“Ram and Rem said you’d be right over. I wondered what was keeping you,” said Emilia, her laughter subsiding. She stood at the edge of the garden, her eyes fixed on Subaru. As she spoke, traces of laughter lingered in her eyes, turning into teardrops that she gently brushed away with her fingertips.
Subaru, the cause of her hysterical outburst, toyed with Puck in his hands. “Let’s just say I wanted to give our reunion some impact and didn’t want to leave anything to chance!”
“Yeah, but isn’t leaping from the terrace straight into the flower bed a bit much?”
“Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. I’m not usually that much of a brat,” Subaru said. He didn’t want her to see him as a pain in the ass who threw himself out of windows just for fun. Getting stuck in the flower bed, not to mention having Puck wash him off with a deluge of water, wasn’t exactly something he enjoyed.
“Anyway, you said you wondered what was keeping me,” Subaru continued. “Were you waiting for me all this time?”
“Huh? No, I wasn’t,” Emilia replied. “Certainly, I did want to thank you, so I didn’t want to step away and miss you, and I didn’t want to make an injured person go around looking for me, either. But it’s just by coincidence that I’m still here.”
“Right, a coincidence, Subaru,” Puck interjected. “She made up a bunch of reasons and took an extra long time grooming my fur, and bored the lesser spirits by talking about the same things over and over again… Sure, she was doing that, but that doesn’t mean she was waiting for you. Right?”
Puck hijacked the conversation in response to Emilia’s self-destructive reply. Emilia looked at Puck, unrelenting in his teasing, with a smile on her face. “Puck?”
“Just be honest!” Puck continued. “That’s what makes you so charming, dear daughter. I’m sure Subaru would agree, too. Right?”
“Of course I do!” Subaru beamed. “Emilia-tan is the absolute best! I’m already head-over-heels!”
“Subaru, don’t join in on Puck’s shenanigans…” Emilia chided. “By the way, what does ‘tan’ mean? Where does it come from, and why?”
The question of Subaru’s names for her became a topic of discussion each time he spoke one.
Previously, he was able to simply brush it off. But this time, Subaru would join forces with Puck to cover it up. They looked over at each other, eye to eye.
“Didn’t you know?” Subaru began. “That’s one of the highest forms of endearment one could use to show affection for another person. Especially when said slowly and deliberately, like this. Emilia-taaaan.”
“Oh, is that so…?” Emilia asked quizzically. “But I’ve never heard of it…”
“Well, it’s an old, long-forgotten expression of the past now,” Puck explained. “So it’s no surprise that you’ve never heard it before. Actually, I had forgotten about it for a while, myself.”
Looking off to the distance, Puck piled his own made-up story on top of Subaru’s tall tale. Subaru nodded solemnly at his words. “Yes, it’s an old and moldy term, long forgotten like a fairy tale that’s been lost to history. However, its meaning lives on in our hearts, ever so faintly.”
“Nowadays, though, there seem to be less and less people who remember it…” Puck started. “Hold up! Subaru, don’t tell me…you don’t happen to be…involved with that lost kingdom?!”
“Involved with…” Subaru paused. “Well, not exactly, but you could say I’m part of it. Didn’t you know? The royal family of that lost kingdom was said to have black hair and dark eyes…!”
“You’re both laughing way too much!” Emilia cut them off.
Subaru and Puck erupted with a surprised “Gaaahh!!”
Just as the conversation was heating up, blocks of ice hurtled from Emilia’s direction, forcefully shutting it down. Although each ice block was no bigger than a lump of sugar, it was a big enough quantity to block his field of view, making it the perfect prank. It struck true, sticking to Subaru’s face.
Removing the ice block plastered to his face by force was far too painful an endeavor, so all he could do was wait until it melted from his body heat. He’d have to endure the painful frostbite in the meantime.
“So annoying and painful! Critical hit! It’s super effective!” Subaru rolled on the ground, raising his body temperature in an attempt to speed up the thawing process.
