without any proof. If this is a prank, you are boring me, but if you are as serious as you pretend, you’re going to regret making me into your enemy, Mr. Fairfax.”
“In polite society, to kill me you would need to catch me sleeping, because I wouldn’t taste any of your food nor let your lips near mine.”
She laughs.
“Ah, the toll it takes. Is that it? You are confusing me with any other beautiful, young woman of the many cases you have dealt with, one that made you learn to look over your shoulder. After all, we pay people like you to endure what we don’t want to bother ourselves with.”
I shush her, which breaks her practiced charm. The holes show for a brief second what lies inside. I point at the ceiling and look up, then back down to Betty’s haunting eyes.
“It’s getting stronger. You feel it now? The chill of the gaze upon you.”
“No,” she says, intrigued, “What do you mean?”
“There is a presence.” I take a deep breath and step away from her towards the window. “There always has been. And yet you have never been able to notice it. Even a woman as cunning as yourself.”
I turn my back on her, but she calls out to me. I look over my shoulder. I want to witness as much as her as I get to see, after all.
“Mr. Fairfax…” she says, trailing off. She shakes her head slowly. “You are a man full of surprises. First the crucifix, now talk about some invisible presence watching us. Are you a man of God by chance?”
“No. It’s not a god, at least none of the ones we know. This presence is real, and it demands something from me. From us.”
I turn back around. Her eyes look at me from head to toe and then they dart over to the door of my office as if someone else is going to enter.
“Oh, you are a strange one,” Betty says, “A charmer and a mad man. A deadly combination.”
I yearn for the pain.
“You have a birthmark on your left inner thigh. It has the faint shape of a dove.”
Her eyes widen and her hands fly to her lap in case I had been looking up her dress. To her credit, she does an admirable impression of someone who is merely embarrassed. Then she steels herself.
“I didn’t take you for such a dirty man that you would violate with your eyes a woman whom you have barely met.” Betty’s voice alternates between sounding flattered and creeped out. “Any of my lovers must have spoken to you, and at length, it seems. Is it that as an investigator you feel obligated to learn every private detail, no matter how little it concerns you?”
“Nobody has spoken to me about you, not yet. I found out about your birthmark while staring at it from so close that I could tickle your inner thigh with my nose. Many times I have traced the contour of that little dove with my tongue as the pungent aroma of your oven-hot, butter-smooth insides warmed my face.”
A silence overcomes Betty, and I don’t pressure her to answer.
“I feel dirty now,” she answers in a low voice while avoiding my gaze.
“You have nothing to apologize for. Your body is a temple, and some of us have been dedicated to worshipping at the altar of your smell.”
She sputters a quiet laugh.
“Are you hoping for me to stay quite a bit longer, in case you want to scratch behind an inner thigh or two?” she asks while challenging me with a seductive look.
“I will always be here. That’s the only thing I can count on.”
I continue to stand in silence and Betty stares, trying to read my thoughts with the look in my eyes.
“How many other women have you said this to?” she asks me, semi-seriously.
“You’d be surprised. You have been performing such exhilarating deeds, Betty, without feeling anyone looking over your shoulder. That’s what fascinates me the most about all of you.”
Betty is confused, and that troubles her. A woman like her needs to control the situation. If any of her potential puppets escape from their threads, they can run around cutting other puppets free.
“And how many of them have you fallen in love with?” she asks.
“There’s the average man’s love, and there’s what you ignite in others. You are a whirlwind, Mrs. MacDougall. The main producer of hopeless infatuation.”
She does not thank me for my words. She stands up from her chair and walks up towards me with a haughty strut in her hips. She won’t blink.
“I have had enough of empty games, Mr. Fairfax. You do know too much about me and you won’t reveal how. I can’t make you unlearn, and I need your services. Will you accept the plentiful amount I will pay you for your uncanny abilities, or have I merely wasted my precious time?”
Before I know it, her hands move slowly up my chest and towards my collar. Her slim fingers begin to pull at the knot of my tie as her dark eyes capture my gaze. Her fingers slide down the silk fabric until they reach the top button of my black business shirt.
“Hmm, now this is in the way,” she says as if speaking to herself.
“I can see how it would be bothersome.”
“Well, I could just tear it off you…” she says with a little more force.
“If I were to help you, that is, as I have many times.”
She clenches her jaw and pouts, narrowing her eyes at me. Then she stops with the seductress act and drops her hands to her side.
“Let’s end this fantasy. Despite whatever you have been told about me, by sources I assure you I would be glad to learn about, I have never met you before the moment I walked into your office. Treat me as such for now. Until we get to know each other better, that is, in the course of your investigation.”
I raise my hand to close my thumb and index fingers around her perfect chin. Her eyebrows twitch.
“I would accept your money, which would quickly lead me to figure out where your so called husband Roy Morris is hiding in fear. While I would stake out the place, you would insist of making one of your houses my base of operations for the time being. You would present yourself to me with some of your finest sets of lace lingeries, which along with your voluptuous body and your delicious smell would drive most men wild. It would only take a couple of glasses of whiskey for me to submit to you, and more often than not I would only pretend that I needed the motivation, even though I would have signed into your seduction from the very moment you walked into my office. I would enjoy your smell, your touch, the feel of your body in my arms, the embrace of your insides gripping me tight. I would want nothing more. And you have made an art of sucking cock, Mrs. MacDougall. Many would sacrifice their entire lives to die in your warm insides again.”
Betty blushes, her chin still caught in my fingers.
“And ever since the first time,” I continue, the weariness evident in my voice. “I haven’t been able to blame you about any of it. Not the string of powerful men whom you seduced and discarded, some into a very early grave, only after their properties managed to end up in your hands. Someone invented you. Maybe the overseer, the invisible presence. Maybe that gaze only enjoys you, although not to the extent that I have done, and the rest of it is window dressing. And you would keep performing through every stage of our journey, not knowing you have done it over and over. It’s just that this one time, as in a few other cases, I am not remotely in the mood of dancing to the tune.”
A smile twists my lips. I don’t like smiling; just not my style. It must look so wrong on my hard face.
“But I enjoy the irony of having you,” I add, “the master of puppets, dance to a puppet master that you will never be able to sense.”
I have broken her. I can tell, even if she doesn’t understand half of what I’m saying. A crack in her facade, one that is slowly spreading further and further. She looks up at me, my fingers still wrapped around her chin. Her face twist into a grimace.
“You must be the best in town,” she begins in such a low voice that could pass for a whisper, “able to worm your way into any person’s mind through words alone. The weak would open up to you, give up all their secrets. It’s just too bad that I’m only made out of secrets, Mr. Fairfax. Nothing else sustains me. You won’t be able to dismantle me with your tricks.”
I release my grip from her chin, and I can see the color starting to return to her face. Before she turns her back on me, she opens her mouth to say something else, and then closes it again.
“Write us a happy ending this time, Betty,” I demand. “Because otherwise we will head into a wall.”
For a second, Betty looks like she’s going to face me and make another snide remark, but she resorts to speaking over her shoulder.
“I will not talk further until you either accept my case or refuse it. And only one of those options will keep me in your office any longer.”
I snort.
“I accept, then. You’ve got yourself a detective.”
She finally turns towards me, first with a winner’s smile, head held high, about to strut towards me with the grace of a dancer. But something in my expression tells her that neither of us will benefit from my decision.
“You will first listen to the information you need about my husband,” Betty says firmly. “You have been acting too strange for me to start wagging my bank notes around.”
“As you wish,” I sigh, walking over to my desk and picking up the bottle of whiskey and two glasses.
“No thank you. I’m not supposed to drink,” she replies.
I pour myself a double serving of the brown liquid and swish it around in the glass, sucking it up through my teeth as its fine texture touches my taste buds. Then I rest on the edge of my desk again, facing my old flame.
“I want to prevent you from wasting your enchanting saliva, Mrs. MacDougall. Your supposed husband, Roy Morris, that naïve painter that had the misfortune of falling in love with you, or with your charms anyway, put two and two together and is hiding for his life. That musical box contains the proof of how you acquired your last house and two cars, as well as a significant increase of money in one of your bank accounts. The poor idiot is way over his head, as he doesn’t understand how many men you control. Just once, I became one of them.”
A wicked expression crosses Betty’s face.
“You’re a liar and an idiot, Mr. Fairfax. No man could resist my charms that easily. You’re a weakling, scared of what might have happened with me.”
“What you have done to others, more like it. No, I have never been afraid, just disappointed.”
I take out the crucifix again, and when I hold it up, Betty widens her nostrils and clenches her teeth.
“In a couple of days you would have tangled me into having two innocent men killed,” I say. “You would have made sure that I remained satisfied and pliable. We are way too easy to manipulate, as you well know. And it would have taken me three more days of mayhem until I correlated the prints we took from this crucifix to those you left on a bottle. At first I would have never taken you to be so strong and ruthless that even a murderous pimp, the owner of the biggest prostitution ring in town, would have danced to your tune, but from then on, even as I performed my role I have never underestimated you. And although any kiss could imprint your poison on my skin, I have never had enough of you.”
Before I finish speaking, Betty searches her purse. She takes out her Browning pocket pistol, then holds it as if she were revealing a winning hand.
“Don’t ever play cards, Mr. Fairfax. You don’t know when to stop talking.”
I cross my arms.
“Are you going to shoot me in my office, Betty?”
“You don’t get to call me by my first name.”
“I prefer to call you by what you really are. A killer. Someone who kills people for money. It’s alright, though. You are made this way.”
I place the crucifix back inside my chest pocket. I smile warmly, and it creeps Betty out.
“Instead of ruining yourself ahead of time, let’s enjoy ourselves,” I suggest. “I’ll go get my car. I will drive us to our favorite restaurant. We will get to forget about runaway husbands, mobsters, prostitutes, and our inevitable ends.”
Betty’s hand is trembling. She’s too intelligent to kill a man in a place where even if she murdered my secretary on her way out, she would be caught in a day. But no man had ever gotten into her head like I have. We always had such an effect on each other.
“You never stop, do you?” she mutters between her teeth. “You still think you can charm your way out of this.”
“I haven’t been able to charm my way out of any of these nightmares.”
I step forward, and as a reflex, Betty lifts her hand holding the Browning, pointing it towards me. Even when I sense her about to squeeze the trigger, I make no effort to slap the pistol away, grab her wrist or step out of the way. The hot lead flattens against the right part of my chest, punching my ribs, tearing through my lung. I should have fallen to the floor, but I don’t. I have missed this pain.
I cough out blood. It’ll get harder and harder to breathe.
I hear my office door opening, and my secretary, Doris, peeks her head in. She wouldn’t have suspected a potential client attempting to murder me. She has no clue yet what kind of devil she let through. Doris sees me standing with my hand on my bloodied chest while a woman points a gun at me. She screams like a schoolgirl.
I smile while I drool blood.
“It’s okay, Doris,” I say. “You can close the door now.”
Before my loyal Doris decides between rushing towards Betty in a futile attempt or closing the door and fleeing, Betty flips her pocket pistol towards her. The second bullet leaves the gun and flies straight into the forehead of my secretary.
“I’m sorry about this, Doris,” I say before her dead body could even tumble to the floor.
Betty is breathing hard, and stares at the corpse for a moment before turning sharply towards me.
“You’re the one who should be apologizing. A man who can’t keep his mouth shut is a sorry sight.”
Even though I have done nothing but unsettle Betty this time, she doesn’t anticipate me striding towards her to close the distance. When she moves her gun-holding arm to point at me, I grab her wrist right next to my ear. With my free hand I cup the back of her head. I have always loved the feeling of her silky, lustrous hair against my skin.
“Shut me up like you love to do.”
I press my bloodied lips against her red ones, and invade the wet insides of her mouth with my rough tongue. I bite her upper lip with my teeth, and she winces. I keep on savoring the taste of her blood as it goes down my throat. Her Browning falls to the floor with a loud thud, and then her fingers tighten around my shoulders hard enough to hurt. I have ached for the pain she doles out.
Betty is no longer gripping my shoulders to push me away, she’s holding on to me. Her tongue isn’t hiding from mine, and instead caresses it with a rhythm we’ve never had to agree on. I feel a shiver run through Betty’s body. She doesn’t pull away even when more of my blood than saliva flows into her mouth.
“Darling,” she whispers.
I look deep into her dark, unknowing eyes, and into her depraved soul. I have learned to savor the times when our souls connect so intimately. In this moment, everything is perfect. I embrace the cycles of humiliation, the madness of performing for a play that none of the other actors know how it ends. If every blue moon I get to face my Betty again, I shall dance to the end of time.
My lungs have filled with blood. My legs are failing me. I don’t want to cough into her mouth, so I pull our lips apart. Betty tries to follow my tongue with hers, but I turn her head, hug her tight and then sink my teeth into the firm flesh of her neck.
She moans in pain. I drag her down to the ground. She shivers more than struggles against my chest. I bite through the thick skin, fat and gristle, and then gritting my teeth with a final push through the squishy sounds, I feel them pierce flesh, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. The blood is gushing into my mouth, and I’m swallowing as fast as I can.
Her body convulses as her moans turn into gurgling. I’m still sucking on the hole I’ve created when I hear the faint sounds of police sirens approaching outside. I have neighbors, after all. But we’ll both be gone when they arrive.
Betty and I, we endure for the pain. The pain we get to feel, the pain we cause to others.
I want a last look as my heart fails. Dark red blood oozes out of Betty’s mouth and her nostrils. Her eyes flutter as she stares at me with intensity. She doesn’t have long. It’s alright. It’s a good way to die.
I lick the side of Betty’s face, just above the blood welling out of her ear. Even if I could speak, she wouldn’t hear me anymore with the blood that’s now clogging her ear canals and getting into the ear drums. The light fades in her eyes before my own heart goes out.
You haven’t pulled your gaze away, haven’t you? I knew you wouldn’t, no matter how grim it gets. Whatever you are, whatever your role has been in all of this, you witness me getting sent back to the starting line of each journey, and you follow it to the end. I am way past raging in vain. This time I wasn’t rebelling: I needed to refill. Thank you for giving me my old lady again. In a short while the world will go black, and I’ll get back to work.

