Ram is Order
—They were deep within a forest.
They could not see well, and the pungent odor coming from the grass beneath their feet made it difficult to breathe.
The darkness that made it impossible to see more than a few meters ahead of them was caused by the branches above their heads blocking the sunlight. Subaru stepped on the ground and carefully fumbled his way through the foliage.
Even the passing of time seemed vague once you got lost in the darkness. Although he had gotten prepared at dawn and entered the forest early in the morning, it seemed as if the sun had already set, as he was covered in a veil of darkness.
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that now that I’m here.”
An increase in anxiety led to an increase in fatigue. But every time Subaru felt weak, a carefree voice scolded it away. He smiled wryly at the carefree voice’s words, then looked up at the person above him. “Dad, you always think about getting off from work on time. Don’t forget to shoot a flare for me before you get exhausted and head straight home.”
“Hey now, do I seem like a klutz who would abandon such an important duty? Lia told me to take good care of you. So I’ll do my besttt.”
The one who responded to Subaru with a chuckle was a cat spirit—Puck.
While touching his beard in a stately manner, he said, “But like,” he paused. “This place is pretty out there.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But we don’t need to start worrying just yet.”
“Hahaaa, you’re acting tough. You are a boy, after all.”
Subaru stuck out his tongue awkwardly when Puck saw through his tough guy act. Even if Puck was with him, he couldn’t forget how uneasy walking through the dark forest made him.
The reason why he was in such a situation was because—
“Curse you Ram… I’ll haunt you if I die because of this.”
Subaru clicked his tongue and said the name of the companion that had gotten separated from them—the last member of the peculiar trio that had entered the forest.
It was an urgent task for Subaru now to meet up with the arrogant and pompous pink-haired girl—Ram.
“It’s a superstition that dead souls turn into hollows, but hollows typically stay in the places they died in.”
“Is that something like location-bound ghosts?”
“It’d be funny if you turn into a hollow after getting lost in the forest and wander around it for eternity.”
“That would really suck!”
Thanks to the exchange of joking remarks and banter, he felt a little less uneasy. Subaru, feeling grateful for the consideration of the spirit floating next to him, wiped the sweat off his forehead and looked ahead.
He felt like he was saved by the fact that he wasn’t alone in the dark forest brimming with nothing but silence.
That was why he thought he needed to find the girl who was all alone in the forest as soon as possible.
It all started a day or so ago, going back to the afternoon before Subaru and gang entered the forest.
“Haa, it sure is peaceful…”
Subaru felt at home leaning his upper body sloppily against the dining table. He was dressed in a black servant’s uniform that hardly suited him. Though his initial feeling that he was dressing up as something he was not had somewhat faded away since he felt like he was a bit of a better fit now.
At least, that was what he thought when he assessed himself in the mirror every morning.
“You seem like you are in a reaaally good mood, Subaru. Did something good happen?”
Emilia, who had braided her hair, tilted her head next to Subaru. Her beautiful silver hair was made into a new hairstyle every day, which entertained him with a different kind of loveliness each day.
“If we were to talk about something nice, it would be that you are lovely as always, Emilia-tan. You are like a welcome rain that always fills me with newfound joy.”
“Am I, really that gloomy?”
“How on earth did you come to the conclusion that it was something like a rainy season from this conversation!?”
Pickup lines didn’t have any effect on Emilia, who was an airhead. Although, it was because she was like that that he could flirt with her like that.
“I think I’m getting addicted to not being taken seriously… No, I do want to be taken seriously, it’s just that a man’s heart is complicated and hard to understand…!”
“There you go again, worrying about things alone. Boys are difficult to understand… Oh, this tea tastes nice.” Ignoring Subaru, who was in agony over his unresolved feelings, Emilia gently brought the cup to her mouth and smiled after taking a sip.
The afternoon tea party at Roswaal Manor—it had become a routine to gather in the dining room in the afternoon and rest their bodies and souls. It was at the time of day when the servants would take a break from their work and Emilia would take a break from her studies. Those who had some time off would naturally head towards the dining room and take a little break together. It was a routine that had taken root sometime after Subaru had come to the mansion.
Of course, people would only do it when they had time for it, so it was rare for everyone in the mansion to gather at the same time. The regulars were Subaru, who would finish his work early in order to meet Emilia, and Emilia, who routinely took a break around this time.
It was difficult for everyone to attend the tea party, and today was no exception.
“Rem and Rosy are busy, so it can’t be helped, but Beako needs to socialize more.”
Subaru frowned at the thought of the young girl who never showed up even though she didn’t have anything to do.
Emilia put her hand on her mouth and laughed a little at his sullen face. “You two get along really well, and you always have her in your thoughts.”
“I think ‘get along well’ is a bit of a misnomer. It’s true that she is someone that I think about, but it needs to be worded differently…it’s like that feeling you get when dried shredded squid gets stuck in your teeth. Know what I mean?”
Emilia became further amused at Subaru’s evaluation that would have caused an argument if Beatrice had heard it, making him give a languid wry smile.
It happened when the two of them were enjoying the tea party together…
“—Seems like you are having a lot of fun.”
The voice that suddenly interrupted them in the dining room sounded somewhat cold and stiff. It had come from the girl standing at the entrance to the dining room after having opened both doors. She glanced at Subaru’s overly relaxed face with indifference, then said:
“While Ram was busy making tea cakes, you indulged in your lewd activity… Barusu, it seems like you’ve become someone important.”
“I was just having a little chat with Emilia-tan and that makes me lewd? Sis, you were the one who said you would be responsible for making the tea cakes, so doesn’t that make me not guilty?”
“Ram didn’t like the fact that you were taking things easy while she was working.”
“You’re just a tyrant…!”
Subaru goggled at the unreasonableness, and the girl—Ram—sneered, her eyes lacking even the slightest hint of charm. “Ram is just adding her personal bias to your job performance evaluation, even though she normally looks at things impartially.”
“If that’s true, then don’t add any unnecessary perspectives to it. Evaluate me as the person I am.”
“If Ram removes her personal bias from the current evaluation, then you’d have to start eating your tea cakes from the floor, Barusu.”
“Why is it that my rating goes down when you remove your bias!?”