Looking down at the figure rolling about on the lawn, Emilia let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, come on. You always turn everything into a joke… You won’t even let me say a single word of thanks; that’s simply unfair.”
Emilia didn’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation. “You really look like you’re in pain… Oh, don’t pick it off like that, you’ll bleed!” Meanwhile, Puck was getting a kick out of Subaru’s humiliation.
Why hasn’t Puck received any damage? He was in on it too, huh.
“You see, I’m more than capable of deflecting Lia’s magic with a single hand,” Puck boasted.
“Hm, I see,” Subaru replied.
“So I simply diverted the attack that came my way to the person next to me.”
“Thereby resulting in me receiving the brunt of a critical hit! Your cuteness really belies your cunning, y’know!”
Subaru continued rubbing his face until the last of the ice melted away. Standing before the angry Subaru, Puck laughed sheepishly and put a hand to his head. Continuing with these antics would only tire him out. Knowing this, Subaru decisively turned toward the mansion.
“Oh, there’s Ram and Rem,” he announced.
Emilia thought aloud, “No kidding, is it breakfast time already?”
It was an unusual sight, both twins out and about in the garden in the middle of the day. Subaru was gazing at Emilia, head tilted in contemplation, when he realized what was going on. It was at this precise time on the first day that Roswaal would be making his return. The twins must have come to get us.
They approached the group and bowed politely, announcing in unison: “Master Roswaal has returned. Please return to the mansion.” Subaru would never tire of their synchronized stereo sound. It was a sound he loved.
Emilia, having no say in the matter, simply shrugged. Subaru stood up and stretched, assessing his own condition, before turning to the twins. Looking him up and down, they gave a comment.
“Sister, Sister. We look away for but a moment and our guest has become a wet, muddy rat.”
“Rem, Rem, it’s only been a minute, and our guest is now a filthy rag.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Subaru responded to their insulting observations. “Have you seen my jacket?” Looking up at the mansion, he prepared to change his clothes, clean himself up, and face Roswaal once again.
This time, I’ll try a different approach.
For what would be his third round of meeting Roswaal for the first time, Subaru headed to the main hall to greet him. And just the same, it would be his ‘first time’ joining them in the dining room for breakfast.
For Subaru, having already been welcomed to this mansion three times, it was a familiar flow of events. Subaru suspected that Roswaal’s strong will was causing these events to persistently unfold.
The first day Subaru was summoned to this other world, that is to say, the day he met Emilia, was also an event that repeated itself four times over the course of four repeated days. It could very well be that situations that involved such strong intent would never fail to occur.
For example, Felt stealing Emilia’s insignia, and Subaru getting mugged by the Ton Chin Kan trio in the alley. The fact that the story itself never deviated from that general flow, despite minor changes in between, such as people’s whims and Subaru’s actions, was perhaps also attributed to such strong intent.
Therefore, it was only inevitable that the conversation over breakfast would lead to talk of Emilia’s insignia, of her candidacy for Queenship, and ultimately, of Subaru’s reward. Though he couldn’t deny the fact that he had nudged the conversation in that direction.
“Aaas Lady Emilia’s patron,” Roswaal began, “I am willing to pay a reeeeasonable price to keep the information you obtained about the insignia robbery under wraps. Okaaay?”
“A price, huh…” Subaru repeated thoughtfully. Having successfully brought the conversation back to this point, he contemplated how to reach his ideal conclusion.
In his previous two loops, Subaru settled the matter with an appeal to work in the mansion as their butler. The last time, he only did so on the assumption that the day would unfold in the same manner as the first. But this time he had no intention whatsoever of traveling down the same path. In order to guarantee a different outcome, the reward from Roswaal would also have to be different.
“Okay, Rosy,” he said conclusively. “Let me crash at your mansion for a couple of days. And after that, I’ll get out of your hair. Just lend me a bit of pocket money for the road.”
