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.
“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.
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.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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.