We are still in the ninth volume of the original “Re:Zero” novels. Man, getting through this volume is taking some time, although I think that part 36 is finally going to close it.
In the previous entry, the protagonist understands that he has sacrificed his girlfriend to save Emilia and the world, and he begins to grieve for the demon servant. Meanwhile, the Witch of Frost turns into a discount version of the Witch of Envy.
I intended for this entry and the following one, of which I’ve already written half, to be a single one, but they will likely turn into ten thousand words together. This one is around five and a half.
GPT-3 is a cutting-edge language processing algorithm used in the premium version of the online site AI Dungeon.
Before Crusch had lost her memories, she had organized paying a local transport service to return the evacuated villagers back home. They left the next morning. One of the staff members had caught you going to the bathroom and he had informed you that a certain Petra wanted to talk to you, but you asked him to pretend he didn’t see you. The thought of dealing with Emilia, who expected so much from you, already made your stomach churn, and now this twelve year old villager wanted your attention as well.
After waking up next to Rem’s unchanged, emotionless face as she kept sleeping, and would likely never stop for the rest of her life, your heart hurt as if your wife had died after a decades-long relationship. You just wanted to mourn her in peace and quiet, but the people around you just didn’t want to leave you alone.
You ate lunch along with Emilia and Crusch’s camp around a big table illuminated by chandeliers. Everyone focused on how much the duchess remembered how to do, and whether she might suddenly recover her memories as if she had suffered a particularly nasty concussion. Crusch knew how to eat by herself. She couldn’t name the different kinds of foods present on the table, but their taste didn’t surprise her. Apart from knowing how to speak the language, she also knew how to write. She lacked all the memories of who she was, as well as all the people she had met. A very selective memory loss, then again you shouldn’t be surprised if it’s magic based.
The poor duchess had accepted that she used to have a full life but that someone had stolen it, and now she acted poised and genteel, but without any haughtiness. It seemed like the generations of rulers that eventually led to her birth had forged her talents to lead and inspire to the extent that they surged out of her nature. Whenever you were in the presence of Crusch Karsten, you just wanted to listen to her and be there to help her with whatever she wished, because you had the sense that it would lead to great things for everybody. In comparison, Emilia, insisting on sitting next to you whenever you shared a room, felt like an involuntary recluse that was doing her best to pretend she was comfortable in the outside world.
The nerdy doctor you had given hell to for no good reason returned to check on Rem. It seemed that the guy was a well-respected healer in this part of the capital. He wasn’t mad at you, and after you apologized for your outburst and he examined Rem, he informed you that those afflicted with this curse didn’t need to consume nutrients, nor did they age, although they could be killed by the usual methods. You are pretty sure such a condition violates the laws of thermodynamics, but then again this is a world where at least one whale can fly. It seemed that a couple of cases of people afflicted with this curse in another kingdom had been kept for centuries on display like works of art in a museum. When you imagine yourself getting old and eventually dying only for your beloved to remain young forever, it wrenches your heart. What will happen with Rem then? Who will care for her and keep her safe? The most you can hope for is that Roswaal will assign her a bedroom in his huge mansion, and that the clown’s future descendants, if anyone wants to procreate with that guy, will carry on caring for the demon servant.
Emilia wanted to remain in the capital for a few days longer, if only so you two could visit together a few interesting sights. Crusch knows you both to be friendly and helpful and can’t grasp fully that you belong to an opposite camp, but even those who care for her safety and political ambitions, Ferris and Wilhelm, are comfortable with having you here. It’s as if they implicitly don’t take Emilia’s candidacy seriously at all, not that it matters to you.
When you think about what must be going on at Roswaal’s mansion you think of Ram. The senior servant, who had chosen to stay behind after the fight and handle the bereaved villagers who refused to leave, as well as make sure that the mansion itself didn’t collapse, must be now dealing with the remaining villagers attempting to return to their regular lives even though a quarter of the buildings were destroyed. Has Roswaal made an appearance? Has he had to answer for abandoning his subjects in their moment of need? It all feels so remote to you. Rem is in a coma, and walking around with your current depression feels like wading through mud. What does anything matter beyond the fact that you failed to save your girl?