Puzzled by this request, Roswaal replied curiously, “Hmmm, sooo, when you say a liiiiittle bit…you mean enough to buy a couple of hooouses?” He narrowed his eyes as he spoke, perhaps reading too deeply into Subaru’s request.
Subaru, however, waved his hand with a chuckle. “No, no, I wasn’t being roundabout,” he said dismissively. “I just wanna kick back and eat well for a few days. I can live on my own after that.”
“Lady Emilia was riiiight,” Roswaal pondered. “That is indeeeeed a rather… mooodest request, isn’t it?”
“No biggie, it’s not like I did much…” Subaru continued, before suddenly changing his tune. “Unless you didn’t want to separate from me, Emilia-tan! Now that’s a different story!”
Emilia chimed in. “That’s a very selfless offer, but I’m sure you have your reasons, and I’m sure it must be very important to you. So, Subaru… I don’t want to hold you back.”
Subaru gasped at her unexpected input. “I've been rejected because my words were interpreted positively?!” Well, I don’t know what kind of image of me Emilia has made up in her mind, but at least the negotiations have ended with a rather fine impression of me.
Roswaal adjusted the collar of his kabuki-looking outfit. He observed Subaru, who appeared to be wracking his brain. “Weeeellll, if you really insist, then so be it. I’ll oblige. I’ll have Ram and Rem prepare what you neeeed. Is three days enough? If you need anything else, just aaaask.”
“Right,” responded the relieved Subaru. “Well, then…lend me some paper, a quill, and a book of fairy tales!” Roswaal raised his eyebrows slightly at Subaru’s unusual request. Subaru scratched his head, glancing over at the twins.
“I promised to keep practicing reading and writing every night,” he said. “Don’t be fooled by my looks. I’m a man of my word!” He gestured at the twins with a wink. They could only look at each other blankly at his one-sided promise.
In effect, this would be Subaru’s third week at Roswaal Manor. And in this third iteration, Subaru set his focus on one goal above all else: learning the cause of his death and the identity of the assailant in question.
“My only leads are ‘magic’ and ‘chain’…” pondered Subaru. “But that still doesn’t tell me what I need to know!” All he knew was that on the night of the fourth day, someone would appear and make an attempt on his life.
If only I could tell Roswaal. Then we could put some countermeasures in place! But I can’t prove where I got the information, so that would be a huge gamble… If only I knew what the assailant looked like, or what they were after… That alone would make a world of difference!
“So this time around, I’ll focus on only one thing. It’s a one-point wager to gather information. If the conditions for Return by Death are still the same, then…” That would guarantee at least one more chance for me to restart. That was the only conclusion Subaru could devise at this stage.
Subaru had experienced a breakthrough before on his fourth iteration after three deaths. On that basis, he should be able to return at least once again. All he needed was to gather enough intel to make said breakthrough for his next fourth run.
“Though honestly, I’d prefer not to go with a plan that guarantees my death from the start…” he lamented. But as long as Subaru was so limited in the measures he could take, some sacrifice would be necessary. Besides, it’s not like I’m just gonna sit around and do nothing. He was prepared to restart once again, but despite that willingness, he’d like nothing more than a conclusion that avoided another agonizing death. It was only natural to be so hell-bent on breaking through this loop if the opportunity arose.
“I’ve already told Puck to look after Emilia-tan,” Subaru affirmed to himself. After their exchange in the garden, while Emilia’s attention was drawn elsewhere, Subaru pulled Puck aside. Without getting into details, he warned Puck to look after Emilia during the night.
At first, Puck was skeptical due to Subaru’s lack of specifics. But being a feline with the ability to read into people’s emotions, he ultimately determined that Subaru’s concern was not misplaced. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you do seem to genuinely care for Lia,” he’d said.
Puck readily accepted Subaru’s persistent request. So it was safe to assume that Emilia’s safety would be secured to some extent. Although I haven’t known him very long, I can tell Puck is a cat of his word. Subaru was even willing to go so far as to give up his right to pet him, something he normally wouldn’t have done so easily.
