Re:Zero Prequel: Bond of Ice chapter 1

Chapter 1

When she woke up, the first thing she felt was the cold.

“… It’s reeeally cold.”

She whispered as she sat up in her crudely fashioned bed

―She was an extraordinary girl with exceptional features. Her silver hair was like moonlight itself, her skin as pure as virgin snow. She narrowed her amethyst eyes which resembled dazzling jewels, her beauty was truly miraculous.

However her countenance was marred by drowsiness, and it didn’t appear she would leave her bed any time soon.

“———”

In this manner, she whiled away her time wrapped up in her bedsheet. Fresh air blew in from outside her room. The atmosphere was the very picture of dawn, but the girl continued to waste time half asleep.

Even though it was only morning, one might worry about just how sleepy she was.

“Gotta get up…”

Nearly an hour had passed before she fully woke up.

She yawned, her long legs stretching out as she left the bed. Her thin nightclothes hung off her shoulder, salaciously exposing her smooth, slender body.

Her immodest appearance was more like a work of art than anything salacious, like some master painter’s finest work. It was far too careless even though there was no else there, it was as though she wasn’t even considering how others looked at her.

“——”

She slowly opened the door and went outside as she tidied her long silver hair. She lived in a huge tree which had been hollowed out and even had doors and windows. She narrowed her eyes as she looked overhead at the sunlight streaming in through the trees, and then shut the door with her bottom.

She descended the winding roots barefoot, down to the frost-covered land, the chill eliciting a small moan. She then headed to a nearby stream as she relished the feeling of walking on ice.

The small stream next to her tree was indispensable to her lifestyle, a blessing from nature. She got on her knees and started washing her face with the freezing water.

“Mm! Mn-!”

The water’s temperature was quite literally eye-opening, obliterating any last traces of drowsiness. She then smacked her cheeks as she stood up.

“Mm, alright!”

Having finally overcome her sleepiness, her voice was overflowing with vitality.

She shook her head to dry her bangs, and then left the stream.

“Okay, now to take care of everyone.”

Near the stream was a clearing she used to dry her clothes, it simply consisted of a line going through the trees. She obtained a small towel from here and started sprinting with vigor.

She dashed into the forest, trampling grass and leaping over roots as her skirt fluttered freely.

Her surroundings were white, the wind was cold, but even so, it was a scenery she was familiar with. Grabbing a branch with one hand, she executed a pendulum-like swing.

She reached her destination having greatly shortened her path, as though making up for her drowsiness that morning.

“Hup, and there! Good morning, everyone!”

As she landed, she pitched forward to kill her excessive momentum. As if to cover up the awkwardness, she stuck out her tongue and greeted the figures before her with an embarrassed grin.

“——”

However she received no reply.

It was only natural, though they looked human, they were in fact ice sculptures. There were three exquisitely crafted sculptures, standing back to back in a corner.

She held her towel up to them with a smile, “Well then, I’m going to clean you up again, please bear with me.”

Her apologetic voice signaled the beginning of her daily routine. She used her towel to gently clean off the snow accumulating on the sculptures. Using minimal force, her technique was cautious and tender.

Before long she’d tidied them up sufficiently, and nodded with satisfaction as she stretched lightly.

“I overslept today, so I’ll have to speed things up a bit.”

She looked up at the sky and reflected on her tardiness. Her daily routine, the maintenance of those sculptures, was far from over.

Throughout the forest, there were many such sculptures scattered here and there and it was her duty to take care of all of them. The sun was higher than usual, she’d have to give it her all to make up for the time she’d lost, as she built up her motivation-

“—Oh dear, another day of hard work I see.”

Suddenly, a voice from the sky took the wind out of her sails.

“… That again, the way you talk is reeeally mean.”

“I mean, it’s strange. No one asked you to do this, so to me it seems like a total waste.”

“It’s not like I’m doing this to have someone praise me, don’t say that sort of stuff.”

The voice speaking to her was androgynous, and they couldn’t be seen even if she looked overhead. The girl puffed her cheeks in displeasure as she steadily grew more frustrated.

“Not even a greeting, and you won’t show your face? That’s reeeally rude, you know?”

“Hm, I suppose you’re right. One moment.”

Freezing winds blew through the forest in response to the pouting girl’s complaint.

That wind carried with it a hint of pale green, forming a whirlpool in front of the girl. A silhouette started to take shape, and in the blink of an eye the light manifested into a being with a fluffy gray coat of fur, small enough to fit in a palm.