Emilia has organized an outing to experience the bustle of the capital and to browse the wares of the numerous stands set up in wide open plazas. Crusch, like in previous days, wanted to accompany the half-elf and discover more of a world about which she mostly only knows what her subconscious has integrated. Although you believe you are doing a great job of acting as if the merchandise that Emilia brings to your attention, or the food that she insists that you stuff your mouth with, is improving your mood, you want to return to your bedroom and lock yourself in. You feel as if you are looking at your body from above as it moves by itself. Most of the time you end up walking behind, close to Crusch’s perpetual bodyguard Wilhelm. You can tell that the old man understands your gloom. A similar one has probably accompanied him for a long time.
Far enough that you can’t hear their conversation, Emilia is speaking warmly with Crusch as she shows her the fruits of a stand. The duchess, who is wearing a casual dress with a floral motif, holds one of the appas, the local version of apples, as if learning the most about this wild world is her current duty.
You stand next to Wilhelm. Although you want to steel your voice, it comes out hollow.
“Crusch’s memory has been wiped clean, my girl is in a coma from which she’s unlikely to wake up… This feels like a miserable defeat.”
Wilhelm answers without missing a beat, as if he expected such a comment.
“Regarding our operation, we ended up facing an enemy far more adroit than we could have expected, and yet we vanquished his entire branch. If you mean beyond the constraints of the operation, I do not believe we truly win in this life, Mr. Natsuki. That fiend Petelgeuse proved to me that I have reached a point of my existence in which no amount of training will prevent my decline, and it will lead to my final defeat, the same one that awaits every living being.”
You feel the weight of this man’s grief. He must have lost his wife maybe a decade or two decades ago, to an enemy that nobody truly expects to kill. The White Whale is categorized by most as a natural disaster, so you might as well fight a tornado. Wilhelm has lived for nothing else than to hone his skills so one day he might achieve his impossible revenge. He hasn’t moved forward, and he likely doesn’t want to. It would be like spitting on his dead wife’s face. You can’t blame him, and now you wish to do the same. Like it has happened regularly without warning ever since you found Rem in a coma, now your throat is constricted, your chest feels as if it might cave in at any moment, and you are overwhelmed by a coldness that no fire will warm. Will I need to become as strong as you, Wilhelm?, you think. You have to keep struggling even if you lose your will to live, so you might no longer have a choice.
The old man has allowed your silence, but he continues.
“Nevertheless, you are young, Mr. Natsuki. Your future has much in store for you. Likely you sense a fire in the deepest part of your self that demands you to keep fighting until you correct the wrong that has been done to the people you care about. You must tend to that fire. The fiend that damaged both miss Karsten and miss Rem in such a way could be located, and he might have the means to revert the effects of his ability, even if only after being persuaded by some of the kingdom’s best torturers. Our spy network is already looking for them. Whenever we get a solid lead, I assure you I will contact you, no matter the state of the relationships between both our camps at that point.”
Even though you can’t help but feel a bit of resentment towards the old man after he restrained you against your will when you were on a rush to kill yourself, you understand the extent of the favor he’s granting you. Even more, after Wilhelm bought your lie that Roswaal had found the means to predict where the White Whale is going to appear next, the old man must be waiting for an opportunity to confront the clown for keeping such vital information from Wilhelm, who must be known throughout the kingdom for wanting to obliterate that damn whale. Still, he wants to help you pursue your own revenge.
“How do you tolerate this for years, decades…?”, you blurt out with a pained, low voice.
“You learn that you can survive it all, Mr. Natsuki. Every tide of the foulest emotions that nature has planted on us so we might succumb to them. You hold on tight and wait until you find yourself on the other side.”
Emilia is smiling as she pays a vendor for the bag of fruits she’s holding. Crusch is chewing on an appa while her expression reacts to the taste. The duchess has transformed into the most sophisticated six year old.
“Look around you at this crowd, Mr. Natsuki”, Wilhelm says. “Every individual member knows to a certain degree about the evils that beset this world, and yet they continue living their lives and raising the next generation because they hold the belief that someone is going to fight against those threats. But there are but a few men and women who are ready to put their lives on the line, and fewer yet that have the talent and the skill set to succeed. If even one of those generations failed to create a group of strong people to stem the tide, the peace that allows us to go on walks and browse random wares would cease to exist. Those who intend to ruin this world will never stop, and neither should we.”