I’m just glad he didn’t ask too many questions. It sure takes a load off! But why Subaru was so relieved by this did not even cross his mind at the moment. “All that’s left is that loli and Roswaal…but how do I get them to take a hint? That’s a lofty goal for a guy with no social skills.” He gruffly scratched his head, tucked the quill under his nose, and straightened his posture. The sheer number of challenges ahead is making my head pound.
Regardless of his ability to start over if he failed, using the girls as sacrificial pawns in his plan was far from a painless decision for Subaru. If possible, I’d like both Ram and Rem to survive. Heck, even Roswaal and Beatrice deserve to be there, too. Even if the hurdle is so high that I can’t see the top, I can’t use this as an excuse not to jump. “Now, where to begin…?”
“Pardon me, sir.” A voice from outside interrupted his thoughts as he leaned his weight back into the creaky chair. Before he could reply, the door opened to reveal one of the maid sisters—the pink-haired Ram.
Holding a tray of tea in her hands, Ram furrowed her brows at the sight of Subaru, seated at his desk. “Well, well. So you really are studying, sir.”
“Hey, that’s super rude!” Subaru pouted. “I’m the honored guest here, y’know.”
“Ram is aware that you’re a freeloader in the name of a guest, sir.” Apparently unfazed, Ram barged into the room, placed the tray on the desk, and offered Subaru a cup of steaming hot tea with a courteous “Here you go.”
The tea in this world was similar to the ‘black tea’ of his own world, both in appearance and taste. But Subaru, who wasn’t particularly a fan of tea-based drinks, half-resigned himself to the fact that colas and soft drinks in this world were out of the question.
Subaru had spent a total of ten days at Roswaal Manor. Over that period, his roles changed from injured patient, to honored guest, to servant. But one thing that hadn’t changed over the course of events was the taste of tea. And Subaru had been there long enough to sense that Ram’s bluntness would not allow for cutting corners.
Which is why, once again, Subaru found himself hesitantly lifting the cup to his mouth. “Yup. Still tastes like shit.”
“What a loathsome impression for the finest tea leaves in our mansion,” Ram scolded. But Subaru held fast to his opinions.
“It’s bitter. It’s gross. It tastes like a mouthful of grass. I don’t even wanna try to look sophisticated by drinking it, especially not if it’s you I’m drinking with. It tastes like plant water.”
“You’re being incredibly curt, sir,” Ram said as she lifted the other cup on the tray as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She helped herself to a seat on the bed behind the desk. This maid has some nerve, coming here to slack off on her duties, Subaru thought as he stared at the unconcerned Ram.
“You got some balls, lazing around in front of your honorable guest,” Subaru scoffed.
Ram replied coolly, “Pay Ram no mind, sir. She’s not asking anything of you. She’s simply using tea as an excuse to kill time.”
Subaru continued his criticism. “You must be a maid of pretty high status to have a sister who does all the work while you slack off.”
“Not as high as the honorable guest who gives my sister all that work.” Ram raised her hands to cover her mouth on her expressionless face as if to suppress a giggle. While exchanging insults with Ram, Subaru couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t adding up.
The progression had already unfolded into what would’ve been his second night from the third loop. Within that time, Subaru had remained confined to his own guest room, hyper-focused on his studies, with the exception of the time spent chasing Emilia’s ass. Although on rare occasions, he also made time to pester Beatrice, too.
In other words, I haven’t advanced beyond a mere ‘guest’ and ‘servant’ relationship with Rem and Ram in this loop. One would assume that would mean a more distant relationship between them, especially in comparison to the first and second loops.
Yet despite this, for some reason, Ram had been visiting Subaru’s room. She would visit to see how he was doing, to serve him tea, even to interrupt his studies as if checking on his progress, followed by them bickering before she left the room. It had become a recurring theme.
If anything, I’ve gotten even closer with Ram compared to the previous loops. For Subaru, this was a relationship that brought both gratitude and remorse. Having already prepared to use this loop as a strategic sacrifice, it was a shame to have to let this world pass him by.