Ram’s eyes seemed serious, and, unable to hide his dread, Subaru became outraged by it. Ignoring his complaints, she placed the plate with pastries on it on the table. As she did so, Subaru poured tea into the empty cups and prepared her portion in front of the chair opposite his. Emilia burst into laughter at the two who had finished setting everything up for the tea party.
“What happened, Emilia-tan? You’re making such a cute face.”
“It’s because you two are in sync even though you’re being spiteful. It was a little amusing looking at you guys.”
“It hurts, so at least sugarcoat it!” Subaru shouted at the girl, who seemed like she didn’t like it from the bottom of her heart, holding his chest. “But Emilia-tan made a good point too. Since the person who works with me the most is you, Sis. We split the chores up between us and do them every day, so it’s only natural that we’d be in sync a little, right?”
“Can you please reply after understanding the sentence properly!?”
She’s unapproachable as usual. I wanna praise myself for not getting disheartened.
Anyway, Subaru’s position at Roswaal Manor was something like this:
Ignored by Emilia, bitten by Beatrice, treated with scorn by Ram, and Rem was the only one who was extremely attached to him.
I think I’m in a really blessed situation.
“But it’s pretty cool to see pastries you made, Ram. I’ve seen Rem’s a lot, but I had no idea you were capable of making anything other than steamed potatoes, Sis.”
“You can talk gibberish when you are asleep, Barusu. Ram has told you before—Ram’s specialty is steamed potatoes. She doesn’t even know how to make pastries.”
“What were you making your younger sister who’s so busy she can’t even join the tea party do?” Subaru blurted out after he was indirectly told that she had gotten her sister to do it.
He recalled when Rem came to inform him of her not being able to join the tea party with a disappointed face. The taste of the pastry in his mouth was both pitiful and sweet.
“But seriously, this mansion would be fucked without Rem’s cooking. I’m not going to be haughty like you, Sis, since I know I’m in no position to criticize someone else’s cooking skills.”
Since I was without a doubt a parasite in my previous world. I was a supernova of the parasite society who skipped school, didn’t help with chores, and was unusually good at sewing and bedmaking.
Due to having such a background, Subaru wanted to change the topic and looked at Emilia.
Then Emilia, who was chewing on a pastry, covered her mouth and said, “Me? Ah-ha, Subaru, you might think that I’m someone who can’t cook, but I’m actually pretty good at it. I used to live alone… Well, Puck was with me too, but I lived alone for a pretty long time. A lot of things are a doddle for me.”
“You don’t hear people say ‘things are a doddle’ in this day and age… And how should I put this… What you’re saying makes sense, but it just doesn’t seem plausible knowing you, Emilia-tan.”
That was all due to Emilia actually being a klutz even though she tried to give off the image of a capable woman. After spending weeks with her in the mansion, his original impression of her changed drastically. His viewing of her as being a genius that was strong in the beginning soon faded away due to occasionally seeing her goofy and childish side in their daily life. But even so, her honest, kind, and straightforward personality hadn’t changed, and he could definitely say it was one of her good qualities.
Leaving that aside, it’s also true that she has the aura of a ‘Beauty that was somewhat of a klutz’. Like the recent revelation of her being tone deaf, I feel like there are many more hidden secrets lying around.
Emilia puffed her cheeks in disapproval at Subaru’s worried gaze. “Mmmm, you look like you don’t trust me. Hmph, alright. If you are doubting me so much, then I’ll make you eat my cooking next time. You’ll be reaaally surprised, so be prepared.”
“Huh? I wasn’t aiming for it, but got a home-cooked meal event? Am I going to die?”
One of Subaru’s bad habits was to start expecting the worst if something good happened to him. In fact, ever since he got summoned this world, it couldn’t be denied that good events would often get cancelled out by bad events. Most of the time, the bad event preceded the good event, so he became anxious whenever a good one happened first.
“Subaru, are you okay? You look troubled. Does your tummy hurt?”
“I-I’m fine. And even if my stomach burns, I’ll finish the food you cook no matter what. Trust me.”
“Can you at least try to have a little faith in me!?”
Subaru made Emilia sulk with his good-for-nothing imagination. Ram would usually go on the offensive here—but there was no sign of that no matter how much he waited.
“Hm? Miss Ram? Did something happen?”
He looked back, feeling let down, and saw Ram staring down at the tea. She took a sip, wetting her lips with it as if to confirm something, and then looked at Subaru.
That look sent chills down his spine. The sharpness of her ever-sharp gaze was stronger this time.
“Hey, Miss Ram, did something unpleasant happen…?”
“Barusu, which tea shelf did you pull this tea from?”
“Tea? Oh, you mean the tea leaves! Oh, you know, the ones hidden deep inside the tea shelf. It seemed like a really expensive one, so I snuck it out…hot hot hot hot hot!?”
After Subaru reported the results of his treasure hunt, his treasure got poured all over him. As he rolled around the floor due to having hot tea poured all over his head, Emilia hurriedly emptied the contents of a water jug on him. It was a disastrous scene where Subaru was lying on the floor, soaking wet with tea and water.
Emilia glared at Ram for her sudden outburst of violence. “What a horrible thing to do, Ram! Subaru’s clothes and the floor are all dirty now!”
“Don’t just worry about things getting dirty, worry about my burns too!”
But Ram didn’t react to Emilia’s scolding that had missed the point nor Subaru’s screams. Emilia and Subaru looked at each other at that.
“Hey, Miss Ram, are you going mad? What are you…?”
“How dare you, Barusu.” Ram couldn’t stifle the anger and agitation in her trembling voice.
So, Subaru couldn’t say, “You’re the one at fault here.” back at her. He couldn’t do anything but look at the equally confused Emilia.
Apparently, the situation didn’t seem to just end with being punished for using the hidden tea without permission. The tea was treasured—he was right about perceiving it as such—but the reason it was treasured wasn’t due to its taste, quality, or price, it was due to its efficacy.
“That tea has the ability to boost mana circulation in the body. It’s effective on Ram’s old scar.”