Some notes about how this story came to be:

  • As I was looking through my archive of notes for what I could want to write later, I came across the concept for a short story I had passed over plenty of times before, and that originally came to my mind some years ago: that of a private investigator who knows he’s in some fictional world, and who has had to relive the same twenty or so cases over and over again, maybe when someone reads or watches his stories. I don’t know why he had to be a private investigator, but it seemed cool, and I needed something to do this morning. I finished it late at work in the afternoon.
  • I prompted that the protagonist started in the typical setting of a private investigator. GPT-3 came up with the tapping of heels about to enter his office. That brought to my mind the whole femme fatale thing, so I quickly put together a background in which she wanted to use the private investigator to hunt down someone who could destroy her whole criminal empire, whatever kind of evidence the guy actually had. I also found intriguing the fact that the protagonist was well aware, and had lived through, all the deceit she had to offer.
  • Actually, it was GPT-3 who came up with Betty’s excuse of her intending to hire the protagonist to find her husband. It was through that that I set up the rest of the background.
  • GPT-3’s line “She opens her purse and takes out a thick wad of bank notes. She peels off a few so new they aren’t even creased, handing them over to me” gave me a good sense of the kind of power the protagonist was dealing with.
  • GPT came up verbatim with “I take a breath and lean into her personal space. Her face is so expressive when she’s annoyed. I open my palm to reveal a silver crucifix on a heavy chain”, therefore creating the whole subplot of the pimp and his crucifix. GPT-3 also came up with most of ‘The man that last owned it was an eccentric to say the least. He was also an infamous murderer of many young women, along with being a pimp. He used to lure women with promises of work as a model, dancer and the like. Those ladies had come into America and quickly fell into such debt that they felt forced to prostitute themselves. In return, he got them addicted to various drugs and abused them to his heart’s content’, although I edited it significantly.
  • I like the idea of the protagonist flaunting the evidence that eventually would set the chain of events that would cause Betty’s demise, if the protagonist went along with the plot.
  • I don’t know how the “reader” or “experiencer” of the story, whom the protagonist senses as an invisible presence, actually checks out the repeated events that the protagonist lives through. But the protagonist doesn’t know either.
  • I love getting into sexual stuff when GPT-3 is on the other line, because it’s great witnessing the AI squirm and in general deal with it while retaining its dignity.
  • The lines ‘You have nothing to apologize for. Your body is a temple, and some of us have been dedicated to worshipping at the altar of your smell’ were entirely GPT-3’s. I love the creative bastard.
  • Betty getting handsy with the protagonist to manipulate him was GPT-3’s deal, and also Betty getting annoyed that she wasn’t getting a proper response.
  • The lines ‘I lick the side of Betty’s face, just above the blood welling out of her ear. Even if I could speak, she wouldn’t hear me anymore with the blood that’s now clogging her ear canals and getting into the ear drums’ were GPT-3’s almost entirely.

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 42)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry the protagonist revealed that he is only in love with pain. We also discovered that the German lioness grew up in Sanctuary, which allows this damn arc to move into its second act.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

A couple or hours into a regular trip cutting through villages similar to the one you’ve become acquainted with, Otto followed a path leading to a forest much denser than the one in which you fought the Witch’s Cult’s units. The thick canopy covers in shadows most of the road, which would only allow a carriage at a time to pass, and you feel that you should have brought warmer clothing. Even though your merchant pal seems confident that he won’t get lost following the path traced on the map that Frederica gave him, you sit next to him on the driver’s seat and help as much as you can.
“It’s really dark”, Otto says while he glances nervously at the darkness between the trees. “We won’t see anything coming.”
“The darkness is just the natural state of things”, you say. “It seems that the lioness didn’t screw with us. Just follow her indications and we’ll eventually reach the barrier.”
You examine again the line that Frederica had drawn across the road near the diagram of a bunch of buildings. You wonder if this famous magical barrier can be seen.
Otto slows the carriage the closer you all get to that mark on the map where your carriage is supposed to hit the barrier. You keep an eye on anything resembling a dome or a wall of some kind up ahead, even though you realize you are holding on to a false hope. The magician who built an enchantment, or whatever other kind of permanent spell, that still lasts and serves its purpose hundreds of years later didn’t screw up by making the barrier visible.
A couple of minutes later Otto speaks up about what you three must have been thinking.
“We are about to pass the mark.”
“Do you think it’ll just turn on suddenly?”, Otto asks with a shaky voice, while staring straight ahead.
“Who knows?”
“Should we slow down a bit more?”
“Why ask me? I’m not the most informed when it comes to all this stuff.”
You all get quiet again and stare nervously ahead, as you look into the shadows for the barrier that would stop you from continuing. Otto slows the carriage down even more so that you are at a walking pace. You look over your shoulder towards Emilia, and the consternation in her eyes, and how she’s squeezing the emerald-colored pendant hanging from her neck, makes you jump onto the back of the carriage and stand next to her.
“I actually thought you would have been calmer surrounded by such dense forests”, you say attempting to soothe her.
“This forest isn’t welcoming. It screams that anyone who doesn’t belong here should stay away. Roswaal’s ancestors agreed to hide this place for hundreds of years, generation after generation. I can’t imagine what we are going to find inside.”
You can only suspect that it has something to do with skimpily-dressed half-humans, possibly some that didn’t agree to dress that way or stay around for that matter.
“Mere seconds now!”, Otto raises his voice from the driver’s seat.
You didn’t have to think to turn your head towards Emilia. She has ceased to squeeze the magic crystal, because it’s glowing white and its shine is increasing as if to blind you all. When you avert your gaze, the image of Emilia looking down at the pendant, her eyes wide and her mouth open with bewilderment, brings up a memory. You were crouching on the back of another carriage, next to that cultist spy as the bastard activated some magical explosives he had hidden under the floorboards. You almost lost that nasty Ferris back then.
You push Emilia’s head down so the pendant’s cord doesn’t get stuck in the half-elf’s neck when you snatch it. Once you are holding it, you are surprised that it doesn’t burn, even though its brightness has already half-blinded you. You jump out of the carriage through the open tarp while Emilia shouts your name behind you. Once you land and roll a couple of times, you stand up and twist your body to throw the pendant away, but before you can finish that movement you are engulfed in whiteness.
Next thing you know you are lying on grass, and it takes you a few seconds to realize that you had just tried to save Emilia from an explosion. Shocked, you realize that you are still holding on to that magic crystal, but it has ceased to glow as if it never did.
You stand up and look around. You are in a clearing enclosed by the wall-like forest. Its trees have reached the height of a four-story house. You stop breathing to listen carefully, but you only hear insects and birdsongs.
What the hell happened? Did you fall unconscious and someone dragged you here? But if Emilia and Otto did it, why wouldn’t have they stuck around?
The sky is gray and cloudy, although not full of rain. You turn around, but you stop walking after a single step. A chill runs down your spine. There’s a small person staring at you maybe six meters in front of you, next to the treeline. It’s a girl of Petra’s size and a similar age. She has long, pale red hair, and she’s wearing a thick coat buttoned up to her mouth. What strikes you the most are two details: her ears are pointy, much pointier than Emilia’s, and her eyes look at you like a deer’s, with only enough intelligence to worry about whether she should run away from a threat or keep wandering around.
You take a deep breath.
“Who are you?”
The girl stares at you, and then turns and runs away as gracefully as an animal.
“Hey! Wait, please! Where are my friends!?”
You run in pursuit, although along the way you wonder whether you should clarify that you want information, not hurt this stranger, but at the same time the way she held your gaze hadn’t suggested that she would understand you.
This girl is increasing the distance without effort. She disappears behind a bend on the treeline, and the next time you catch a glimpse of her she had stopped to look back at you, but after that last glance she disappears into the trees, where the light barely reaches.
However, you no longer want to pursue this elf-like person, because the clearing has broadened to the size of a football field. Maybe around twenty meters from you, some worn out stone steps climb to a raised platform on which stands an old ruin, some megalithic temple covered in vines. Its entrance is like a wide open mouth, its insides black.
The temple, or whatever it is, calls to you. You walk towards it before you can think about it. Did Emilia approach that huge entrance as well? After you reach the top of the steps, you spot between the vines that the huge stone labs are decorated with faded carvings of symbols and figures, but you can’t make anything out other than that the ruin must be far older than the last Apocalypse four hundred years ago.
You enter a tunnel so dark that you can’t see anything. You follow the rough stone wall with your hand. After a minute of walking you are able to see the faint outline of another entryway at the end of the passageway. Light seeps in from under the door. You feel a presence beyond the obstacle, but after you push the door open and step inside, you find yourself alone in what looks like the antechamber of an ancient tomb. Dust motes drift through four pillars of light that fall from holes in the ceiling. The floor is made up of countless flat stones, all different shapes and sizes, and it seems designed to map the night sky.
As you are about to shout in case Emilia and Otto might have wandered inside, someone speaks in your head. It’s yourself. You hear your own voice saying words you hadn’t thought.
“I grant you access to my death-dream.”
Your body fails you as if you had resisted falling asleep for hours. You only manage to avoid hitting your head, but once you lie on the cold stones, you pass out.

