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.”
“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.
“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 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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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’.”
“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.
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.”