OUTROS

arc 4 cap 89-93

Author

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

CHAPTER 89: MEMORIES OF SNOW

Finished talking in secret with Lewes, Subaru walks through the forest alone.

He told her that he needed to think, and left her behind with the crystal. Faced with a girl of identical visageand further, her original. How pensive a thing.

While Subaru's interest in all this is inexhaustible, he does not know how far he's okay to broach into the topic. But either way, the Lewes who Subaru just spoke with is on his side.

These four Lewes duplicates.

Going from his chat with Lewes, two duplicates have taken the tomb's TRIAL. Meaning there are two Leweses who have challenged the TRIAL.

Subaru suspects that it's the TRIAL-challenging Leweses who are giving Garfiel these suggestions.

With there being four duplicates, potential exists for their thinking to not be entirely uniform. Subaru's thought that the four Lewes were the same being, considering that they all play the role of the same single person, had backfired. They play the role of the same person, while simultaneously having their own differences in thought processes.

Meaning it wouldn't be strange, supposing that one Lewes had experienced something that the others hadn't, for her to diverge from the others in her opinions.

For expediency's sake, Subaru labels the four Leweses as Alpha, Beta, Theta, and Sigma.

Leweses Alpha and Beta do not know about the TRIAL. Leweses Theta and Sigma do.

What he really wanted to do was label them in German as Eins, Zwei, Drei, but he couldn't come up

with the fourth one and so the plan failed.

Anyway,

Subaru: Thing is meeting Theta and Sigma will have to be at least two days from now...

The timing for the Sizeable Hare to attack SANCTUARYstrictly speaking, the deadline for this is when large-scale snow magic entices the nearby Hares over, which will be in five days' time. Being that he will not necessarily come up with a counter-plan immediately after having a talk with Lewes, this remaining time of three days offers no great leeway.

Garfiel will, at the end of the end, kill the villagers to keep SANCTUARY from being liberated. With how they're inciting him to do such a thing, it's nigh impossible that Sigma and Theta's ideas will be easily swayed. With consideration to the prospect of persuading them, the future ahead indeed looks dark.

Subaru: But in exchange for the increase in obstacles... there's an opening for dealing with Garfiel, maybe? When I somehow persuade the two interfering Lewes-sans, that'll clear away the problem.

If Sigma and Theta are influencing Garfiel's violence, then persuading them is equivalent to clearing the Garfiel route. Being that Subaru sees no methods for working things out directly with Garfiel, this does present a glimmer of hope, albeit a feeble and slight one.

82

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Garfiel's strength presently is not only in standalone power, as he also holds the command right for 20 Lewes duplicates, the will-lacking ones excepted from the representative four.

These plain copies are a machine-like combat force who do not hesitate even in their own deaths, and Subaru has not very great means to counter it should Garfiel utilize them. It's all beyond strict.

Leaving the sentimentalities aside, Subaru would still rather avoid conflict with Garfiel.

This was already plainly understood, but to silence Garfiel with combat was impossible.

Should Garfiel, spurred on by Theta and Sigma and possessing the girls' command right, entirely and perfectly become their enemy, then Subaru's side's chances of winning would drop even further.

Subaru: And with how dramatic I was in forming a contract with Roswaal, I can't fail. Not planning to either. Nevermind whether the insurance will work, when standing my ground I gotta do it by my own strength.

Subaru pulls his cheeks firm as they start inclining in a snivelly direction, shaking his head, scolding himself.

Subaru: Either way, dealing with Leweses Theta and Sigma's gonna have to be improv. Could try having a shot with Garfiel to feel him out early, but... make that for later.

Exiting through the forest, Subaru returns to the village in SANCTUARY.

The sun has risen entirely, the residents and Arlam evacuees spurred into their daily activities around the settlement.

Subaru gives them glances as he passes, answering the occasional hellos with a wave of his hand, his legs carrying him solely to a spot separated from all the activity.

A spot just a little distant from both the village and the cathedral.

To where she is staying, the bed of Emilia.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Close her eyes, and the memories of then come back vivid even now.

White. A world of white.

In this land of absolute silver, the young Emilia walks alone.

You can't remember this!

Cry out in silent voice, but little Emilia as she walks with head downcast does not hear.

She glances around the area forlornlyand with her hopes betrayed, downhearted, she walks trudging slow through the snow.

Go back! Please! Don't do anything more!

83

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Young Emilia exhales a white puff, then peering curiously at the mist expelled from her mouth. She takes breath out and out and out, over and over. Her only clothing is undergarments crafted from thin cloth, and a cloak-like garment to robe her body wholly.

It is not really an outfit one would consider for passing time in a frigid world, but there's nothing to do about it.

After all, this is the first time Emilia has ever been in such a cold land or ever seen snow.

The world she knew was a forest abounding in warm light and verdancy, with not any resemblance to this realm buried entirely in snow and ice.

This surely-familiar place was showing an unknown face.

And this mystifies young Emilia, making her neglect to react in the way that she fundamentally should.

No! Don't go further! Go back! If you don't, it'll...!

Plead enough to shred the throat, to destroy it, to spit blood, but young Emilia's legs do not stop.

The voice still going fruitlessly unheard, heartlessly the girl's feet press forward.

Her gait as she traverses the unknown snowlands barefoot is pitiful.

Long lost any sensation of coldness or pain, her feet cut on the branches and rocks hidden beneath the snow, tracking out her trail in droplets of blood.

That she nevertheless veils her terror toward the unfamiliar world, forgetting her pain, as she earnestly presses ahead alone is for what purpose, exactly?

Stop, please... I don't want to watch any more, please...

The pleading does not reach her. The wishes will go ungranted. These hopes, entirely obstructed. Though this reality is already known, even in dreams are the cruel facts pushed into spotlight. By manner of showing her past self, and her greatest mistake.

Emilia: “—hk

Young Emilia's amethyst eyes, as if sighting hope beyond the murk of blinding snow, sparkle. What her gaze lands on is, to young Emilia's knowledge, the trunk of the tallest tree in the world. This great plant called the PRAYER TREE is a divine arbour for devoting prayers to unseen and holy things, a treasured and irreplaceable presence for everyone in the village.

Young Emilia, too, obstinately believed that just by touching the great tree's trunk, she could feel its tremendous blessings on her skin.

How reassuring for it must have been for Emilia in that moment, to see the arbour's gallant form exactly in its usual place.

How much a grace it must have been, that amidst a familiar landscape transmogrified into someplace unknown, that this tree kept preserving the everyday and usual.

Exhaling many puffs of white along the way, Emilia clumsily bounds for the arbour. The piled snowfall buries young Emilia to her knees, and so although the distance to the tree is not far, the girl

84

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

trips times upon times, leaving imprints of herself in the pure snow.

Falling face-first multiple times, her nose red from the frost, Emilia finally reaches the root of the tree.

Her tense face relaxes slightly in relief. But even in this the cold petrifies her muscles rigid, and all it amounts to is a meagre twitch.

Emilia: “—?

Young Emilia reaches for one of the roots of the tree, her expression one of having noticed something. She slides her hand over to arrive at the root, her fingertips freezing as she buries them into the snow to dig.

Stop!!

She digs, and digs.

With full focus, and still spurred on by panicky impatience, young Emilia digs up the snow.

Stop! Stop, stop stop stopstopstop!

Rather not watch. Rather not remember.

Would rather look away, cover her eyes, block her ears, scream to shred the world apart.

But her non-existent face, non-existent eyes, non-existent ears, cannot be deceived.

Young Emilia's fingers touch something in the snow.

She slowly, by her own hands, takes that last portion of snow, and

STOP!!

….............

…..............................

???: “—You were beyond any help.

Emilia: “—”

???: Proof of sin. Proof of corruption. Be cursed and cursed and cursed, and at the finality of your suffering...

85

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Emilia: “—”

???: Die. Witch-spawn.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

???: “—Emilia? Emilia? Hey, you alright!?

Emilia: Au, e.. ah, suhba, rhu?

Subaru shakes her shoulders, for Emilia to faintly open her eyes with a call of his name. She shakes her head in an attempt to level out her blurry consciousness. But,

Emilia: Subaru, why are... you here?

Subaru: Do I need a reason to be? When it's your face, Emilia-tan, I could keep staring the whole night without ever getting bored.

Emilia: Not that, I mean... um...

Perhaps her consciousness has not cleared fully, for Emilia's response is still rather anxious.

In an attempt to dispel her unease, Subaru slaps his knees as he stands up and shoots her a smile.

Subaru: Can't have you getting too unguarded around me. Happy for the trust, but I'm a guy and also sheltering a ravenous wolf beneath the shroud called rationality. Would like it for you to be a little more conscious of this person I am, Emilia-tan.

Emilia: ...? I'm not forgetting about you, Subaru. I was waking up so I said something strange, that's all... but, dozing off without even noticing it...

Though it seems she didn't exactly understand what he was saying, that Emilia's voice shows signs that she is properly waking up. After confirming this, Subaru gives the troubled-looking Emilia a jerk of his chin.

Subaru: I get having the exhaustion piled up, but if you're gonna sleep do it proper on a bed. You sleep on the floor like you were then, and the moment I step in the room my heart's gonna be near to stopping.

Emilia: ...Ah, I'm sorry. It worried you, didn't it?

Subaru: I'd just renewed my resolve, but seeing this and wondering if a new event'd triggered that'd ruin absolutely everything seriously had me in a panic. You could even say that seeing your sleeping face today, Emilia-tan, was more emotional than usual.

The shock that struck Subaru when he entered the bedroom and saw Emilia is a thing beyond any possible description.

86

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

No reply came when he knocked, so he entered the room while considering that she may be elsewhere, to find Emilia collapsed in front of the bed with her silver hair splayed across the floor. Surely nobody could blame Subaru for paling and almost falling to despair.