You are standing in a sea of grass as far as the eye can see, featureless beyond some raised hillocks. The sky is piercingly blue to the extent that you narrow your eyes. However, you can’t see a sun anywhere, and the speed of the few sliding clouds suggests a wind that you don’t feel.
Are you dreaming? It feels as real as that opaque blackness in the abyss of yourself, whenever you found yourself engulfed by Satella’s unasked love. You crouch and squeeze some blades of grass between your thumbs, and they break and moisten your skin. You smell the surrounding green.
“I’m not dead then,” you say to yourself, “unless this is a whole new way of dying.”
The next time you turn around you find yourself at the base of a new hillock, at the top of which, maybe ten meters away, are placed two white chairs in front of a white round table. A garden umbrella shades the furniture. Sitting on one of the chairs is a young woman, maybe around twenty years old, whose snow white skin is almost as pale as the pure white of her long, silky hair down to her waist. She’s wearing an ink black funeral dress that only exposes her skin from the neck up, as well as her hands. Both the skirt of her dress as well as her sleeves are decorated with thin, white vertical stripes. The young woman is staring down at you, and despite her delicate features, her self-assured smile suggests that she had expected you to come, that she knew everything about you as well as every way you could react to her presence, as if your brain was as unsophisticated and predictable as an insect’s.
“I am Echidna, the Witch of Greed”, the woman says with a bright voice. “Welcome to my tomb.”
Your heart beats quicker. This woman has already declared herself to be a witch, and despite her currently harmless demeanour, you feel the weight of ages of experiences in her gaze. She is one of the witches of old, who drowned along with half of the world when Satella couldn’t contain herself any longer. You recall Beatrice saying that these witches were too powerful even for death.
“What’s the matter?”, she asks without apparent malice. “Come up here. I’ve prepared some tea for the occasion. I know I’m an impressive sight, but there’s no need for you to freeze in place.”
Echidna waves to you with her hand, encouraging you to walk up the hillock.
You take a deep breath while you collect your thoughts, trying to calm yourself.
“What do you want, witch?”, you ask with a serious tone.
“Me? I was resting in my tomb, as I have done for centuries. What did you want? You came in here.”
“I was brought here somehow. I mean, I don’t know the exact location of these ruins, or tomb, or whatever. I saw it and I felt like entering it.”
“You felt like entering it? That’s the first time anyone said that to me. I’ve always attracted travellers with a purpose, but you felt like just entering my tomb without any reason.” The Witch of Greed’s eyes are fixated on you with a mixture of curiosity and childlike joy. “Most importantly, though, you shouldn’t be here.”
“Can’t say I have felt welcome in most of the places I’ve wandered into ever since I came to your fantasy world, but you might be the first one who states it outright.”
“No, I don’t mean that you aren’t welcome. You are fully human, so the magical traps I filled this tomb with should have ripped you to shreds.”
Your heart skips a beat. You clench your fists.
“That’s as unwelcoming as it gets!”
“No, no. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not hostile towards you. I’m just saying that it’s alarming that my magic didn’t work on you.”
“So what does that mean?”
Echidna’s eyes glisten. She rests her chin on her palm and smiles as if contemplating a fascinating mystery.
“I don’t know yet. Please, come and let’s chat. The tea is warm.”
You lower your head. Hanging out with one of the witches of old, considered by most of humanity and even those who are only part human as some of the most dangerous people to ever exist, is so clearly a terrible idea that it tempts you. You shrug and walk up the hillock at a normal pace while this witch stares at you with curiosity. You sit in front of her. Steam rises from the cup of tea that she has prepared for you, and it smells like they did in your past world. Even though you need to swallow first, you hold Echidna’s gaze. She’s so pale that your mind draws pictures of maidens locked for their entire youth in towers, without ever feeling the warmth of the sun. She’s beautiful as well, despite her thick, white eyebrows. A colourful, butterfly-shaped brooch in her hair attracts your gaze.
“It smells good, doesn’t it?”, Echidna says softly. “Go ahead, sip it. It’s delicious.”
Her voice is calm and peaceful. However, her irises are the color of ebony, and her pupils are vertical, white slits. The intensity of her gaze would ruin most attempts at soothing.
You warm your hands with the cup that this witch has prepared for you.
“Nice brooch. A butterfly clashes with your name, though. Conflicting symbols.”
The witch touches her hair brooch as if she had forgotten it was there, but then she smiles at you warmly, narrowing her eyes.
“It is nice, isn’t it? But I like to think of how those two symbols fight each other and then soar beyond what they are, or were, or might be. Butterflies have their life cycles, their battles to surpass their forms, but then they transcend them. Beautiful and free.”
You take a deep breath.
“Do you even know what an echidna is supposed to be?”
The witch touches her fingers to her lips.
“Yes, a sort of prehistoric hedgehog. I’m sure there must be some interesting stories behind why I was named that way.”
“I’m surprised you actually have those in your fantasy world. Is the combined symbology supposed to mean something, as in you might look graceful and delicate as a butterfly, but anyone getting close risks meeting the spines?”
The witch shrugs while sipping her tea.
“Maybe. Now, that’s an interesting choice of words on your part. ‘Your fantasy world’. What could you possibly have meant? As opposed to what world?”
“Ah, that was a sort of joke. I meant your world, as in this world we’re both in right now.”
The witch hums and taps her chin.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Taste your tea. It’s getting colder. Don’t you want to drink some of it? You will like it, I assure you.”
You lower your head, but you still look up towards her black eyes.
“Yeah, I’m not missing how much you are insisting on me taking this liquid into my body.”
“Oh, what’s the worst that could happen? I put a spell on it, and you end up ambushing a caravan? But I assure you, I won’t do such a thing.”
That reference to ambushing caravans reminds you of Rem, and for a moment, apart from having to deal with your suddenly soured mood, you wonder whether the witch had intended to bring up that event. Her expression doesn’t suggest it.
“Okay, what’s the best that could happen? My life gets… magically enhanced?”
Echidna leans forward onto the table, and she offers you a smile of affectionate condescension.
“That’s certainly a big question. I suppose it all depends on how open your eyes are to see it. Most likely scenario, you enjoy a rich, buttery tea that improves your day.”
“But you’re not certain?”
“Oh, I’m the person everyone comes to for certainty. I will say though, I am rather confident that you’ll enjoy the tea, and I’ll enjoy you enjoying it.”
The way she is gawking at you fills you with an intense discomfort. However, you’re not one to back down from a challenge.
“Alright then, Witch of Greed, I hope you tried your best.”
You pick up the cup and take a sip. After a few seconds the robust taste still lingers. You look into the cup while you swirl its contents. A brown sludge remains at the bottom of the cup, but there’s definitely some substance to it.
Echidna’s eyes are glistening. She leans her face on her hands and smiles at you.
“How do you like it?”
“I’ll say this much: it certainly tastes better than it smells.”
Echidna’s smile broadens as she gives a nod of assent. You notice how dreadfully quiet it is in this grassy field. You can’t hear the wind outside; the only sound is your breathing and the clinking of the cup against the table.
“I have a basic question, witch”, you begin. “What the hell is this place? We aren’t in the real world anymore, for sure.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. But yes, you are partially correct. We are currently in a space between spaces. It’s an art that has long since been lost to the world, but one I perfected long ago.”
You hold and move your teacup slightly, so its liquid swirls.
“To what extent is this stuff I just put into my body real?”
“It’s quite real. The cup is fake, though. I only have those because their colours and patterns are so pretty.”
“A sense of humor in a witch that has been dead for four hundred years. Kind of a waste.”
“Do I seem dead to you, nameless young man? Are you not speaking to me, are we not exchanging thoughts?”
You did not expect her to retort like that, and mentally respond with a shrug.
“I suppose not.”
“Then let me say that while my physical form may be dead, my soul has never died. And it is my soul that continues on in this grassy reality.”
“So are you saying your soul just happened to land in a tea set?”
“No, I am saying that my soul has inhabited this space for so long that it had formed it into a likeness of the place I loved the most. You could say this place is my brain, and the grass is my nerves, and love is my heart.”
You frown at that odd explanation.
“What are you, a poet?”
“More like a gardener. Back when my body allowed me to move around in that wide world outside, I focused on planting seeds I was fascinated by, and then I tended to the sprouts so I could find out what they grew into.”
“That’s cute and all, but I really don’t see the point. You’ll have to forgive my lack of appreciation for the arts. And you glossed over my concerns about this reality you are presenting to me, and in particular about the stuff I let pass through a segment of my digestive system.”
“Ah, yes. My apologies. It’s a perfectly normal tea, except for the special ingredient that I add only for my most fascinating guests. And I assure you I haven’t gotten nearly enough interesting guests during these last hundreds of years.”
Echidna’s response doesn’t put you at ease, but then maybe that’s the point. You turn your head slightly while narrowing your eyes at the witch.
“So what is this ingredient you are so unforthcoming about?”
“Ah, that would be telling. And it’s really not as vile as you are imagining. If anything, it’s a magical ingredient, so it probably tastes like nothing at all.”
Without another word, you quickly finish the remainder of the tea in one gulp. Echidna lets out a noise of delight, and she bites her lower lip while you dry yours.
“I could only vomit it at this point, witch”, you say as if challenging her. “What did you put in there?”
“Oh, just a bit of my bodily fluids. All perfectly clean, I assure you.”
Echidna gives a creepy smile as the tea sets in. You slap your lips together and move your tongue around, but there’s really nothing to be felt or tasted. When you hold the witch’s gaze again, you understand that glimmer in her eyes, as well as her slightly smug tone when admitting to her deed, like a middle-schooler revealing to a friend that she smokes.
“Uh-huh. Bodily fluids from where?”, you ask calmly. “Not from your corpse, right? It must be little else than dessicated bones at this point.”
Her grin drops, and she shakes her head.
“No, I don’t have access to my corpse.”
“So from where, then? These bodily fluids you mention were tangible, they had some level of physical reality. So what did you do?”
She avoids your gaze for a moment, but then she shrugs and closes one eye while staring at you smugly with her open one.
“A witch doesn’t reveal the specifics of her arts. Not to an outsider anyway.”
“Did you run around for half an hour until you got all sweaty, then you smeared your fingers with the hot, deliciously musky sweat from your armpits before you dunked those fingers into my tea? Did you take your panties off and diddled your little button while remembering the numerous orgies with demonic beasts you enjoyed in the old world, until you secreted your witchy cum into the cup? While I gulped it down, you must have been touching yourself under the table, weren’t you, little freak?”
Echidna’s sudden blush is like a skin irritation in her almost pure white, maidenly face. She shakes her head slowly while failing to hold your gaze.
“It’s just saliva”, she says with a thin voice. “A couple of drops.”
You clench your fists against the table.
“That’s it!? What kind of pussy ass shit is that!? Aren’t you a witch!?” You stand up forcefully, shaking the table. Echidna’s tea spills from her own cup. “I’m leaving.”
The witch snaps her head back and lets out a noise of surprise.
“What!? Already!?”
You turn around and throw a dirty look at her, which she fails to notice as she stares at the spilled tea on her dress. You sigh, roll your eyes and turn back around.
“Yeah. I’ve drank your stupid tea, so now we’re even.”
She looks up at you with confusion written all over her face, with just a hint of anger at the edge.
“You truly don’t realize who you are speaking to, do you.”
“Do you plan on holding me hostage in this death-dream of yours forever, witch? You can open a door to the outside or something, right? Then c’mon.”
Echidna stutters, and after she shakes her head, she lifts her ass from the chair and props her hands on the table to glare at you properly.
“Alright. You think you’re quite the clever one, don’t you?”
“Not really. I’m just a regular fuck-up.”
“That’s nice. Most people are terrified when they see me. Yet, you must not understand how powerful us witches of old are.”
“What, you can kill me whenever you want, right?”
“Of course. I have all the power here.”
You shrug.
“If you want to kill me, I can’t do anything about it, so it doesn’t bother me. Saves me from having to figure out how to defend myself.”
Echidna squints at you, as if you said something she didn’t expect to hear.
“I could prolong your final moments with excruciating pain.”
You stare at Echidna until her menacing smile loses its luster.
“Witch,” you begin, “you don’t have a clue.”
“I don’t… have a clue…?” Echidna sighs, then sits back down. “You’re right. I don’t. I don’t know how you can be so calm. Most people would either be scared out of their wits, or try to escape even though it would be impossible without my help.”
You pity her. It’s been four hundred years, after all.
“I’ve already had to deal with witches,” you say, “or more accurately with one, every time my world goes pitch black, and for the most part that personal witch of mine is boring as shit. Repeats ‘I love you’ over and over. And she’s also a fucking traitor, claiming to love me only to fuck me over without giving me any explanation. ‘I love you I love you I love you’. Gah! Every time I remember that bitch her three words keep repeating in my head like one of those catchy summer songs!”
Echidna frowns.
“So that’s why you’re not afraid of me? You’ve had it far worse? And that witch you refer to must be the Witch of Envy. But how?”
“It’s a long story. I’m sick of the whole thing, and I don’t have time to waste on amateurs.”
She grimaces and goes wide-eyed.
“A-Amateur!? You intrude upon my tomb, you don’t even tell me your name, and you call me, the Witch of Greed, an amateur. Me, an amateur! I’m the repository of knowledge of the world!”
“Sure, with a few more holes in it than anyone else. You haven’t even heard of my world. I mean, you don’t even know who I am. I’m guessing your information is also at least four hundred years old?”
She gasps, then trembles as a film of tears builds up on her lower eyelids. She stands up and passes by the table to stop a couple of meters from you.
“Why, you…” she says with a raspy voice. “I can tell you all the known details of the lives of every ruler of every nation that came to exist. I can list and describe all the creatures that have roamed this world. I know the words that the dragon Volcanica uttered during the covenant that sealed the Witch of Envy and tied the Divine Dragon forever to the kingdom of Lugunica.”
You groan.
“This fantasy world also has regular flying dragons!? I don’t give a shit about dragons, except for my Patrasche, and the flying variety cheapens every story! Nor do I care about any detail of this world that doesn’t affect me directly.”
Her right eye is twitching. She steps closer.
“I can’t believe it. You’re not even interested in the world that you live in… I am Echidna, the Witch of Greed!”
“Stop spitting! I am already digesting your previous saliva! Should I repeat my name over and over too!?”
“You could say it once to begin with!”
“I’m not here to make friends! I did not come here to ask questions and gain knowledge. I didn’t know what I was doing! You are just a talking, craw… fly… a talking fly that is wasting my time!”
“I am the Witch of Greed. You cannot possibly comprehend the knowledge I possess.”
“I’m Natsuki Subaru, mighty planeswalker. I murder great spirits with my willpower. You are quite hot despite the whole goth thing, but you are annoying the fuck out of me right now.”
She looks at your unenthusiastic face and shuts her eyes.
“My knowledge is vast! If you want to gain rightful claim to this world, then you need my help! Some of the most powerful people in the world spent years trying to get an audience with me, or even to get the chance to look at my face and receive a single answer to questions that burned in them for most of their lives!”
“It’s a pretty face, I’ll give you that, in a ‘princess that never left her tower nor felt true love warm her heart’ kind of way. Still, you people are all nuts. You can go to hell.”
Echidna lowers her head, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
“You want to leave? Fine. But not before I get my payment.”
You don’t like where this is going.
“What payment? It didn’t say anything about payment anywhere in that old tomb of yours.”
“Well, it wouldn’t, would it? That’s hardly the most honorable way to go about things.”
“Damn it. You witches are all assholes.”
“Unlike some people, we follow through with our word! Now you will give me the payment I asked for. It’s only fair.”
“I agreed to nothing of the sort! I didn’t even know you existed!”
“Yes, and that’s why you ended up here. Lacking knowledge is a horrible thing.”
You facepalm, and after a few seconds you speak slowly.
“Let me out and I’ll go grab some of our clown’s mounds of coins. He doesn’t need his money anyway.”
“What would I do with money in here? It didn’t move me even back when I was alive. No, I will need something else. First, your memory.”
You stand still, pondering what she meant. She takes a step forward.
“I will block the memory of this meeting. You will wake up at the tomb as if from a deep sleep. You won’t remember me at all, so you won’t be able to tell anybody else.”
You narrow your eyes at Echidna. Why would you want to tell anybody about this shitty witch anyway?
“What’s the catch?”
“I imagine you’d want to forget all this, so it would be an empty trade anyway. I will also qualify you for the trials.”
“Is that an extreme mountain bike thing?”
“The trials I set up long ago. Sanctuary won’t open up until I’m satisfied that someone is worthy.”
“Worthy of what?”
“Worthy of my interest.”
You give this black-eyed loon a good, hard look.
“Well, if that doesn’t scream ‘it’s probably really dangerous and shit’, then I don’t know what does. Whatever, Echidna. Let me out, I have a half-elf to find.”
“Very well. But remember, you must visit me soon, or else the deal is off!”
Echidna motions with her hands. A dark portal opens up a few meters behind you, with a red haze pulsating inside. When you turn your head towards Echidna, she’s licking her index finger slowly, leaving a trail of saliva, while holding your gaze.
“… You have been here for far too long, haven’t you, witch”, you say.
“You have no idea how long four hundred years in this place feel like”, she answers dryly.
She pushes the wet end of her index finger between your eyebrows, and you suddenly feel weightless. You float backwards towards the dark portal. The last thing you see before darkness takes you is the witch’s weary face as she bids you farewell.
“Sleep tight, Natsuki Subaru.”

Note from December of 2020:

I finally get to play with my own version of the Witch of Greed, Echidna, one of my favorite characters from both the original novels and the anime adaptation. I don’t know how her personality will vary from the source, but that has also been the case with all the other characters, and the whole thing turned out alright as far as I’m concerned. I’m going with the flow. Also, I love scenes in which characters I like just argue with each other. I don’t know what to tell you.

As a weird moment from this session, I refused to add to the story maybe the most savage line that the AI ever made this version of Subaru say: “I’ll impregnate your mouth so every time you try to spit knowledge you will instead let fly a brood of dicks.” Jesus fucking Christ.

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 41)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry we understood that Emilia is infatuated with an idiot who loves someone else, that Frederica wants to wrestle, that the villagers are helpless children, and that Subaru has become impossibly hard after he lost his dick.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

