The Unfamiliar Ceiling, The Endless Hallway
For Subaru, it was a far cry from waking up from a bad night’s sleep.
When he opened his eyelids, what met his eyes was a dim white glow that was seemingly artificial. The ceiling was unfamiliar to him, and the crystals on it somehow managed to emit a faint glow that illuminated the interior of the room.
Subaru had a reputation of being good at waking up, so once he woke up, he would immediately become wide awake.
“…The pillow feels different.”
As he rolled over, he noticed that the feeling under his head was different than usual.
Moreover, the softness of the bed couldn’t have been possible on the futon he was used to sleeping on. In fact, the floor underneath his futon had become discolored because he never folded it and put it away after waking up.
“And it smells super nice, too. Ha-ha-ha…it smells like the sun! Well…it’s really the smell of lice that were burnt to death in the sun, isn’t it…?”
That was one of the top three pieces of knowledge he didn’t want to know in his life.
I’m going to enjoy the stench of death to the fullest!, he thought, and then he opened his eyes. He then raised himself up halfway and looked around the room, which was instantly recognizable as a room for the upper class.
The bed was roomy enough for about five people, and the room around the bed was at least 350 square feet in size. Using a 350 square foot room as a bedroom would be a complete waste of space. However… “Given the size of the mansion…that’s probably not the case, huh.”
Fully awake, Subaru got off the bed and lightly turned himself around to check his current condition.
First of all, he checked his shoulders, then the various joints in his arms and legs, and then his cardiovascular and endurance strength by lifting his legs and doing squats, and lastly, while taking a breather due to being out of breath, he pulled up the clothes he was wearing to see if he had any wounds from before.
“Stomach wound…it’s gone! No bruises, of course, and no scar from getting disemboweled, either. And zero stitches, so the doctors of this world are excellent! Great! No one would sweep me off my feet if I had any scars, after all.”
Cooking, laundry, sewing, and other household chores were all things Subaru Natsuki would rather avoid, but he at least had potential in them.
Subaru was pretty tough due to all the exercises he’d done at home, and he was able to eat a lot of food as a result. I wonder if a rich official or minister would take me as a bride…
“I’m definitely not going to do that…Anyway…”
The room was as simple as he initially thought. —In addition to the bed, there was a houseplant by the window, some furniture, and paintings on the walls.
Subaru wasn’t sure if it existed in this world, but he couldn’t find a clock anywhere—or anything that looked like a clock—and he couldn’t find anything that looked like a calendar, either.
“The question is…how long was I unconscious…? Well, maybe five hours?”
Subaru touched his chin and measured the approximate time elapsed by the feel of his stubble.
It was his secret technique that allowed him to check the time quite accurately without a clock. From the feel of his stubble clock, it had been roughly five or six hours since he’d last checked. In other words, it would be around the time the first day after being summoned to another world had come to an end.
Thinking that far, Subaru once again touched his belly. “Anyway…does that mean I avoided activating Return by Death this time?”
That was the question he had been trying to avoid thinking about ever since waking up, but then he ultimately decided to face the reality that he couldn’t look away from.
Up to the point of losing consciousness, Subaru recalled the events leading up to each Death.
“First, I died in a haphazard manner; the second time I died bravely; the third time I died like a dog; and the fourth time I died from a stray projectile after getting thrown into a fight to the death—is what I would be saying if I actually died, but I’m glad I was able to stay alive. If I were to die like that again, I’d be on track to becoming a mob in no time.”
All of the causes of Death were charming like that.
On the bed in the large and uncomfortable room—with the sheets and comforter thrown into a heap—Subaru sat cross-legged in silent contemplation.
There was no doubt that this was different from the site of the usual restart point since the activation of Return by Death had been avoided. There was a one-in-ten thousand percent chance that this was the home of the fruit stall owner where he always ended up before when he Returned by Death, but the only thing he could think of at the moment was, “It’s either Reinhard’s house or Emilia-tan’s house.”
They were the only two people who were friendly to Subaru and gave the impression that they would own a large mansion like this.
Hopefully it’s the latter, Subaru thought with his own wishful thinking.
The treatment of his abdominal wound—this was probably due to Emilia’s magic. If the treatment had not been carried out immediately on the spot, Subaru’s death would have been difficult to avoid, and above all, his male mind wanted to believe that the beautiful girl was the one who had healed him.
“It’s not that I have an issue with that handsome knight healing me, but to have a gorgeous girl heal you is any man’s dream, right…? This is a different world, after all!”
He then stroked the sheets with his fingers and made feminine gestures while daydreaming.