That said, the warmth of her body when he went to upright her, and the definite presence of her breathing and pulse immediately informed him that his worries were needless. However,

Subaru: If that were all it was I'd rather just let you keep sleeping like that, but... looked like you were having a crazy nightmare. Was it bad of me to wake you up?

Sweat had covered sleeping Emilia's brow as Subaru held her in his arms, her expression horrifically pained, and body writhing. Subaru had experienced this before too, but there exist no means to flee from an agonizing nightmare. The only method to swiftly escape the pain is to be called from outside the dream.

Subaru had utilized said method. Emilia shakes her head.

Emilia: Thank you for waking me up sooo much. I had a sort of... no, a really bad dream, and... thank you.

Subaru: Terrible dream, tormenting Emilia-tan. What was it about? ...is kinda sorta where I wanna go, but smells like remembering it'd be no fun either.

Emilia: “—”

Seeing the wry smile following her silence, Subaru considers the nature of Emilia's nightmare. Most likely it had spawned from the piling of negative circumstances. While he can't tell whether or not any concrete images accompanied that,

Subaru: ...Right, then I won't push you say it.

Seeing how Emilia averts her gaze from Subaru and avoids alluding to it at all, Subaru judges that it probably was a nightmare with clear, definite images.

If it was a vague dream, it'd be easy to talk about. That she can't is the evidence that her nightmare carried vivid form.

This talk with Emilia's turned to look inauspicious, and carrying the flow of the coming conversation is also going to be difficult.

His expression complex, touching the tip of his nose, deliberating on how to broach the topic is Subaru, who Emilia looks up at.

Emilia: So... what's wrong, Subaru? You couldn't possibly have really come here to look at my face for no reason, right?

Subaru: Couldn't possiblyis not how surprising a thing it'd be, to my thoughts.

Emilia: No, you wouldn't. I mean, you're always so busy going everywhere doing things. You can't use up your time like that just on me.

87

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: Just how diligent a guy am I in your internal imaginings, Emilia-tan? You do get that I'm a guy known as such a slacker that I'd wholeheartedly agree to the establishment of Blobout Day?

No exaggeration and no joke, Subaru knew that his nature was that of a hopeless layabout. An endless descent into depravity, if gone without some kind of role, was the human being called Natsuki Subaru.

Which is why he had not slacked on devoting himself to daily workouts and pointless skills/hobbies back in the old world. He knew he would become an utterly hopeless human being the moment that he did.

You cannot call someone who puts in persistent efforteven without any goala slacker, but Subaru had not realised that obvious fact.

Emilia's gaze compounds in its slight warmth, perhaps wanting to say something about Subaru's underestimation. Her reaction prompts Subaru to furrow his brows, but ultimately Emilia goes on without saying anything.

Emilia: It's fine. Anyway, come on tell me why you came here. And huuuuuurrryyyyyy

Subaru: No idea what's with the sudden childishness but... ah, okay right. I was thinking if we could go have a walk outside as a refresher...

Emilia: “—”

Subaru: ...wouldn't really be a refresher at all actually.

Subaru scratches his head as he senses his screwup.

Inferrable by how her bed is set up in a spot separated from the village, Emilia's treatment in SANCTUARY is nothing good.

While the residents of SANCTUARY and Emilia should have a nice relationship, being that they are fellow peoples who stray from their fundamental racial bloodlines, it seems like yes indeed the negative image around half-elves is a special case.

It goes for the Arlam evacuees, too. The achievement for their successful escape from the Witch Cult belongs to Subaru, and does not directly improve opinions of Emilia.

Emilia's treatment in SANCTUARY is identical to her treatment in the Capital, that of a tumour.

She acted stalwart when with Subaru, but that didn't mean she was comfortable. Just how did she deal with the gazes on her when she was by herself?

Being that the situation still has not improved, bringing Emilia outside would just place an unnecessary burden on her.

Subaru: It's because of this stuff that I'm just so...

Aggravated at his own thoughtlessness, Subaru punches himself in the forehead.

His feelings switch gears with the pain of knuckles to brow. Subaru turns back to face Emilia properly, her eyes wide from his stunt.

Subaru: Emilia.

88

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Emilia: “—Mm.

Seeing how Subaru's expression changes, Emilia senses that the atmosphere has shifted. She fixes her posture, gazing back at Subaru with her amethyst eyes full of quiet calm.

Her attitude and expression inform Subaru of the pointlessness of broaching the topic in a roundabout manner. What exactly to say? He puzzles over his opening line for only an instant.

Subaru: Do you feel like talking with me about what you saw in the TRIAL? Subaru plainly does see the terror and anguish in those wetting, amethyst eyes.

89

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

CHAPTER 90: I'M SORRY

Though he had supposedly firmed his resolve, the moment that Subaru witnesses the waves of emotion in her teary eyes, Subaru realises that a horrendous sense of regret is accosting him.

That one sentence had been him tearing at the scab over Emilia's mental scars. He had used concern as his justifiable reason for clawing at her unhealed wounds. Subaru, too, feels the keen and phantasmal pain that she does.

Subaru: The tomb's TRIAL shows you the past... that's what I've heard from everybody.

Emilia: “—hk

But nevertheless, in search of what lies beyond that pain, Subaru intrudes deeper.

A tremor flashes through Emilia's expression as she bites her lip, but her trembling pupils regardless keep Subaru in their gaze.

Subaru was for now abstaining on any report that he himself had taken the TRIAL. He beat it and so Emilia can beat it toowas the kind of rash remark that he couldn't make, and most importantly his qualifications had been revoked. It wouldn't be strange for it to seem like a consoling lie.

If that's what things are going to turn into, then what he has to do instead is just communicate his sincere thoughts about Emilia.

Subaru: And that's why I think you had to retreat. Agonizing and ruminating, keeping all of it to yourself... and I know you're going to attempt the TRIAL again tonight, in that state.

Emilia: “—”

In these four repeated worlds, the details of her TRIAL had Emilia neglecting to rely completely on Subaru. Part of that was because Subaru had been basically ignoring her challenge right by determining there no necessity for her to take it, and part of it was because Emilia had no opportunities to be open about it with Subaru.

The former problem has been resolved by the fact that only Emilia can challenge the TRIAL now, and the second problem is ideally getting resolved right now here in this instant.

Emilia's cheeks are stiff as she casts her gaze down.

Faced with how her eyes and their long lashes are perfectly avoiding him, Subaru continues.

Subaru: But, still.

Emilia: “—”

Subaru: Could you let me carry some of the heavy baggage on your shoulders? If you have a past you're afraid to look back on, could you let me stand at your side as you challenge it?

The downward tilt of her neck stops still as she timidly looks back up at him.

Her eyes must not reflect any vision of a weak or uneasy Subaru. He puffs out his chest, accepting her gaze with entirely baseless, abounding confidence.

90

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Bluffing and baseless confidence, Subaru's great specialities.

Subaru: Thinking back on it, Emilia, I still don't know anything about you. I like you. And that's partly because your looks're crazy to my taste, and that substance of yours I've touched in our time together drives me wild.

Emilia: “—”

Subaru: And so I can say chest held high that I like the you you are now. But when it's about what you experienced, what you've thought, what you've considered before you were the present you... I don't know anything. Because I didn't think I'd need a chance to know. Because the present and future're more important than the past. ...But.

Emilia: ...But?

Subaru: Now we're in a place where you have to look back on your past, and if you're saying you're scared to be there alone... would you please qualify me to challenge this inbetween you need to face, the everything that spurred the present you, alongside you?

Since his qualifications to suffer the hardships in Emilia's place have been revoked.

In this situation, Subaru wants the qualifications to support Emilia from beside her, to let her lean on him, when she is exhausted and near to collapse.

It might only amount to temporary peace of mind, but surely there exists an instant where that temporary relief will give her heart ease.

Emilia: “—”

Subaru waits intently for Emilia's reply.

The wavering of her eyes communicates her intense ambivalence. Hesitation and indecision, guilt and self-hatred. The varied emotions rage inside Emilia's thin body, in voracious frenzy. Quietly, Emilia eventually,

Emilia: Y-your being here is... you're already helping me just by being there for me, and so... just, causing more trouble for you isn't...

Subaru: I don't think the trouble you cause is any trouble at all. Being able to do something for you is happiness for me. When you're worried, and want someone to offer you their hand, I want to be the first one reaching out to help you.

Emilia: “—hk

Again he reports it to Emilia, who weakly attempts to avoid Subaru's proposal.

So long as Emilia keeps from any serious refusals, Subaru has no intentions of withdrawing. He knows that he's intruding into topics she doesn't want to talk about. Half-hearted assertions aren't going to shake him.

It was not with such a low par of resolve that he forced a contract on Roswaal.

Further conflicted, Emilia shuts her eyes firm, drooping her head.

91

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Emilia: Subaru...

Subaru: “—”

Emilia: Subaru, is your belief in me...

The words that should come next do not leave Emilia's mouth. Before they can happen, her purity stops her from uttering the unfair statement.

She commits nothing so intrinsically disgraceful as doubt the faith of somebody appealing to her with sincerity.

The complacency Subaru had once forced on Emilia, instead, was exactly such a deed.

Emilia's mentality, holding her words despite being cornered, is something of dignity.

And so Subaru does not question her back or bring the subject up. Emilia's shoulders slump, regretting of her statement.

Emilia: ...Tell me what you want to ask, Subaru.

Subaru: ...

Emilia: If I'm the one saying it, the story will just turn into a mess. ...So you be the one to ask it, Subaru.

Subaru: ...Are you okay with this?

Emilia: “—Mm. I think that this is another one of my TRIALS.

Emilia speaks in surrender, her smile fleeting. For a moment, Subaru is lost for words.

He shakes his head to compose himself, pointing at the bed to indicate a shifting of placement.

Subaru: Anyway, this might wind up being a long talk, so how about we sit?

Emilia: ...We should.

