Re:Zero Prequel: Bond of Ice chapter 4

Chapter 4

Smashing through the lake’s surface, the source of the black liquid― The great black liquid’s entire body vibrated violently. The undulating black slime rained down slime bullets on its surroundings, instantly contaminating the lake’s shore with evil poison.

The great black slime possessed a colossal body about a hundred meters in size, and it used that immense mass to wash away the frozen forest like a tsunami. In the blink of an eye, the area had turned into the scene of a disaster, filled with fallen trees and landslides.

Naturally, a girl standing in the midst of this downpour would be completely helpless. However―

“―Thank goodness, I just barely made it.”

Surrounded by the terrible spectacle that looked as though the entirety of the lake had overflowed, Emilia said this as she sighed.

As the filthy water furiously swirled around her, not a single drop was able to touch her. This was no surprise, because her body was completely cut off from the black liquid. The method was simple, a box of ice.

The box ice Emilia had formed using the spirit arts floated atop the great black liquid’s raging waves. The coffin-shaped box was very thick and buoyant, which allowed it to fully protect her from the contamination.

“But it won’t hold for long, so… Ya! Ta! Ei!”

Her relief only lasted a moment. Emilia slipped out of the coffin and started forming new footholds over the liquid. The poison’s erosion was dreadful, neither the coffin nor her footholds would last very long. Heading for land, Emilia leaped across the ice footholds she had formed using the spirit arts one by one, and escaped danger by jumping to an area the poison could not reach.

She then turned around, and the disaster at the shore once again made her eyes widen.

“That’s far too horrible…”

The lake was ruined by the great black liquid’s tyranny, and was already completely unrecognizable.

Having been released from the bottom of the lake, the great black liquid shook its whole body as if overcome by joy. ― No, that wasn’t joy. It was moving like this to heat up the parts of itself that were still frozen and break them.

The great black liquid still had one portion frozen. However, it would soon be freed from even this incomplete state, and would use that giant body to hunt for prey. The forest wouldn’t even last three days if that giant body invaded it.

“I can’t let that happen! I have to stop it…!”

If it approached the forest, the tsunami would completely destroy the ice sculptures of her companions.

If that happened, there would no longer be anyone who could connect Emilia to her past. She would be alone. The idea was more terrifying than death itself.

Therefore, Emilia would fight. ― Even if she could not remember the reason.

“I’ll stop it, I’ll definitely stop it! Please, lend me your power!!”

She would fight, and once again seal that great black liquid away.

Emilia built up her resolve and called out, and in response all of the lesser spirits she was connected to emerged. Each and every one of them shone brightly as they lent her power, and Emilia thrust her her hands forward.

The lesser spirits took hold of her white fingers and arms, and built up every last bit of mana they possibly could.

“――”

Perhaps having noticed this massive whirlpool of mana, the great black liquid turned its attention toward Emilia. The viscous liquid did not have eyes. It barely even appeared to be sentient. Despite this, Emilia knew it was looking at her.

The great black liquid vibrated violently, and immediately after, terrifyingly huge tentacles emerged from it. It roared as it swung down an attack like several large trees bundled together at Emilia.

Something like a pouring waterfall couldn’t even begin to compare to this. It was as if the sky itself was falling. The heavens were dyed black as they fell― And right before they could crush her, light emanated from her.

“――”

Black and white, the clash between these primordial colors looked like the creation of heaven and earth.

The pure white light painted over the jet-black sky. The sky was frozen in an instant, cracked the next instant, and scattered into pieces the final instant. As shards of ice poured down like rain, the light ceaselessly continued even further, ultimately landing a direct hit on the top of the main body―

However, neither had managed to land a decisive blow.

“―Cunning.”

Having been hit by the light, its response as it started to freeze caused Emilia to raise her voice.

Before the freezing from the light could reach the rest of its body, the great black liquid twisted the frozen part off, minimizing the damage. On top which, it sent this part flying, and the fragments aimed at Emilia rained down like buckshot.

“Kh, uuu―!!”

Every single shot in the barrage flying toward her was like a huge cannonball. The black lumps of ice bored into the ground, causing it to explode and scatter snow and ice, and even surrounded by this Emilia advanced.

Just as Puck taught her, the only way to exterminate the black liquid was to freeze it to the core and smash it apart. Of course, the larger the opponent, the harder it would be to freeze them, and this particular opponent was the worst.