Then Subaru bounced on the bed and used the springs to land on the floor. “For now, I’d like to figure out where I am.”
“Then it’s the beginning of a new adventure…no, no, no, no, don’t dread these changes! Get back on track, me! —Are you really going to go back to those reclusive days when you were a pain in the ass who didn’t want to do anything for himself?! Do you really want to go back to that kind of thing where you just eat and play games and watch anime and go to bed at the time you want to go to bed and check out what’s on the internet and post comments occasionally…actually, yes, it would be nice to go back, wouldn’t it?”
It wasn’t that Subaru had any desire to be summoned to another world or anything.
It wasn’t that he was dissatisfied with the shut-in life in the first place. It’s just that he never thought that the days that passed by were boring or wasted, and to be able to sleep as long as he wanted to was all he needed as a shut-in.
“I do feel a little bad for my parents, who had to deal with me…but it’s almost like they just let me do whatever I wanted without getting in the way.”
He exercised, ate meals with his family at the table, went out occasionally, and even begged for an allowance. It was a relatively normal life for a teenager except for not going to school, so it would perhaps be better to call Subaru a drop-out rather than a shut-in.
“What a shocking fact, huh. If I didn’t have the opportunity to look back at myself in another world, maybe I wouldn’t have realized that I wasn’t a real shut-in for the rest of my life…no way, maybe that’s why I was summoned here…?”
Subaru firmly decided that he would be careful about self-identifying in the future. He wouldn’t want to be easily identified as a shut-in and have to deal with the anger of the ‘World Shut-in Association’ or whatever it was called.
“I suppose all the members of the association are also shut-ins…and if that’s the case, then how in the world do they all cooperate with each other…?”
His thoughts kept going in circles as he pondered that question over and over again. With a twist of his head, Subaru tossed out the entire investigation into that matter with “It doesn’t even matter” and crept toward the door.
Ideally, it would have been preferable for Subaru to have an encounter with someone who had come to see him while he was killing time—someone who would also be able to provide an explanation of the current situation.
“Or I’d wake up and hear, ‘Are you awake?’ from a beautiful girl sitting by my bedside who had nursed me back to health. I mean, isn’t that’s normal? If you were summoned and the beautiful girl who summoned you isn’t by your side—that’s a pretty big disappointment for the one who was summoned and means something went terribly wrong…”
In any case, what he should appreciate was that, for now, as promised by the common clichés of otherworld-fantasy, the people he meets should all be beautiful.
At any rate, there were only five named characters who he was acquainted with. The three hoodlums couldn’t be counted since they were essentially uninteresting mobs. And another one was an old man with a wrinkled face. But. “Felt looked like she could shine if she were cleaned up a bit, not to mention Emilia-tan and Reinhard. Elsa is… Oooh hell no, my fingertips are starting to shake just thinking about her!”
Subaru’s trauma gauge had shot up, so he concluded that she should be excluded from the list.
He could admit that she was beautiful if only in appearance, but when her addiction to killing and disemboweling people was added to that… “That’s what we call ‘gap moe’!” —That was something that couldn’t be ignored just because she was pretty.
“OK! Now that I’ve figured out what I want to do, I’m going to stop procrastinating and start my journey… Starting something new is always super exciting!”
After he casually whispered that, Subaru carefully turned the doorknob and opened the door.
The chilly air from outside flowed into the room and crept over his bare feet, causing him to let out a “Wah!”
Outside the room was a long hallway painted in warm colors. There were long stretches of walls on either side, and he could see similar doors dotted along the way. All of the rooms had probably been constructed similarly to the room he’d slept in. —With this many rooms in the 350 square foot class, this must have been a more luxurious mansion than he had previously imagined. He couldn’t help but think of the status of the owner of this mansion, and then he cleared his throat. “The only thing I can say is, wow. It’s super spacious. But with all this space, I wonder where all the people are?”
Walking barefoot down the hallway with floors made out of a smooth, polished material—similar to the floor of his school—Subaru couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the quietness of the hallway.
“This is even more quiet than the room. Almost too quiet…to the point where I’m afraid of making a sound…”
Normally he’d be shouting, “Is anyone here?!” It was in his nature to do as much as he could in whatever circumstances he found himself in, but under the current circumstances, it didn’t feel safe enough to do so.
At any rate, Subaru didn’t have a shred of understanding of his current situation at this point in time.
He had been sure that he was in the home of a benefactor, but it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that after losing consciousness, Elsa may have organized a large army consisting of 100,000 men to get revenge and captured him while he was asleep.
If that were the case, it was Elsa’s side that had captured Subaru, and the mansion would quickly change from a good-natured millionaire’s mansion to the hideout of a group of assassins.