That evening, shortly before dinner, Emilia approached you and asked whether you wanted to take a walk around the pond where the old man likes to train. You declined. You wanted nothing more than to hole yourself up in your bedroom, lie next to Rem and stroke her soft, light-blue hair while letting your mind wander. Once again you erased Emilia’s smile. The girl never insisted after each time you refused, she only tried a slightly different strategy some hours later. You aren’t sure if you care any longer that you keep disappointing her. You aren’t sure if you feel anything except for this darkness pulling you to the ground.
You are lying on your shoulder next to Rem, who is sleeping face up. You run your fingers through her hair slowly, and occasionally dry the slight dribble of saliva that overflows from her slightly open mouth. She feels warm and her body smells like a healthy person’s, so your brain has a hard time convincing itself that the demon servant isn’t going to wake up at any moment.
Even though the first night you felt guilty, in the darkness, as you held Rem tight, you pressed your lips against hers, caught her lower lip between yours and felt her heartbeat pumping in the capillaries. You caressed her tongue with yours. For those moments Rem didn’t feel gone, but as if she was standing still to experience all you wanted to do to her. She’s become little more than a warm, moist doll. After the second night you ceased to whisper to her, as voicing your thoughts only brought you to tears.
While you are slowly and absentmindedly sliding your fingertip on Rem’s lower lip, a sudden movement a meter above the foot of the bed startles you. When you recognize the form of a little white cat hovering in the air, you instantly get annoyed.
“Sorry to appear at an inconvenient moment”, Puck says without sounding a bit sorry.
You dry your eyes with your forearm, and then frown at Emilia’s guardian.
“You only appear at inconvenient moments, Puck. What the hell do you want?”
“You have been hostile towards me ever since we came to the mansion, even when you pretended you weren’t. What’s going on, Subaru?”
“That’s why you appear without warning in my bedroom, interrupting a private moment?”
“You have done little else than seek private moments with your girlfriend during these last few days. It’s not as if I can speak to you in private when you are surrounded by the many current inhabitants of this mansion, can I?”
“So what is it?”, you ask with a prickly voice, “What do you want?”
He floats towards Rem’s bare legs, he lands on them, he sits and leans back against the bridge of her left foot. Witnessing this would be mass murderer taking such liberties makes you clench your teeth.
“Can’t I just be worried for you?”, he asks. “Everybody can see how much you are hurting because this girl that nobody else but you remembers, and who apparently you were sweet on, has gone to sleep for a long time. We gave you space, but maybe allowing you to escape into yourself day after day isn’t good for your recovery.”
“Don’t lie on my girlfriend’s leg”, you warn him with a growly voice.
He narrows his eyes, but he jumps up and hovers as if he were suspended from the ceiling.
“I wasn’t lying on her leg. How dare you suggest such a thing? I was perching. There’s a difference. I am merely having a conversation with my friend, despite his total lack of respect for me.”
“Respect has to be earned.”
Puck sighs with exasperation.
“Anyway, what do you want me to do? I’ll do whatever you want, but I think we should talk about this together… Can’t let a crisis go to waste, as they say.”
“Why would I want you of all people to do anything for me?”
“This depression is making you all grumbly, Subaru. It’s not a good look. It brings everybody’s moods down.”
A burst of rage reddens your vision. You turn, grab a small statue of a ground dragon that came with the nightstand, and hurl it at Puck. You would have thought that he would have evaded it while laughing, but it hits him square in the face throwing him to the ground behind the foot of the bed. Before you can think about it or control your breathing, he flies up and hovers in place while grinning.
“Just kidding! Can’t hurt me like that. I only have a semblance of a physical existence.”
“Glad you find my emotional turmoil so entertaining”, you say while gritting your teeth.
“I’m just trying to lighten your mood.”
“Fuck off, Puck. I don’t want my mood to be lighter. My girlfriend is in a coma. I have a right to be depressed.”
“You should at least want to get better, Subaru! It’s not right to enjoy pain.”
“That’s up for debate.”
“I have something that’ll make you feel better.”