But even so―

“I shaved off 1% with that attack just now! So I just have to repeat that a hundred times―!”

There were no shortcuts. If her only option was to chip away at it bit by bit, she would choose to do so with no hesitation.

As Emilia rushed toward it, the great black liquid fired a large amount of slime bullets to mow her down. As Emilia leaped over frozen trees, the ground beneath her burst open, scattering huge amounts of snow and soil.

Having kneaded a colossal amount of mana for that last attack, her lesser spirits were now exhausted. It would be a while before she could use such a powerful attack again. Emilia would have to buy them that time.

“Bring it on!”

If she thought too much, it would only make her despair. As if to clear that darkness, Emilia yelled as she faced it.

The great black liquid was a mighty existence, none of the opponents she had fought thus far could compare to it. The black liquid would win the battle if it simply touched her, whereas Emilia’s attacks were sporadic and lacking in power. A tiny little girl like Emilia barely even counted as an opponent.

―It was unclear whether the great black liquid even had a mind with which to think, but supposing it did, it would probably think this.

And all the advantages the black liquid had would become openings for Emilia to exploit.

“Uyaa―!”

She evaded the slime bullets and leaped over the corruption washing over the ground. She skated over the snow, surfed up the slime on her ice board, and repeatedly attacked the giant that was toying with her, dealing damage bit by bit.

She kept fighting hard with no breaks, pushing herself to the limit to overcome her disadvantage.

If there were someone watching from afar, or if the great black liquid had intelligence, perhaps they would have been left speechless, unable to believe what they were seeing as they watched her give it her all.

What was unfolding here was not a battle between a lone girl and a colossal enemy.

Naturally, Emilia had a few things to say about that.

First, if one were to say she was fighting alone, she would deny it by pointing out the lesser spirits that were with her. If one were to say she was at a disadvantage, she would retort that her opponent was being careless. If one were to ask if she seriously thought she could win, she would probably reply that she was fighting hard so she wouldn’t lose.

Right now, there was no doubt that the brave battle she was putting on was mostly driven by willpower. As long as her willpower held out, she could fight on no matter what― It was her foundation.

“Eii, ya―!!”

Abandoning her contaminated ice board, she formed a large foothold on the lake and leaped over to it. Emilia dug in her heels to stop her movement, and then flashed a light as she turned around, this light froze the slime diagonally.

The blade of light seemed to cut right through the great black liquid, dyeing the cut white. However, the great black liquid’s counterattack was also extreme. It launched a huge slime bullet some ten-odd meters large at Emilia who had stopped moving. She formed a barrier of ice, but she couldn’t stop it.

The slime bullet struck her ice foothold, and launched the block of ice high into the sky.

“――”

Clinging to the block of ice that had been sent flying, Emilia endured the violent wind that assailed her as she spun.

Below her was the great black liquid. The sky offered her no refuge as the viscous liquid extended its giant body, seeming to open wide so as to gulp down Emilia and the ice in go.

“Nnnnn―!!”

Above the waiting great black liquid, Emilia groaned as she used magic any number of times. Repeatedly hitting the rising block of ice, she finally stopped its rotation― Instead, the block of ice was launched downward much faster than gravity could pull it and struck the great black liquid.

Accelerating its fall were the innumerable icicles Emilia had fired into it from above. The countless icicles added speed and rotation, allowing the block of ice to break through the great black liquid’s defenses.

“――”

The gaping great black liquid was easily split in four by the block of ice. The viscous liquid scattered with a black splash, and Emilia pushed her spirit arts to the limit.

The radially expanding light froze three of the four pieces. The atmosphere creaked as the black contaminants were dyed white, the sight of which brought Emilia satisfaction.

With this, how many of the hundred attacks she was supposed to deal had she dealt? She decided to think about the exact number later as she immediately withdrew in preparation for her next attack.

She jumped off the block of ice that had pierced the great black liquid and was now sinking to the bottom. She followed the several footholds she had created mid-air to escape the great black liquid’s grasp―

“――?!”

At that moment, a sharp pain suddenly stabbed her heart, causing her breath to catch as she lost focus.

It was similar to the pain she felt whenever her confrontations with the black liquid stimulated her lost memories. However, the sensation just now was on an entirely different level from anything before. It was far too strong.

―She missed a foothold, and was left defenseless against the viscous liquid’s counterattack.