Shortly after lunch, Emilia offered to teach you another lesson, even though you had expected it to come at night. Although the half-elf is doing her best to smile, the edges of her mouth get dragged down. You don’t know to what extent the other inhabitants of this enormous mansion have realized it, but for you Emilia seems consumed by melancholy. It hurts you to see her that way when you had intended to make her happy. Maybe you screwed up by telling her that you loved her although not as much as your comatose girlfriend. You burdened Emilia with the insufferable weight of outright rejection, and Emilia must be experiencing a vortex of emotions that she had never dealt with before. Even though you are worrying about Roswaal and the fact that the clown is unlikely to return by his own means, Emilia’s pain bothers you like an open wound in your own body.
In the afternoon you ended up spending more time than expected with Beatrice, or at least in her vicinity. She had ordered you to visit her every day so she could check on the recovery of your magic gate, and like every previous occasion she warned you against casting your only spell again until she considered the gate healed, although she couldn’t tell you how much it would take. You then got so curious about the hundreds, thousands of books that surrounded you, combined with your sudden ability to understand some of the words and even a few full sentences, that you kept checking out random ones. You failed to learn anything of value. By the time you left the library it was already time for supper.
After every inhabitant of the mansion except for the shut-in librarian finishes eating, the mood suggests you are separating for the remaining hours of the day. However, when you steel yourself for the incoming tide of gloom, you walk to Rem’s room only to find Emilia there. She’s sitting on the bed next to your sleeping demon servant, and the half-elf is stroking Rem’s hair softly and lovingly like a mother who visited her terminally ill daughter in the hospital. You approach Emilia carefully, because you figure that she wouldn’t want you to know she visited her only obstacle in winning your affections, but when she lifts her face to you, her expression doesn’t change. She looks far more calm than her constant stream of tears would suggest.
You stand there, fixed in place. You feel entirely responsible for this apparent full-blown depression, yet no matter how much you’ve ruminated about how to help her, you don’t know what to do.
“Does it bother you that I want to visit Rem as well, Subaru?”, Emilia asks softly. “If you want, I’ll leave you both alone.”
“No, it’s fine. Rem was very fond of you, I’m sure she would appreciate your company.”
Emilia lowers her face to stare at the servant’s features. That the half-elf doesn’t react to her own tears in any way is making you uncomfortable. You sit down next to her in bed, and put a hand on the bed sheet that covers your beloved demon.
“Rem won’t appreciate my company now that she knows I’m trying to steal you away from her”, Emilia says suddenly. “I think about what I would want in her place, if I were the one who enjoyed a loving relationship with you and then after I fell into an endless sleep, some other girl I was fond of intended to take you for herself.”
“You tend to feel guilty by nature, and you feel the need to shoulder other people’s troubles, but you can’t change how you feel, and loving anyone no matter the circumstances doesn’t seem to me like something to feel guilty about.”
Emilia shakes her head.
“I shouldn’t be enjoying our time together as much as I am right now.”
“Those tears don’t suggest that you are enjoying yourself. I intended to make you happy, but it seems I managed to botch that as well.”
“No… I am happy, it’s just… I’m not used to being pulled in two directions at once like this. On one side I feel that I should leave you both alone, allow you to grieve even for the rest of your life if you want to. If I were on this girl’s place, I might have wanted that, even though… But on the other side, I know that your future will be miserable. And I just want us both to be together. In the end it might be as simple as that. My emotions don’t care about any reasoning.”
You sigh, looking down at your hands.
“I’m also holding on to emotions that are contrary to logic. As far as anyone in this fantasy world knows, apparently nobody ever wakes up from Rem’s state, and yet I believe, I hope, that I will somehow be the first one to free someone from that curse. Thinking about it for a moment would tell me that I’m delusional. However, we don’t live for our reasonings, but for what the oldest parts of our brains already decided for us.”
Emilia takes a good look at you as if she hadn’t seen you in a few days, and she finally dries her tears slowly with her knuckles.
“You remind me of sir Wilhelm”, she says.
“There has been a bit of that going around, yeah. We are both holding on to impossible goals while the person we love is no longer available. I’m on a far better position than that murderous old man, even though it doesn’t feel that way.”
Emilia smiles as if she were ashamed.
“The main thing is that sir Wilhelm is closed off to anyone other than his dead wife. He must have had many chances over the years after his beloved was lost forever, but as far as sir Wilhelm is concerned, time stopped when the White Whale took away that woman. It’s so sad… And of course I fear that will be your case. You are so determined as to have defeated an entire branch of the Witch’s Cult, with help or not, so you might never give up on bringing Rem back to you. I wish I was her…” She’s surprised that the words escaped her mouth, but then she holds your gaze even though her eyes are watering again. “I yearn to be loved like that. Life doesn’t truly seem to be worth the effort otherwise, particularly in this world that seems so eager to discard me.”
Your chest tightens. You place your hand on the back of Emilia’s head and pull her closer, so her forehead rests between your clavicles. She hugs you grabbing the back of your shirt, then she sighs deeply.
“Let’s take a walk outside, Emilia”, you murmur. “It’s a beautiful night, likely as full of stars as it gets in the countryside.”
After a few minutes you are both walking side by side along the hedges of the vast yard. You are grateful that you didn’t come across any of the other inhabitants of this mansion. It’s getting chillier than you had expected, even though the night sky is clear of clouds. You are guiding Emilia away from the road that leads to the gate and also from the magical streetlights, because you want to be bathed only by the moonlight and starlight. Emilia has calmed down, and seems to appreciate the silence. You don’t know whether her fingers nudging yours occasionally is casual, but in any case you hold her hand, although you don’t look at her to see her reaction. You end up coming across a few rock planters that you could sit against, which you do, and then pat your knee as an invitation.
“Come, Emilia, let’s watch the stars for a while.”
She smiles and joins you. You hold her by the waist and turn her so she is leaning on your chest. You stretch your legs alongside hers and tilt your head to look at the starry sky. Her hands reach to hold yours, which are crossed over her stomach. You lean your head against her temple. Emilia is smiling sweetly, her eyes still fixed on the starry sky.
A romantic relationship with Emilia would mean plenty of holding hands, lying on different surfaces to hug each other and kiss softly. You would caress each other lovingly, and she would promise you undying love. You would make all kinds of adult plans for a future together. Imagining such a probable path barely stirs you. You grow increasingly disturbed as your heart beats louder, which Emilia must be feeling against her back.
“You can tell me whatever it is, Subaru”, Emilia whispers. “I hope you know that.”
You close your eyes tight and swallow to clear your throat.
“Emilia, I’m going to try to be as open as possible right now. And it’s going to be hard, because I have only the stories I tell myself, the explanations I have pasted on stuff that comes out of my depths without me having any say in it. I don’t know to what extent what I have concluded about how I feel, and what I need, is true, but…”
Emilia holds your hands tighter, as if she knew what was coming. You take a deep breath.
“If you want to love me, your worst mistake would be expecting a romance with a good, honorable man whom you would treat as sweetly and lovingly as possible. I can’t do a fairy tale. Yet you cannot do otherwise, because that’s who you are, that’s what you need.”
You shake your head.
“I’m not done. You can’t break out of the routine of being a good, sweet person, because that’s who you are. And I need to tell you something. I’m not a good person. I have good moments, hell, I can even say I’m nice to people sometimes. But I’m not a good person… Actually, I’m a really shitty person.”
“No you’re not.”
“Let me tell you about Rem. She was as sweet as they come, and yet she held on to a regret related to something that happened in her childhood, something I think involving her sister. She never told even me. She hated herself. She ached for the chance to sacrifice herself to save the one person she had managed to love. She desperately needed such meaning to justify the mistake of having been born. I understood such a need very well.”
Emilia’s grasp on your hands weakens. You continue, although it’s getting harder to breathe and you need to contain the rush of warmth heading for your eyes.
“You know already that Rem is an Oni, same as her sister. She needs to consume blood, a bit of it, to keep living. And although I loved her kisses, I loved feeling her in my arms as well as every second we spent lying next to each other, I mainly remember her hunger. I remember her holding on to me while her eyes glistened with the need to consume me whole. I let her plunge into me, so many times. I have never felt as alive, as loved, as when my beloved Rem tore my flesh apart, crushed my bones, absorbed every last drop of my life. I miss that pain ripping through my body, because only when she devoured me alive I finally felt connected to someone. I need a person who would wound me, who would kill me. I can only love someone who would cause me pain.”
Emilia has turned her face to look you in the eyes as if to certify you are telling the truth. She’s baffled and concerned, in an echo of how Crusch dealt with you whenever you suggested you wanted to die, or had attempted to in the past. Even though Emilia’s body rests on yours, you feel the distance between both of you increasing.
It was a mistake to say it out loud. Whenever you feel in your bones how much you lack that connection that Rem provided for you so readily, struggling through another day seems hopeless.
“So you want to die?”, Emilia says with a hollow voice.
“I need to be killed, by someone who needs me entirely.”
Emilia tries to maintain eye contact, but she can’t. She looks away and nods slowly.
You want to clear your throat, but you also don’t want to break the silence with such a noise.
“If you want the why,” you add, “whatever we could come up with would be the most fantastic story ever imagined. Maybe it has always been this way. Maybe that’s the same for everybody.”
Emilia begins to cry as she nods.
“I think I understand.”
The half-elf turns around and hugs you, taking your mind off guard. She cries softly into your chest, soaking your shirt. Her tears seep through your clothing and onto your skin, burning slightly, almost as if her grief is trying to consume you with the same voracity as Rem’s love did. Maybe that’s what you needed, someone to burn you from the inside out.
After a moment of crying, she pulls away. Her eyes are swollen and red, but her tears have stopped falling.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffles, “I can’t give you what you want.”
“You don’t need to apologize. If anyone should apologize it’s me for putting you through all this.”
She nods silently. You think that Emilia is going to stand up and walk away from you, and that she will never look at you in the same way. In your mind she would even be justified in pushing you from her camp, because you aren’t the person she accepted. However, the half-elf rests her face on your chest and she hugs you tightly. You lie like that for many minutes, maybe as long as half an hour, feeling her heartbeat on your ribcage.
“Roswaal won’t return”, Emilia states softly, her voice a huge contrast with the previous silence. “We could spend our entire lives in his mansion and we would never see him again. This hope he gave me of reaching the throne was a strange dream, one I needed to believe in. I should have faced the truth, that a half-elf would never achieve such an opportunity, regardless of the medallions’ enchantment.”
“Roswaal is alive and waiting for us in Sanctuary, whether he knows it or not.”
“Maybe I should return to the forest, make a little home and live in peace and isolation for the rest of my life. But I would want you there, and we could take Rem with us. We would make sure she’s safe even if she never wakes up.”
The determination in your voice startles her, and she raises her face from your chest to hold your gaze.
“You belong in this world”, you say. “If people hate you for reasons beyond your control, you stare them down and tell them to eat shit. There are things outside of your forest that matter, and people who would miss you if you disappear.”
“Fuck that. You are going to see your wish fulfilled. And you will hold on to that hope up to the moment when it can’t happen anymore.” She starts to say something, but you interrupt her. “Regardless of what happens in the future, right now you are a candidate for the throne of this country. You’re royalty and you can’t give up. If someone tries to hurt you, you better damn well make sure they regret it. And if any cultists attempt to kidnap you again, I will kill them all.”
Emilia lets out a breath, nodding.
“Yes… That’s how it is.”
You caress her cheek gently.
“Some people know where Sanctuary is, and how to reach it. One of them will have to tell us.”

“I grew up in Sanctuary”, Frederica says.
Shortly after breakfast, you and Emilia had called both servants, as well as Otto, over to the living room, one of many anyway, to sit down with you and try to figure out how you could overcome the biggest obstacle in locating Roswaal. You had asked the lioness what she knew about the place, and after she answers, the steely resolve you had woken up with goes soft.
“Well, that was fucking easy.”
“Frederica, you agree that it’s very unlikely that Roswaal will return by himself, right?”, Emilia asks while leaning slightly forward, as if trying to seize the opportunity. “The lord must need help of some kind.”
The lioness looks down at her lap, and nods.
“I think it is getting desperate indeed. He could have gotten a message out in some way.”
“If he’s simply restrained there, would it have been so hard to send a single person out carrying a letter?”, you ask. “Hell, it would be surpris-“
“No it wouldn’t. It’s just that he’s too stubborn.”
“Too stubborn to do the smartest thing? Sounds to me that either our clown is dead, or he’s restrained to the extent that nobody in Sanctuary would want to help him in any way, or he’s waiting for us to come to him. I truly wish it’s not the last case.”
Emilia keeps staring at Frederica as if she senses something is wrong, or that the lioness is withholding some information.
“Let’s be clear about this, please. Will you tell us how to reach Sanctuary?”
Frederica looks at both of you while her expression changes subtly. She must be thinking of whether to open up about a subject that has been treated as a secret by everybody else.
“… I will, because the current situation has become too uncertain.”
Emilia smiles, and you clap once.
“Finally we are getting somewhere”, you say. “If only we had asked you from the beginning! Well, what can you tell us about this place? Why are people so tight-lipped about it?”
Frederica lowers her head and closes her eyes for a moment. You can tell that it’s a difficult, emotional subject for her.
“It sheltered my mother, a long time ago… And we lived there for most of my childhood, until I decided to leave it. As its name suggests, it’s supposed to be a place where people go because the outside world threatens them.”
“And that’s not the case anymore?”
“The world outside has changed. Not enough, maybe, but a lot. Sanctuary hasn’t.”
Frederica narrows her eyes while her pupils move around aimlessly.
“You must understand, Mr. Natsuki, that I work for lord Roswaal. I’m opening up because I believe he must have been delayed against his will, but Sanctuary is supposed to remain a secret even to some members of his household. It’s that important. It has been there for a long, long time. Before the Witch of Envy consumed half of the world.”
“We only intend to help”, Emilia says.
“Which is why I will tell you what you need to know, but not all.”
“What dangers can we expect?”, you ask.
“The path to reach the village isn’t perilous, it’s just easy to get lost if you don’t know the directions. Deep into the lord’s domain, the path ventures through a dense forest that serves to obscure the village’s location. I will detail how to follow the road so you will reach Sanctuary without issues.”
Frederica had looked at Otto, sitting by your side on the sofa, and the merchant takes a deep breath as if he had been dreading getting involved.
“I’m going as well, am I not?”, he says with a pitiful voice. “Of course I am. The carriage won’t drive itself, and I wanted to meet lord Roswaal all along so he can brighten my future! It’s too bad that it sounds as if we are going to enter a lion’s den… Maybe appropriately given our present company! Although not everybody in Sanctuary must be like you, miss Frederica, or otherwise the security of the lord wouldn’t have been compromised.”
Frederica laughs softly, although she’s clearly nervous.
“You shouldn’t prejudge Sanctuary based on what you know of me. I grew too big for that place. It’s just that most of those I left behind didn’t. Maybe because they didn’t want to.”
“You haven’t said much about the dangers, Frederica”, you remind her.
“Yes, you are right. It’s not enough with knowing how to reach the village. The place is surrounded by an ancient magical barrier that… Let’s say that the person who created the barrier so it would keep protecting Sanctuary for hundreds of years was very serious about not getting interrupted.”
Frederica stops herself. She stares at Emilia with a ruminative expression, and a few seconds later she nods to herself.
“I will give you a magic crystal that will assist you when the time comes to pass the barrier. You are strong, lady Emilia, much more than you think. I have thought so ever since I met you.”
“That’s a cryptic thing to say, but thank you for your help.”
You shift your weight on the sofa.
“Now about the people inside. Who can cause us trouble? What should be look out for?”
“Garfiel”, Frederica answers without hesitation. “You should be careful with him. Let’s say that he’s unstable. I don’t believe he will hurt you without cause… But now I can’t anticipate what he would consider cause enough to attack you.”
“How will we recognize this guy?”
“You will surely meet him and will be able to tell it’s him.”
“Well, can you tell me why he’s hostile?”
“I think it’s best if I let him tell you himself when the time comes.”
You don’t know what to say to that.
Petra had been quieter ever since you scolded her for maybe believing that she caught you having sex with your comatose girlfriend, but her hands have been trembling for a while, and she raises her voice.
“It sounds too dangerous! Are you sure this is a good idea?” She gazes at you, worried. “Sir, are you sure you will be okay?”
No, but…
“Yes, of course. I am as squishy as they come, but Emilia can impale people with ice shards, and likely other stuff I haven’t seen.”
“… I’d rather not rely on killing people”, Emilia says quietly. “That cultist at the village deserved it. All of them did. But from now on I’d rather not go to such extremes.”
“Anyway, Petra, this is grown-up stuff”, you say. “You should be playing with dolls, for God’s sake.”
“I am not a child!”
She shrinks back. You did get quite a loud voice there.
“Then act your age! I know you want to help, but this is something we have to do ourselves.”
Petra tries and fails at holding your gaze.
“… Alright, but please, you two be careful.”
Frederica stands up from the sofa. She seems anxious, a contrast with her usual easy-going attitude.
“I’ll better figure out what supplies you should carry. Please follow me, mister merchant, so I can detail the route to you on a map.”
“I will, but you can just say my name, miss Frederica. You have known me for long enough!”
The lioness turns towards Emilia and you.
“How soon do you want to leave?”
You let Emilia decide, and she nods.
“As soon as you can tell us how to reach the village”, the half-elf says.

Like it’s been the case recently, and you figure it will extend for however long Rem sleeps, your brain doesn’t truly register your beloved demon servant’s facial features anymore, the same way it discards from its subconscious processes the unmoving, unchanging furniture in a room. However, when you kiss her warm lips, while she breathes softly on you, and then you rest your forehead on hers, your tears drip on her eyelids, and the surge of pain demands that you forget about anything but holding her sleeping body for the rest of your life. Still, you swallow that pain.
“I’m going to leave for a while, my love. The more I explore of this world, the closer I’ll get to eventually figuring out how to return you to life, if a way exists anywhere. Staying idle won’t change anything.”