“By old scar you mean…”
“Oh, aah…I see. It’s that scar…”
Subaru was the one who got shaken by Ram’s bold answer. Ram and Rem were born as Oni’s, which was a demi-human race. Their outward appearance was the same as a human’s apart from one thing, which was that a white horn grew from their forehead when they got excited. But Ram was someone who had lost her horn and called herself hornless. Subaru hadn’t heard how she had lost her horn, but he knew it was a rather sensitive topic. That was why he felt nothing but guilt after hearing that the tea he had used without permission had medicinal properties that helped with her old scar.
“Where did you get that tea from? It’s completely my fault this time. I’ll pay you whenever I get the money, so…”
“Unfortunately, the tea that has an effect on Ram’s scar isn’t easily available. That’s a special product that Ram has made by blending medicinal ingredients together and adjusting the taste to her liking.”
“Ugh, seriously? By the way…how bad would you feel without it?”
“Not bad at all, Ram would just have to endure sleepless nights for the foreseeable future.”
“I’m really sorryyy!?”
It was more important than Subaru had thought, so he couldn’t help but prostrate himself and apologize. He’d made a grave mistake without thinking about it—it was as if he had done something that was a microcosm of human history. That blunder would be extremely hard to fix.
“So, where can the ingredients for that special blend be found?” asked Subaru, sitting upright on the floor, since he couldn’t not take responsibility.
Ram gave a faint smile while crossing her arms and looking down at Subaru. That smile gave him chills for some reason. “I see, so you do intend on helping Ram with collecting the ingredients, right?”
“Yeah, since it’s my fault… But Sis, why do you have a scary look in your eyes?”
“Rest assured, it’ll be easy. All of them can be hunted in the vicinity of the mansion.”
Subaru wanted it to be just his imagination that he had heard ‘hunted’ instead of ‘collected’ being used for the ingredients.
In the end, it was decided that they would leave the next day to gather the ingredients for the special tea.
It was a hasty decision, but the burden on Ram’s body was accumulating with each passing day. That’s why it was better to be hasty. Fortunately, the ingredients for the tea could be found in the mountain forest near the mansion, so it was a daylong hike for Subaru.
“It would have been the best if Rem could go with you, but…”
“Oh well. You aren’t like Ram, you know. The mansion wouldn’t be able to function if you left for a day. It’s what they call being the right man for the job. I’m the right man, but I’m not sure if going to the mountain is the right job for me.”
It was so early in the morning that dawn had yet to arrive, and four figures had gathered at the entrance hall of the mansion. Subaru and Ram, who were about to depart to the mountain, and Emilia and Rem, who were seeing them off.
As mentioned earlier, Emilia and Rem were unable to accompany them due to the circumstances in the mansion. For that reason, Rem couldn’t stop worrying since last night, and even now, she was giving instructions to Ram.
“Sister, Sister. Please take care of Subaru in the mountains. And Subaru, don’t carelessly touch any suspicious-looking leaves there, you will get rashes. Be careful not to step on the moss on the rocks, it’s going to make you slip. And a spell to stop you from crying if you fall…”
“I’ll endure it! I won’t cry even if I fall! I’m not that much of a troublemaker!”
“Alright, alright, I get it, Rem. Ram needs to spit on Barusu’s knee if he cries, right?”
“Don’t make it sound so dirty!”
Rem was filled with worry and had become overprotective, and even Ram’s reply to her was perfunctory in the latter half.
Emilia was next to them listening to their conversation and hiding her yawn with her hand. “I think it’ll be fine since Ram is with you, but don’t push yourself too hard. You probably won’t encounter witchbeasts since there is a barrier, but watch out for the weather and the insects. It might swell up if you get stung.”
“I’ll let you gently stroke the bump, so it’s alright. And though he’ll be a great help, is it really ok to lend Puck to us?” asked Subaru, the pendant that Emilia usually wore around his neck.
The crystal stone giving off a green glow was where her contracted spirit—Puck—resided. It was a form of insurance for the two who were going to go into the mountains that Emilia had given to Subaru out of worry.
“I made a request last night, so it’s fine. And even if Puck stays here, he’ll just interrupt my studies as usual. So it’s far more reassuring if he stays by your side.”
“Well, well if that’s the case, then I’ll take you up on that and borrow your pet cat.”
Subaru smiled wryly and flicked the pendant with his finger.
The spirit sleeping in there is supposed to come out whenever he wakes up. I’ll rely on his powers on the mountain.
“I don’t think anything bad will happen, but if something does happen, Puck will let me know. I’ll immediately know where you are when he does, and Rem will definitely go help you, so don’t worry.”
“You know, it makes people feel guilty when they have to call for rescue after getting lost in the mountains, so I’ll be careful.”
Subaru thanked Emilia’s thoughtfulness and tapped on the ground with the toe of his well-worn sneakers. He was dressed in a jersey, taking into account that he would be hiking in the mountains. If he threw in a bag to put the ingredients he collected into, the Backpacker Subaru would be complete.
“Barusu, are you ready? We’ll leave soon.”
“Yeah, yeah. As you wish, Sis.” Subaru responded to Ram, who spoke to him in her usual tone, then turned to the still-sleepy Emilia. “Alright. I’ll be going then. Rem, I hate troubling you like this, but please take care of everything today.”
“It’s alright. Your lunch is in the bag, so please eat it with my sister on the way there.”
“As a matter of fact, the lunch I made is in there too” Emilia added. “I bet you can guess which one it is.”
Subaru and Ram set off for the mountains in the morning mist, seen off by Emilia, who was in a slightly panicked mood, and Rem, who had a worried look on her face until the very end.
“And about the ingredients for the tea…what exactly do you need?” Subaru asked, looking at Ram’s small back after they entered the mountain road instead of the city road. They had left the mansion and veered away from the path leading to Earlham Village that they were used to taking.
“There are four ingredients that we’ll need. First, the Mileajia Flower. It’s a rare flower, but it’s in the flower garden where you flirted with Lady Emilia, Barusu.”
“Wh-wha-wha-why do you know about that!?”
“We can get it later since we know where it is. The second one is inside the forest and called the Baloe Mushroom, which only grows on the roots of a specific tree. You dry it and grind it into powder. It’s poisonous by the way.”
“It’s poisonous!? Is it safe to consume!?”
“It’s okay, they’ll make you immune instead. And the third one is hard to get: the seed of a red fruit that only grows at the top of a Bork Sun Tree.”