Waving a tail as long its body, its round black eyes looked right at her. It truly did resemble a cat.

However, its true nature was entirely different, otherworldly in fact. An entity possessing supernatural abilities beyond the framework of the natural world.

“―Mr. Spirit.”

Her form of address caused the spirit’s face to change. A humanlike gesture, a smile.

“That is indeed what I am, but it feels wrong considering our relationship.”

The kitten seemed displeased to be called a spirit, he groomed his face as he floated in front of her as though it was completely natural.

The girl sighed lightly at his attitude, and then-

“―Puck.”

“Yep, very good. It makes me happy, Emilia.”

This time the spirit called Puck smiled genuinely at the girl named Emilia. The girl thought him strange, for his smile was filled with tremendous affection.

In that enormous forest covered with freezing wind and snow, the odd pair conversed. In the entire frozen forest, there was only their small exchange.

2

―To Emilia who lived in the forest, Puck was akin to a strange neighbor. They weren’t together enough to be called family, and they weren’t familiar enough to be friends. But they weren’t so distant as to be acquaintances.

Thus, they were neighbors ― That’s what Emilia thought at least.

“Really, what a layabout, always bothering me when I’m busy.”

“Ehh, that’s not quite right. Rather, you’re the one at fault since you’re always busy.”

“There’s a whole lot I have to do! I don’t have time to play around with you.”

“You have time to doze off in the morning, though?”

“D-Don’t say such absurd things, I always get up early! Really, you know?”

Puck casually played with his whiskers as he watched Emilia turn red and make excuses at record speed. He simply floated behind her as she rapidly progressed through the forest.

As Emilia continued her routine, Puck started circling above her as he attempted to lure her.

“I won’t deny that I’ve got time to spare, but you’re working way too hard for no reason. Cut yourself some slack, I don’t think self-indulgence is such a bad thing.”

“Self-indulgence, I reeeally hate the sound of that.”

“Then how about Sloth? Ah, but that one gets on my nerves somehow.”

Emilia sighed deeply as Puck talked to himself.

“If you don’t like how busy I am, why don’t you help out?”

“Help as in-?”

“Like taking care of everyone, or investigating the forest! Isn’t it obvious?”

As Puck tilted his head, Emilia stopped and thrust her finger at him. She then used that finger to point around them.

“If you help me, I’ll have more time too…”

“Nah, no way. Because I believe not having to work is the best part of being a spirit. Furthermore, I think what you’re doing is pointless. Finally, I just don’t feel like it.”

“…Why are you always teasing me like this? Puck, you blockhead!”

His stern words seemed to hurt her. Calling her work pointless, it wasn’t like she was doing it for laughs.

“Consider it my revenge. You hardly ever listen to me, I’ll be nicer too if you stop being so obstinate.”

“There’s no need then! Please, take your leave! Hmph”

Emilia turned away from the winking cat and announced a breakdown in negotiations. Useless or pointless or whatever, she didn’t plan to stop her routine.

Rather, Puck smiled bitterly and shrugged his shoulders as he continued to follow Emilia who was moving extremely fast. That was their usual exchange, one that had occurred several times now.

And then Puck would retreat, only showing his face later on when tensions had cooled, but―

“―Emilia.”

“What is it?” Let me just say I’m still mad, so I don’t have much time for you. But if you’re apologizing…”

“Then save that time for later, we’ve got guests.”

Emilia’s expression instantly changed as Puck spoke in a slightly lowered voice. She extracted a scroll from her bosom, her worry clearly evident in her profile.

Meanwhile, Puck turned his head and started sniffing the chilly wind.

“Humans, quite a few it seems.”

“Do you know where?”

“North of here, around the ‘Sloppy Snow Path’ on your map… Say, perhaps you should rethink your naming scheme.”

“Why? They’re easy to remember, I think they’re good names.”

“I’ll agree with that much, but it might be embarrassing if others saw it… Ah, whatever.”

When she tilted her head at his suggestion, he for some reason completely changed the subject. Emilia felt that something was off about him, but she set that feeling aside for later.

―The ’Sloppy Snow Path’, contrary to what the name would suggest was extremely dangerous.

“People keep coming here despite all the warning signs you put up, huh.”

“Maybe they just miss them now and then.”

“They’re just facing the consequences then. It’s their own responsibility, so why not leave it be?”