Fixing her posture, Emilia seats herself on the bed. Subaru pulls over a chair, sitting to face Emilia straight-on.

Emilia smooths out the wrinkles in her clothes as she waits for Subaru to speak.

Having reached the crucial scene, Subaru hesitates for a scant few seconds on what best to ask first, before coming up with words.

Subaru: What was the past you saw in the TRIAL like, Emilia? Going by what I've heard from someone who's taken it, it's... like, something like memories of your regrets.

Subaru asks his question, picking his words so that she won't notice he's experienced it.

The first TRIAL is facing your past. But that doesn't mean the past that Subaru saw was an event that had actually happened. It was a fresh theatrical production with his old guilt and his family, symbols

92

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

of his regret, as the stage.

So just what was the TRIAl like for Emilia?

Emilia licks her dry lips, wetting them.

Emilia: The... the past I saw, was... probably, a memory from before my sleep.

Subaru: “—? Before your sleep?

Emilia: Yes, before my sleep. The memory's vague, and pretty unclear, but... I was still little in it, so it has to be.

Emilia closes her eyes as she searches her memory, Subaru confused at her confession.

He could understand the meaning of 'I was little'. Probably the TRIAL was a past from when she was young.

But, 'before my sleep'that was one Subaru couldn't understand.

Subaru: Hold on. What does 'before my sleep' mean? It's not like going to sleep normally at night.

Emilia: No, it's not. Before my sleep means... before I went to sleep inside ice, inside a giant tree in the forest. It's from so, sooo long ago.

Subaru: Inside ice... Emilia, what?

The context is so lacking that he could nigh suspect she's making it hard to understand on purpose.

But regardless, Subaru's imagination brandishes its chilled claws, scratching them down his spine.

Chest thumping in panicky impatience, Subaru maintains his calm the best he can.

Subaru: Please answer, Emilia. What does 'inside ice, inside a giant tree' mean?

Emilia: ...Exactly what it sounds like.

Subaru: “—”

After a beat, Emilia informs Subaru.

Emilia: I was frozen along with the tree the whole time. Puck finding me and bringing me out came so, sooo... much later.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

???: <I finally found you.>

Whos there?

???: <Sorry, I'm sorry. I am so sorry for leaving you alone. I've been searching forever. Always,

93

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

always, always searching for you.>

Where am I? Its so, cold.

???: <I'll get you out right away. By herself, in this lonely place... why'd she have to go through... why, for such a long time did I...>

But who are you? Whyre you crying?

???: <Because you're the most darling thing there is. I'm so happy we could meet again.>

Youre glad we met?

???: <Yes. I was... I was reborn for the sake of meeting you.>

Who are you?

???: <I'm... I'm your biggest ally. I'm your number one, strongest ally.>

So, youre my...

???: <Yes. Yes. From today on, I'm your family. From this very single second on, you'll never be alone again. And that I pledge.>

Really? Thats...

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Emilia: “—It made me sooo happy.

Hand to her chest, Emilia reminisces on the joyous time.

Subaru feels his mouth rapidly turning arid as he listens on.

Emilia, who slept inside the ice.

The Prayer Tree, present in her homeland. Emilia spend her time there, frozen alongside its trunk, until Puck saved her.

But just how long a time was?

Subaru: Emilia. Is it safe to think that this place you lived in was Elior Forest? The one which's been frozen for a long time, the range of it gradually spreading?

Emilia: Mn, it is. By the time I woke up, they were calling it the Forest of Ice. But it was a green place with bright sunlight before my sleep, when I was living there with everybody, and it never snowed.

Subaru: Green's... no actually, who's everybody?

94

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru only knows snippets about the place. The before and after of Elior Forest is unknown to him. He asks about something else.

Emilia: Everybody's everybody. Who I lived with in the forest's community... all the elves.

Subaru: The elves... then, your family was there too? Your mom and dad... maybe siblings, too.

Emilia: “—”

Seeing how Emilia's eyes fill with melancholy, Subaru again senses that his momentum has led him to screw up.

Emilia must have said it at some point before. That Puck was her parent surrogate, and the entirety of her family.

He was supposed to have known that Emilia had lost her family in some fashion.

Subaru: I'm sor... I didn't mean...

Emilia: It's okay. You're just worried for me. ...But my family wasn't in the forest. Everyone in the village was nice to me, and they'd smile at me, but... There was nobody in that forest I could call my blood family.

Subaru: ...When you say, was nobody. Do you mean your parents were...?

Emilia quietly shakes her head.

She fiddles with the ends of her braid, distracting herself.

Emilia: They were both gone by the time I was self-aware. Back then, I didn't really think it was strange. ...I did have someone who was like my mom. She was sooo kind, and strong, and cool... I had her.

Subaru: “—”

Emilia: But she, and everybody... when I fell asleep, they all fell asleep too. Even now, in the woods of Elior Forest, there are many people still asleep and unwaking.

Subaru: “—Wha!?

Emilia speaks dispassionately, as if tasking herself to state only the facts. The information prompts Subaru's throat to spasm, but Emilia pays that no mind as she continues.

Emilia: After I woke up, me and Puck watched over everybody sleeping. So that someday, when people woke up like I did, they wouldn't go without knowing anything... always, I was there.

Subaru: ...Hold up a second.

The information load in this is dense, and Subaru's brain is struggling to keep up and put it all in

95

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

order.

What on earth happened in Elior Forest, on the day Emilia first saw snow?

Subaru: From what I know, Elior Forest froze... right, I think a little over 100 years ago. I heard that at the Royal Selection's court or somewhere before.

Emilia: Mm. I was sooo surprised too, when I started studies at the mansion and learned it.

Subaru: Meaning you were there when Elior Forest first froze, yeah? Do you know how it happened?

Emilia: “—No, I don't.

Emilia shakes her head.

Subaru's brows furrows. She looks down, her expression pained.

Emilia: I really don't. My memories on what happened back then aren't clear. I just remember that I was little, and I was incredibly scared. But because I just kept sleeping forever, those memories are fuzzy too...

Subaru: The word 'little's come up a few times now, but around how old were you exactly?

Emilia: ...I think probably, I was seven.

Subaru: Seven... It's safe to count elf years the same way as humans, right?

Emilia nods.

You count elf ages normally, increasing by one with the passing of each year. Elves are renowned as a long-lived race, and half-elf Emilia would be the same. But that said, the long-lived elves too have

a childhood period, and seven-year-old young Emilia was beyond any blame. Though, with some simple math this means that Emilia's current age is 7 + ≥100.

Subaru: Age gap's nothing to worry about this late. Being anxious about that turned pointless the moment she was someone from a parallel world.

Emilia: ...Subaru, what's wrong? Was there something funny I...

Subaru: Nope, nope. Just thinking that man you and me do have an age gap.

Alongside him organizing his thoughts and shifting the mood, Subaru jokes around to adjust the atmosphere. Although she most likely has not figured Subaru's intentions, Emilia's tense cheeks do relax somewhat as she gives a small sigh.

Emilia: We do,

Emilia: But because the time I spent unconscious and asleep was so long, I'm not really confident I'm matured to my real age...

96

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: Really? Don't exactly know how fast Elf aging goes, but if you can use humans as a framework then I'd say you're plenty matured.

Subaru stares nonchalantly at Emilia on the bed as he snorts at her worries.

Her limbs are fully grown, and her body hosts the curvature of womanhood. Her gloomy, amethyst eyes and uncertain features prominently give her a mysterious beauty, crossing to and fro over the threshold between girl and woman.

Emilia was plenty enough femininely matured.

But it seems like Subaru's thoughts diverge just a bit from what Emilia's worried about.

Emilia: No,

She shakes her head.

Emilia: The ice I slept in didn't stop time, it just put my consciousness to sleep. So, my body kept maturing even inside the ice. The way I had to move my body was different than from before my sleep, and for a while after I woke up, I made so many mistakes.

Subaru: This ice... right, so it had that drawback.

Her body had been that of a seven year old, and the change to a fully-grown adult upon awakening must have been chaotic.

It's common in anime and manga for children to have their bodies mature suddenly into an adult's, but surely the adaptation couldn't be that easy. A consequence where their brain wasn't meshing to their body correctly and they suffered terrible distress like Emilia was natural.

Emilia: Roswaal took me out of the forest, I studied outside... and I learned that I'd slept for nearly 100 years, which shocked me sooo much. I couldn't believe I'd slept that long.

Subaru: Saying you just age normally inside it, if it'd been a race that wasn't long-lived like elves trapped in the ice it'd be all ove...

r, is what he means to say, when he gets the feeling that he has just heard an incredible truth. Closing his eyes, Subaru quietly puts the numbers together in his head. He calculates, adds and subtracts, and after recalculating it several times to confirm, his confusion morphs into definite suspicion.

Subaru: So hey, Emilia... you just said you slept for almost 100 years, right?

Emilia: I did, yes...?

Subaru: And you were about seven before your sleep, right?

Emilia: I was. Subaru, what are...

Subaru: Emilia. How much time's passed since Puck woke you up?

97

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

From what Subaru's heard, Roswaal bringing Emilia out of the forest happened about half a year ago. Which means Emilia lived with Puck in Elior Forest until then. The problem here is the time it took between her sleep, waking, and meeting Roswaal.

Her expression still complex, Emilia puts her finger to her lip.

Emilia: ...Maybe, six or seven years... I think.

Subaru: “—”

Hearing this answer, Subaru's suspicion morphs into absolute conviction.

This uncovered truth races tremors down Subaru's body.

Seven years since birth, up to one hundred years asleep, seven years since waking.

Which meant the following:

Emilia was around 107 years old. She looked 18 years old. And mentally, she was 14 years old. Subaru: Real, physical, mental age... none are synced up...

Possible and happening only because she is an elf, a threeway discrepancy between ages.

This coincided with many questions Subaru had about Emilia's behaviour up to now.