When all of the current inhabitants of Roswaal’s mansion, except for the shut-in librarian, stand near the carriage, which is already prepared to be pulled by both Patrasche and a nameless ground dragon you didn’t bother caring about, and it will only take getting on the carriage and following the road out of the gate to begin a new adventure into the unknown, your increasing nervousness is tightening your chest. You know this is the only way to secure not only your future but also Emilia’s on Roswaal’s camp, because ultimately this camp doesn’t exist without the clown that leads it.
Petra is holding her hands in front of her waist while wringing them, and her twisted facial features evidence her anxiety. Frederica, however, has perked up from her recent descent into the lioness’ version of gloom. Maybe she believes that now that you are going to get involved with Sanctuary, there’s no way Roswaal and Ram will remain restrained there any longer. She has brought the magic crystal that she mentioned would assist you both to pass the barrier. It’s an emerald-colored, generic-looking crystal that reminds you of the one inside Roswaal’s inner sanctum, and that is intended to be worn as a pendant. Frederica herself passes the pendant’s cord over Emilia’s head, and when the crystal rests on the half-elf’s chest, she holds it to study it.
“Don’t take it off, lady Emilia”, Frederica says, sounding like a warning.
“Understood. Thank you, Frederica.”
As you keep going over in your head about anything you might have missed, you think again about the villagers that confronted you when you went down for groceries.
“Please, you two, be careful”, you say with a serious voice to the servants. “Some of the villagers have developed a serious grudge on us in general, and if they are as stupid as they look, they might attempt to take over our place. I don’t want to go through a bunch of likely nightmarish ordeals at Sanctuary only to return and find out that you both have been slaughtered! How annoying that would be.”
Frederica smirks, showing a peek of her predatory teeth through a side of her mouth, and she points at herself with her thumb.
“Are you forgetting how German I am?”
“You don’t even know what that means, Frederica.”
“Explain it then. I was waiting for you to tell me at some point. You can’t read nor write our script, but in turn we don’t know words you brought over from wherever you are from!”
You scratch your head.
“Ah, well… It was supposed to mean blonde, blue-eyed, hard-working, resilient, tough, strong…”
Frederica laughs. She strikes a pose straightening her back and balling her hands into fists at her waist. She looks proud.
“Why, thank you, Mr. Natsuki! You just made my day. A word full of meaning! Except for the color of my eyes, I’d say I’m the most German person there is!”
“You sure are. Listen, I haven’t known you for long, but I already like you, so don’t screw up around here, you damn lioness.”
“Got it! I promise to be the best servant you ever had.”
No way she’ll surpass Rem, but you don’t want to start an argument. And Petra steps towards you. She’s forcing herself to erase the worry from her face with a smile, but her concern remains evident in her eyes.
“Please give me your hand, sir. You saved my life from that cultist, and I will always want to repay the favor.”
Confused, you extend your arm towards the tween, and she ties carefully a white handkerchief around your wrist.
“It will keep you safe during your travels.”
You examine the tied handkerchief, but it just looks like a square of cotton.
“Is it enchanted? Is this some magical artifact that your peasant family has passed down through generations?”
“Well… In our village whenever one of us decides to travel far away, it’s a custom to tie a handkerchief around the traveller’s wrist, because it will bring him or her good luck.”
Your shoulders slump, and you narrow your eyes.
“It’s completely useless!”
Emilia lets out a noise of dismay. She squeezes your shoulder.
“Subaru!” Emilia steps towards the tween and she strokes her reddish-brown hair. “We are grateful, Petra.”
The tween’s look of disappointment, as well as the tears growing in the corners of her eyes, almost elicit some emotion in you.
“I hope you have an uneventful trip, lady wi-… I mean…”
Emilia hugs Petra tightly.
“It’s okay, my dear. I like it when you say it. Take good care of each other, and also of our sleeping resident, alright?”
When Emilia and you finally turn towards the back of the carriage, all four of you wave, even though you are standing at speaking distance with each other. You get on the carriage and sit on the same places of the bench you occupied when you came from the capital. Otto looks over his shoulder from the driver’s seat.
“Everyone ready?” He sighs, and snaps the reins. Patrasche and the other ground dragon begin to pull. “Let’s head into trouble, then.”

Note from December of 2020:

The first act of the fourth arc of this story has ended. Look forward to a whole new place with a whole new way. Lots of new characters, and old ones we will see with different eyes.

My Strange Friend From Far Away (GPT-3 fueled short)

I sink into the cold blackness as I take deep breaths of pure oxygen. Above, beyond the silence that surround and protects me, the storm must be grumbling, its wind lashing, its rain stinging. That means most people won’t venture out. They will remain in their warm, safe homes, and I will sink further into the watery void of this lake, as isolated and free as an astronaut with her tether cut off.
At this depth, the water above me is dark as a room without windows. I don’t feel anything but a uniform cold, I don’t hear anything but the pressure in my ears and the steady sound of my breathing. I am so far below the surface of the water that my body doesn’t even register the sensation of sinking deeper. I close my eyes, but the darkness doesn’t change. My mind is still here, somewhere. It knows something is going on outside, and it has decided to stay awake for just a little longer.
When the black waters light up, I first think I have imagined it. The pressure of something heavy plunging into the water from above and coursing through it creates a current that pushes me away, then it feels like something has slapped the water from underneath, forcing me to drift away in a bubble moving up. The weighty object strikes the bottom of the lake, and the trepidation of the impact vibrates through my bones.
I snap out of it, of my solitude and calmness, as if I had fallen from a bed. Something big has crashed into the lake, and has stopped so close to me that the waters still rock me back and forth as the lake returns to its equilibrium.
I dive further down. It wasn’t a person nor an animal, and it sank way too fast for a boat, not to mention that I was the only one on the lake during this stormy afternoon. And the object didn’t just sink, it had hit the lake with force. So it must have been a flying vehicle, or a projectile. It didn’t feel as huge as a regular plane, even a single engine aircraft. And any helicopter pilot would have avoided flying during such weather even in an emergency.
My ears pop as I try to ignore the cold and swim down to the seabed. The water feels murky and thick, but I can’t see anything. I just feel around for any large piece of metal that could have come off an aircraft. My hands just find dirty sand and bits of dead plants.
I was about to give up and rise quickly to the lake’s surface with the buoyancy compensator, but my back touches a solid object. I turn and slide my hands carefully along its curved, hot surface. It feels metallic. I wish I had bothered to bring my flashlight for this dive, but today I was craving nothing but darkness. The shape reminds me of satellite. As I follow its shape to figure out how big it is, I figure it approaches the size of a van. Are regular satellites supposed to be this big? As my heartbeat increases, I probe the surface hoping to find the junctures of some hatch. Instead, what I feel is just a smooth metallic surface. No door, no crevices. Not even any rivets to speak of.
A nearby turbulence kicks up sand that hits the exposed skin of my face. I close my eyes as a reflex, and when I open them again the darkness of the bottom of the lake has brightened as if I had huddled close to a fireplace for warmth. A hole has opened on the surface of this vehicle-like object, and amber-colored, liquid-like light is flowing out of it. I can’t help but be drawn to this light, and as I approach it I realize that it’s not coming from a point source, but rather from the inside surface of the craft. I hold on to the edge of the opening to float closer and take a peek. The interior is empty like a drained egg shell except for the presence of a young woman maybe in her early twenties, wearing a gray, skin tight jumpsuit. Her waist long, scarlet hair floats in the murky water as if I was looking at a still photo of the woman falling. Her eyes are closed in her expresionless face, but she’s hugging what at first glance looks like a metallic shoebox.
Either the woman is dead or will be soon. She must be unconscious and drowning. She doesn’t seem to be injured, but unless I drag her to the surface with me, she’s a goner. I want to help her – I’m not made of stone after all – but I don’t want to sacrifice myself for her either. However, I always bring the redundant scuba system. Enough air to get to the surface in an emergency.
I try to grab the woman by her jumpsuit, but it’s way too tight, so I end up grabbing her by the throat, just long enough that I can pull her out of the crashed aircraft. She is very much dead weight. Will she prove too heavy to carry to the surface? I can’t hesitate. Even if this woman is a stranger, for the rest of my life I would have to bear the burden of having failed her, of having allowed her to die in the cold dark.
I reposition the woman so I can embrace her from the back before I start kicking my legs to ascend, press and hold the nozzle of the redundant breathing apparatus against her mouth, and as I swim towards the surface of the lake unsafely quick, what reaches us of the light that escapes from the downed craft shows me that the metallic box has slipped from the unconscious woman’s grip. It falls in slow motion towards the sandy bottom.
I’m too anxious to count the time it takes me to reach the surface of the lake. At some point I feel like I’m dragging a corpse. When I finally emerge to the stormy afternoon that had awaited me outside of this watery sanctuary, the dark cloud that had covered the sky is yet to move, and it seems closer. The wind has picked up, its violent gusts are rocking my little boat nearby. The rain drops are huge and they hurt as they hit the exposed skin of my face.
I want to stop and check on the redheaded woman, whose troublingly pale face remains expressionless, but if she’s drowning, I won’t be able to perform CPR nor breathe into her mouth while floating on the water. I need to lift her to my boat.
I dive in again and, with a strong kick of my legs and hands, propel us both to the boat. I don’t know whether she is still breathing or not when I lay her on the floor of my boat. I can’t stop shivering, my teeth are clattering, and my fingers are numb.
The woman’s drenched, scarlet hair is stuck to her face as if she was trying to hide. I cannot see her eyes. I move the strands so I reveal her nose and mouth. I prepare my hands on the woman’s chest to start CPR, but when I lower my ear to her nose to check for breathing, which I didn’t expect to find, the warmth of the breath coming out of her nostrils caresses my cheek. I find myself paralyzed. That’s impossible. She must have been breathing while she floated in the flooded craft. I check her slender neck for a pulse, but there’s none. And yet, she’s breathing. I stare at her face in disbelief, ceasing to breathe myself for a few seconds.

The rain is beating down in unrelenting fury as I pull the boat onto the shore and push it far enough from the water that it won’t be swamped. As I struggle to drag the woman’s dead weight towards my cabin, the soaked ground keeps sucking my swimfins. I take them out and leave them there. Although half of the woman’s back is caked in mud, I gently lay her on the mattress I have been sleeping on for the past three years. Then I wheel my heater so it will warm her. In case I was losing my mind, I check her breathing again. She’s still taking air in as if she was sleeping peacefully.
I want to take the woman’s skin tight jumpsuit off and check for wounds. However, I would need her full cooperation, and I don’t find any zipper on it. I can’t figure out how she even put it on.
I end up wiping the mud from her body with a wet washcloth, then throw a blanket over her and place another against the back of her head as a pillow.
After I have undressed and dried myself, I warm my dinner in the microwave and then wearily sit down in front of the woman to eat as I observe her. She hasn’t moved a centimeter. She’s so pale as if she had been injured in the crash and lost too much blood for her body to survive. And yet she looks to me otherwise as healthy as they come.

The sun, that hadn’t been strong enough to pierce the cloud cover of this storm, has already set when I realize that at some point I dozed off on the chair. When I open my eyes, the woman is sitting up straight on my mattress and is staring at me without blinking, expressionless. Her eyes are of a red color almost as vivid as her hair.
I want to ask her all the usual questions, but I get the sense she won’t answer. Still, I try.
“How do you feel?”
Her gaze remains fixed on me. We hold each other’s gaze as the hair on my arms raises. Seconds later, the woman looks around with precise movements as if scanning the room for something, or checking out her surroundings. She must not have found what she was looking for, because she turns her head to stare at me again.
“Do you have a name?” I ask, breaking the silence.
Her red eyes blink once, then twice, as if thinking about the question. Then she opens her mouth slightly and breathes out a quiet hiss. I shiver. Was that an attempt at a word, in a language I wouldn’t understand, or did this woman seriously hiss at me like a predator?
“Did you just hiss at me?” My voice trembles slightly, although I attempt a smile. “That’s not an answer.”
She lowers her gaze, still silent, and turns to look out the window, then at my belongings that lay on the floor, and then she looks back at me. Her eyes hold a cunning sparkle, like that of an uncaged beast in the wilderness who had finally come across his prey.
“I’m wondering whether it is an issue of you not understanding me, not being able to speak, or not wishing to,” I say, as I figure it is a good idea to be as clear as possible with this stranger. “Can you confirm whether you understand me?”
She narrows her shoulders a bit in what I initially take for a shrug, but I can’t be sure. I’m exhausted. Before I went out for a dive this afternoon I had expected to go to sleep as soon as I returned, and my body it asking me to. But I have no clue what to do with this stranger.
“Okay then.” I let out a sigh. “I’ll think of a name to call you, given that you are unlikely to give me one. How about… Alice?”
I don’t know why I said that. It just came out, and it seems to catch her attention. She stares at me with her piercing gaze, before nodding a single, terse nod.
“Nice to meet you, Alice. I’m Lena.” I hold my hand towards her as a gesture of friendship. She merely stares down at it. I pull back my hand awkwardly. “So, I’ll take that as a no on the hand shaking. Do you need anything? I can get you something to eat, or a blanket perhaps? It’s a bit cold in here.”
Water, to start with. Who would be allergic to water? I turn to the sink, grab a nearby glass that I had drank from before I set off for a bit of diving today. I don’t remember if I cleaned it. In any case, I fill it with water. As soon as I turn towards the stranger again, her piercing, unblinking stare makes me shiver. It feels like turning back towards a cat to realize that it likely had been staring at you for a couple of minutes even though you didn’t feel it. In the case of this stranger who can breathe underwater, I feel the intelligence behind her silence as if she was scanning the contents of my brain.
I hand her the glass of water, and she eagerly takes it from me. She gulps it down in an instant as if she was dying of thirst. She lowers the glass from her face, and I notice a faint gleam of moisture along the rim of her lips.
As I get the sense the stranger doesn’t know what to do with the glass, I take it from her hands carefully and return it to the counter. “I’ll get you some more later.”
“Water…” The woman’s face twists up for a moment, as if she was struggling to find the words. “I need water.”
I’m shocked, although I hide it behind my relaxed expression. It felt as if I had heard a random animal speaking.
“I see. Don’t worry, I’ll get you all you need. If you aren’t injured, which seems to be the case, you can get some whenever you want. Feel at home, and all that.”
This time I bring her a water bottle. As she gulps down most of it at once, I sit down on the carpet with a glass of water myself.
“You know, I love that you understand and can speak my language to whatever extent. I can’t imagine what happened, how you ended up at the bottom of the lake, but I’m glad I could help. My good deed of this month, I guess.”
“You saved me?” The woman asks with a surprise that seems to be genuine.
I snap my head back. What’s the last thing this woman remembers? Surely plummeting inside that aircraft of hers. Did she fall unconscious before an accident happened?
“Yeah. Your craft sank to the bottom of the lake. I happened to be diving down there at the time. Gave me quite a scare. I took you out, wiped the mud from your jumpsuit, all that.”
“Why did… why did you save me? You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am.”
I clear my throat, and respond carefully.
“Well… I couldn’t just leave you there to die. It’s against my nature.”
The woman is quiet for a while. Then she speaks up with a sigh: “Thank you. I won’t forget it.”
“Neither will I.”
She gets up from my dirty matress and moves towards the entrance. I think that she’s going to leave as if I had never met her, but she stands in front of the window and pulls the curtain away to gaze through the hard rain towards the lake.
“You know,” I start, although I’m not sure why, “I used to love rain. It’s not that I don’t like rain now, but… there was a certainty in the world back then when I was a kid, you know? As certain as all childhoods are. When it rained, you knew it’d clear up. Not always, perhaps, but it usually did. Now all I see is pain in every drop.”
I’m looking at her back. I can’t see her expression.
“Pain?” she asks. “Where do you see pain in the rain?”
“I don’t know. Listen, I figure the you I’m seeing is a disguise I can’t begin to understand. My first impression is that you would need to look plainer, because a pretty woman attracts enough attention on her own. But what I truly want to say is that no matter where you came from, or why you did, I hope your people and mine can be civil with each other, because all the killing we inflict upon ourselves is more than enough. I don’t know if there’s someone out there waiting for you, but if I can help you reach them, you can tell me.”
She doesn’t respond. She seems to be deep in thoughts. Then, she clears her throat and turns around to face me. I can see the rain water dripping from her waist length hair.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” she says. “I don’t know why I’m here, but I want to stay here, because you are kind.”
I don’t know how to take her words.
“Does it bother you that I know? Is it a bad thing that I do?” I ask.
“Not at all. Not at all,” she replies. “I’ve never met anyone that knows. I have to thank you for not sounding flabbergasted.”
“I wouldn’t have expected you to be so polite, but I’m so glad. There’s no harm in me knowing, you see. We are both intelligent creatures. I hope at least you consider me that. So we can both behave like civilized people.”
“We can,” she answers. “Lena, I need to return to the bottom of that lake.”
“Ah… It’s not safe,” I say before I remember that this stranger can breathe underwater.
“I know,” she says. “But this is important.”
I can read the worry in her red eyes.
“I mean, it’s night out. Can it wait until tomorrow morning?”
Her face softens. “Of course.”
“We can search for the wreckage in the morning light. It’s not like we are going to get much light down there, but… I have never dived this late. I couldn’t guarantee it’d go right.”
The woman nods.
“Thank you.”
“Ah, can I ask you something else?”
I bite my lip.
“I quite like the name I gave you. Alice… But now you can tell me your actual name. If you use those, that is.”
She shakes her head. “I’m sticking with Alice. It’s the name you gave me, I’ll always answer to it.”
I nod.
“Alright then… I suppose we should get some rest for tonight. I’m afraid my place is as shabby as you can see. I don’t need much. But you can sleep on my mattress. I’ll go grab a few pillows and sleep on the floor for the night.”
“That’s not necessary,” she says. “We can share the mattress together. Two people would fit, right? I mean, we’re about the same height and size.”
“Well… That’ll be fine.”
After we flip the mud-stained mattress, the woman sits down on it then scoots over towards the wall to leave space for me. I’ve never had another person in my cabin, let alone share a bed with one. I’m getting dizzy.
“I’m… going to pee first. Just lie down, I’ll return in a moment.”
As I leave the room for what I chose to consider my study, I grab an empty plastic bottle. Once I enter the study, I close the door behind me, pull my pants and underwear down and press the mouth of the bottle so most of my pee goes inside. I’m more careful than usual this time. My heart is racing. After I have finished, I sigh and try to relax.
When I returned to the main room, I half expected the woman to be gone. I can’t look her in the eye even though she’s staring at me. I turn off the light. Once I lay down next to her, we both wrap the blanket around ourselves. I’m as stiff as a board.
“Alice…” I start with a thin voice. “Is it beautiful out there?”
I close my eyes.
“Ah… That’s good.”
The rain lashes the window as I slowly drift to sleep. This strange woman’s warmth feels good next to me, and I hope she doesn’t mind my cold feet. I fall asleep tangled in a mess of thoughts. My dreams are dark and empty.