“I think it’s a little nice how you don’t force me into anything.”

With a smile, Emilia nimbly tied her hair up using her towel, Puck then gave her a pure white robe he’d retrieved somehow.

She accepted it and put it on, covering her face with the hood to hide her identity.

“Even so, isn’t this too baggy?”

“It looks cute that way.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Rolling up her oversized sleeves, she glared at Puck for a moment before she took off in a sprint.

The ‘Garden’ – the various places she’d been on her daily routine – was not where she was headed. She kicked up snow as she accelerated, taking the shortest path at the greatest speed.

She kept low as she slipped through the densely wooded area. The frozen foliage was sharp as a blade, but Emilia ran as if to weave her way through it.

“The smell’s stronger at this range. There’s… Only ten or so.”

Puck flew through the sky, his tail fluttering as he effortlessly matched Emilia’s pace. His announcement caused her draw in her chin and narrow her field of view as she dashed over the snow.

“They haven’t brought a ground dragon, even in a snow-covered forest like this. Well, I suppose it’s only natural.”

“If they had one, it probably wouldn’t enter a dangerous place like this, huh”

“Dragons are quite good at sensing danger, they wouldn’t go along with these fools’ suicide..”

Emilia nodded as she leaped over a large chasm. They were already quite far from the ‘Garden’, but this a path she’d already mapped out.

Emiila could clearly see even the subtlest details which would be imperceptible to the average person, she easily flew through even the harshest paths. Finally―

“―Here!”

Suddenly, the forest had opened up and the ‘Sloppy Snow Path’ lay before Emilia. It was a slight gap in the forest, a sloping path sandwiched by trees on both sides. It was about as wide as three men standing arm to arm, an unnaturally well-kept forest path.

She then spotted some figures laying tracks on the path and pushing their cart with great effort.

There were ten men, desperately trying to get their cart up the path.

Their determination could perhaps inspire compassion from any onlooker, however―

“If only they were merely lost, eh.”

“It’s not like it’s impossible that they just lost their way.”

“To come without a ground dragon, and sneak through a secret path? Perhaps you mean they’ve lost the path of decency?”

“… You’re a dunderhead.”

Having said that, Emilia looked down at the ‘Sloppy Snow Path’, carefully observing the group from atop a large tree.

They wore thick clothes and had wrapped chains around their cart’s wheels to prevent slipping. This might have been necessary in frozen regions, but this wasn’t the right season, it was as warm as could be. This forest was the only place with any snow at all.

In other words, they had intended to enter the forest from the start―

“Feel like admitting I was right?

“Oh, be quiet.”

“Nya―”

Emiila pushed Puck away with a finger and stood up on a branch, she then glared at Puck who was rubbing the spot she’d pushed.

“I’ll take care of this, so you just watch, I don’t want you meddling.”

“Meddle, as in?”

“As in delaying me like this, perhaps.”

“Nyanderstood.”

Puck put on an expression of understanding, but Emilia jumped down from the tree without even looking at him. She adjusted her hood mid-fall, careful to hide her face.

She intentionally landed with a bang, surprising the men who immediately turned to look at her.

“―Huh?!”

“W-What the hell?! Something suddenly…?!”

The screaming men were all on high alert, wary of Emilia’s sudden descent. They had thick fur clothes, with headwear to match.

As they trembled, Emilia pointed at them and uttered these words―

“―That’s far enough.”

A firm, dignified voice like a silver bell. A tone intended to calm the men, who stopped moving as if entranced.

They had been captivated by her voice, but unaware of this effect Emilia stiffened her cheeks as she stood in their way.

“It’s dangerous ahead of here, if you don’t want to get hurt you’d better leave quietly.”

The men simply stood there dumbfounded, their eyes wide at her words. Emilia took that reaction to be a favorable sign, and believed things would go smoothly.

She figured Puck was most likely still watching from behind, with no hope she’d succeed.

―Let’s show him just how wrong he was!

“There should have been several warning signs around the entrance and several paths here. If you missed all of them… Um, this is hard to say, but I don’t think you’re cut out for this, places like this are reeeally dangerous.”

“――”

“Please go back and reflect on today’s events. If you’re lost, I can guide you out. How about it?”

Emilia tilted her head as she asked this, and the men simply looked at each other in silence. Watching this, Emilia internally praised herself for her seemingly convincing persuasion. Puck would be surprised too, and if the men learned from this it was wins all around!