“Ooh, finally an ingredient that really seems hard to get.”
“A Bork Sun Tree is a really tall tree. Its fruit, apart from the seeds, is extremely poisonous, so much so that your fingers will melt if you touch them with your bare hands. Be mindful of that.”
“It’s poison again! Are you the type that dies if you don’t ingest poisonous substances!?”
“There’s only a fine line between poison and medicine, and too much of a medicinal effect can turn into poison. Ram forgot to tell you, but meleajia’s aren’t poisonous, although they are insectivorous.”
“My beautiful memories of my time with Emilia-tan are being defiled by insectivorous flowers!”
Speaking of which, it sends shivers down my spine when I think of the fact that the tea I thought tasted good was made up of 75% that. It might have a nice effect on her horn scar, but I wonder if it has any adverse effects on a normal body.
“Am I gonna be okay after drinking this?”
“That’s what you will be using your entire day to prove, Barusu.”
“Gaah! I was being used as a test subject without realizing it!”
“Ram is joking. The effect appears right after you drink it. You would have died during the night if it was something harmful.”
“That isn’t a joke! Is it really safe!?”
He opened his mouth and attempted to cough up the tea he drank yesterday, but it had already been absorbed into his system. Subaru prayed that nothing bad would happen and then shifted his attention to the topic of ingredients. “So, what’s the last one? I’m getting a bad feeling about it already.”
“The last one is…well. Ram will keep it a secret until it is found. Consider it your punishment.”
“Can there be a greater punishment than drinking poison?”
“You drank it willingly, and you technically poisoned Lady Emilia as well.”
His sarcasm having been replied to with sarcasm, Subaru became quiet and didn’t say a word. Ram, who had been listing the names of poisonous things till now, was keeping the fourth ingredient under wraps.
The last ingredient could either be something totally normal or a horrifying substance so disgusting no one even wants to say its name. If these are the only two options, I don’t even wanna know which of the two it is, I just hope with all my heart that it is the first one.
“But you know, going into the woods reminds me of the time we went looking for Rem.”
“The time when you got bitten by dogs and were beautifully saved by Master Roswaal, right?”
“You aren’t wrong about it being a miserable and beautiful memory, but we won’t encounter witchbeasts this time, right? All I have in the gear department is my item bag and Meteor Knife.”
“Meteor Knife” was the name that Subaru gave to the knife he used. Many vegetables had fallen prey to Meteor Knife, but it had never been useful as a weapon. It would be better to shamelessly flee rather than fight a witchbeast with it.
“Don’t worry, nobody is counting on you to fight, Barusu. Ram doesn’t want to be scolded by Rem later…Why should Ram get scolded?”
“No, it’s that, I’m sorry. Oh, that’s it! Roswaal annihilated all the Wolgarms in the forest, right? So why do we need to worry about witchbeasts?”
“Wolgarms aren’t the only witchbeasts in the forest. Rather, now that there’s a vacancy, shouldn’t other witchbeasts be fighting over it now? There shouldn’t be any witchbeasts more dangerous than a Wolgarm, but if you do encounter one, all that’ll be left of you are your bones, Barusu.”
“I know that without being told. I don’t want to have anything to do with witchbeasts ever again. Ah well, I don’t think I’ll ever encounter them again as long as I do my best to lead a quiet and decent life.”
“Ram wonders why, but she feels like your wish won’t come true, Barusu.”
“It’s woman’s intuition.”
I wonder why the sound of ‘woman’s intuition’ is so compelling even though it’s just a hunch.
Subaru, feeling that things weren’t adding up, tilted his head at the doubt that came into his mind. “I was wondering, but what’s the difference between witchbeasts and normal animals?”
“—They are nothing alike.”
It wasn’t Ram who answered his question. The familiar voice had come from the glowing pendant on Subaru’s chest—from the pyroxene crystal from which light particles were overflowing, which then took on the form of a cat, materializing a spirit into the world.
The palm-sized kitten floated in front of Subaru’s eyes and spoke while giving his body a good stretch. “The difference between animals and witchbeasts when it comes to appearance is whether they have a horn or not. But there are animals with horns, so that’s not the only indicator, but witchbeasts always have a horn, you see. It’s better to keep that in mind.”
“Thank you for the explanation. And it seems like you woke up earlier than usual.”
“Lia told me to take good care of you. I can stay with you longer if I stay in my low-energy mode. Leave the livening up so it doesn’t get scary to me.”
“That definitely isn’t the job Emilia-tan entrusted you with.”
Puck made a random statement with his chest puffed. The cat then sat on Subaru’s shoulder and poked his cheeks with his paw while swinging his tail.
“Great Spirit, Ram is sorry you had to accompany us all this way.”
“Hmm, it’s okayy. Lia probably wants to relax while her parent isn’t keeping an eye on her.”
“What are you, a caring gentleman? And it’s pretty unusual that even Ram uses formal language with Puck.”
“It’s just for show.”
“I don’t dislike such honesty and straightforwardness.”
A straightforward Ram, a forgiving Puck, and Subaru smiling wryly at that.
If I calm down and think about it, this is a really rare trio. A combination that has never occurred in the mansion.
“I hope we don’t turn into the foolish trio. Emilia-tan told you about today’s objective, right? I’m counting on you.”
“Yeah, rest assured. If it starts raining, don’t hesitate to use me as an umbrella.”
“That’s a really limited usage, and I’m going to get soaked considering your size.” Subaru sighed after imagining putting a wet cat on his head. “Hey Ram, I’m really starting to see a lot of animal tracks on this path, do you have an idea where the ingredients we are looking for are?”
“It’s a stupid question. How many times do you think Ram has entered the mountain to collect the ingredients?”
“I was worried that Rem did this considering the daily chores. By the way, do you have the location on the map so that even I can understand…”
“Let’s start by drawing a map of your own in your mind.”
“So, you mean I need to experience things first. Alright, Boss.”
One of the ingredients was a secret, and on top of that, he was dependent on Ram’s memory for finding them all. He was obviously useless when it came to fighting, but he was also useless when it came to knowledge.
—Why was I even brought here? he wondered. “For carrying things and as comic relief…?”