“Unless it’s suicide, I’m not interested.”
“Don’t be like that, Subaru. I’m here to help.”
You shake your head.
“What the hell did you even mean with a ‘semblance of a physical existence’? Do you show yourself as a little cunt cat by choice?”
“I didn’t choose this form, no, but I do have to make an effort to remain visible for you lot. Most of the time I’m just hovering and flying around while invisible!”
“And you can jump to the location of whoever you know without them realizing you are there?”
“That’s right. A spy’s dream, isn’t it?”
“A pervert’s dream, you mean. What if you caught me masturbating? No matter when you decide to jump to my position, there’s a significant probability you might find me with my pants down!”
Puck smirks and tilts his head.
“In your case I set up a magical alarm that alerts me whenever you start masturbating, so I can come over and watch.”
You want to be angry, but after you think for a moment about your own sexual depravity, you just shrug.
“Well, if that’s a fetish of yours, I won’t complain.”
Puck looks weirded out. He quickly shakes his paw to deny it as if he’s been accused of it before.
You won’t let this pass.
“It’s funny to you how you go around acting all high and mighty when you’ve just admitted to being a pervert.”
“I haven’t admitted to anything! But at least I got you to stop crying.”
You get annoyed, and narrow your eyes at him.
“I will start crying again out of spite. Anyway, what do you really want, Puck? I don’t believe for a second that a great spirit actually gives a shit about my well-being.”
“I would care if only by proxy. It’s Emilia, of course!”
You look away and want to groan, but you feel guilty for having wanted to. Emilia isn’t at fault for anything.
“Yes, I gathered that.”
“I want to steer her away from the path of darkness, but given that she insists on attempting to collide with you, I’ll have to clean your soul.”
“A nightmare level mission.”
“Although I wish I didn’t have to say this, Emilia needs you. She needs the support of someone from the physical realm that truly has her back, and you have shown how much you want to keep her safe. You moved so many pieces to pull off this operation successfully that I still can hardly believe it. I took you for someone that had to be assisted to walk down the stairs, because you would find a way to trip and impale yourself on the handrail.”
You look at him with your face twisted into a frown.
“I guess that Roswaal took me in because he wanted a jester of his own. He needed to draw attention away from his own clown self.”
Puck ignores your annoyance, as usual.
“Ever since your apparently not so dumb self showed up again, Emi has been optimistic and giddy like a little girl, even though at the village she looked as if she were about to break. She keeps going on about how she will try this or that so you will feel better and spend more time with her.”
You lie down and rub your eyes for a few seconds. Then you rest on your elbow to hold Puck’s gaze.
“Puck, can I level with you for a moment, even though you are such a lowlife that I’ll need to metaphorically dig a hole in the ground and crouch inside of it?”
Puck smiles in response, and he makes a gesture which means go ahead.
“Emilia isn’t in love with me”, you say. “She’s in love with the idea of loving a guy who would fight the world to save her. You know what I mean?”
“Except that you have done so. She’s not confused about that. I have tried to tell her that you are full of flaws and not such a great guy, but she won’t have any of it. Sorry, kid, one of the sweetest, most beautiful girls in the world has fallen for your unworthy self.”
You shake your head. You find yourself looking at Rem, and you feel that you are insulting her by having such a conversation while she sleeps forever.
“Puck, I just want time alone with my girl.”
“Emilia doesn’t like that a bit, as you might imagine, but she’s also too good-natured to resent this servant when she’s fallen under such a curse.”
“Don’t tell me that the mighty Witch of Frost feels threatened by a girl in a coma.”
“The mighty Witch of Frost is afraid of losing her one and only love. I’m just trying to look out for my bestie’s best interest. Everything is in your hands now.”
You heave a heavy sigh. You sit up on the bed and lean forward to hug your knees.
“I might have unleashed a beast by pulling off such a stunt for her sake. I’m not into needy people. The thought of someone constantly wanting to be close to me feels suffocating.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to deal with it, because she’s worth it. Now, are you going to try to make this work out or not? You have to do it. You fought against an unbeatable opponent to save her, even though most of the world has proven to her over and over that it wants her gone. After you woke up from the beating that knight rightfully gave you and then you and Emi had your ridiculous fight, Emilia regretted exiling you. She believed that you had ended up hating her. Now you have turned into almost a mythical figure for her, and it’s your own damn fault. You need to take responsibility.”