Subaru found her rather ignorant to flattery for an over-century-old elf, he couldn't deny the sense of inexperience she had with others, which was disproportionate to her appearance, and the cuteness of her occasionally childlike attitudes and behaviour did stand out.

All of it was a negative side effect from having spent the majority of her life inside the ice. Subaru: Fourteen... she's no different from Felt...

Why did this girl have to shoulder such a great responsibility? His irritation for the Royal Selection, and for Roswaal, steadily compounds.

Reflecting on how the topic he had brought up to distract the mood had entirely derailed, Subaru cuts into anotherrelatedsubject.

Subaru: You said before you don't know why the forest was frozen. So what's it you're seeing in the TRIAL? That fuzzy... memory of before the freezing, that's what you're seeing, yeah?

Emilia: ...I think so. The scenery is almost definitely from before my sleep... and I think the memory really did happen.

Subaru: And so if the memory's scary as it is, then yeah it's gonna be that some crazy something came around to freeze you and the other elves, which you're unconsciously rejecting so...

Emilia: “—Wrong.

Subaru: Well I mean, there's not gonna be anything scarier than that, is there. The TRIAL shows you your biggest regret. Which means what you're seeing's...

98

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Emilia: I told you that you're wrong!

Emilia shouts, her yell destroying Subaru and his unwittingly zealous theory.

She immediately blinks, regretting that she yelled, but then closes her eyes to dispel her hesitation.

Her eyes water as she faces Subaru.

Emilia: What I... saw in the TRIAL, wasn't that. I didn't see that. ...What I, saw was...

Subaru: E-Ehmil...

Emilia: “—Witch's Spawn.

A chill sharp as an icicle spears through Subaru's spine.

Emilia buries her face in her hands, hiding her face. Her voice rings quiet, emotionless.

Emilia: Seed of Disaster. Silver Wretch. Life Best Unborn. Font of Hatred. Unforgivable Soul. Devil. Witch-Child.

Subaru: “—”

Emilia: Everyone who was nice to me, who smiled at me, then in that cold snow said these things about me, and...

Emilia's limbsher bodytrembles.

Emilia: I was in the ice for what came after, and I don't remember. But everybody must remember even now in the ice that they cursed me. Because I've always, always been bearing that curse still.

Subaru: “—”

Emilia: I wanted to free everyone from the ice... and apologize.

Emilia with her face in tears is not here. She looks up, at them, before quietly bowing her head.

Emilia:

I'm sorry for causing you trouble.Everybody, I love you.

99

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

1

1 The term I'm translating as 'Witch-Child' is 魔女の娘 in Japanese, which can mean either 'Daughter of a Witch' or 'Young Girl Who Is a Witch'. Though my instinct says it's 9:1 odds the former, it's not perfectly clear which. So here is my compromise.

100

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

CHAPTER 91: FALSE SLEEP

As he hears the weeping in Emilia's words, a stabbing feeling of regret assails Subaru. Having made Emilia recollect a sad memory, and even brought her to tears, the guilt spears him in multitudes.

What Subaru feels from Emilia's faltering speech is her love and gratitude for the people of Elior Forest. Feelings which the day of snow had flipped entirely, transforming these memories into ones of being subjected to hatred and malice.

It's unclear what they all thought while trapped inside the ice. But Emilia's days of warmth and happiness have nevertheless been sealed inside the thick, cold frost, with no signs at all of it melting.

Subaru: ...Why did they say those things about you? Just going off what I've heard here, for the one who buried the forest in ice... to be you would make sense. But were you powerful enough to cause something that insane when you were little?

Emilia: “—I don't know. Back then I knew way less of the world than I do now, and I knew nothing about what I could or couldn't do, and I was always imposing on everybody's kindness. But...

without Puck and by myself, the current me doesn't have the powers to freeze a forest.

Subaru: If you had Puck, could you?

Emilia: “—”

Emilia wordlessly gives a small nod.

Her half-hearted affirmation was probably because she feared Subaru would mistake her for the culprit behind freezing the forest. But Subaru doesn't think that way. Not out of favouritism, but a simple problem of timeline.

Subaru: Don't need to look so worried, I'm not gonna misunderstand. You met Puck ages after the Forest'd been frozen... like, after 100 years. You and the ice and Puck are backwards in the sequence.

Emilia: M-mm... yes, but...

Emilia nods, her face too tense to really be called 'relieved'.

While withstanding the urge to furrow his brow at that reaction, Subaru instructs himself to keep his expression calm as he links his hands together.

There's been something faintly off about this the whole time. But it was here in this instant that Subaru felt more intensely uncomfortable than ever.

Well of course. Natsuki Subaru had never trespassed into Emilia's past or inner thoughts before, and had been content to love her while coddling her superficial traits like a princess.

And so this was a TRIAL for Subaru, one essential for him to undergo.

A TRIAL to determine whether a Subaru disqualified from the tomb had the right to stand with, beside, and alongside Emilia.

101

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: I understand the things about what you saw in the tomb's TRIAL. ...And so going conversely, what do you think you have to do that'll beat it?

Emilia: That's... mm, it's...

Emilia averts her gaze. This was not her hesitating about giving a solution, but her failing to find the precise form and structure of the thing.

Emilia had no definite visions on how to defeat the TRIAL. Her first attempt had abruptly presented her again with her long-held quandary, and sought that she present a flawless response.

Echidna said that giving your answer regarding the past that you avoided is enough to defeat the

TRIAL.

Affirmation of it, denial of it, either would work to surmount it.

Emilia had accepted as a sad memory the fact that those once kind to her now rejected her. Then, getting over it would be the requirement for beating the TRIAL?

Getting over the stuff you have deserted to your pasthow to do it, and how to clear it.

Subaru cannot present Emilia with a definite answer. But, having overcome the first TRIAL and experienced the second, there are things Subaru does know. And although his scrapes with the character of the one called Echidna were minute, he does know this:

Most likely, the TRIAL would not present the challenger with an unbeatable problem.

And of course it wouldn't, when considering Echidna's goals.

What Echidna desires is the treasures so called results, to sate her curiosity. Were they acquired by defeat of the TRIAL, then that only made them shine brighter. So should be what the witch is thinking.

The results are merely a question of whether the challenger affirms or denies the past.

Meaning that Emilia was meeting the requirements to clear the TRIAL. So long as she can figure out said requirements, and present her thoughts about her past, then that should be her solution.

So then the problem here is not with the TRIAL, but with

Subaru: You can keep challenging without having found any answer for it, but it's gonna always turn out the same.

Emilia: “—What do you think, Subaru?

Subaru says nothing.

Emilia: This talk we've had, about my past and the TRIAL... having heard it, what do you think? Do you have any ideas for what might work? I'm still wondering what I should do...

Emilia must have spent last night, even after returning to her lodgings, it eating into her sleeping hours, repeating these questions to herself.

In a debilitating vortex of thought, which ended in her losing consciousness in something close to fainting.

102

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: Emilia, you said that you want to melt the ice and thank everyone.

Emilia: Mm.

Subaru: Why do you think like that?

Emilia must have sustained terrible treatment from these once-kind people.

Why did she find significance in saving those men and women, drowned in the ice?

Subaru: The last memories you have are memories of them rejecting you, right? They said awful things, jeered at you... why do you still want to help them?

Emilia: “—Subaru, if I said awful things about you right now, would you stop trying to help me?

Subaru: “—”

Subaru finds himself speechless.

Emilia's amethyst eyes stare back at Subaru with sincerity. The indecisive weakness is gone from her gaze in that answer.

Emilia: Yes, the last feelings I felt while with everybody were painful... but what happened at the end doesn't erase all the time I spent with them before that. I had so many good memories of my time with them.

Subaru says nothing.

Emilia: I don't want to forget them, and invalidate everything by only remembering them hurting me. I want to help everyone, and smile with them again... it's greedy, but that's what I think.

Emilia puts her hand to her mouth after finishing her unwitting speech, peeping at Subaru to see his response.

Her expression is one of having unintentionally voiced an ugly part of herself, and fearing being scorned because of it, is how Subaru perceives it. Seeing Emilia's perceived worry, Subaru thinks:

So her way of life is one where she cannot go without finding that wish greedy.

Emilia: “—Subaru?

Subaru: Nothing, just thinking. That you're exactly, entirely right, that is.

Even saying that he was killed by them in his last interaction, that doesn't make the memories and ties between them fade.

He had been killed by both Rem and Ram, but he still worked frantically to save them. And he ran off the same feelings during the loops starting in the Capital. Emilia thought in the same manner as Subaru. That's all.

103

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: “—”

The instant after he feels the relief, Subaru becomes conscious of the greatest sense of awriness yet.

Something so off, that he's shocked at how he hadn't already noticed it.

Emilia: “—Subaru?

His face frozen stiff, Emilia's eyes waver in confusion as she looks at Subaru. While he knows this is unsettling her, he cannot really pull himself back together. Because,

Emilia has already reached her answer regarding the event in her past.

Subaru: “—”

The elves Emilia spent her days with are sleeping in ice in Elior Forest. She has reminisced on that day of snow, and although the target of her once-trusted ones's hatred, she fully asserted that she wanted to save them and convey them her gratitude.

That was a single and definite reply to her aversive past.

If Subaru's recognition of his past self's foolishness and communication of his goodbye to his parents was enough to meet the conditions to defeat the TRIAL, then Emilia's determination should be equally respected.

But the TRIAL is not willing to recognize that she has filled the conditions.

While perhaps that could be because Subaru jolted her awake and interrupted her TRIAL, on all days after that for every loopeven when Subaru does not interrupt her TRIAL, she fails to defeat it.

So Emilia's answer was not apt for the TRIAL?

Subaru: But, that's...

If the one making the ruling during the TRIAL is Echidna, then is its liking with the presented answer dependant on the witch's feelings with it? But, Echidna's emphasis is not on what kind of answer is given, and instead on the fact that one is given at all.