“Oh, I won’t lose when it comes to livening things up. Ha-ha, let’s see who’s better,” said Puck in a carefree tone as Subaru thought about his role, leaving aside who was responsible for the current situation.
That voice sounded too carefree, so he crushed Puck by tilting his head.
“Oh, it feels good. Take this, and that.”
“Meow, meow, meow.”
Although he wasn’t used to hiking, Subaru liked the sensation of the fur against his cheek, so he continued to hike up the mountain he wasn’t used to hiking while hearing Puck’s squeals.
“—Haaa.” Ram sighed in dismay at the sight of the two of them who lacked seriousness.
After that, the adventure of the trio was repeatedly beset by various problems. Subaru inadvertently touched a plant that caused rashes when touched, slipped on mossy rocks, carelessly cut his hand with Meteor Knife while collecting the mushroom they were looking for, and lost his grip climbing the Bork Sun Tree and fell down. He was almost in tears after overcoming all of the problems that hounded him from all sides. If it weren’t for Rem’s spell, he might have broken down in tears by now due to the pain and feeling pathetic.
“How amazing of Rem to have given me advice about things that might happen…”
“Ram can’t stop being disappointed that you made all of Rem’s worries come true. How can you so precisely ignore the things she told you to watch out for?”
“Stop, don’t make shit up like that! It’s not like I just ignored her advice, I did my best, but it just wasn’t good enough! Don’t just judge the result, judge the effort too!”
“Results are everything.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
Subaru, who was completely drenched, was getting first aid done on his wounds by Puck. He had no idea Puck could use healing magic, so it was surprising to him.
“I was the one who taught Lia spirit magic, you know? Well, I don’t have much of an aptitude for healing magic, so I can’t treat grave wounds like Betty, but I can do enough to lessen someone’s pain.”
“My bad. You have a time limit, yet I made you use your MP.”
“It’s fine. You’re the one who’s going to be in trouble if I disappear anyway.”
“I have a feeling that you don’t intend on pushing yourself in order to stay.”
The scrapes on his knees and elbows now healed, Subaru gave a grateful high-five to the furball dancing in the air. Ram glanced at them while sitting next to a small stream that was too slow to be called a torrent. They couldn’t drink from it without treating it first, but it was a perfect place to kick back and relax.
It was now a little after noon, and Ram suggested that they should have lunch there because of the location and the fact that she was hungry. Subaru had followed after her and had just so happened to get treated for his wounds.
“We’ve had a tough time until now, but at least we were able to grab some of the ingredients. We somehow got the mushroom and the seeds, and we know where the flowers are. It’s easier than I thought.”
“Ram told you it wouldn’t be dangerous. And Barusu, you are the one who’s been making things difficult today.”
“Argh, I can’t deny that…!”
Due to his continuous blunders so far, he had no room to refute Ram’s criticisms. He soaked and washed his wounded right hand in the flowing water and dusted his tracksuit off, barely returning it to its initial state. He washed Meteor Knife, which he had used for collecting mushrooms, in the river as well, and after resting for a bit—
“Since we are here, we need to note down this river properly.”
While looking at the flow of the river, Subaru took out a piece of thick paper and a crayon-like tool from his bag. The crayon was only available in one color, but it could produce exquisite drawings. He didn’t forget to add annotations here and there in Japanese.
“You have been doing that since we entered the mountain. What kind of game is it?’
“It’s not a game! It’s something that has proper worth!”
Subaru argued with Ram as she peeked at what was in his hand while rummaging through the lunchbox. He shoved the picture he had just drawn at Ram’s face. “Look, I’m mapping. People make maps when they go through unexplored lands. You won’t have to deal with any problems later if you know where things are, right?”
“That’s quite skilled of you. But would that map ever be used? Even if the ingredients for the tea run out, Ram would come here to collect them. Rem could do it too if Ram tells her where they are.”
Ram started questioning the purpose of the map, and Subaru rolled the map up with a wry smile. She’s right. It might be unnecessary for her since she’s used to collecting the ingredients, but…
“It’s just a hypothesis I came up with, but…”
“The tea runs out and it becomes so hard on you that you become bedridden. And Rem is away from the mansion taking care of some work when you need her. Roswaal is somewhere else too. You don’t have anyone that you can rely on! If something like that happens, then even I can collect the ingredients if I have this.”
It’s something that can only be used in the case of an extreme emergency, but…
“It would really put me at ease if we have this map around just in case something like that happens.”
It’s all good if it never gets used, but in the case it does come in handy, it’ll all be thanks to my decision to make this map. People make rescue tools with the thought that it would be better if they never have to get used. Such a contradiction exists for all of them.
“───” Ram quieted down for a moment at Subaru’s reply, a serious look on her face. It seemed like she was slightly surprised, and he scratched his head at her rare reaction.
The thing he had just said might be something embarrassing depending on how it was received.
“We-Well, anyway, if we have this then I feel like I would be able to make it back alive in case I get lost! Nothing is more important than staying alive, so it’ll be worth it to take precautions.”
Subaru started talking fast in order to hide his embarrassment and put the rolled-up map into his hip pocket.
It needs to be written down properly, including the things I’ve written in Japanese, once I return to the mansion. It’s my first time mapping, but I think I did a good job if I do say so myself.
The fact that he was simply quite skilled at things was a strength that Subaru Natsuki never knew he had.
“Now, let’s eat. If we don’t hurry up, my stomach is gonna shrivel up,” Subaru said with a clap of his hands, resetting the mood.
“—You’re right. Yes, let’s do that,” Ram replied, agreeing with Subaru’s suggestion. She unwrapped the lunch and paused for a moment in thoughtful silence. “Since your consideration reached Ram’s heart for a change, let her reward you for that.”
“Huh, what do you mean by that? It’s making me feel restless, and frankly, it’s only giving me a bad feeling, so I’m gonna have to decline.”
“Oh, it seems like Ram’s old horn scar is starting to ache. Ram feels like she might have a fever.”
“Don’t take my conscience hostage! Alright! Come at me! I’ll take whatever you dish out!”
“It isn’t something to make such a fuss about. Ram just thought of giving you the biggest one.”
Ram showed the reserved Subaru the rice ball in her left hand. It was around the size of a child’s fist, making him feel relieved once he saw it.