When I wake up it’s still black outside, and I’m exhausted as if I have barely dozed off for a nap. No alarm dragged me from my dreams. Why did I wake up?
The woman isn’t warming the bed next to me. She’s standing in front of the window and looking towards the lake, except that this time she hasn’t pulled the curtain away. For a moment I think she’s naked, until my brain realizes she’s still wearing her tight jumpsuit. I can tell by the wrinkles that she isn’t wearing anything underneath.
“Alice?” I call out in a meek voice.
I hear then over the background sound of the rain and the wind the whoop whoop of a helicopter nearby. My first thought is that they must be nuts to hover over the lake in this weather. Then I figure that the only reason why they would be out here during the night and under the rain must be related to the woman whose back I’m staring at. I get up and wrap the blanket around my shoulders. After rubbing sleep out of my eyes, I approach the woman. I’m reluctant to move the curtains, but I make out two helicopters whose searchlights are brightening something on the surface of the lake. And there’s movement on the waters as well, an inflatable boat.
“They’re looking for you,” I tell her as if she were stupid.
Her gaze doesn’t break away from the intruders and her face remains expresionless except for a tension in her eyebrows. Then I remember that we were supposed to dive to the bottom of the lake first thing in the morning.
“Damn it, you wanted to return to your craft. No, you wanted to retrieve something. That box, was it?”
The woman turns her face towards me and nods.
“Did you bring it with you when you saved me?”, she asks with a neutral tone.
A bitter taste fills my mouth.
“Sorry, I… I saw how you were hugging it against your chest. When I grabbed you to swim to the surface, it slipped from your hands. It must be resting at the bottom of the lake.”
Her face becomes even more expressionless, as if she was pulling away from me.
“We can’t go out there, Alice,” I say. “It must be the military, or some secret branch of the government. They probably have reached your craft already, and this cabin of mine is the only one along the shore. They will come to figure out if I know anything, and I’m sure that they won’t need a warrant to enter. If they find you… For starters, I’m sure I won’t ever see you again. Nobody else will ever see you again outside of whatever hole they’ll throw you into.”
I’m sure she’s considering the repercussions of being seen, as she just stands still and slowly blinks.
“The soldiers now have what they want from you…” I continue in a low voice. “Or at least they know where it is. But they must know enough about the kind of craft your people use to understand that it was carrying someone. They must think you have reached the shore and are hiding, or making your way somewhere. I’m sure they will look for days and bother the locals. We need to leave.”
I go on to explain that I have a car parked behind the cabin, and will drive her to a safe place. She just nods as I speak.
“There’s a town nearby,” I say as I look around the room to figure out where I left the keys. I haven’t driven for a week. “I’m sure the military will look around there as well, but at least we won’t have a target painted on us as we do now remaining in this cabin. From then on we’ll figure out what to do.”
I grab my torch, which I left on top of the battery charger, and shortly after I find the car keys under a candlestick. I turn to face the woman. She remains expressionless, but there is definitely life in her eyes now.
“Come on then,” I say, gesturing her to follow me to the door. “Let’s get out of here. You really can’t allow those people to take you.”
“I have no choice,” she says, turning her head to look at the lake one last time. “But they will find me anyway.”
“That’s defeatist talk.”
I walk to the back door with the woman slowly following after me. I open it for her and gesture her to walk in front. The cold, hard rain hits my face, and I can barely see anything in front. I don’t want to risk turning on my torch now. Before I turn to beeline towards the parked car that I can’t see, I hear the back door close behind me. A dark shape is moving around there, and I quickly try to turn on the torch, but a strong blow sinks into my stomach. I gasp for breath. I can feel the air crushed out of my lungs as I fall to the ground. I roll into the grass in an attempt to get away from my attacker. Hearing the sound of feet pattering on the grass, I try to stand up before some heavy foot crushes my skull.
“Not her.” A harsh male voice says close by.
I hear a buzzing sound, then glimpse a blue arc of light on a device that someone is holding. A taser. They have missed. A few big men are moving around between me and Alice, who is retreating slowly towards the house.
Although I’m coughing my lungs out and the rain is making it hard for me to take deep breaths, I stagger towards the backs of those men.
“Hey! She hasn’t done anything to you!” I try to say, then someone lands a heavy kick on my side and I fall into a puddle, where my face ends up covered by the muddy water. I can’t see anything when I open my eyes. I try to get up, but a heavy boot crushes my back. Before I can formulate any thought, I feel something gripped around my neck.
They are going to kill me. Just because I happened to be at the lake when the craft fell, just because I rescued the strange woman, these government people will end my life. That’s how it is.
The world lights up, and for a moment I think that I’ve been shot in the head. I’m bathed in light. So are the military men standing around, as well as Alice, who is keeping away closer to my cabin. Then I hear the helicopter rotors and realize that its searchlight is pointed straight at us. Someone is shouting, although I can’t tell apart much between the rain and the pain.
A woman wearking a shiny blue suit is advancing towards the men. No, not another woman, it’s Alice. Her jumpsuit has changed. She stands between me and the agents, and then I really see her for the first time. An scaled, reddish arm reaches out and grabs the nearest man by the neck, lifting him up without any effort. His feet are swinging in the air, and then he is thrown against the ground. They all draw their weapons and point them at the strange woman, but they don’t fire.
“Back away from him,” a voice from above says over a loudspeaker, “Or we will open fire.”
The woman looks at me for a moment, and I can only stare back in awe. Her face is purple like a bruise, the teeth inside her open maw sharp like a shark’s. She has retained the bright red eyes, although none of the hair.
Alice hisses like a snake as she swings one leg forward. The agents open fire, but she has already leaped over their heads and landed behind them. She grabs by the arm the man who had gripped something around my neck to kill me. She swings him around like a flail, his own pistol flying out of his hand and into the air. She lets go of the agent and he crashes into his fellows, knocking two of them to the ground.
“Run!” she screams, although it comes out as a bark.
I do not need to be told twice, and I sprint away from the cabin as fast as I can. From behind me come the bursts of automatic fire, as well as the increasing whoop whoop of the second helicopter. However, as I spot the treeline in the dark, I stop. If I flee through the woods, I will never see Alice again. I will never know what happened to her, although due to her isolation, separated from her people and hunted down by an organization that would hide this night even from the rest of us, I would always regret not having been able to act, even if trying wouldn’t change a thing.
I stand and watch as the cabin door is ripped off by a burst of fire, shortly before the wooden walls are torn to pieces. My heart sinks as I watch agents pour into the building, before the loudspeaker spouts an order.
“Do not kill the alien on sight!”
A few agents trail out of the building without noticing my figure in the darkness. The panicked voice of one of the soldiers reaches me as they scatter as if retreating.
“She’s called in!”
Instead of regrouping, the military guys flee into the woods. One of them, who is wearing night vision goggles, briefly looks my way before ignoring me as if I were a random deer. I don’t understand. My torso and neck hurt, and I taste blood. I stagger towards the back door of the cabin, but then I spot Alice, a reddish and purple figure a bit taller than before and whose shiny skin resembles metallic scales, walking slowly towards me while holding a small, phone like device in her raised hand.
“You…” I begin, but I double over to cough first. “You made it.”
“So did you, Lena.”
As I struggle to stand upright, I try to focus my gaze so I can register her new facial features, her almond-like red eyes enlarged towards the sides of her head, the thin, almost sculpted protuberance of the nose, and a maw with protruding teeth. The helicopters are swinging their searchlights wildly while they maneuver away from the cabin. And as I frame both of the vehicles in my vision, a new craft pops up around a hundred feet above them as if it had teleported there. It’s metallic cylinder the size of a football field, and in each of its ends flare a blurry, fire-like light that changes colors between red, orange and green.
I feel Alice close to me. She has stopped by my side. As she raises her scaly hand to touch my arm, the enormous spacecraft projects a liquid light that blankets the whole area. No, not the whole area, it precisely encompasses the helicopters, me and Alice, as well as the treeline. Then I feel myself lifted as by a giant. Me and Alice are floating towards the bottom of the cylindrical craft. Both helicopters screech and groan while getting compressed slowly as if caught in a hydraulic press. Although a wave of vertigo overwhelms me, I need to look down towards the ground. That’s when I spot all the military men that had tried to flee through the woods. They are floating in the direction of the craft, but they are struggling as if they could hold on to something.
I must have passed out. Next thing I know I’m standing up from a sterile-looking floor, like that of an operating room. People are moving and shouting around me. My head is spinning.
To my left, a man wearing a camo outfit decked in accessories, who in this room looks as if he came from a costume party, is screaming in terror. I don’t understand why, but then I notice that strange metallic appendages coming from the celing, which gives the impression of being made out of complicated machinery, have restrained the man’s arms and legs. The appendages tug him and he sails through the empty space of the room until he lands on a table that wouldn’t be out of place in any operating room I had seen before. As the man, who is crying like a child, looks on, strangely shaped, seemingly autonomous and sharp devices come up from the sides of the table and then tear the man apart in a bloodbath. Only when his head is severed he stops screaming, and his eyes keep moving for a few seconds.
Someone shoves me as if I was in the way. Other men are being restrained and pulled into the line of operating tables. As ear shattering screams fill the room, the growing spill of blood is falling down inconspicuous drains on the floor. I spot various people with metallic, scaly skin either standing near the operation tables, or grabbing detached limbs and moving them somewhere else. Then I feel something cold and metallic gripping my own limbs with such a strength as if I had fallen into industrial machinery. I fly backwards, then land heavily on my injured back.
In the periphery of my vision I sense the operating tools that are going to butcher me, but I can’t tear my gaze away from the sight in front of me: the curved wall of this large room is covered in little alcoves closed with a transparent material. They display human heads, human torsos, human limbs, human genitals. Some flayed, some dissected. Most of the faces look back towards me in shock, their expressions frozen. Men, women, children.
The tools never dismember me nor behead me. Around me the strange people are arguing loudly in a language my vocal cords would never be able to reproduce. Then to my left, next to the table, appears a purple face that I recognize, two large, red eyes that look down towards me with intelligence and warmth.
“Can you swim in the dark, Lena?”
I open my mouth to speak, but my throat is closed and my eyes are watering. I blink a few times, as I want to look at Alice for the last time.

I am falling. Above me, the football field sized, cylindrical craft hovers like a blimp against the black clouds. The rain lashes sideways against me, the wind screeches in my ears. The craft gets smaller and smaller.
I crash against a surface, but I don’t die. Instead I become engulfed by cold, black waters which cut me off from all sounds but my heartbeat, and separate me from the wild storm above. I sink in slow motion until I can’t tell if I have stopped.
I am hurting. My mouth tastes metallic. A wave of anguish is shaking my insides. I close my eyes tight and for a moment I wish to fall asleep.
I kick my legs and swim.

Roleplaying through “Re:Zero” with the GPT-3 story generator (Part 40)

This entry covers part of the tenth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels.

In the previous entry, the protagonist went through his humiliating first time with the hundreds of years old child librarian Beatrice.

GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.