“I just don’t get it…” Subaru muttered pensively. “Can it be that your heart’s been so moved by the sight of me, a ‘man of literature’, scribbling away at his work?”
“A man of literature…” Ram reacted to Subaru’s musings. She watched him from her corner on the bed, taking in the sight of this boy from head to toe, and let out a “Heh.”
“You do that sometimes, but that’s not really nice, y’know.” Subaru’s cheeks twitched as Ram snickered with a condescending look on her face.
She shrugged her shoulders, not once breaking her usual calm composure.
“A young boy with an athletic build, a face that screams pure evil rather than intelligence, and a mentality without a hint of sensibility. If that’s what you call a ‘man of literature’, sir, Ram must question if you may not, in fact, be delusional.” Ram continued the insults.
“Oof, that’s harsh!” Subaru flinched at her words. “Although it is true that I was famous in my neighborhood because people in my town frequently said things like, ‘Subaru from the Natsuki family is fit like an incredible athlete but is a shut-in!’”
Indeed, anytime someone brought it up, his mother would report back to him from outside his room, stifling a laugh. The humiliation of the past rushed back to him. He wanted to sink through the floor. Subaru fought back the urge as a blush flashed across his face.
Ram stood up and approached him, peering over at the notes on his desk. “What disgraceful handwriting. You dare call yourself a ‘man of literature’, sir?”
“You dare call yourself a maid just because you use the word ‘sir’?” Subaru retorted. “Even maid cafe maids are nicer than you.” Not that I’ve ever visited one myself. I’ve only heard about them through word-of-mouth, but their hospitality sounds amazing! Though I have no way to confirm that.
Subaru’s bitter remarks were casually brushed aside. Ram continued flipping through the pages, unimpressed. Staring at her motionless profile, Subaru suddenly held up the book of fairy tales. I almost completely forgot about this! “Well, this book’s written almost entirely in E-letters, so it’s about time I got around to reading it.”
The book’s reddish-brown spine was marked with a simple title: A Collection of Fairy Tales. The book itself wasn’t much different from those in Subaru’s world, complete with a table of contents in the beginning, followed by stories written in chapters. A quick glance at the contents revealed about ten fairy tales in total. It wasn’t very thick, and looked easy to finish. It shouldn’t take me an hour.
Subaru grinned. “I mean, it’s about time I taste the fruits of my labor.”
“Reading these stories is nothing to brag about,” Ram stated, shutting him down. “It would be more embarrassing if you didn’t know them. As a ‘man of literature’, it’s only natural that you should know them, sir.”
“Oh, come on, don’t give me that. Why’re you so offended by me claiming to be a man of literature? You got a fetish or something for well-read guys?” Ignoring Subaru’s sexual harassment disguised as a question, Ram took the cup that was still on the desk and tilted it to her lips. That was my drink.
“Hey, what kind of maid drinks her honorable guest’s drink?” Subaru gasped.
Ram replied nonchalantly, “Well, it’s not like you were enjoying it. This tea is more suited to a person with a decent palate, anyway.”
“You call liquified grass a ‘decent palate’?” Subaru groaned. “You know what, never mind. I’m gonna bury myself in my book now, so go home. Or, I dunno, kill some time. Or whatever it is you maids do.”
Subaru waved his hand dismissively at Ram, leaning back his chair as he finally opened the book. It began with a preface by the author who had compiled the collection of fairy tales. But before he knew it, he stumbled onto written characters that were definitely not the ‘E-characters’ he was familiar with. I’m already lost.
“Let’s see… this says… ‘Circle-circle, square-square, blankety-blankety-blank’… Shit. I can’t read this part at all. I mean, I guess I could skip over it, but it doesn’t feel right.” Subaru grimaced. What if I come across words I can’t read at the best part of the story?