“Excuse me, lady.”

“What is it?”

Emilia was already imagining Puck’s apology when a large, bearded man called out to her, perhaps the group’s leader. Having reflected on her warning, he’d lower his head and―

“―You think we’ll listen to you just like that?”

He yelled as he aimed his crossbow at her. She had the feeling Puck just sighed in exasperation.

3

His crossbow already had an arrow notched, prepared to fire at any time. It was a mechanically operated hunting weapon, with a lock for the arrow and a reel for the string.

It was originally invented in the Holy Kingdom of Gusteco, even women and children could use it and furthermore, men could use it one handed. For these reasons, it was a much beloved weapon.

Of course its accuracy depended on the user, but the bearded man had plenty of practice.

“Now don’t go thinking anything strange, this thing could blow a limb off in one shot.”

“… Is that for self defense?”

“It’s far too powerful for that. As you can see, this is to take care of nuisances like you, who meddle in others’ business― Hey!”

He jerked his chin at his companions as he spoke mockingly. A man who was previously pushing the cart then approached Emilia with a rope in hand.

“Sorry, but we can’t just let you go now that you’ve seen us. You never saw anything… Or preferably, there was never anyone here.”

“You don’t want to be seen, so you were planning to do something bad here?”

“If that weren’t the case, why would anyone even come here? That doesn’t just go for us, but you too, right?”

His vulgar hostility was on full display, his deranged grin showing his crooked teeth. However Emilia fell silent as she grimaced at his brazen accusation. Because she couldn’t confidently say he was wrong.

“―! Wait, don’t move!”

Shaking her head, Emilia rushed him. He waved his crossbow to keep her at bay, but Emilia didn’t care.

“I understand your reeeally selfish viewpoint, so I’ll do things my way too. No hard feelings.”

“You fool! Can’t you see my bow?!”

“It’s you who ought to see carefully, or you’ll never land a shot.”

“―Die!”

His veins popping at her provocation, the bearded man fired at her. The firing mechanism released the coiled up string, letting the arrow tear through the air.

Emilia was less than ten meters away, he’d aimed perfectly at her center of mass. A steady arm and no hesitation, his ability with the bow could bring down any man or beast.

―For exactly that reason, she easily predicted his shot.

“Wha?!”

“No hard feelings, I said.”

Emilia had already dodged, letting the arrow pierce the tree behind her. Emilia repeated her earlier words as the bearded man trembled, having missed a certain kill.

She saw through everything, his bloodlust, his aim, the instant of his attack. Once she’d read the shot, dodging was a simple matter. And having dodged, she began her counterattack.

“Sh―!”

With her robe’s hemline fluttering, Emilia leaped at the man closest to her. The men didn’t expect their leader to fail, and were completely unprepared for her assault. She dived into his chest, her shoulder bashing his chin with such force he was blown away, towards the cart.

The men nearby screamed in pain as his flying body mowed them down.

“Y-You damned morons, what are you staring at, do something!”

The bearded man had come to his senses and started hurling abuse at his companions who had lost their spirit. Startled by his words, the men drew their weapons.

Watching them draw their blades and hatchets, Emilia felt strangely relieved. She was worried they might have more ranged weapons.

Because then, she couldn’t keep them from hurting each other.

“Nothing to worry about now!”

Throwing caution to the wind, Emilia boldly rushed into the charging horde, battling her armed enemies with her bare hands.

The enemies attacked without hesitation, and there were so many of them, but Emilia didn’t want to hurt them. To say she was a disadvantage was putting it lightly.

But as if to completely erase her disadvantage, Emilia used the terrain. The snow was her home turf.

On the other hand, the men had completely lost their mobility, their attempts at movement resembling those of toddlers. It was completely clear who was superior.

Kicking the snow, she nimbly rushed the man in front of her and slammed her palm into his jaw. She followed it up with a low sweeping kick to another man and simultaneously brought down yet another enemy. She had wiped them out in one go.

Her skill was sublime, it was like she was dancing.

“W-what the… This girl…!”

However, the bearded man didn’t have the leeway to be entranced by her dance. He desperately attempted to notch another arrow with his numbed fingers, but he was too panicked to do it smoothly.

The crossbow prized for its usability and power had one big weakness: It couldn’t fire rapidly. By the time he was done, Emilia had already eliminated half his men.

“Damn it, damn damn damn…”

Emilia sensed him aiming at her from behind. Emilia immediately created some distance with a powerful kick.

