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 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?”
“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.
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.