You lie down again and look at the ceiling, the same one that welcomed you at the end of every segment of two days during your self-imposed loop. Most of those segments ended up with your detached head flying away and sometimes hitting some horrified onlooker, which back then you found funny even though you no longer had the vocal cords to laugh. You hide your face with your hands.
“That’s the thing, Puck, I don’t want responsibility. I’m a damn kid, and that will never change.”
You convinced Emilia that you should probably return home instead of keep fucking around in the capital, particularly when she is using the stay as a source of opportunities to get closer to you. Crusch herself suggested that you all should conmemorate your friendship by carousing the night before you left. That was your opportunity to ransack Crusch’s wine cellar and taste again all those wines that you had drank during your self-imposed loop.
You gather in the dining room in front of a lavish dinner that Crusch, who likely doesn’t feel much connection to her money anymore, spared no expense in. Emilia sits next to you, and keeps talking to you while you eat slowly and savor your food, enjoying the rare treat. Although you already feel sad because you will miss Crusch’s camp, ever since you returned from the operation, by this time of the day you are already too tired and you want nothing more than to return to your bed next to Rem. However, it only takes looking at the duchess, for whom everybody in this room might as well represent the only real people in the world, and at Wilhelm, who seems lost in memories as he cuts his food with precision, and at Ferris, who puts on a front of normality while assisting Crusch but whose distress at her best friend’s state shows on her face every couple of minutes, to realize that you will be leaving a family, one that due to your unnatural life you have spent much more time with than with Roswaal’s camp. Your emotions are playing tug of war, and added to your underlying depression you feel as tired as if you were trying to get through forty eight hour days.
Emilia is already tipsy. She keeps seeking your gaze, and when you face her glistening eyes, and all that attention she wants to give you, it increases your remorse. A part of you loves that someone as sweet and beautiful as Emilia has convinced herself that she wants you as a romantic partner, but the rest of you wants to flagellate itself for your failures. You had a single goal in this life, a promise you had made to yourself above all others, which was to keep Rem safe, to use your witch-given power to make sure your beloved would live a long, happy life. Now that you have failed catastrophically, what point is there to keep going? What do you have to enjoy? You have no right to. You can’t even talk yourself out of your gloom.
Emilia kisses you on the cheek and holds your hand closer to hers. She must have been trying to talk to you, even though all the noises and conversations around you had faded into background noise. As you hold Emilia’s increasingly watery gaze, the half-elf chokes up while a tear falls from her eye. This startles you out of your sulking as you look at her with concern.
“What’s wrong, Emilia?”
“I’m… I’m sorry, I’ve been trying to cheer you up for the past few minutes and you weren’t answering me. You seemed all gloomy and depressed, as if the entire world was coming to an end.”
Emilia has drunk too much to care about whether other people around the table are listening to her words. Wilhelm shoots you an understanding look while taking a drink of his wine glass, while Crush, sitting in front of you, observes your interaction as if attending class; you guess that every new development must feel vital for someone emptied of memories and who wants to regain her place in the world as soon as possible. You hate that Emilia would push for a confrontation in front of other people, even if she’s just doing it from a place of worry.
“I’m just going through a phase”, you say with a low voice. “Can’t get out of it for the moment, but I suppose I will get used to the world as it is now. I appreciate that you keep trying to help me, Emilia, but don’t blame yourself if it doesn’t quite work.”
You flash a reassuring smile at the half-elf, who looks back at you with an expression ranging from guilt to sadness. She strokes your hand with her thumb.
“Can’t help but being worried. You’re more than just my friend, you’re… If you hadn’t fought the Witch’s Cult for my sake, that servant wouldn’t have fallen to such a curse, wouldn’t she? Of course she wouldn’t have.”
You place your hand on the back of her head and pull her so she rests it on your shoulder. She hugs you from the side. You feel much warmer, and your heart skips a beat.
“It comes natural to you to blame yourself for everything. I don’t regret that we stopped those bastards, and we can’t change what happened. I’ll probably feel more normal in a short while. Just focus on enjoying yourself. Our graceful duchess has prepared such a regal dinner, it would be a waste to sour it.”