Invalidating the challenger's answer does not seem anything like Echidna. Nothing like herbut Subaru does have the thought: if there's a possibility that Echidna disfavours only Emilia's answer...

It guilts him to recognize the thought.

Recognizing it means speculating that ONLY EMILIA is entirely incapable of defeating the TRIAL.

Subaru: Like I could accept that... begging you, Echidna.

Emilia: Subaru, what's wrong? Did I say something strange again?

Subaru: No, it's not a problem with you. If there's some problem then it's with the question-

setter. ...You said you want to melt the ice and help everyone, but you weren't able to? You lived in the forest with Puck until Roswaal brought you out, right? You must've had plenty of time to try.

104

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Although aware that it's a cruel question, Subaru asks it.

Being that he's heard Emilia's past, then attempting such a thing and unsealing them from the ice would mean the freed people would again shower Emilia in curses.

Emilia must have already worried about this exact thing many times over. Her nails dig into her arm as she looks down.

Emilia: I had Puck help me for it so many times... but I couldn't melt the ice.

Subaru: When you say couldn't melt the ice, do you mean a mental problem? Or a physical one...

Assuming that it's a mental problem, then Subaru has no intention to fault her for it.

Doing something while knowing that it will hurt oneself is not an action anyone is so easily capable of.

But Emilia replies to Subaru's question with a weak,

Emilia: A physical problem, maybe.

Emilia: The ice is special ice... it's not something that will melt, even if you do what you can from outside. You have to do something about the person who froze them, or try some other great method... and so I accepted Roswaal's offer, and...

Subaru: Offer?

Emilia: Auh...

Emilia covers her mouth, her expression one of having said something that she shouldn't.

But faced with Subaru as he focuses his stare on her in silence, Emilia's shoulders immediately droop.

Emilia: Roswaal... promised me.

Subaru: “—”

Emilia: He came with the insignia, let me hold it... and once he saw its jewel glow red, he told me about the Royal Selection, and then... he said this.

So was Emilia's presence in the forest, qualified to be a Royal Selection candidate as she was, information written in the gospel?

An exchange which brings to mind the image of Roswaal smiling crypticallyin this imagining,

Roswaal speaks as he presents Emilia his hand:

Emilia: “—If you can secure the throne, then surely your wish to melt the ice of this forest can also be granted.

Subaru: ...You believed him?

Emilia: I was pretty desperate. He didn't tell me the details of how to melt the ice, but... I accepted his offer, and left the forest with Roswaal. Puck... doesn't object to what I do, so he came with me

105

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

without saying anything.

Subaru: And that's why you decided to participate in the Selection... when you said before that your reason for participating's selfish... that's what it was, then.

Emilia: ...Contempting me, right?

In his heart Subaru agrees with her, when Emilia murmurs.

He looks up, to find her gazing at him timidly, and her lips quirk.

Emilia: The others... everybody has amazing goals and resolve for contending in the Selection, and my reason is so, sooo much of a personal problem...

Subaru: I'd say it's plenty important, wanting to save the villagers. The quantity of people you help doesn't dilute the greatness of what you do. And besides, the stuff you said at the Selection's hall wouldn'tve been a lie.

Emilia: What I said at the hall for the Selection...

Subaru: That you wanted to be viewed as equal. I don't think those words were a lie.

At the start, maybe it was her seeking some solution for her unresolved circumstances. But Emilia learned of the outside world, learned the largeness of 100 years of time, and was still learning the ways of the present world, surely giving her chance to rethink.

Subaru did not feel that the words she spoke at the Selection Hall were insincere, superficial varnish.

If her feelings then were earnest, and her desire to win the Selection remained the same now, then Subaru thought it no reason to entirely disdain it.

Subaru: So you don't have to look so worried, it's okay. I'm on your side, and that you can lean on me hasn't changed from last night. Even if you say you're okay, and deny taking my shoulder.

Emilia: Ah... um, about yesterday...

Subaru: Don't apologize, it'll ruin me. But well, what I can tell you is that I'm always gonna be right where you can lean on me, Emilia-tan, for thine anticipated use. I do like it when you stand strong by your own, Emilia, but it's perfectly fine for you to be a little weak for me too.

Subaru thumps his hand to his chest, letting his mouth relax, for Emilia to give a relieved sigh. Instantly, that relief seems to transmit down the rest of her as her upper body sways,

Emilia: It's, just when I relax suddenly I'm...

Subaru: Your dream was so bad you couldn't sleep. Don't push yourself, have a little nap. I won't do anything just watch over you.

Emilia: That 'won't do anything' is sort of bothering me sooo much...

106

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Although worried by the unneeded statement, Emilia's silver hair still sways as she fights the Sandman's temptations. Subaru puts his finger to her forehead, putting in some light force to so push her down.

Emilia: Au...

Subaru: Don't worry, get to sleep.

Subaru unconsentingly finger-pushes her to lie face-up on the bed.

He draws the linens over her thin body, drawing his chair even closer to the bed, seating himself where he can observe Emilia's face as she sleeps.

Subaru: If you're talked out, your head's ordered, and what I said relaxed you a little... then go have a nice rest. A time's gonna come again tomorrow night where you'll need to put in your best.

Emilia: ...Is it okay for me to be spoiled like this?

Subaru: It's perfectly okay. Keep getting spoiled. Your teeth're gonna rot with how intense my sweet pampering'll be.

Subaru gives a shrug, Emilia laughing quietly as she lies in bed. And she stares intently at Subaru, reaching her arm out from under the covers.

Emilia: “—Hand.

Subaru: Hm?

Emilia: If you're going to spoil me, then... could you hold my hand? Just until I fall asleep, please?

Subaru: Oho, now leave that right to me.

Subaru grips her slender little hand, smiling as he feels its delicate, smooth touch on his palm.

Emilia smiles back, closing her eyes in accordance with Subaru's words.

It does not take that long for her to start giving the quiet breathing of sleep.

Subaru: ...Really, hope you can have a good dream.

Watching Emilia as she lays quietly in bed, Subaru brushes her silver bangs from her forehead, dropping his gaze to their yet-linked hands.

If feeling someone else's presence like this could free her from her isolation in the dream, good. Leaving her to be plagued and plagued by painful nightmares, alone in this room, would certainly be cruel.

Subaru: But anyway... learned lots of stuff.

107

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Adjusting his posture on his seat, still grasping her hand, Subaru ruminates over the details of their conversation.

Emilia's past, and why she's contending in the Royal Selection. Roswaal's proposal as he brought her out, and an Emilia so cornered that she had to accept said proposal.

And most importantly, the TRIAL facing Emilia, and its motives in not passing her when she has supposedly reached her answerwith the issues still lying incomplete, and having soothed Emilia to sleep, Subaru, now, was here.

Subaru: “—”

He glances down at Emilia's face as she sleeps.

Pained at her haggard state, Subaru had postponed on what to door not. He had put off acquiring essential answers and practically forced her to bed for a purpose.

His ideas were ones he likely would not be able to achieve at Emilia's side, with her still awake.

Subaru: But, thinking of the situation... this is all I can imagine.

The past loops, information that has tugged at him, and other circumstantial evidence had forced Subaru to consider this idea. There is only one way to confirm it, and that way is simple.

Should his idea be correct, then unmistakably it would be a glimmer of hope for breaking through this situation

He holds his breath.

His heart thumps and his blood rushes loud as he reaches out his hand, seeking to confirm whether he is right.

His left hand, not the right which clutches Emilia's, reaches down to between her clavicles, down to the bottom of her slender, pale neck. And,

Subaru: “—You're not really damn sleeping at all.

A cold, hard touch at his fingertips.

Although feeling his voice strain as he speaks, the words do come out.

Then is a period of silence, and just when Subaru's heart starts blazing with panicked impatience

???: <I'm impressed you noticed. It makes me happy, Subaru.>

From inside the green stone at his fingertips, the spirit's androgynous voice echoes directly within Subaru's skull.

108

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

CHAPTER 92: A LIE

Puck: <It feels like it's been ages since we last talked like this.>

Subaru: <That's 'cause it's been... right, almost two weeks already since you disappeared. Your owner was going around looking for you, sad, and you were nowhere to be found.>

This sensation of words permeating directly into his skull, rather than through vibrations in the air, is a strange one. But regardless Subaru indeed perceives Puck's ever-lackadaisical voice, himself unable to keep from having his resentment seep into his reply.

How to deal with this situation where rather than being elated that he got his expectedor wished-forreply, he is irritated? His bullheadedness was too intense for him to give Puck any earnest response.

Puck: <It looks like over the two weeks we've gone without talking, your anger for me escalated pretty bad.>

Subaru: <You know why, yeah? Don't make me have to say it.>

Puck: <Right. That thing I said before I stopped coming out... to the blue-haired girl, I've looked back on it, and it was pretty thoughtless of me. I've really reflected on it.>

Subaru: <...! That isn't what we're talking about!>

What's thoughtless is bringing up events which Subaru had already forgotten his anger about. And to top it off it completely derails the conversation from what they ought to be discussing. Puck responds to Subaru's outburst in a pouty tone,

Puck: <Come on, don't be so mad...>

Puck: <I know that. I just wanted to apologize. Had to wonder, if we didn't settle the bad blood before getting into the main topic, whether we could really get too deep into each other. ...Since even in good times, I'm in a position where I have to request heaps of things from you.>

Subaru: <Okay, are you? If your self-satisfaction's all sated, then let's get on with the talk. You know, that one you want to have, about the main topic.>

Answering to Puck's apology with entirely superficial acceptance, Subaru pushes the talk forward as he glares at the crystal.

Its bright lustre reflects off Subaru's eyes, emitting a deep green glow from its place on Emilia's chest.

Subaru clicks his tongue.