“―Ah”

For an instant, her world turned upside down when her foot stepped on air. The frozen black liquid was in her field of view, when she saw the contaminant wriggling directly beneath her falling silver hair, she let out a strained breath.

In an instant, Emilia used her survival instincts to the fullest, searching for any possibility of escape in order to execute it― However, her hands wouldn’t move. She was unable to find a solution.

“――”

She would be swallowed, dissolved, and consumed. That was the unavoidable future just a few seconds ahead of her.

This realization left Emilia dumbfounded, more than anger, more than sadness, what filled her was pure shock.

Was death something that happened so easily?

The last moments of the witchbeast Guiltylaw as it was swallowed and dissolved passed by her mind. Just like that witchbeast, Emilia too would probably have her hair, skin, and flesh dissolved, and be absorbed to the bone.

That was really scary, but,

“――”

For some reason, some part of her felt apathy.

Death was frightening. The end was terrifying. Despite this, she felt slightly relieved that it was over.

With this, she would no longer be tormented by the unease and guilt she had no answer to.

Thinking of it that way, the idea of dying like this―

‘―Are you sure?’

As she accepted the end, she heard someone’s voice.

This question caused Emilia to gasp and reopen her closed eyes.

Her field of view was filled by the black-stained death approaching right in front of her.

‘―Can this really be the end? Even though you haven’t apologized to anyone for even a single thing?’

Apologize. For what? Just who should she be apologizing to, and for what reason?

Those words seemed like nothing but a false accusation, but they soaked deep into her heart.

‘―No way. You’re faaaar from finished.’

She finally realized. It was the voice she heard every day, every morning, her own voice.

―Immediately after, a light emanated from her in the blink of an eye, and the surging frost shattered the great black liquid from its core.

2

The great black liquid that had filled the lakeside and caused damage rivaling a calamity was now shattering into tiny pieces.

The dancing shards of ice turned into white light, and produced a wondrous atmosphere that didn’t quite fit the disastrous scene. However, Emilia who was crouching within the boisterously dancing light did not have the leeway to pay it any attention.

What had she done, and what happened as a result?

She understood the answer far too well, and it continued to assert itself even now.

“―Ah, kh”

Groaning in pain, Emilia fell to her knees on the ice as she held her chest. The inside of her chest was heating up, and the source of the heat felt like it could burst out of her body and reach the outside at any moment.

She had used her power.

The power she wasn’t supposed to use, she had to use it again.

―No, not had to. Emilia herself had chosen to use it.

There was also the option of not using it. In that case, she would definitely be dead. But there were things in this world that were taboo even at the cost of one’s life.

Right now, her power was spiraling out of control, freezing the great black liquid was not enough to satisfy it and it was now running wild trying to freeze the entire world.

If that happened, just how much would be sacrificed in exchange for Emilia’s life?

“Noo… That, absolutely….”

With her eyes tightly, Emilia grit her teeth as she attempted to suppress her power.

The instant before the great black liquid could swallow her, her voice that wasn’t hers spoke with her, and Emilia decided to use the power. But she did not do it to sacrifice her surroundings so she could save herself.

So that wouldn’t happen, she would settle it without sacrificing anything, even if it meant breaking the taboo.

“U, aaa―!”

Her heart rate increased rapidly, and her temperature shot up dramatically. Her bare skin started putting out white steam, and her power that had escaped the confines of her chest and expanded to her head seemed like it could explode at any moment.

How could she, what could she― Through the chaos, a sudden warmth came fluttering in.

It was not the heat rampaging within her, nor was it the power dangerously swirling around her. It was the call of the gentle beings who were connected to her most precious spot.

“… You all.”

Emilia understood what was happening in her blurry vision.

As she gasped on the ground, her lesser spirits cuddled up to her shoulders. To these small accumulations of mana, the power overflowing from Emilia was an existential threat. Merely approaching her would be dangerous. Despite this, they did not try to leave her.

And then, the lesser spirits’ faint glow started to twinkle brightly as they fired white light toward the other side of the lake. They did not hit anything, they just randomly frozen the ruined ground.

That white light was the magic produced by the spirits on Emilia’s shoulders. Starting with this, more than ten of the lesser spirits started indiscriminately firing magic toward the shore.

This was all in order to squander the power that Emilia could not control.

“… Everyone.”