“Maybe I should just wait for something to happen after all? I should just go back to my room right now and offer a prayer to God while trembling on my knees.”
While looking at the furnishings that also adorned the hallway, Subaru hummed nervously as he began to plan his escape.
The paintings on display were more like the landscapes in the room, but many of the paintings in the hallway were quirky and abstract. As Subaru looked at the geometric patterns, he thought to myself, Hmmm, so the brushstrokes went this way and that way… as if he were a know-it-all.
“Well, I’m not going to let the flag slip away because of that weak-ass thinking. I already decided on a course of action. As if I swore an oath. I don’t remember making an oath or who I made an oath to, but I’ll keep that in the back of my mind and act on it.” Erasing the option to go back, Subaru walked off with the goal of finding people for now.
Right or left—without much hesitation, he chose the right. This was because he remembered seeing a conversation in a manga that said, ‘There are many traps on the left, hee-hee-hee,’ which was reason enough.
The distinction between right and left changed depending on which room you left, but Subaru only realized that after walking for a while, so he just went along with it anyways.
“Oh well. Everything looks alike and I still can’t see any sign of anyone.”
He hadn’t even reached the end of the hallway yet or saw a place to turn into, and after another five doors, Subaru was baffled.
There would be a limit to how long it could be. A minute or two might not sound like a long time, but the distance he’d traveled in that time was easily 1,000 feet.
It wasn’t normal for there to be a hallway that went on for 1,000 feet without seeing the end of it.
“I’m not going to be able to get a good idea of what’s going on,” he said, scratching his head. The worst thing that could happen is that he would have to return to the room he came from.
“Huh?” With a bare voice, Subaru deepened the angle of his neck in further confusion.
Behind him, from where he had just come from—the problem is that he couldn’t see the end of that hallway either, assuming it was in the same condition.
“Didn’t I already see this painting when I first left the room…?”
He’s pretty sure he remembered joking about the brushwork or something like that.
It was possible that they had the exact same artwork on display, but it would be in bad taste to display the same artwork outside of every room. In other words, “I mean, to put it more bluntly…I’m on an infinite loop.”
Perhaps it just felt like he’d moved down a hallway to some extent and was simply transitioning to the other side of the map? Or there was a moving floor contraption that subverted the clichés of otherworld-fantasy and operated so casually that Subaru didn’t notice it.
“With the whole moving-floor thing, it’s totally going to screw up the spirit of the time period. Since Return by Death is already part of the story, does that mean that it has an affinity for looping things, perhaps?”
After speaking cleverly to no one in particular, Subaru opened the door to the nearest room. It was a simple 350 square foot room with a bed and basic furniture inside. In other words, the very room where Subaru had come from.
“What the heck is this supposed to mean? That it’s useless to move around, and I’m supposed to just quietly stay put?”
—So this is how they limited Subaru’s movements after he woke up. He felt like this was a total waste of time and magic, but it may be that they had a plan to deprive him of the energy to resist by showing the difference in power.
“Well, now that I have a basic understanding of what this thing is, it’s really a clever way to sap my spirit, huh. There is no reason why I wouldn’t be shocked by the creation of such a mysterious space, if I think about it in a normal way…”
He stretched his arms, legs, and hips with an “Mmm.” Then he put his hands on the wall to firmly loosen his Achilles tendons, successfully warming up his muscles for his upcoming actions.
“My usual mode of action would be to jump into bed like, Hey! I’m just gonna chill until someone comes along…, but not this time! If they think this is enough to make me give up, then they are in for a big surprise!”
He crouched in the middle of the hallway and assumed a starting position.
Get set, ready—
“As expected, after sleeping for half a day, I’m full of energy!”
After a not-so-cool boast of his amazing amount of energy after getting a lot of sleep, Subaru started running as fast as he could.
He definitely wasn’t as fast as Felt, and frankly, he felt like even Old Man Rom would give him a run for his money.
His stamina wasn’t anything special, and his 100-meter dash was so disappointing that he got out of breath at the 70-meter mark, but in this moment at least, he felt like he could sprint like an Olympic sprinter.
Run, run, run. —He kept internally thinking this to push himself forward.
The end of the hallway was still out of sight, and he kept returning to the same starting point no matter how much he ran. It was like it was mocking his determination and telling him ‘Resistance is futile’.
However, Subaru did not stop running.
As if to show with his attitude that the only thing an ordinary man could do was to keep on running straight over and over again.