Subaru: <Anyway, this situation's way too inconvenient for us to be talking in. We're going outside. It's not clear when Emilia could wake up. We'll change the setting, and...>

Puck: <I am sorry, but I can't do that. Which counts as part of the main topic.>

109

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck's thoughtspeech destroys Subaru's proposal as he looks down at the sleeping Emilia's face. The reply prompts Subaru to make an expression as if his nose has been pinched, just for a moment.

Subaru: <That wasn't a 'don't wanna', rejecting it. What do you mean by 'can't'?>

Puck: <Only what it sounds like. Outside the crystal, for me right now... or basically, materialising in the outside world is impossible for me right now. If it weren't, do you think I'd ever let Lia be this sad and alone?>

Subaru: <>

Puck speaks as if he's saying something entirely natural. Subaru responds with mental silence. Considering everything that's happened between Subaru and the spirit until now, it's truth that, honestly, Subaru is on the verge of doubting how credible Puck's statements are.

But neverminding Puck's disposition where he's always a step too late when it matters, the fundamental part of himthat his presence is for Emilia's sake, and that he feels for Emilia, are not fabrication. Subaru considered those points alone ones which necessitated no doubt.

Subaru: <There's some circumstances, or reason... why you're not able to come outside.>

Puck: <That's right. I haven't even been able to talk in thoughtspeak, like this. So it's a great fortune that you suspected this and called out to the crystal. I doubt anyone else would've been able to secure this opportunity, you see.>

Subaru: <Anyone else... meaning?>

Puck: <It's very simple, the only one who'd want to get this close to Lia while she's unconscious'd have to be you. Then is the problem where even if you do touch the crystal, whether you're compatible for the thoughts to communicate. But we've done this before in the Capital, and confirmed that you and me are connected with a pass for mental communication.>

Subaru: <...Thinking back, actually we did do that.>

Second time in the Capital, when having a private talk with Emilia, Puck and Subaru communicated in thoughtspeak like this.2

It's a replication of back thenand with its being secret from Emilia, even moreso a replication.

Subaru: <So, what am I meant to do?>

Puck: <Hm?>

Subaru: <I purposefully figured the timing where someone'd to talk back to me, and in this crazy, divinely-touched situation I called out. You should've been prepared to not let this one-in-a-million chance get away. That being an opportunity with its short, limited time window, and the words and hints you need to communicate.>

Puck: <>

2 Cut in the anime, occurs very early in arc 3.

110

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck responds with a meaningful silence. Subaru manages to vividly imagine the unseen cat spirit grinning a wide and human-ish grin.

Betraying not Subaru's imaginings, Pucks laughs, his voice unable to conceal his delight.

Puck: <I really was right to expect things from you. Though that it frustrates me to think I have to entrust Lia to someone other than myself is the truth.>

Subaru: <...I can communicate what you're thinking to Emilia, if you want.>

The latter part of Puck's joyful statement comes laced with gloom, Subaru lowering his gaze. His proposal to Puck is ultimately nothing more than an idea for what might console him. But, having said it and considered it, it's also kind of genius.

Emilia had lost view of Puck, who supported the core of her heart, and was unsteady. While she was enduring it for now, with the passage of time and repeated failures of the TRIAL, she would be abraded and her weakness would reveal itself. If that's going to happen, then maybe it'd be better to show her some relief here, and

Puck: <You better not. If she learns that I communicated with someone who wasn't her, in the worst cast scenario, Lia's mind could break.>

But Puck keeps Subaru from proceeding with the idea, his voice dejected.

Subaru: Haah...

Sighs Subaru.

Subaru: <So... what exactly do you mean with that?>

Puck: <Exactly what it sounds like I mean. Using you as an intermediary to convey my words to Lia means she'll find out that I'm not really sleeping in the crystal. For a Lia who is keeping me from exiting, and not allowing me to interact with anyone, her realising that I'm not actually silenced is liable to destroy her yet-precarious mental equilibrium.>

Subaru: <Wha, wait up a sec!>

Subaru shakes his head as he slams the breaks on Puck's piling sentences.

With Puck presently lacking body, and only the crystal's sheen for Subaru to gaze on, Puck's expression is imperceptible. But going from Puck's tone, Subaru judges this no attempt at deception.

Subaru: <Do you realise what you said just now? That it's Emilia, that it's no one other than Emilia, who is stopping you from going outside, that's what you're saying.>

Puck: <...>

Subaru: <Sealing your mouth shut... what do you mean with that? When Emilia's calling for you, crying for your help, wailing and in tears... how can you! It's not me, not anyone else, but your name she calls when she's worn out! And how can you...!>

111

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck: <...Ah, right. There's no one more frustrated at the fact that Lia won't rely first on you than you, Subaru.>

Subaru: <hk!!>

The statement is one to change the topic on him, but the meaning it carries accurately divines to Subaru's core, his throat clamming with incomprehensible and violent emotion.

It's truth that Subaru has been acting while persistently wanting to be Emilia's number one. That the fact he cannot presently be Emilia's number one, is obstructing him, is also truth.

Another truth is that the one who occupied Emilia's #1 slot, this one who possessed far more power than Subaru, who although asserting that Emilia was in turn his own #1, was failing to take any action for her sakewas something Subaru loathed to a maddening extent.

And so then being told that the reason for this was not himself, not Puck, but in fact Emilia herself, of course he cannot simply believe it.

Subaru: <So, what? You're saying that Emilia breaking as she challenges the TRIAL, declining alone in suffering, smiling in tears as she remembers her sad past, all of it and everything, is a lie and a goddamn performance? As if I could believe that!>

If those tears, those cries, those laments, everything had been a production to fool those around her, then Emilia's acting skills were natural genius. Rather than aiming for the throne, she should aim for being a universally-acclaimed actress.

If you ignore the obvious fact that Emilia lacks both that talent and any reason to deceive Subaru and the others, then that's what she should aim for.

Subaru: <That couldn't happen... Nevermind constantly lying to trick everyone around her, she gets crushed by guilt just over a tiny little lie. That's the type of girl Emilia is...>

Puck: <Subaru, calm down. I'm not speaking bad of Lia like your worst-case imaginations say. Now just calm down.>

Subaru: <Worst-case imaginations? What worst-case imaginations. Asshole, stop peeping into my head! That stuff and this stuff have nothing to do with each other. Even saying for instance that something does happen, I would never think of Emilia...hk>

Puck: <NATSUKI SUBARU!>

Puck's sharp voice strikes an agitated, roiled Subaru

The intense emotion packed in the short call is enough to, for a moment, make Subaru's body tremble and freeze still. What Subaru's timid gaze lands on is not the visage of the small cat, but the inorganic glowstone sitting quietly at Emilia's chest.

Puck: <...Are you calmed down?>

Subaru: <...That voice was seriously you? My thought was you're always spaced out, ignoring the

112

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

seriousness of the situation, being fluffy.>

Puck: <It's not really that often that I raise my voice. But when it's Lia... or for scolding a disobedient kid, then I can get loud.>

Subaru: <Disobedient kid, thanks.>

Subaru gives a small sigh.

His failure to entirely deny Puck's words is because he recognize that his unsightly attitude had been problematic.

This was a long-awaited conversation, but Subaru had neglected multiple times to keep his calm during it. What time was he on now for Puck rebuking him, and getting the conversation back on track?

It's pathetic how he's unable to restrain himself. What he had yearned for constantly, a heart of metal. Subaru's interior, then, lacked even a single scrap of the thing?

Puck: <But honestly said, I'm pretty thankful for your presence, with how emotional you get over Lia. You're surely giving Lia more than a little strength by her perspective, too.>

Subaru: <wh>

Puck: <No one has stepped this far into Lia's truest thoughts before. Even Roswaal, who brought Lia out of the forest for her connection to the Selection, has gone without touching her ingrained, deeper nature. Though considering that that thing's goals are in doing something by putting Lia on the throne, and so concerned with something unrelated, I suppose it's not that surprising.>

Subaru: <You know what Roswaal's goals are?>

Puck: <To follow the gospel, right? In that respect, he's perhaps a lot like Betty. Having things written, and having nothing written. Similar but different, is perhaps how to say it.>

It appears that Puck knew about Beatrice and Roswaal's circumstances in detail. While Subaru doubts the information has gotten to even Emilia, that doubt only makes him more unsettled about what Puck's thinking in keeping these factoids to himself.

But Subaru can imagine something for what Puck would say, should Subaru question him about it.

Subaru: <It's unrelated to Emilia, so you took no initiative to act... then.>

Puck: <If there were anything I could do for Betty, then I would. And as for Roswaal... being that Lia's tied up in it, have to do something about it.>

Subaru: <This's the payback for putting this off and not talking about it when you damn well knew.>

Puck: <I have no defence. Though I do think it's bad of me that you've had to deal with said payback.>

Unrelated to any question of malevolence, it seems his lack of intention to prioritize anything

113

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

except Emilia had strong influence here. If this passive stance of his is what beckoned Emilia's present hardship, then this was a blunder far too large to simply laugh off as a trifling mistake.

Subaru: <I'm destroying Roswaal's plans so that one's fine for now. And about Beatrice... got no intention of leaving her to you. The only thing I'm conspiring about with you is Emilia.>

Puck: <That's fine. My strength isn't great enough right now to allocate it to anyone but Lia. Expending my best efforts into something other than my main preference, and so overlooking what's most important, would be cart and horse.>

Subaru: <Tell me. What does it mean that Emilia's keeping you from going outside? I don't think for even a single second that she's tricking everybody.>

Last time he had been running off emotion, but his ideas remain the same even now. While there's no conceivable way he could know everything of Emilia's inner heart, she is surely not someone who would deceive those around her, and disregard their thoughtfulness.

A sensation transmits mentally of Puck practically giving a relieved sigh.