“Man, you surprised me there. I was scared of what it was going to be. That’s an acceptable size, or rather, a normal size.”
“Ram supposes so. Well then, take it.”
And then, as Subaru was feeling relieved, Ram presented the real one she had been hiding in her right hand. Its size, which seemed to be around the size of a child’s head, put him at a loss for words.
“By the way, the shape isn’t that great, so it was definitely made by Lady Emilia.”
“I kind of knew that! Damn it, what’s with that ‘As a matter of fact, the lunch I made is in there too’ when you don’t even intend on hiding it! You had zero intention of hiding it!”
I figured she made this next to Rem, but I wonder if that was actually the case. If this was the result of her making it while standing next to her, then the thought of her showing off her cooking skills to me someday scares the living daylights out of me.
Subaru looked at Puck like he was his last ray of hope, but the spirit shook his head at his gaze. “Lia is cute. I think everything can be forgiven because of that.”
“Damn it, I understand that feeling!”
Subaru decided to confront it head-on after seeing Puck look at him with a distant, resigned look in his eyes. The taste of a simple rice ball will be the same regardless of who makes it.
Just to be sure, he tasted Rem’s rice ball first, taking in all of her considerate feelings, and then challenged Emilia’s.
The mass on his lap was overwhelming. So much so that Subaru’s perception of what a rice ball was supposed to look like was turned on its head.
He gulped and put his hand on the wrapping in order to take a look at it—
“There’s another wrapper beneath this one?”
He unwrapped the paper after making up his mind, but what he found was another sheet of wrapping paper beneath it. It was probably because she made it too big and couldn’t keep it all together with only one sheet. So as a countermeasure, she wrapped several sheets around it and succeeded in holding it all together.
It’s like sealing an extremely powerful demon behind layer upon layer of barriers.
“No, what kind of thing is this?”
Subaru was dumbfounded by his own thoughts, then unwrapped it and checked what was inside. Feeling impatient because the actual rice ball wasn’t showing up, he unwrapped the sheets one after another—
“““—Ah.””” Three voices overlapped, including Ram and Puck’s, who were watching with bated breath.
The moment Subaru tried to peel off the stuck wrapper, the rice ball started losing its balance on his lap, then fell off and started rolling away. That round-yet-not-round object bounced on the ground and rolled off just like that.
“Wait, wait, wait!”
Subaru hastily got to his feet and chased after the rolling rice ball. The situation was just like the famous old tale, The Rolling Rice Ball. It was almost a perfect reenactment. Before the rice ball could enter the slope and accelerate, Subaru caught the wrapper with a fingertip. He was relieved by that, but in the next moment—
His feet suddenly fell out beneath him, and he was flung into the air. He looked down and saw that the slope went down at a sharp angle. The two words “slip” and “fall” came to mind.
Subaru was impressed and growled at the accurate reenactment of the folk tale. Of course, in a bad way.
While hearing Ram’s panicked voice, Subaru rolled headfirst down the steep slope while holding the rice ball to his chest. While thinking that the only lucky thing was that the ground was soft thanks to the grass growing on it—
—And finally, the story has returned to the beginning where Subaru and Puck were traveling together.
“I thought I was going to die when I fell and started rolling…”
“I thought the same. But I’m glad you didn’t die. And that we were able to contact the pink-haired girl.”
“It helped out a lot since you can fly…it’s alright if you lift me up and fly, you know?”
“I think it would just make your hair fall out.”
“Why would you fly while holding my hair!? There are other ways to do it!”
While having such a conversation, Puck and Subaru were aiming to meet up with Ram. Puck had immediately flown down after Subaru tumbled down the slope to check whether he was dead or alive. Subaru had caught him there and had him use lesser spirits to communicate back and forth with Ram about the rendezvous point. Ram insisted that she could just make her way down the slope, but Subaru, who had done enough rolling that day, dismissed the idea by saying it was too dangerous.
“We’ll be able to meet up if we walk along the slope. I can’t deliberately make her do something dangerous.”
“I told her something like that through gestures. Do you want to hear the reply?”
“Hah!” Subaru exclaimed, imitating Ram’s sneering.
“Woah, you’re good,” Puck remarked, as if impressed. “By the way.” The kitten tilted his head at Subaru, who was cringing. “Were you able to eat the rice ball that Lia made?”
“Yeah, the thing inside the wrapping was safe. Apart from the impact of how it looked, it tasted just fine. The salty taste felt special too when I thought about how it was squeezed by Emilia-tan’s hands…”
“Maybe I should join in next time when they make them again. Are you confident that you’ll get mine right?”
“The punchline would be that the rice ball with a lot of fur in it would be yours, huh?”
Their pointless conversation continued, but that was just something Puck did so that Subaru wouldn’t get worried. They had been walking along the slope for two hours, separated from Ram—after they had told her where to go—but they kept going deeper into the forest where it enveloped them in an even deeper darkness.
I might have made the wrong decision. Such a bad thought gave rise to a cycle of negative thoughts.
“—Subaru, stop.” Just as Subaru let out a long sigh of exhaustion, Puck pulled on his ear from his shoulder.
Subaru held his breath at that sensation and became tense. Immediately, an unpleasant sound grated against his eardrums. It was a sound that intimidated other creatures, a sound that was physiologically unpleasant. The source of that sound slowly appeared in front of them from the bushes. It had slimy, wet scales growing on its green body, and its mouth, which had a row of sharp teeth, was making an intimidating sound, as if it was sucking blood. However, the most notable features were the two pairs of red eyes that were glowing in the dark.
A two-headed snake—a snake with two heads on its body—was glaring at Subaru. Short, white horns were growing from its heads.
“Is…it the kind of snake that disguises itself as a witchbeast?”
“That’s an interesting interpretation, but that’s a witchbeast. It’s a Two-Headed Snake. It’s quite ferocious and is poisonous.”
The witchbeast in front of his eyes didn’t have two heads splitting from its torso as an extension of it. It was far more simple. There was another head on its tail. It was indeed a two-headed snake, true to its name, but…
“It’s not a two-headed snake but more like a buttheaded snake? Where does it poop from?”
“Witchbeasts turn the things they eat into mana, so they don’t poop basically.”