Subaru didn’t care if the hallway was just a forgotten, unused place in the mansion, or that it was a stranger’s mansion, or that he had just been disemboweled half a day ago, or that he felt like he needed to take care of a little business sooner or later.
“No, that last one isn’t good! That’s not good! Oh man, I’m suddenly having a raging urge to pee! And number one and number two feel like they wanna come out at the same time!”
The boy parts of Subaru begin to squeal and the dashing form of an Olympic sprinter from earlier is nowhere to be found. The posture in which he ran through the air devolved into a woman’s running posture in which his upper body swayed as he squeezed his inner thighs together.
However, such trivial differences in Subaru’s running style did not stop the world from mocking his efforts.
The repetition of this maliciousness eventually slowed down Subaru’s speed.
His shoulders shook loudly, and he breathed roughly. A lonely battle with even sweat on his forehead, and, unable to gain anything from it, Subaru squatted down on the spot. “I give up. Let’s just do it here.” He threw everything away and put his hands on the garment that protected his lower abdomen.
One could say that his dignity as a human being was about to be lost. Not being able to go to the bathroom in the proper place made him feel no better than a wild dog or cat.
But he refused to feel like his dignity was being lost. This wasn’t enough to make his heart falter.
“Moreover, it seems like I’ve discovered a new kink… This kind of abuse feels kinda good…” He said, with a fresh smile on his face for the first time since being summoned to another world. He squatted down in the hallway. At the very least, he’d stopped at the end of the hallway, which showed he at least had a little bit of reason left.
And… “Subaru Natsuki, ready to g—huh?”
Just as he was about to say, “Ready to go,” a change occurred in front of Subaru’s eyes.
The image of the hallway, which had remained the same no matter how much he ran, suddenly distorted in Subaru’s vision.
The transformation of the world occurring in front of his eyes was akin to crumpling a piece of paper and then stretching it back out.
Subaru blinked as if to confirm it was actually happening after the wrinkles had been fully stretched, and then stood up, holding back the urge to urinate that had involuntarily retracted.
“I don’t really understand it, but…is everything gonna be alright now?”
When he looked at his surroundings again, he could see that the world had changed. He could clearly see the end of the hallway in addition to other hallways he could turn into.
The abstract painting Subaru had seen many times was in front of him, and the room he had woken up in was right in front of the painting.
Subaru was sure he had been returned to his starting point, and he seemed to have broken out of the loop as well. He wasn’t entirely sure what caused this to happen, but. “So it’s essentially because I tried to go to the bathroom in the hallway. That’s a complicated flag… It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice normally. Whoever thought of it, I’m sure they’re an evil genius.”
“Well, now that I’ve escaped the loop, why don’t I just go back to the room and go to sleep…”
Scratching the back of his head, Subaru looked back at the first door—however, a sudden chill swept through the hallway as he did so. It wasn’t like it conveyed any words, but the feelings put into it were rather straightforward. —It was as if someone was facepalming somewhere.
“Whoever it is, I know someone’s out there telling me to go back! —Yeah yeah, okay! I’ll go!”
After throwing an angry yell at the cause of the endless loop, Subaru began walking once again. It would have been possible to just do his business there, but that wouldn’t have advanced the event, and finding a bathroom was what mattered most right now.
“In other words, for the sake of protecting my dignity, I have no choice but to proceed. —I mean, whoever this is is too good, so I’m not going to back down!”
With a determined look on his face, he affirmed his intentions. Yes, Subaru would keep fighting on because of his urge to pee.
Although the looping mechanism had been deactivated, the hallway was still wrapped in a strange atmosphere as if saying it wasn’t over yet. Subaru felt like that sensation was somewhat similar to the feeling he had when he saw Emilia use magic. This was his best guess as someone who couldn’t use magic, but the hallway seemed to be completely filled with it.
Unlike when he was dealing with the endless loop, it wasn’t even trying to be hidden this time. The magic user must have been quite confident in their abilities—to the extent that they could set up their evil schemes and confidently say, “Come on in, there’s a trap in here.”
“It’s not safe to proceed in the dark, or so they say. But being too cautious is the same as being a coward. And above all, I have a time limit…”
The tide had receded quite a bit now, but it was no secret that it would eventually return as a massive wave.
Gulping and wiping the sweat from his forehead, Subaru took the first step with determination.
The door was in front of him, and with a twist of the doorknob, said, “The hallway is always full of traps after breaking the loop. In a typical dungeon event like this, surprisingly enough, the first door is always the best choice.”
With that intuitive guess, he opened the door, and the response he received was, “…What a deeply bothersome guy, I suppose.”
He received a resentful look from a curly-haired little girl staring at him in an unfamiliar library.