Puck: <You can relax, would be a statement hard to really assert. It's by Lia's will that I'm not going outside, but... it isn't that Lia's keeping me from going outside, while thinking to block me from going outside.>

Subaru: <...Sorry, I don't understand what you're saying.>

Puck: <It's tricky to explain. That Lia is seeking my help, and calling to the crystal, and can't hear my voice, all are entirely true. That she's scared of being alone, and trembling without her support is also fact. But.>

Subaru: <>

Puck: <Her unconscious is rejecting my materialization and our mutual communication. Her heart's front and back ends are in disagreement, is maybe how to say it.>

Heart's front and back ends, is the descriptor at which Subaru gulps.

Surely this wouldn't mean split personalities, but that said, every time crises has borne down on Subaru in this world, it's come with the multiple experiences of his own heart betraying him. Then, supposing that Emilia is presently in a similar situation...

Subaru: <You can't influence Emilia from your end?>

Puck: <That's tricky. The back end's imposing force is stronger than the front end. I bet that if I could get to the front end, it'd be big trouble for Lia mentally.>

Subaru: <Do you have any guesses on what trouble it'd be for her? Like something where if you came out, it'd cause something inconvenient for Emilia...>

Puck: <But don't you already know?>

114

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

A sort of teasing tone enters Puck's voice. After only a momentary silence, Subaru lowers his eyes.

Subaru: <It's just speculation.>

Puck: <Yup, that's good. Now let's have us a listen. I did say, yes? That I'm expecting things from you, Subaru.>

Puck gives Subaru his entirely ungratifying stamp of approval. Feeling his mood lighten somewhat even from this calibre of assurance, the statement pushes Subaru on.

Subaru: <If you're there, then Emilia...>

Puck: <Mmhm, mmhm.>

Subaru: <...will have to accept some inconvenient part of her past. That's why Emilia's unconsciously keeping you from interfering.>

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Puck: <>

Puck receives Subaru's thoughtwaves not with rejection or a laugh, but with silence. Supposing that the unseen cat spirit were present in form here, then surely he would have his carefree demeanour and expression in tact, his long tail swaying to and fro.

Puck: <Incredible, Subaru. That's a better answer than what I expected.>

Says Puck, in admiration, after a period of silence.

Subaru sighs out his nose.

Subaru: <You can compliment me, but seriously it doesn't make me happy at all.>

Puck: <It's honest praise. You surely didn't have that much information to work with, and that just with speculations you managed to reach this is truly surprising. You understand Lia's heart well.>

The sense of compassion is large. Likely, Puck's consciousness is gazing at the sleeping Emilia.

Lured in by the voice, Subaru looks at her visage in slumber.

Emilia rests in a sleep so deep it's impossible to discern any dreams bad or good. The TRIAL, whittling at her heart, and her concordant past.

But Subaru had doubts as to how accurate this recreation of the past was to the real past which accosted her.

Subaru's TRIAL had presented in the form of goodbyes to his parents, symbols of his past regrets. Of course it had. Subaru's past which merited reflection wasn't any single, big event, but the

115

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

environment he'd been in and the very time he spent in sloth itself.

And so the TRIAL created an illegitimate occasion for Subaru, a pleasant time spent with his parents, urging Subaru to part with them.

Subaru: <The pasts aren't necessarily faithful to what actually happened. It draws from the guy challenging's mental scenery, and other requirements, to be reconstructed in a shape fitting for the TRIAL.>

Echidna had explained to Subaru how the TRIAL generally worked. It would assemble information that even Subaru himself didn't consciously remember out of his memories, and use that to craft an

ELABORATE, COUNTERFEIT WORLD.

She had said that his goodbye to his parents was not real, and only his own self-satisfaction.

And why is that? He thought now.

Subaru: <The pasts you see in the tomb is a forgery in trappings of the real. The asshole who set up the TRIAL arranged the thing so it'd present the problem which'd let the challenger reach the answer that'd make them fucking feel best.>

She hadn't stated that much, but Subaru is confident that Echidna would do this. Even Subaru had seen at least this much of the witch's malevolence.

Subaru: <The past Emilia's seeing has correct and incorrect parts. The difference is... you know something that will definitively differ from her past. And so Emilia's unconsciously rejecting any attempts at calling you out.>

Puck: <...You have to wonder. If I'm around, Lia will see the correct, legitimate past. Why could Lia's true heart be rejecting me, while knowing that?>

Subaru: <That one's...>

Simple, is how Subaru goes to continue, before hesitating.

Subaru's hesitation is also for simple reasons. Speaking any further means unveiling the truth of Emilia's past. The cruel and aversive times Emilia had spoken of were a covering Emilia's heart was using to conceal the truth.

Puck: <The true events which Lia'd rather forget are even more hopeless than the false events she spoke about.>

Puck follows on from where Subaru stopped.

Recognizing this thing he had managed to go without recognizing, Subaru's face twists in grief as he looks at Emilia.

The warm, friendly times she spent with the elveswho then cursed her with spite and hatred, dousing her in umbrage as she welcomed a long, long goodbye inside the ice.

Just thinking about that past near shredded Subaru's heart and body, but for Emilia that was a tender cradle to hide the wicked, actual truth.

116

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Subaru: <You know what Emilia actually saw?>

Puck: <...Sorry, but I don't know that one either. It was after the forest was frozen over that I met Lia. So I don't know what it is about my presence that she's afraid of. I don't know what it is about me that influences Lia's past.>

Puck mutters in frustration. Subaru bites his lip.

Emilia's true past. Thanks to this, Subaru's figured out a piece of the answer to why she cannot overcome the TRIAL.

Emilia is shown her true past, and a different past, every time she takes the TRIAL. And she desires for the false past to be the real one.

Until she presents an answer for the legitimate past, she will not be able to surmount the TRIAL. So long as her heart is deceiving her, the past's sweet knives will continue shredding her mind.

Subaru: <What do I do?>

Puck: <I don't know.>

Subaru: <I want to help Emilia. I want to be her strength.>

Puck: <It's the same for me. I exist only for her sake. If I can't help her, then there's no reason for me to exist.>

Subaru: <I want to support her in what she wants to do, I want to stand at her side.>

Puck: <>

Faced with Subaru as he presses further, Puck falls into contemplative silence. Subaru waits intently for the spirit's reply. And with a voice laced with determination,

Puck: <Subaru. There is one possibility.>

Subaru: <Possibility?>

Puck: <It's a method I definitely would not have considered on my own, and plainly said even now I'm strongly adverse to it. This is a proposal I figured I would've never stated, even if I did think of it.>

Subaru braces himself for what proposal Puck is going to present. At the very least, this is the first time Subaru has ever heard Puck sound so serious when addressing someone other than Emilia.

Subaru: <What're you gonna make me do?>

Puck: <I'm the one who'll be doing it. But I will be having you do the cleanup afterwards.>

Subaru: <...It seriously feels like you're gonna say something insane, I'm kinda scared.>

117

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck: <I didn't think at all that'd I'd be relying on someone else so intensely, either. But, well... I think that you alone would stake your life, assuming it was for Lia's sake.>

Subaru takes a small breath, Puck's words packed with great emotion.

This what Puck though about Subaruand there's no room to doubt it. Assuming it were for Emilia's sake, then Natsuki Subaru could certainly risk his life.

Subaru silently indicates his assent. Puck, inside the crystal, surely nods.

And, with his voice quiet,

Puck:

<Tomorrow morning, I will make Lia break the contract. Should the relationship between myself and Lia terminate, then I'm sure that when she cries, you'll comfort her.>

118

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

CHAPTER 93: MUTUAL PROPOSALS

Puck: <If the contract between me and her terminates, can I maybe leave what comes after to you?>

Subaru: <...Depending on why you're doing this, yeah.>

Wetting his lips with his tongue, Subaru ignores the pressing dryness of his throat as he faces Puck. Being that he is inside the crystal, Puck's expression remains invisible to Subaru. But the vortex of emotion packed in his words convinces Subaru that these are no frivolous statements.

But, they're talking about contracts.

And even moreso, a contract between a spirit and a spirit practitioner, who put the greatest emphasis on the things.

Puck's declaration of one-sidedly MAKING THE CONTRACT BREAKthe motives behind this are nothing Subaru can suppose so easily.

Subaru: <The contracts between you and Emilia... put simply, it's an agreement between a spirit and a contractor, right? Making that break'd have to come with an appropriate penalty, yeah?>

Puck: <Yes, naturally.>

Subaru: <If my imagination's correct, the contractor is someone who borrows a spirit's power by upholding the contract. If the contractor can't uphold the contract, well this is obvious but the spirit loses pretext to lend the contractor their strength. ...So basically, making the contract break means...>

Puck: <That the tie between myself and Lia will disappear, pretty much.>

Puck offers no denials or amendments to Subaru's speculation, instead accepting it. But if he was affirming this, then that meant

Subaru: <Her being unable to borrow your power... means Emilia loses her combat strength. What's gonna happen's that she gets demoted to just being a sole, single girl.>

Puck: <That doesn't really have anything to do with it for you, does it? Regardless of whether Lia has power or not, you're the one not wanting to let her fight. Does look like the disagreement around how Lia herself thinks about it got you down, though.>

Subaru: <Guh... That's, not wrong, no. But my feelings and that stuff doesn't matter to this. All this blah blah about combat power's unrelated to the core of the problem. What's important here is... what will happen with Emilia, when you're not with her anymore.>

Puck's absence was, to Emilia, equivalent to losing her mental support.

If what Puck's said so far is truth, then the deep parts of Emilia's heart have noticed that Puck isn't actually sleeping. The delicate bond between them has not been severed.

But even with this slight link between them in tact, Emilia is haggard and cornered. So much so that she gets entirely dependant on Subaru, saying she won't leave his side.