“So they’re like idols. And it seems like they’re also picking a fight with the ecosystem.”
Although Subaru appeared to be relaxed, his instincts were screaming at him to be wary of the two-headed snake in front of him. The witchbeast was around two meters long and was around ten meters away. It could cover that much of a distance in a single breath.
“I didn’t ask, but is today’s Puck the type that can fight?”
“A-ha, a witchbeast like that is a piece of cake for me. But I don’t have Lia’s assistance, so I won’t be able to talk to you after I take it down.”
“It’s better than dying, so please do that, teacher.”
“I guess it can’t be helped. I won’t let you down then…oh.”
While they were talking, the color of the two-headed snake’s body and eyes changed. The witchbeast changed into an aggressive color and then immediately twisted its huge body and tried to leap at Subaru—
In the next moment, a blade of wind sliced through the two-headed snake, turning it into rings of flesh. It died in front of the surprised Subaru without even so much as a death throe. He witnessed the death of the witchbeast as it spewed out blue-green blood, and then looked at Puck. The cat shook his head.
And then… “Ram knew that her woman’s intuition was right.”
The one who had come out from the bush that the witchbeast had come out from and made a sarcastic remark the moment they did was Ram.
After meeting up again after several hours, Ram ended up saving Subaru, who was in dire straits, with a wand in hand.
“Haa, thanks Ram.”
“Did your map come in handy during your hike?”
“Sis, the joy of our reunion was short-lived, but it’s wonderful how you never miss the opportunity to add the spice known as sarcasm.”
Ram sneered at Subaru, who had sat down in relief, and then went near the carcass of the twin-headed snake after putting away her wand. As she carefully observed the carcass of the witchbeast, Subaru said, “He-Hey, what are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Ram is doing what she came here to do. Although it went according to Ram’s plan, you did a good job, Barusu.”
While saying that, Ram cut open the body of the two-headed snake that had been sliced into rings with a blade—right in the center—and tore off some kind of white crystal from it.
“This is a pure mana crystal that forms inside the body of witchbeasts. It’s bigger than expected.”
“So that’s the fourth ingredient? It was inside a venomous snake. Man, that’s worse than I imagined.”
As Ram satisfyingly retrieved the ingredient, Subaru felt disappointed that the worse of his two predictions ended up being right. It was obvious why Ram was keeping quiet. If he had known witchbeasts were involved, he would have been more cautious, and—
“Hah! Now I understand why I was brought here! You were planning on using my ability to attract witchbeasts to gather the snakes, weren’t you?”
“You are unusually sharp today. Thanks to you, the search for witchbeasts that would normally take a few days or so was completed in less than half a day. Ram commends you for being useful.”
Even Subaru felt angry at Ram for being unapologetic.
Subaru and Ram were the two who went into the witchbeast forest together to rescue Rem. She obviously knew of his ability and how dangerous it could be. And if she still made the witchbeast cross the barrier despite knowing that and used him as witchbeast bait, it was like getting stabbed in the back—
“No, wait? When did it cross the barrier?”
Subaru realized the prerequisite for it was strange and then looked at Puck. Even if he has a carefree personality, he is a spirit at the end of the day. Could it be that this cat isn’t aware of the barrier?
“Hmmm, did you not notice it? Subaru, it’s—”
Puck was about to address Subaru’s suspicion, but Ram interrupted it by calling out to him. Subaru felt like something was off from their exchange, but Ram ignored it and started walking. But she suddenly lost her footing, and…
Subaru quickly grabbed the groggy Ram’s arm and supported her falling body and was shocked by how insanely hot it was. Her forehead and the nape of her neck were drenched in sweat when he took a look at her.
“It’s just like the time when we were fighting the Wolgarms’ and you used too much mana! Hey, Ram!”
“It’s not a big, deal… Let go of Ram’s hand.”
She was being more stubborn than stout. Not letting her get in even so much as a grumble, Subaru picked her up just like last time. Her body was light as usual. And it kept getting hotter.
“Shut up and just be a piece of luggage! Hey, Puck! Throw that ingredient into the bag too! And after that, lead me to the Bork Sun Tree. The map will come handy…you know the way, right!?”
“Seems like my evil plan got exposed. Alright, alright, I’ll do that.”
Subaru started running after Puck as he flew ahead of him while carrying the reluctant-looking Ram. Running without regard for his surroundings, his feet and shoulders got scratched by twigs, bruising him.
Subaru ran with several scratches on his skin. It would happen to anyone who ran without regard for their surroundings. So, it was only natural that Ram’s white skin had many red marks as well.
“In other words, she didn’t intend on using you as bait to begin with. She just needed you to walk near the barrier and lure out an appropriate witchbeast. But since you chased after the rice ball and left the barrier, you complicated things.”
Subaru and the rest had returned to the mansion at around dinnertime, just like they had declared that morning.
Needless to say, the three returned covered in wounds, so they did not get to enjoy a peaceful dinner after that.
“I think she was trying really hard to find you using Clairvoyance up until you met up. So I think that was the reason why she was so worn out. She’ll never admit it though.”
“And why were you helping Ram out?”
“It’s because I was asked to do so. It’s not like I was actually cooperating with her since I just had to protect you when you got into trouble. It was just an extension of Lia’s request, you see. Well, you got into trouble because of her rice ball, so I’d like to apologize to you about that on her behalf.”
The spirit who had helped him navigate even past his working hours disappeared after telling him the truth.
Night had long since fallen outside the window, and the spirit who had worked overtime would definitely sleep in tomorrow. Subaru also really wanted to hit the hay, but the nearest bed was unfortunately occupied by someone who was already sound asleep, so his wish was unlikely to come true.
“I won’t be able to relax until I at least complain lil’,” said Subaru next to Ram, who was sleeping on the bed, as he scratched his head.
The mansion had gone into an uproar when Subaru returned with an unconscious Ram. Especially Rem, who was in such a great panic due to the unusual situation that Emilia became more dependable.
She healed Ram’s abrasions, wiped her body, dressed her, and carried her to the bed. Subaru got interrogated—leaving out the part about Emilia’s rice ball—and explained what happened and gave the ingredients they had collected to Rem. The tea was being made by now.