She simply had to read it just like she did the first shot. It was an invitation to strike.

“U-, Aargh!”

She sent a fat man flying with a kick, but this left her open. In an instant, the bearded manー

“Gh- Aaaaahh!”

Instead of an arrow, she was assailed by his screams of agony. She turned around in shock to find him writhing in pain.

She immediately approached him, worried about his condition.

“I warned you!”

Sliding near him, Emilia grimaced at what she saw. The writhing man’s face had a deep vertical cut on its right side.

Beside him was his crossbow with its string snapped, it was probably what tore into his face. His right ear had been ripped off, spilling copious amounts of blood as he screamed.

“Hurtshurtshurtshurts!”

“Don’t move, be still!”

Holding him down, Emilia untied her hair. She then used her towel to bind his wound.

It was far from ideal, but there was no other option.

With the blood loss stopped and the man unconscious, Emilia turned to the men, her hands covered in blood.

“You still want to fight?”

In response, the men who’d lost their leader and half their numbers gulped, even they realized the position they were in. However, their pride wouldn’t let them back down just like that.

It was meaningless obstinacy.

Emilia pointed at the snow stained by the bearded man’s blood.

“Listen closely. This is actually a witchbeast infested area. With all this happening in their territory, they’re bound to show up in large numbers. ーYou know how scary this forest is, right?”

“ーー”

“Take your fallen and go home. I won’t do anything to you.”

Emilia once again emphasized that she didn’t intend to fight. The men briefly fell silent, but soon started carrying their downed companions.

Emilia was relieved, it was over. If they retreated, that would be that. Howeverー

“I told you to hurry, didn’t I? You’ll have to leave that cart behind, think of it as a punishment.”

She stopped their attempt to retrieve their cart. Their battle had surely attracted attention, they would have to leave as fast as possible.

The men showed signs of resistance, but ultimately yielded to her glare and left the forest dejected.

“ーCome here, Puck.”

Once she was sure they were gone, she whispered to Puck. Meanwhile, she picked the crossbow up and examined its string.

That little incident was no accident.

“I was watching, you know. You made quite the mess.”

Puck casually descended from his spot. Floating next to Emilia, he stared at the bloodstained snow in feigned shock, causing Emilia to sigh as she showed him the crossbow.

“This didn’t happen naturally, that was too much.”

“Too much? I don’t get it, I’m just a cat after all.”

“You’re no cat. ーLook, it’s frozen here. That’s why the string snapped and injured him like that. That wouldn’t normally happen.”

“Emilia, to think you’d do such a…”

“No way it was me! Seriously, I told you not to do anything.”

Puck feigned innocence as Emilia scolded him, meanwhile she set the crossbow down and facepalmed.

To call it a little trick would be cute, but the result was dreadful. However she did understand why Puck did it.

“I understand you were helping me, I’m happy about that. But surely you had another…”

“Sorry, but as far as I’m concerned that was karmic justice, I’m not losing any sleep over it. Your safety is far, far more important, after all.”

He stroked his whiskers without a hint of guilt as he replied, causing Emilia to cast her eyes downward. She knew he wasn’t wrong, that was what he really believed. He truly cared about her.

It was because she understood that it was so painful. She had no idea what she’d done to deserve his affection, nor how to return it.

“ーー”

Ordinarily, humans and spirits would never coexist due to their radically different modes of life. There existed a method to deviate from this natural order ー a contract between human and spirit.

Having exchanged their vows and pledges, the spirit would be in the human’s service, lending them power. Those who obtained extraordinary power through such contracts were known as spirit users.

In this scenario, it would not be strange for the pair to have a loving relationship. Emilia and Puck appeared to share this kind of relationship.

However, that wasn’t quite it, there was no contract between them. Emilia was just a girl who lived in the forest, and Puck was just a stray spirit ― That was supposed to be the extent of their relationship. Emilia didn’t have the courage to take the next step.

“More importantly, let’s have a look at their stuff. Regardless of what it is, it’d be a waste to leave it around for the witchbeasts.”

“… But that’s basically thievery, isn’t it?”

“It’s making good use of waste. It’d be great if they had cute clothes, though there isn’t much chance of that.”

Emilia set aside her thoughts and smiled bitterly at Puck’s attitude, he was just clearing the atmosphere.

Accepting his consideration, Emilia checked the contents of their cart, contained in wooden boxes.