119

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

If that was what being truly devoid of her connection with Puck meant, then

Subaru: <It wouldn't be strange for Emilia to lose mental equilibrium on the spot. That has to be one of the top three things you don't want to see, either. What're you plotting.>

Puck: <There's no plots in it. I'm only doing what will push things into the best form for Lia. I'm not going to do and I can't do things that she doesn't wish for.>

Subaru: <Emilia is wishing for her contract with you to be annulled?>

Puck: <That's wrong, Subaru. The loss of our contract is nothing more than a side-product for granting her wishes. Lia's present wish is, without any doubt, to overcome the tomb's TRIAL. There's no need to doubt that, and you're safe to believe it.>

Subaru has no suspicions regarding that point, either.

Emilia's been unable to face her past, instead witnessing a false past as the TRIAL repeatedly breaks heris Puck's hypothesis, which also does not invite doubts on said point, supposing Subaru believes it.

Subaru believed, more than anyone else, that Emilia's nature was nothing so diminutive as to only PRETEND to be attempting to overcome the obstacles before her.

Subaru's agreement should not be transmitting to Puck in words. But nevertheless, Puck's mental voice lowers slightly, as if communicating straight to Subaru's heart.

Puck: <I'm certain that if she learns I'm gone, Lia will break down. So bad that she'll be crying like a child, wailing, chaotic.>

Subaru: <>

Puck: <But, I think that's okay. This situation where her surface heart believes I'm gone, and inner heart knows I'm here, in itself is what's unnatural. When both her heart's front and back understand that I'm gone... when the obvious shackles sealing her past come undone, then for the first time, Lia will be able to face her heart.>

Puck's words are quiet, but packed with multitudinous emotion.

Compassion, sorrow, joy, and abounding devotion, ready to sacrifice everything to his most dear.

Subaru: <Then, losing the bond with you... so that she can face herself, will let her move forward?>

Puck: <Mhm, yeah. I'm sure there'll be many more painful things, but I know Lia's a girl who can persevere through them.>

Subaru: <You're not gonna be with her any more, y'know. You aren't worried? You want to be with your daughter, infinitely soft-hearted and always putting herself second to her disadvantage, protecting her. Isn't that what you think?>

Subaru himself is starting to lose sight of what exactly it is he's saying.

Should Puck's proposal produced the desired results, then absolutely it will beckon in the

120

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

developments that Subaru is hoping for. Puck is exactly right, the existence or nonexistence of Emilia's combat ability is completely unrelated to this for Subaru, who is anguishing to keep her from the battleground.

Subaru can happily welcome Puck's proposal, and has no reason to hinder it. And still.

Puck: <Though, my thoughts were that lately, you haven't been very happy about me being at Lia's side.>

Subaru: <You're not wrong to think that. ...With the stuff that's happened between us, your stocks're at an ultimate low for me, and they're not gonna be climbing so easily. One decision where it's like you're sacrificing yourself for Emilia isn't going to clear away this embittered distrust.>

Puck: <That certainly was a statement, that made me kind of sad.>

Subaru: <But.>

This ironing out of mutual opinions is assuredly not inaccurate. Subaru doubted he could simply swallow down Puck's words, or that his negative impression of him would change so easily. These words Subaru spoke were not falsehood. But,

Subaru: <I'm envisioning Emilia there without you, in sadness. And I know best, so much it's painful, that you're the biggest presence there is for Emilia. That's what you are and so, I...>

Puck: <>

His words not proceeding, Subaru proceeds only with a vortex of indefinite thought. Puck too preserves the mental silence, quietly waiting for Subaru's vague ideas to take shape.

But the more panicked he gets, his answer loses more of its definition, turning it into something uncertain.

Subaru: <I'm. So, for me, you're...>

Puck: <Your presence is a big part of why I can make this decision, Subaru.>

Murmurs Puck. The whisper in his skull prompts Subaru to raise his head, looking, stunned, at the green crystal.

Puck: <As you said, Lia's more important than anything to me. I want to always be watching over her, and I want to be at her side to lend her my strength. Even now, when I determine it's for her sake that I be gone, those feelings stay unchanged.>

Subaru: <But then, why?>

Puck: <Because you're here.>

Subaru: <>

Subaru's breath feels to stop.

121

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck: <In this place... no, in this world, you're the only one who can stake their life for Lia like me. Through the time we've spent together until now, you've proved that. Lia would... if you exclude me, then you're probably who she'd rely on most. That's a definite. You can believe that.>

Subaru: <Even, said... I don't have amazing powers like you do, and I'm not incredible enough to blast the obstacles out of her way with brute force. The best I can do is puzzle things over with her, let her vent about her troubles... that's all. You really think you can task me with what comes after, when that's all I can do?>

Puck: <It looks like you're misunderstanding, I'm not saying I want you to replace me. The things only I can do are things only I can do. And taking the reverse of that, I'm expecting that the things only you can do will help Lia.>

Puck's words continue, not stopping at all.

He blocks Subaru's routes of escape, so as not to lose the time for the decision on Emilia.

Puck: <Even without me, Lia is much stronger than you. And that is definitely in the sense of the STRENGTH you're talking about. But, just as you know, she's weak. She definitely has this WEAKNESS that I'm talking about. And I want you to give her support for that weakness.>

Subaru: <...When the contract severs and your connection breaks, what happens to you?>

Puck: <That I can be material like this is because of my pass with Lia. If that connection is broken, then I'll have to keep constantly materialized to preserve my existence. ...But, me continually being materialized means that I'm consuming the inexhaustible mana in the atmosphere dry. If you saw my true form, I'd suppose it'd definitely shock you, Subaru.>

The TRUE FORM Puck is talking about probably means when he is giant. The apex of quadrupeds, monster of raging blizzard, beast of the end.

Indeed, if he has to remain in that form constantly, then there is no way he could continue existing.

Subaru: <So, then... you mean you'll be erased?>

Puck: <It's different from being erased. I'll just go back to being the small existence I was, before I contracted Lia. Somewhere with a deep connection to me... probably, it'll be Elior Forest. I'll go to sleep inside something there as my anchor, waiting for the time I'm awoken.>

Subaru: <Awoken... meaning?>

Puck: <By Lia, of course. This is where the contract between me and her ends. But if a time comes where she needs to make a new contract, and she's going to choose a spirit partner... I know she'll choose me again. That's what I believe.>

Feeling that Puck spoke this in a cheery tone, Subaru swallows his breath.

This was a decision where he might end up disappearing, but Puck's voice hosts not a fragment of unease. His personality is fundamentally optimisticbut irrelevant to this, as not even a shade of anxiety cloaks his voice.

122

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

Puck had not a single doubt that Emilia would choose him again.

Emilia, who would lose her contract with Puck and have to face her past. It does not even occur in his imaginings that Emilia would fail to fully accept her past, and be crushed.

She would overcome her past, and when she next sought a contract, would choose him.

As far as Puck was concerned, that was definite.

He does not doubt Emilia's strength, does not doubt the time he spent together with her, and so he is capable of choosing to sever his connection with her.

Subaru: <>

For an always-wavering Subaru, it is a bond so strong and firm, it's dazzling.

It was his deep love and trust for Emilia that allowed Puck's heart to be iron.

Subaru: <And you're pushing it on me to comfort Emilia when she breaks down.>

And so Subaru speaks in desperation, his tone rather resentful. Puck seems to click his throat, his tone one of smiling,

Puck: <It really does pain my heart to do it. But... I'm entrusting my precious daughter to you, so I'd like you to at least overcome that much together.>

Subaru: <...I'll be taking that as you secretly accepting me as Emilia-tan's partner.>

Puck: <If I blow you up right here, then I guess I'll have think over a lot of issues again.>

Subaru: <That is some insanely terrifying revenge, you shitty goddamn cat!!>

Replying to the extreme statement with rudeness, Subaru smiles just a little.

He defers to the depth Puck's feelings for Emilia. Although only slightly, this bantering from before the trench between them formed relaxes Subaru's mind a little.

There was also something Subaru had figured, hearing that severing Puck's contract with Emilia would distance him from this place. Temporarily assuming that this goes wellthen the equilibrium of the bet should shift more than a little.

Subaru: <I understand your plan. There's still some anxiety over whether it'll actually go as thought, but... I'll put on some feigned ignorance, and help you in your inductions.>

Puck: <I wonder what it must feel like, to manipulate the girl you love.>

Subaru: <The guilt's gonna crush me stop it. And besides if Emilia sincerely does understand about lots of these things, then... after it's over, she'll probably notice that she was spurred into this, too.>

Puck: <If that happens, she might hate you for being complicit with me. Scared?>

Subaru: <Well y'know what. When it's you you just have a teenage girl going, 'Don't put my dirty

123

ARC 4: ETERNAL CONTRACT PHASE 4

washing in along with my dad's!' level, our vectors of being hated are entirely different.>

Puck being hated was entirely a family problem, while Subaru being hated was a deeper, more life-threatening thing. Though Emilia would probably understand if Subaru spoke to her will full sincerity.

Even if he can convince her about the purposes behind it, of course Emilia isn't going to feel good about being induced into a better frame of mind. Surely, he would not be forgiven for that.

Subaru: <This late, huh. You're really saying that this late, when I've done countless unforgivable things and made her cry countless times, I don't have the resolve to do this?>

Puck: <>

Subaru: <I'm accepting your terms, Puck. I'll be cleaning up your mess. If Emilia breaks down crying tomorrow morning... then she'll be doing it in my arms.>

Puck: <Mhm. Well then, let's see me count on you for that. I think this is going to wind up pushing lots of troubles down the line onto you as well, though.>

A slight sense of shame enters Puck's voice as Subaru accepts the proposal.

Closing one eye, Subaru begins with a,

Subaru: Well then,

Subaru: <Are you open to considering a proposal from me, as well?>

Puck: <...A proposal.>

Subaru: <Yeah, a proposal. Don't worry. I'm same as you, acting while thinking to secure a future which'll be good for Emilia.>

Subaru thumps his hand to his chest. Puck's silence indicates his acceptance.

Subaru: <There's some things I wanna ask, and things I wanna test once I've asked them. Emilia could wake up, so let's keep this short.>

124