You must have finished cleaning your shameful mess in Beatrice’s library around three in the morning. When you finally returned to your bedroom, you needed to sleep enough so your mana would recharge. Around the time that people wake up to live like normal human beings, part human beings Emilia and Frederica knocked on your locked door so you could join them, but you had to bother explaining that you were fine, that you had been learning some magic with Beatrice but that you fucked up, and that they needed to let you rest. You finally emerged to the world around six in the afternoon, feeling completely out of synch for wasting most of a day.
You get out of the mansion through one of the many secondary doors, and breathe the fresh air of this day that is coming to an end. You spot Frederica in the distance, as she’s trimming some hedges near the main road that leads to the gate.
“So, how did your first magic lesson go?”, Puck says. He appears by your side and flies in a pirouette until he hovers near your face. “It’s hard to imagine you managed to cast any spell when you’ve seemed out of it ever since we returned to the mansion.”
You take another deep breath for a completely different reason.
“What, weren’t you attending my disgraceful lesson, flying while invisible and laughing at how much I botched that whole shooting mana thing, maybe while touching yourself?”
Puck smirks.
“I had things to do, important things, like scaring the hell out of some rats in a bin. But given your downcast eyes, I’m guessing you managed to disappoint our patient librarian.”
“Thankfully for you, your slothful nature as a great spirit prevents you from knowing how it feels to shoot your load before you even get to take off your pants, metaphorically speaking.”
Puck laughs.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell Emilia. I fear that knowing such a detail might make her wonder whether her current infatuation is a sane path to pursue.”
You look to the side.
“Maybe you should tell her, then”, you mutter. “It’d make my life easier.”
“It’s not my place to tell anyone anything, much less my adoptive daughter Emi, when it would break her heart. Are you seriously still thinking about resisting her advances? Didn’t we speak about this at length while you were crying, back at Crusch Karsten’s den…?”
“I don’t remember speaking to you about anything. And I’m already married.”
Puck shakes his head.
“Ah, pretending to be Wilhelm, are we. While admiring that old guy could rub some of his savoir faire on you, his inability to move on from losing his wife is something to pity. As physically strong as he remains, psychologically he’s as weak as they come.”
You glare at the little cunt.
“If you are insulting me by proxy, I wouldn’t consider weak someone who defeated a great spirit in his mind. Imitate Petelgeuse if you want, try to possess me, see how that goes for you.”
A shiver makes Puck tremble from head to toe, and he retreats a bit.
“I assure you, kid, that of the few things I fear in this world, getting trapped in your mind is the most horrifying prospect.”
Your glare softens as you sigh deeply.
“So, what is it that you wanted?”
“To give you a heads up, so you don’t react like the unstable madman that you are when Emilia approaches you later on. She intends to employ her precious time giving you your first lesson to teach you how to read and write, something that you should have gone through as a child. You better appreciate her attentions. After all, she’s one of the sweetest, most beautiful gals in the world, and you are you.”
Although you can’t take Puck’s words as anything less than an attack, you are grateful that Emilia will bother teaching you such basic stuff. You figure that she has spent most of the day in her office, going through numerous official documents related to her wild attempt to become the next queen of this fantasy place. The poor girl must be stressed out, and spending time teaching you while simultaneously believing she’s romancing you is a nice way for her to relax.

When you finally sit next to Emilia in front of her office desk, with both your suppers waiting at the sides of her desk so you will eat them while you learn, you hadn’t considered that Emilia would step up her romancing game now that you’ve all returned home. She’s wearing a silky nightgown that shows both her bare shoulders and also a generous amount of cleavage. Although the half-elf’s tits aren’t on Priscilla’s level, or Rem’s level for that matter, or Frederica’s, she looks amazing. Her smooth, unblemished skin demands you to caress it, and whatever stuff she’s perfumed herself with is affecting your brain like an aphrodisiac. You are tingling all over, even occasionally in your crotch, although you keep shifting around to prevent it. Given that you are blushing profusely, and feeling your heart speed up, she must have noticed by now that you are avoiding to stare at her otherworldly gorgeous face, those big purple eyes, and her moist lips that demand yours.
As she nudges your shoulder with hers, she keeps finding excuses to touch your hand with her warm fingertips. The flirting itself must be exciting this naive girl, for whom the only person she could trust before you returned to her life was a completely untrustworthy would be mass murderer.
You do try to focus on tracing the few dozen characters of this fantasy world script. You have already seen most of them written around in the capital and on documents that people you knew were holding, while you wished silently that they never asked you to read it along with them, or for them. Thankfully those characters are relatively simple, closer to Western script than to Japanese. You figure that it won’t take a long time to become fluent with them, as long as you keep practicing. After all, you aren’t in school, and you are truly attempting to learn something useful.
Emilia has brought a few books of fairy tales that she cherishes from her own childhood, and she’s eager to share them with you. Her silver hair rests on your neck as she leans closer and reads softly word by word, asking you from time to time to pronounce some of the words made out of characters you have retained. It’s getting harder and harder to think when most of your blood is flowing downwards. You take bites of your cold supper to distract yourself.
You fall into daydreams that steal away your focus to the extent that Emilia had to snap you out of it, although kindly, a few times. You remember this very same Emilia trembling and crying her eyes out in the village’s plaza, when that villager with the wart was berating her for having caused, in his eyes, the death of his whole family. At her core, the half-elf seemed mostly shy and timid, and you are partly proud of how she’s blossoming by pursuing you, although it’s making your head spin and feel guilty as fuck. If Rem could see you now she would vomit, and possibly extract her custom flail from whatever magical pocket of her servant outfit she kept her weapon in.
The lesson comes to a point in which you can pronounce entire words by yourself as you follow the sentences on the book. The foreign-sounding syllables end up transforming into comprehensible words that for you sound like regular Japanese. It doesn’t make any sense.
The two of you, although Puck has decided to perch on your head, end up sitting on the carpeted floor, backs against the bed frame as the books lie open on your lap. It must be around two in the morning. The moonlight shines through the window, and the lantern’s glow has long since dimmed. Your eyes start to feel heavy.
“We should give up for tonight, Subaru…”, Emilia says softly.
You must have fallen asleep for a moment. You look over to see Emilia rubbing her eyes. You no longer feel Puck’s weight on your head, so maybe he’s gone through his spirit version of falling sleep.
“Yeah, you’re right… We can continue tomorrow night, or in the morning even. Although I’ve thought about waking up early from now on. I better take up on Wilhelm’s advice and swing for a while whatever sword I find somewhere around here. You are going to bed already, I’m guessing. Good for you that Roswaal, or some more thoughtful ancestor of his, put beds even in the offices.”
You realize you have spoken quickly out of nervousness. Like back during the carriage trip to the mansion, waking up next to the half-elf makes you feel as if you are cheating.
After you stand up and pat your legs absentmindedly, Emilia stands up enough so she can sit on the bed. She lifts her gaze towards you.
“You are going straight to sleep as well, aren’t you, Subaru?”
“Yeah… Listen, Emilia, thank you so much for teaching me both tonight and other nights to come. You have no idea how much not knowing how to read hinders my life, although thinking about it for a few seconds would make it obvious. And also thank you for allowing me to return home. I must admit, though, that you look so gorgeous that it was making it quite hard for me to concentrate on the lesson.”
Emilia laughs, and then keeps smiling at you so warmly that it makes you shiver.
“You look gorgeous as well, Subaru.”
Emilia blushes a bit, which is when you realize that she expects you to make a move on her. For a moment your brain pictures you sitting next to the half-elf, caressing her silky hair, Emilia turning her face slowly towards you while separating her moist lips and looking down at your mouth. You feel your palms sweating and heat going through your body. The thought of betraying Rem even in your imagination makes your throat tighten.
“You do know, don’t you?”, Emilia says with a sad voice.
You realize you must have stood there acting weird for too long. Emilia has lowered her gaze to her lap, and is holding her hands on top of the silky skirt of her nightgown, near her bare knees.
You sigh.
“Yes, I do, but it’s not that easy, and… well…” You have no excuses. You are only just realizing yourself of how selfish you are. “I’m in love with Rem. I can’t just betray her like that.”
Emilia’s face darkens, but is still looking down. She inhales deeply and exhales slowly. When she lifts her head, she looks at you with a tearful expression.
“What am I going to do, Subaru? Never have I met a man who could make me feel the way you make me feel, and yet you won’t even make a move. I can’t stop my…” She quits midway through that sentence, and lifts her hand to her heart. “And you fought so much to save me, to save all of us…”
She starts tearing up, and before you know it you sit next to her and hug her. She embraces you tightly, and her tears fall on your hand, which is placed on her back. The two of you stay like that for a while.
“You don’t need to feel sorry, Subaru”, she murmurs, trying to sound calm. “I won’t blame you for not loving me… My one wish is that we can be friends.”
“I do love you, Emilia. Just not the same way I love my Rem.”
Emilia sniffs.
“That’s fine. I just… I don’t want to lose you. We’ve been through so much already, and I don’t want you to think I’m some clingy girl who would hold a grudge against you for not reciprocating my feelings.”
“If that’s a real concern of yours, I assure you that I will belong to your side until the day I die. Until my final death, I mean. If that ever happens.”

You wake up shortly after sunrise the next day, even though you went to bed late. As you lie on your wide bed with your eyes open, you tell yourself that no way you are going through the trouble of standing up, taking a shower, dressing yourself, getting a sword and wandering to some appropriate spot of the huge yard to imitate Wilhelm’s routine. However, you figure that you’ve vanquished greater evils than finding the motivation to start training, so you jump out of bed. Shortly after you snatch a fancy sword, probably a family legacy, stored in a display case near the dining room, and you head out to the yard. The early morning’s air freshens your lungs while the mighty rays of the sun brighten your mood. You stand near a gazebo slightly hidden near some rows of hedges, and after you take a deep breath and you tell yourself that you aren’t doing something stupid, you imitate Wilhelm’s swings.
After a while the muscles in your arms and in your back get hotter, and you feel stronger. You figure that if you do this for a week, your strength will begin to go up. Your body will adapt to the exercises, and maybe you’ll soak in some of Wilhelm’s aura of murderous heroism.
In between your grunts, some of them exaggerated, you realize you are hearing the sound of something like scissors trimming the nearby hedges. You get uncomfortable. A couple of minutes later Frederica pops up from behind one of the wall-like hedges. She’s already smiling, unsurprised to find you here, so you figure she has been spying on your graceful, manly movements for a while. She’s wearing gloves and holding some sharp scissor-like thing you can’t name, and she’s gathered most of her voluminous, light blonde hair in a hair tie. She seems so zestful and awake at this hour that in comparison you feel as if your body must be operating on a quarter of her reserves of energy.
“I didn’t take you for such a determined warrior, Mr. Natsuki.”
Her voice sounded friendly, but the comment still annoys you.
“Morning, lioness. Turns out there are many fascinating things you don’t know about me.”
She smiles broadly, to the extent that the sun glistens on her predatory teeth, and you get the impression she wasn’t paying attention to what you said. Even though you haven’t stopped swinging and you are standing quite close to the gazebo, Frederica skillfully moves in front of you.
“Are you looking for someone to spar with?”, she asks.
“I didn’t take you for the sword fighting type.”
“I haven’t for a long time, since I was a child… Does swinging like that improve your skills, when you lack an opponent?”
You stop at the end of your current swing, and after thinking about it for a moment, you shrug.
“You know, I have no fucking clue. A guy I admire and whom I witnessed murdering a few very dangerous people did this every morning, and unless he was fighting his inner demons… Shit, he might have been.”
Frederica’s smile has not faded one bit. If she was someone else, you would have been creeped out, but you can sense that this girl is as easy-going as they come, yet still intelligent.
“I think you should continue your training… Maybe you should try to find an opponent?”
“Then it would be a sparring match.”
“We could also wrestle for a bit.”
Your brain freezes mid-swing, and your legs break out of your stance. When you recover your footing, you hold on to your sword as if to give yourself confidence. After a shiver runs down your spine, you concentrate on the glints of sunlight that brighten your blade, so you stop your mind from finishing the pictures it was drawing.
“I… I would say yes, Frederica, and I would also say yes. However, any wrestling match between us would consist on you pinning me down immediately with your superior German body, me losing most of my strength because I would feel your bountiful attributes compressing against me, and in turn you would find yourself occasionally poked by my rock-hard erection. So unless you are into that…”
Frederica laughs loudly while closing her eyes tight, and a moment later she hides her mouth with her hand. Her shoulders shake. When she lowers her hand, she’s still displaying her triangled teeth.
“Too bad lady Emilia wouldn’t like that one bit, would she?”, she asks with a giggly voice.
She then leaves, disappearing behind some hedges. You stand there trembling as your heart beats quickly, and it takes you a bit of deep breathing to even attempt to return to swinging your sword. That damn teasing, exceedingly hot lioness.

Otto looks like he’s living the life. Despite your horror stories, he has used the bathhouse, which would admittedly feel really good if it wasn’t because you were permanently scarred there, and the merchant now also knows the joys of lounging half naked on an outdoor reclining chair while a precocious, skimpily dressed twelve-year-old serves him drinks, joys that in your previous world were usually reserved to the one-percenters.
When you walk up to Otto’s side and he notices you, he grins and greets you cheerfully. He takes a sip from his drink.
“I have to say, these drink aren’t as strong as that part beast servant claimed, but this all feels pretty damn cushy.”
“When you’re done with your absolute power trip there, maybe you and I could go down to the village to secure some food supplies. We might run through our reserves before the end of the week.”
“Oh, of course. Always thinking about the future, that’s Mr. Natsuki!”
“That’s me, I guess.”
“I heard from the ladies that you received your first magic lesson from the mansion’s librarian. I tried to check out the place, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“And you likely won’t. It’s protected by a spell. However, unless you want your back to break, you’d rather steer clear of the librarian. She’s a great spirit with a short fuse. After I botched casting my first spell, she had me cleaning the bookshelves for hours.”
Otto looks down and he seems suddenly worried, a huge contrast with his previous attitude. He then takes another sip.
“But you did learn something, didn’t you?”
“Technically I would be able to cast the one spell she taught me, and like the madman with a hammer than I am I see all of you as nails for this recently acquired ability of mine, but Beatrice, that librarian, told me that I have damaged by gate by shooting all of my gooey essence at once. Until she gives me the thumbs up to try again, I should forget that I am a mighty magician.”
Regarding your recently activated magic senses, though, you don’t know whether to be worried or excited about Beatrice’s likely accurate discovery that you have two superpowers. Why would you have a new one? And why hasn’t it become obvious already? As you lied in bed, you explored the threads of control that you recognized regarding which parts of your body you can move to any degree, something you had become acutely aware of when Petelgeuse tried to steal your body, but you didn’t find anything new. Maybe you need to practice more until you recognize and strengthen that new muscle. However, you already know that it is witch-given. Did Satella grant you another blessing slash curse deliberately? Either way, you’re a freak.