Though Subaru had been told to rest, he had come here instead of returning to his room. I at least need to vent my pent-up frustrations at her when she wakes up.
“Lecherous.” That was the first thing Ram said after opening her eyes slightly and seeing Subaru standing by her bedside.
“…Just saying, but Rem gave me permission to be here.”
Subaru gave a wry smile at Ram being like she usually was, then pounded his chest. “As you can see, we got back to the mansion in one piece. I gave the ingredients we collected to Rem. By the way, my map was a huge help in getting back here. You can never be too prepared, right?”
In fact, the simple map Subaru made had an extraordinary effect on things. He made Puck lead him to the Bork Sun Tree that stood out like a sore thumb, then went straight to the mansion by following the map. If it weren’t for the map, we might be spending the night in the forest right now.
“Well, if that had happened, Rem would have rushed there after Puck informed her about that… If you’ve learned your lesson, you need to admit that maps are useful. And trust your companions. Don’t use them as bait without permission.”
“…But that was the most efficient way, wasn’t it? If you want to complain then complain.”
“Not complaining is my way of complaining. Since that seems to work better on you two sisters.”
Ram was looking sideways at Subaru while resting her head on a pillow, her cheeks slightly stiffened. Subaru grinned at her reaction and felt satisfied at the situation.
“Puck told me everything. It pissed me off, but I’ll leave it alone.”
“It’s a commonly held belief that spirits are righteous and tightlipped, but after getting to know that Great Spirit, Ram has had second thoughts about that. Ram will never count on him again.”
“Don’t talk bad about him, since his touristness saved our lives… And I’ll go get Rem now. I need to tell her that you’ve woken up.”
Subaru shrugged his shoulders at Ram, who was complaining about Puck.
“Wait, Barusu. Ram has a request…no, an order.”
“Don’t correct it in a way that saps the motivation right out of me. So what do you want from me?”
“There should be a white packet in the back of the desk drawer there. Brew tea with that for Ram. For the two of us.”
Following Ram’s instructions, he opened the drawer and found a packet tucked in the back. And the thing inside was—
“Hey, isn’t this your special tea…”
“It’s only natural to save some just in case. Now go.”
Subaru then went to the dining room at Ram’s order, an order that held enough pressure behind it to demand his obedience. He felt weak and wondered what all the hard work today was for. Once there, he boiled the water and prepared the tea.
Come to think of it, most of the work in the mansion falls in Rem’s domain, but brewing tea is the only thing I learned from Ram. She is very picky about tea.
“There, I’m back, miss. It’s the snake liver tea you ordered.”
“It wasn’t made with a snake’s liver. It was made with a dog’s intestine.”
‘That doesn’t make much of a difference.”
Contrary to the warm aroma, the ingredient had been obtained through cruel means. Subaru poured the tea into two cups and handed one to Ram, who had sat up. Subaru also grabbed a cup and sat down in a chair.
It smells really good. The smell makes it hard to believe that it’s made from powdered mushrooms, seeds of a poisonous fruit, an insectivorous flower, and a crystal from inside the body of a witchbeast—
“I know I’m the one who brewed it, but it’s hard to get in the mood to drink it when you know what it’s made of… Anyway, how come you call it tea when there aren’t any tea leaves in it?”
“Ram processed all of the ingredients together and mixed them with the tea she likes to improve the flavor. It’s classified as tea, so don’t worry.” She said that and tilted the cup without hesitation.
Having no choice, Subaru did the same. The heat and the aroma passed over his tongue and overflowed out of his nose. The rich flavor of the tea made it easy to drink, so much so that he had a hard time believing that a dog’s intestine and various poisons had been added to it.
“I wonder if it’s like this more due to my tea brewing skills than the quality of the tea itself?”
“Don’t be silly. A lot of flavor has definitely been lost because you brewed it so poorly. You didn’t use the correct water temperature, and neither did you pour it properly.”
The harsh feedback put a damper on Subaru’s excitement, and he kept drinking it with a bitter face. Even though it was easy to drink, he couldn’t bring himself to like tea. His tongue was childish as usual.
“Aah, I want to drink soda. I wonder if I can make fizzy drinks somehow…”
“Ram has never heard of that drink before. If you know how to make it, then you can ask Rem.”
“It’s the same as mayonnaise in that the ingredients are a bit vague. No, it’s even more than that.”
The taste that made him feel like he was back in his distant homeland—they went through a lot of trouble to recreate it. Fresh eggs, good quality oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to adjust the taste. And lastly, patience. The mayonnaise that was successfully recreated through much trial and error with Rem and Ram was now stored in Roswaal Manor’s kitchen. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that bringing mayonnaise to this world had been Subaru’s greatest achievement since he was a mayonnaise addict.
“But I’m just a mere mayonnaise addict. So being unparalleled in another world using otherworldly knowledge is a pie in the sky.”
“Ram thinks you are babbling nonsense again, but she understood that Barusu is useless when it comes to Barusu’s wishes.”
“It’s quite a figure of speech that I’m useless to myself, though you aren’t wrong.”
Subaru gave a wry smile at what Ram had pointed out.
She’s right about that, and I should say that it’s frustrating.
Ram squinted at Subaru for having such an attitude. And then she tilted the cup and moistened her tongue and lips with tea. “Ram doesn’t know what people in your homeland like drinking, but not knowing the taste of tea is such a great loss in life.”
“It’s not that I don’t know how it tastes, it’s just that it tastes like leaves.”
“You may as well be dead if you can’t enjoy drinking tea.”
“Is tea the only thing that matters in life!?”
Ram sighed at his surprised reply and turned her head sideways to look at him with her pink eyes. “That’s right.” She paused. “You’re so pitiful like that, so…pay close attention to how Ram brews tea from now on.”
She declared that she’d brew the tea herself next time and quietly brought the cup to her mouth. Subaru felt like his cheeks were strangely relaxed after hearing her words.
I don’t know why, and she hasn’t even apologized about today.
But he felt like it was fine for now. It was comfortable yet weird, with no arguments over differences, no apologies in order to make up, and no promises being exchanged.
If our relationship is like this, I can look forward to joining her for tea again, even though I don’t even like tea.
—The scent of the tea was drifting in the air, and it was a day where Subaru thought like that.