“It’s… Some kind of bottled liquid. It’s all murky, some kind of medicine maybe?”

“That green tinge is weird, huh? Shall we get rid of it? Or maybe you’d like me to make a sled?”

“Yes, please.”

The boxes were large enough to fill one’s arms, and each one was full of bottles of some kind of green liquid. Having guessed that they were some kind of medicine, Emilia collected all five boxes.

As she laid the heavy boxes down, Puck activated his magic ― A pale light warped the atmospheric moisture, producing a small ice sled.

Emilia placed the boxes on it and started pulling it toward the ‘Garden’.

“We had to leave the cart, huh.”

“Something that size couldn’t enter the forest… I suppose the Snow Blight will end up destroying it.”

“Perhaps he’ll be satisfied to have a new toy. Go, go!”

Puck said as he rode the sled, Emilia shrugged her shoulders in response and started pulling again.

She had to return to the ‘Garden’ and continue her routine.

“Heave ho!”

“What the heck is that?” Emilia continued to pull the sled, urged on by Puck’s various chants. Such hard labor didn’t seem to suit her slender arms, but her strength showed otherwise.

4

―She got rid of anyone who tried to enter the forest, no exceptions, no lenience. No one had asked her to do this, she’d spontaneously decided it on her own.

The impetus for this, and her expectations in doing so were complex in a number of ways, but to simplify things, one could say that most of it was that she simply didn’t want others messing up her home.

She understood how egotistical it was, but since for some reason almost everyone who came to the forest had evil intentions, her guilt decreased by the day.

Even though she understood that wasn’t something she should use to justify her actions.

“Even so, today’s guys really were the worst, huh?”

Puck crossed his short arms as he said this, his casual attitude not matching his words. This was shortly after they’d returned home with the boxes.

Emilia returned to her work and Puck followed after her in a bad mood.

“Yeah, I guess so…:”

“You’re using that tone even though they just tried to kill you. To lash out at you after you’d warned them so kindly is unforgivable, don’t you think?

“But maybe the way I spoke bothered them somehow.”

“Naive! Way too sweet!”

Puck immediately shot her down and thrust his tail at her.

“Listen, it’s important to be aware of your own faults, but you’re going way too far. I’ve heard far too many “buts” and “howevers”, let’s ban them for now.”

“Eh? But-”

“Take this!”

“Ow, that… Doesn’t hurt.”

Puck struck her arm with his tail for her transgression. He’d perfectly controlled the impact to maximize the sound while minimizing the pain.

“What was that just now?”

“A punishment for naughty children. If you don’t teach them right while they’re young, they’ll turn out like those guys from before. I sure would like to see their parents’ faces right now… Wonder if the parents are all beardy too?”

“Pff”

Emilia almost burst into laughter at Puck’s sudden joke. However, she quickly cleared her throat and hid it.

“Setting aside the beardy’s spankings… Things have felt a bit strange lately, like we’re being watched, and there’s the increased activity in the forest… Perhaps I’m imagining it?”

“―. Well, the feeling of being watched might be my fault.”

Puck gave a lighthearted answer as he washed his face. She felt that there was a momentary delay to his answer, but he started speaking before she could ask.

“As for the increased activity, to begin with, do you understand why those people keep coming here? Or did you face them without knowing?”

“N-No way. Their goal was… Something reeeally bad, right?”

“Yep yep, I guess so. Super cute.”

“Why are you doing that? Did I say something wrong?”

Emilia knit her brows as Puck patted her head. In response, Puck straightened his tail and started speaking in a formal tone.

“Even I’m not very well versed in the happenings of the outside world. However, I do understand why those people came here.”

“Puck, you said a banned word!”

“I can say it, it’s only banned for you.”

“That’s tyranny…”

“Tyranny’s fine. Anyway, let’s continue. They wanted to secretly pass through this forest, so people wouldn’t see them moving their goods.”

“… Couldn’t they move it normally?”

Not understanding his explanation, Emilia tilted her head.

“Probably not. Outside the forest, there’s a number of rules and laws. Depending on the place, you even have to pay just to use a road.”

Puck’s explanation seemed plausible, but Emilia didn’t seem pleased, because Puck would occasionally mix in lies in his stories.

“You’re trying to trick me again, that’s definitely a lie.”

“You seem confident, but what am I supposed to be lying about?”

“That you have to pay just to use a road. That’d be a huge pain for everyone.”