Half an hour later you and Otto get together with the two servants in the kitchen area. Frederica is speaking about which supplies you should attempt to gather in the village. When Otto suggests that you both should bring a written list, Frederica shoots you a knowing yet considerate look, and hurries to begin writing the list herself. Ram must have told her you can’t read so Frederica, as a servant, knew with what she shouldn’t inconvenience you, and you figure that Petra has found out about it as well. You glance at Otto. You had asked Emilia to teach you how to read back at the carriage, but you don’t know how clearly the merchant could hear from the driver’s seat, nor how loud you both were speaking at that moment. You find this secrecy humiliating. There are far worse things in life, you know it damn well, than being illiterate.
“Emilia is teaching me how to read and write,” you say, “and she turned out to be talented at making somewhat idiotic people learn stuff. So in a short while I won’t burden you girls with this task on top of the many others you take care of.”
Frederica is addled for a moment, but she smiles softly. Her eyes tell you that she understands you wanted to free her both from having to hide your weakness.
“That’s very kind of you,” the lioness says, bowing her head a bit to you.
“Well, I mean, you both deserve a break every now and then. And maybe you could teach me how to prepare some of those… soups or whatever it is you make.”
Frederica chuckles.
Otto has arched an eyebrow and is looking down at the table as if thinking about your interaction.
“Care to share your thoughts, Otto?”, you say.
“To be honest, the question that sparked in my mind was how would a general organize such an operation as the one I got myself tangled in, when he doesn’t know how to read nor write.”
“For starters, I did tell you that me being a general was a historical anomaly. I can almost assure you that you will never witness me leading another operation like that, and not precisely because we intend to kill you and bury you in the garden. How come I have managed to get by in this fantasy world despite being illiterate? I have an excellent memory and good sense of orientation. Nah, just kidding. I have managed to survive because I can rely on awesome people who do stuff I can’t do.”
Otto, still looking down at the table, smiles a bit.
“Good to know that you can lead an army to victory by trusting your subordinates and really knowing how the whole system works.”
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I really know anything, but I will continue relying on others’ talents as soon as when we reach the village, because you’ll likely have to deal with the local vendors yourself.”
“Alright then, sounds like a solid plan.”
Both servants look towards the door, and you realize that Emilia has entered the kitchen, seemingly attracted by the lively conversation. The half-elf eyes you all shyly as if she feels left out.
“Is something going on…?”
“Oh!”, Otto blurts out. “We’re just preparing to leave for the village. You’re welcome to join, lady Emilia!”
“Th-thank you… but I’m not sure if my face will be welcome there…”
Otto frowns a bit as he looks at her directly in the eyes.
“Of course it will! You have done nothing wrong!”
“… You didn’t hear?”
“Heard what?”
Emilia closes her eyes and sighs.
“The village… The villagers think I’m a witch.”
Otto opens his mouth to insist, but you interrupt him.
“Yeah, I don’t know what kind of atmosphere we are going to find down there, with seemingly only a quarter or fewer of the villagers remaining after Ram took quite a few with her to Sanctuary, and we already know that some are pissed, although maybe just at me. If you don’t want to come, that’s alright, Emilia. Do you want us to bring you something, though?”
She nods.
“Yes, some fruit would be nice. Some appas maybe…”

Shortly after you and Otto are following the main road out of the mansion’s grounds, when the merchant points to his carriage.
“Let’s find your ground dragon, Mr. Natsuki. I have a carriage, so we might as well use it.”
You nod, and call out Patrasche’s name. She soon lumbers out from behind some hedges alongside the road and obeys your calls to approach the carriage.
“Ain’t she the cutest girl you’ve ever seen?”, you say to the merchant as you pat the ground dragon’s scaly flank.
“She’s certainly a good deal less scary than the bigger ones”, Otto says. “I mean, she doesn’t even have big teeth or anything. Not to disparage your loyal ground dragon, though, but she doesn’t hold a candle to lady Emilia!”
While he says this, he looks over at the carriage with a starry gleam in his eyes, which makes him miss the glance that Patrasche shoots at him. You smile and pat the merchant’s back.
Once you reach the village, Otto parks on one side of the main plaza, where you recall that one of the frontlines of both Crusch’s soldiers and the Iron Fang’s mercenaries had battled to the death against the tide of cultists. Maybe due to the lack of hoses in this fantasy world, some patches of the dirt remain dyed reddish-black, as if the liters of blood had become mixed permanently with the ground. Most of the two-story houses facing the plaza have been ruined, and a few have collapsed entirely. Nobody has cleared the rubble piled up, although some villagers have extracted or dislodged some furniture from the damaged houses, which is gathered near their front walls as if waiting for some waste collector to carry them away.
When you and Otto climb down from the driver’s seat, you are gazed upon by a few villagers. All of them are either in their twenties or early thirties, and have the expected weary but determined look in their eyes. They are all dressed in worn yet still colorful clothing. Some whisper to each other, and others avert their eyes.
Otto leans towards you.
“Mr. Natsuki, they could hardly be more suspicious. They behave as if they had been insulted.”
“I don’t know where they could have gotten that idea. But let’s forget about these fuckers and hit whatever passes for grocery stores around these miserable parts.”
You and Otto wander around until you find a building with something similar to a storefront. The man in his thirties that was chopping meat inside doesn’t look pleased with your arrival, particularly when he recognizes you as the one who convinced them to evacuate the village, but after you exchange some of Roswaal’s spare change, the guy relaxes as if life has returned to normal. You repeat this routine in two other stores until you’ve found most of the items that Frederica requested, including a bunch of appas for Emilia, but you and Otto quickly lose your determination to find out what corner of the village could sell the remaining items, because the quality and amount of onlookers have upgraded from people you casually passed by to a bunch of people following you both. You walk briskly with your groceries towards the carriage parked in the village’s plaza. You hear some mumbling on your way, but try not to pay attention.
As Otto loads the groceries on the back of the carriage and you pat Patrasche’s head, you suddenly hear a yell from behind.
“Are you just going to leave without addressing us!?”
You turn around and see a group of people, about seven or eight, catching up to you both. While they aren’t the biggest bunch of dudes you’ve faced, they do look particularly angry.
“Yeah, you’re that bastard aren’t you? The one who ordered everyone to evacuate!”
One of the villagers, a guy in his mid twenties with a conspicuous sewn wound on his bare arm, has a firm grip on a rock.
“I am that bastard, yeah”, you say calmly. “Do you have something to say?”
The guy who addressed you frowns and looks back to his friends, who all seem to be encouraging him. Patrasche growls a bit.
“Look at our houses! That one near the corner is mine, and the whole second floor collapsed during the fight, crushing most of my stuff on the first floor! I’m occupying now one of the vacant houses, and I don’t even know if it belongs to someone who got killed by that cult, or to any of the villagers that left with that scary, grumpy, pink-haired servant girl!”
“What about me?” Another villager, with a big bushy beard, speaks up. “My house collapsed as well, and I lost my business with it. We all did!”
“Yeah! What about us!?”
Otto places a hand on your shoulder, and Patrasche growls.
“Mr. Natsuki, I don’t think we should…”, Otto says with a trembling voice.
You wave him off and turn back to the villagers.
“Well, I hope you get them houses fixed soon. It’s not right to live in other people’s abodes, or on the streets. You don’t even have proper pavement in your village, its just a bunch of dirt! I would be pissed too.”
“That’s what you should tell us! When will you rebuild them!? We need to return to our normal lives! And we have lost many if not most of our possessions as well!”
One of the villagers who you hadn’t noticed, and who has been silent this whole time, a young girl around seventeen, steps forward.
“They’re right, mister noble. We have lost everything, and now we’re forced to live a life we didn’t choose!”
You shake your head.
“Do I look like a construction worker? Why the hell would I be in charge of rebuilding your shit? Just because I told you to evacuate to avoid getting massacred by that cult?”
Some of the villagers look at each other. The guy with a bushy beard frowns in confusion and raises his voice.
“You work for the lord! Don’t pretend that you don’t! He’s responsible for our security, and the village was almost destroyed when those cultists attacked! We lost so many people! And where are the ones that we sent with that pink-haired servant!? We haven’t heard anything from them!”
“Ah, you think I represent that clown. Listen, Roswaal is missing. He was missing already when the Witch’s Cult almost Apocalypsed the world, and he hasn’t returned yet. We can’t locate him nor find out what happened.”
A few villagers complain at the same time, but the bearded guy interrupts them by speaking louder.
“We don’t care! We’re not stupid! You work for the man who destroyed our lives and homes, you have to help us!”
Before you answer, the girl continues with a conciliatory tone.
“The lord abandoned us during the assault, and now we don’t know when we will be able to return to our own homes. We can get by because the cultists didn’t burn our farms nor kill our animals, but we feel that we haven’t been supported in any way!”
You have grown angry, but not at these idiots for bothering you, but at Roswaal. If he hasn’t returned because some trouble in that Sanctuary place restrained him there, if he simply chose to stay away, you don’t think you will be able to let that pass. It’s not just that he abandoned the villagers as well as his own employees, but that he forced you to deal with the aftermath of his indolence. Crusch would have faced the tide of cultists and sliced many of them in half, and then she would have organized the reconstruction the next day. She would have sent some of her staff to feed the villagers if necessary.
“Let me tell you something”, you say with a raspy voice. “That motherfucking clown abandoned us too. His own people. We knew the cult was coming to murder our friend and kill everybody at your village, and that Roswaal just left. I had to break my back and inflict an unhealthy amount of mental scars upon myself so I could bring over a couple of armies so as few people as possible got killed. And after we managed to survive that nightmare, the clown hasn’t returned yet. We can’t get to where he’s supposed to be, because he hasn’t told us the location. You guys have the right to be angry. I would personally beat that lazy piece of shit up if I got the chance.”
The sheer honesty of your words causes them to reassess you. A guy murmurs that you are right, that he saw you during the battle as you were fighting. Their expressions shift, and some look back with a bit of remorse in their eyes.
“I didn’t expect such a statement from someone like you”, one of them says, a guy who had kept quiet.
You suddenly realize that you can’t just wait, even if just because these people won’t stop bothering you about whatever Roswaal does or doesn’t. The clown should answer for himself.
The guy with the bushy beard has kept frowning since the confrontation started, and doesn’t seem to have any intention to calm down.
“You can dismiss our complaints easily because you live at that huge mansion! You enjoy every kind of luxury! What would you know about losing your home, finding out that most of your stuff has gotten destroyed? And plenty of the villagers that have survived have lost family members!”
“I lost my home and my family too”, you say with a hollow voice.
Your words as well as your tone throw the guy off for a moment, but he ends up shaking his head.
“No! You’re different, because you had that mansion to run back to! You stay there enjoying the good life! If you really understood how we feel, you wouldn’t be able to dismiss our concerns this easily.”
Before you recover from your sudden gloom, another guy, who had hidden himself behind a larger man, contributes to the conversation for the first time.
“M-Maybe we should take the mansion for ourselves!”
Otto mutters something with a trembling voice, and out of the corner of your eye you notice him shuffling towards your back, maybe to the carriage.
A weasely looking kid in his early twenties encourages the previous idiot’s idea by shouting that they should burn things down, in general. To be fair to most of the crowd, they insist on shushing those two.
You sigh deeply.
“Again with the burning stuff down. Good luck. Everybody who tries to assault the mansion will die, the same way we took care of the Witch’s Cult. Roswaal might be an indolent clown, but he hires his maids for their combination of hotness and murderous abilities. Our resident lioness alone would be able to handle all of you pitchfork-wielding motherfuckers.”
The crowd seem dumbfounded by your outburst. You climb to the driver’s seat calmly, and when Otto unfreezes, still wide-eyed, he does the same and grabs the reins. Patrasche keeps glaring at the crowd and showing her teeth.
“We will locate the clown and make him pay, in many ways. If Ram is still alive, every villager who left must be hanging out with our bitchy servant. No way she let them die if she’s still standing. Now get out of the way.”
Otto snaps the reins, and the carriage rolls forward. The villagers stare at you as you leave. You assume they didn’t move out of fear of Patrasche or perhaps a mixture of embarrassment and confusion.
One of the villagers snaps out of it enough to shout at you in particular.
“A-And I don’t fuck goats! That’s a dirty thing to do!”
You turn towards him and reply loudly.
“You avoid fucking goats because of the unhygienic aspect of it, huh? I wouldn’t care if you fucked all your barn animals. We all have our fetishes.”
Once Patrasche is already pulling uphill, Otto looks over his shoulder, and when he realizes that the village has disappeared behind a bend on the road, he slumps his shoulders and lets out a deep sigh. He holds his trembling left hand in front of his face, which is slowly regaining its color.
“Mr. Natsuki, you are cold as steel! You weren’t fazed by those rough looking men becoming more and more hostile! That’s a general for you. No wonder even such a bunch of unruly half-beast mercenaries followed you!”
“The Iron Fang is a professional mercenary band. And again, you are too fixated on my role in that operation!”
“That’s how I was introduced to you! My very first impression! Goodness, my heart… You looked as if you could have vanquished those villagers single-handedly if they had attacked you.”
You pat him on the shoulder a couple times.
“No, I wouldn’t have been able to do shit. I suppose that my natural confidence helps, but the fact is that dying doesn’t bother me.”
Your cold words cause him to flinch.
“You mean that you don’t value your life? Well, I do fear death, and you were almost welcoming it! Wait, don’t tell me that you are suicidal!”
“You are going to accuse me of that too?”
“Other people have already brought it up!? Mr. Natsuki… Is this about your unfortunately comatose girlfriend?”
You rub your eyes. You feel tired all of a sudden.
“Sorry, Otto. It’s just that after you have lost your dick and still survived with your sanity relatively intact, few things can truly bother you.”
Otto lets out a noise of distress. He shoots a glance at your crotch, but he then straightens his back and stares forward as his face whitens again.
“You have been castrated”, he states with a thin voice. “By the gods… I can’t… I don’t know what to say about that. Now I understand why it affected you so much to face your lord’s member from so close. It reminded you of your nightmarish trauma!”
You turn towards him on your seat and shake your hand dismissively.
“Hey, don’t go claiming shit like that! I lost my dick, yes, but I recovered it since. It’s all good.”
Otto alternates between following the ascending road and trying to read your expression.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised that a camp with such competent magic users would be able to reattach a cut-off penis, but I don’t believe for a second that everything returned to normality!”
“You don’t believe it!? Let me show you then!”
You lift your ass off the seat to pull down your pants and underwear enough. It’s chilly. Otto raises his palm next to his face as a screen so he won’t see your crotch even involuntarily.
“No! I’m sorry I doubted your words, Mr. Natsuki!”
“No way! You don’t tell a guy that his dick don’t work no more and then not expect him to prove otherwise!”
“Stop it, please! We will end up crashing!”

Note from December 2020:

I’m taking my sweet time with this first act of the fourth arc, but there’s plenty more to set up than in the original novels or the anime adaptation due to how the retelling has diverged from the original events. I’m loving the dynamic with the new cast members, particularly with the German lioness, but I miss Crusch’s crew.