Closing one eye, Subaru flipped through the book, trying to see the letters while also trying to avoid spoilers. After quickly confirming the difficulty of the text, he returned to the story. “Now where was I… ‘Once upon a time…’”
Subaru continued reading, slightly amused to know that even fairy tales from another world began with the same cliche. Fairy tales as they were, their beginnings and ending were quite clear and concise. They were no different from those back in Subaru’s world in the sense that they left plenty of room for imagination.
“They’re just like those children’s stories with some kind of moral in them. There’s even one nearly identical to The Red Oni Who Cried.” If asked what his favorite fairy tale was, Subaru would have to sayit was that one. If asked what his least favorite fairy tale was, he would also have to say it was that one.
The Red Oni Who Cried was a story that Subaru both loved and hated. He had fond memories of scribbling his own ending into every copy of the picture books when he was in kindergarten. “The Blue Oni deserves happiness too, Buckaroo. Why should he stay sad?”
Ram’s voice interrupted his flashback. “Ram doesn’t know what you’re talking about or why you’re crying all of a sudden. But it’s not a good look. So please stop crying in front of her.”
“How could you be so cruel to a boy’s tears?!” Subaru wailed. Snapping back to reality, he rubbed his eyes and let the tears fade. He lightly tapped the cover of the book he had finished reading in front of Ram, who was still in the room.
“I did it,” he bragged. “I read the whole thing. It was more interesting than I expected. I was able to enjoy the subtle difference in our values…kinda like a cross-cultural exchange, huh? Maybe I should study art here and share knowledge about the other side of the world. Do you think they’ll come after me to a different world for copyright violation?”
“Ram didn’t understand half of what you said, sir… That’s your impression after reading the book? Wasn’t there anything memorable about the stories?”
Plagiarism is bad, though. Subaru’s beliefs as a creator wavered at his question. Looking up, he flipped through the collection of stories. “The story of the dragon in the middle of the book, and the witch story at the end. They’re the only two that really caught my attention. I mean, anyone can tell these two are treated completely differently from the others.”
Of all the tales in the collection, the two that made the strongest impression on Subaru were those two in particular. One was made to appear like it was truly exceptional, while the other was completely…
“The witch story seems like a throwaway. Like the editor just included it because he had to. It’s just an outline without any real plot.” Subaru critiqued the tales.
Ram added her thoughts. “The witch story is something else,” she began. “The dragon story is revered because this is Lugunica, after all. It’s only natural.”
“Oh, right,” Subaru recalled. “Lugunica is known as ‘the Dragon Kingdom,’ isn’t it? Now I know where the name comes from.” With a nod, Subaru placed the book of fairy tales back on the desk and put his hand on the cover.
Lugunica, the Dragon Kingdom. A fairly large country, and the country where Subaru lived for the moment. There was a good reason why this country, located in the easternmost part of this world according to their map, was known as the ‘Dragon Kingdom’. Simply put, this kingdom’s prosperity had long been dependent upon a covenant with a dragon, which allowed the country to flourish.
“Famine, pestilence, war… The dragon has protected Lugunica in all kinds of situations,” Ram continued.
“And the name they gave it was ‘Dragon Kingdom’. How profound,” Subaru noted. “According to the story, it was a covenant between the royal family and a dragon. Sounds more like an origin story than a fairy tale.”
“Yes, it’s true,” Ram confirmed. “To this day, the noble dragon watches over our land from afar. From beyond the Great Waterfall. Until the promise made to the royal family is fulfilled.”
Subaru let out a thoughtful “Hmm” as Ram somberly spoke. An age-old pact with a dragon. The story never mentioned the nature of the pact, but it was a pact that had saved the kingdom from crisis on many occasions. It must’ve been some kind of contract between man and dragon.
After some thought, Subaru came to a realization. If it was indeed the royal family of Lugunica with whom the dragon had made a covenant, that would mean… “Wait a minute…by any chance, the family that made a pact with the dragon…didn’t they just die the other day?”
“Yes,” Ram confirmed his suspicions. “It was rather sudden.”