“That’s right, it is. That’s why they wanted to use the forest.”

Puck would usually admit to lying right away, but he didn’t do that this time. Emilia’s eyes widened when she realized he was telling the truth.

“Outside the forest, even roads are considered property. People crossing, and even moving goods, all sorts of things have various fees associated with them. It’s only natural they’d want to go through here, right?”

“… Then I’m doing something really terrible, aren’t I?”

Puck’s composed explanation stopped Emilia in her tracks. As she worried with a difficult expression, Puck stopped with her while grooming his tail.

“Why do you think that?”

“I mean, if that’s how it is outside the forest, I totally understand them wanting to use that path. For me to stop them is way too selfish…”

“Hm, it is true that it might be bad if that were your own selfish desire.”

Puck nodded at her worried murmurs as he continued grooming his tail.

“However, that’s not quite right. All you want is to protect the ‘Garden’.”

“…Yeah.”

“That’s your own problem, but it’s also true that it’s extremely dangerous here. I’m sure they too thought it was preferable to be assailed by you rather than a witchbeast.”

Puck spoke gentle words to console Emilia. These words surprised her, a reaction that seemed to hurt Puck.

“Why so surprised?”

“I never imagined you’d say something so nice.”

“How terrible. Even though I’m always so nice, cute and fluffy.”

“Although I only ever thought of you as fluffy.”

“Harsh!”

Puck toppled dramatically in response to her words, causing Emilia to laugh for real this time. For a while, no words were spoken.

Emilia eventually tired of laughing and caught her breath as she nodded to Puck.

“Alright, I’ll try having a little more confidence in my actions.”

“Yeah, do that. Also, not all the people who come here are evil. There were those who were genuinely lost, and you guided them out, didn’t you?

“Maybe they wanted to avoid road fees too…”

“If little kids had such intentions, it’d be the end of the world.”

The two ended their reminiscing as they reached a frost-covered sculpture. Their unplanned adventure had ended and it was time for her to get back to work.

“Alright then, I have to take care of everyone, so.”

“Yeah, I’m really sleepy since I manifested for longer than usual. But if you can’t bear to be without me, I’m prepared to stay until I disappear.”

“Right, right. Good night, you lazybones.”

Emilia indifferently sent him off as she took off her hood. Her cold attitude caused Puck’s eyes to moisten as he disappeared from the feet up.

“Disappearing like he’s dying, he only learns the weirdest things.”

She said of the spirit who was far more worldly than her. Emilia then approached the sculptures with a new towel and started cleaning them gently.

“Good morning… It’s a bit late for that, sorry.”

She wiped down their faces, receiving no reply as usual. Her careful technique slowly shaved off snow and frost, returning them to their original form.

—The sculptures were exquisitely crafted, far beyond what a human could accomplish. Their physiques, expressions, clothes, were all perfect reproductions, as though real people had been frozen solid— Well, that was actually true.

She worked hard, taking her time as she carefully maintained the sculptures. In total, there were forty nine of them, all of which she handled every morning. They were all real people who had been frozen at some point, and to Emilia they were the shadows of her irreplaceable brethren.

Counting her, there were fifty elves in that white forest—

—Regardless of how it looked to others, that was what she thought.

5

—A giant forest covered in white, a world ending all the same in every direction.

“——”

Having separated from Emilia, the ethereal spirit headed toward a certain part of the forest. There was a very slight change occurring at his destination. It was an extremely subtle shift, but if left alone, it’d become something he couldn’t overlook.

—It was akin to fire. The slightest spark could become a blazing inferno, turning everything to ash.

The forest, the people, and even the girl—

“—Disappear”

The spark which had only just ignited, the glow that threatened to consume the forest, was crushed. Making sure of that, the spirit manifested into a vague embodiment of power.

“She still needs time. If possible, an eternity.”

Within that murmur was a heartfelt plea. It was intimate, loving, affectionate—

“—”

Leaving that lonely echo behind, the spirit disappeared.


Re:Zero Prequel: Bond of Ice

Re:Zero Prequel: Bond of Ice

Re: Zero kara hajimeru zenjitsutan Hyouketsu no Kizuna, Re:ゼロから始める前日譚 氷結の絆
Score 7.8
Status: Completed Type: Author: , Released: 2016 Native Language: Japanese
Re:Zero Prequel: Bond of Ice is a limited edition short story that was included in Re:Zero BD 1.

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