Although you were referring to Emilia bringing up the topic of your comatose girlfriend, when you look in front of you and face Crusch’s warm smile, as innocent as a child’s due to how she’s having to relearn the world, Puck’s words hit you. You are bringing everyone around you down because you don’t want to feel better, because you feel that you don’t have any right to.
You kiss Emilia’s silver hair and stand up straighter. At least you can try to enjoy yourself, even if you’ll have to push through it all.
A few minutes later you realize that Ferris is taking over some of the staff’s work by carrying dirty plates back to the kitchen, and her expression, as well as her occasional sighs, suggest she’s looking for a break. You excuse yourself from the table, gather a few empty plates and follow the cat-girl. You find her in the kitchen scrubbing a plate, while a male staff member on the other side of the room prepares a cake for dessert. You stand next to Ferris and you begin scrubbing one of the plates she brought. When you turn your head to look at her expression, even before you register it you feel a coldness in your chest. You had recalled the cat-girls outraged disappointment as she looked down at you back when you botched your suicide, as well as the shock when you asked her to kill you by boiling your blood, even though she suffers for every life she fails to save. When you come back to your senses, Ferris is staring back at you as if studying your expression. Her face shows a cat-like indifference, but her eyes tell a different story. She worries for you even though she has every reason not to care about you at all.
“Guess you also wanted some peace and quiet.”
You clear your throat. Your heartbeat has quickened.
“You haven’t taken any clients ever since we returned, have you?”
Ferris shrugs and looks down at the plate she’s scrubbing.
“I have a new full time job. You could consider it healing as well.”
You take your time to continue.
“I’m so fucking sorry about it all, Ferris.”
“You look sorry about everything these days.”
“If I didn’t tangle you people in my operation, Crusch would have carried on as usual, sipping fine wine and wearing those sexy nightgowns while sleeping in her warm bed.”
Ferris turns to look at you. She narrows one eye as a corner of her mouth turns up in a small smile.
“If that’s what you miss about the old Crusch, I assure you she recovered those habits almost immediately.”
“Still, I’m being serious. You are hurting as well, Ferris.”
“Pain is a fact of life. Half of my nature remains aloof and indifferent about these things.”
“I know you think we are enemies or something, but you can just lay it on me.”
Ferris leaves her last plate on the dish drainer and dries her hands. She lets out a heavy sigh.
“I want to be angry at you, Subaru, but I’m not. You also lost someone that you clearly cared a lot about. The blame lies on the two bastards who ambushed the caravan. I imagine that they must belong to another branch of the cult. Maybe they got information that we were foiling their attempt at kidnapping Emilia and resurrecting their witch, and it could be that one of those cultists we wiped out had told them. We knew they had at least one communications-based metia.”
You pass your arm behind her neck to squeeze her opposite, and furry, shoulder. As you open your mouth to speak, Ferris shivers, which reminds you that she insisted on you asking for consent before you initiate any kind of physical contact with her cat-girl self.
“Ah… I spoke to Wilhelm about it”, you say. “I suppose he has already told you, but there is the chance that Crusch’s memories aren’t lost forever. If we catch those responsible, they might be able to reverse the damage. We can hope that’s the case, at least. Even though I belong to an opposite camp, I’m very fond of Crusch and I want her to be well again. She’s also the only one around here that has any business sitting on that throne.”
Ferris shoots you a puzzled look, and then looks over her shoulder as if Emilia was standing there. By now your half-elf friend must be woozy from all the wine in her system, so she would have had a hard time following this conversation even if she had followed you.
After you put your last plate on the dish drainer and you turn to Ferris with your gaze lowered, she pats your cheek, and then moves that hand downward to lift your chin. The intensity in her eyes surprises you, particularly because you would have imagined that by this point of a conversation with the cat-girl she would have walked off angrily.
“Quit dissing your own lady, Subaru. That girl wants you by her side, and tomorrow you will return home and promptly forget all of us.”
“You are sorely mistaken about that last part.”
Ferris shakes her head slightly.
“Let’s try to get through the rest of this celebration without turning it into a funeral service.”