Subaru started to fret. “Isn’t that bad? I mean, I don’t know anything about the situation, but still…”
This is a dragon that promises and provides so much. So the compensation would be substantial. But if the royalty is eradicated before paying that compensation, wouldn’t the dragon get pissed?
“No, no, no, cut the negative thinking crap,” Subaru scolded himself. “A better theory is that the royal family had already paid up. The dragon’s happy, the country’s safe, everyone wins.”
Subaru pushed away his fears. Ram, however, dismissed his hope with a single shake of her head. “Nobody knows what the dragon wants, as the story goes. And what the dragon will do in the present situation, nobody knows this either…” Ram paused, then breathed out a “No. The only one who knows what the dragon wants, sir, is the dragon himself.”
Subaru gulped. Sweat trickled down his forehead. It’s not even hot in here. He chewed on Ram’s words, swallowed them, and digested them. Finally, he spoke. “Then, isn’t that an insane amount of pressure on Emilia-tan?”
“Indeed,” Ram agreed. “An entire country’s fate on your shoulders, and negotiations with a dragon who can choose to protect or destroy it on a whim. The thought alone makes it seem like a fairy tale.”
It was the last night of his second loop that Subaru saw Emilia look at this book with uncertainty. It was only after his death that he realized why her hand had stopped turning the pages. The size and weight of the pressure she carried was beyond his imagination. Just thinking about the burden she bore on her slender shoulders and the toll it took on her mind made his heart want to scream in a fit of rage and sorrow.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Ram said.
“Huh?” Subaru questioned, but Ram continued speaking.
“Everyone is born with certain qualities and the responsibilities that come with them. Lady Emilia was born under such a star. And that is why she must endure these hardships. She must persevere uphill, no matter how steep that road may be.”
“Isn’t that too much to place on one girl’s shoulders?” Subaru asked, his voice quivering due to an unidentifiable anger.
“I suppose it would be nice to have someone to help carry the baggage. But even when she reaches the summit, she must ultimately face that on her own,” Ram replied, her voice cold and her response rational.
Subaru noticed her strenuous effort to stay rational, allowing him to regain his composure before he exploded in anger. There’s no point taking my anger out on Ram. She’s not the one responsible for this. She’s only stating her readiness to accept the situation.
“Oh, right, Ram,” Subaru said, changing the subject. He didn’t feel that apologizing was the right thing to do at this time. “About the other story…” The story of the witch at the end of the book was only a handful of pages in length, and its treatment paled in comparison to the dragon story, which was placed smack-dab in the middle of the book. A story called, The Witch of Envy.
“So about that witch story—”
“Ram doesn’t want to talk about that story,” Ram cut him off abruptly. She hastily collected the cups and put them on the tray. “Ram has overstayed her welcome. She doesn’t want to leave Rem with too much to do, so she will go back. Ram will return when it’s time for dinner, sir.”
“Y-Yeah…” Subaru gaped at her.
“Good day, sir.” Turning away with an air of nonchalance, Ram’s petite body exited the room. Once the door closed silently behind her, Subaru flopped over onto the bed with an exhale. “Somebody’s moody…”
Subaru grumbled, lifting the book of fairy tales to his face and thumbing through the pages. The last one, The Witch of Envy, was a relatively concise tale, spanning no more than four pages.
“A frightening witch, a dreadful witch. The very mention of her name was enough to fill someone with dread. They called her the Witch of Envy, and…”
There was no beginning, middle, or end. The story only conveyed the horrors of this witch. It was written in simple language that even a child could understand, underscoring the bleak and simplistic eeriness of the tale. “I’ve worked my ass off to learn how to read this book, and yet…”
The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, indeed even that freshness one feels after reading an entire book, had all gone to waste in a single moment. Subaru rolled over in bed and, for once, detached his thoughts from the story. He pondered the trials and errors of this loop, with only two days left in its run.
Subaru’s mind raced. The same thoughts swirled over and over again through his brain. Before he knew it, his consciousness had melted into a muck all over the soft bed and sheets, until it had all but faded away.