Understanding their intention, Emilia felt choked up. The spirits continued to use up the mana even now. Emilia’s suffering did not cease either.

However―

“N, Fu…U”

As she exhaled warm breaths, Emilia felt her body’s temperature lessen bit by bit. The aimless blasts of freezing power covered more and more of the ruined shore with ice. Emilia’s power continued to decrease as more ice covered the scenery. Finally―

“Ha, a… Fu, a…”

Drawing deep, gasping breaths, Emilia pressed her forehead covered in cold sweat against the snow.

Her high body temperature cooled down right away, and her thoughts that were rendered delirious by the heat were now back to normal. The sensation of something foreign raging in her body was not completely gone. However, there was no longer any danger of it exploding and running wild.

“Withstood… It… Without relying on Puck, for the first time…”

That was a state in which she could not do anything without relying on him, but she had managed to overcome it without him this time.

This was all thanks to the lesser spirits who worked hard to protect her with no concern for their own safety.

“Thank you, everyone…. Thanks to all of you, I”

Emilia said this in a tearful voice, still sitting on the snow, and the lesser spirits did not say anything in response. The lights simply wavered gently in silence, and Emilia felt something well up in her chest.

She had faced death, used her power in order to avoid it, had her own life and those of others threatened by this power, and was saved from it thanks to the lesser spirits’ help.

She felt guilty for relying on the taboo. She was of course reflecting on it. But just for now, her sense of accomplishment at having survived won out.

Furthermore, there was even more good news. She was able to deal with the source of the threat to the forest, the great black liquid. ―This time, she was able to protect the forest, the garden, and everyone.

“This time…?”

Feeling something out of place about her emotions, Emilia knit her brows slightly.

However, once opened she could no longer put the lid back on her memories. Now that she was no longer desperately trying to control her power, Emilia discovered the source of the aching pain that arose within her when she met the great black liquid.

―A green forest, her companions before they were frozen, a silver-haired woman, a black robe, and then.

“Ah, kh―?!”

The moment she reached for the lid and snuck a peek at part of her missing memories, she was repelled by a pain that felt like she had touched hot metal. But at the very end.

She got the feeling that someone told her to forget.

“――”

Unspeakable fear, indescribable loathing, hate that did not need a reason.

Emotions Emilia was not even aware of exploded within her, Emilia was taken aback by this outburst and raised her voice―

“――e”

The next instant, rays of heat rained down, covering Emilia along with the shore.

“――”

The heat rays piercing the ground from the sky produced a blazing inferno with their heat.

The shore that had just been frozen was bathed in hellfire and even ice was immediately vaporized.

The steam gushing forth covered the area with white clouds and destroyed the forest which was unable to withstand the heat. Within the dancing ash, all that was left in the area was a girl who fell to her knees in astonishment.

It was Emilia. Her silver hair was frayed and her clothes were stained by soot and dust, but she hadn’t sustained any real injuries. Considering the scale of the inferno surrounding her, this was a miracle.

If it wasn’t a miracle, it had to be a result obtained through great sacrifice.

“――”

Within the smoke so hot it was difficult to even breathe, Emilia stared in shock, unable to move.

She did not understand what had happened. But unfortunately, she immediately realized she had lost something. The contract between spirit and spirit arts user was a connection between souls.

If one of the connected parties were to be lost, Emilia would immediately feel it.

That was why she understood that her lesser spirits had faced the pouring rays of heat to protect her, and consequently had their mana ripped away after which their Ods burned.

She knew right away that she had lost an irreplaceable connection.

“――”

Emilia’s heart was filled with the feeling of loss and despondency, these emotions took her to the limit of what her brain could process.

The overflowing magical power, the ache of opening the lid to her memories, and now the feeling of loss and despondency upon losing her bond. Every single one of these was far too much for her slender body to bear.

“―Extreme, Delight. Aah, that’s a nice expression. I wanted to see that look on your face.”

A voice suddenly struck Emilia’s eardrums in the midst of her depression. She slowly turned in the voice’s direction, and found a red light past the smoke.

A round, red light ― It was the light that led her to the lake. It was the spirit that called her here. The spirit that had disappeared somewhere when the great black liquid showed up had now reappeared.

“That voice… Your voice? You can talk…”

“Thickheaded, Slow-witted. You’re too damned slow. The spirits who died for you won’t be able to rest in peace.”

“――”

The spirit’s voice was full of malice, its declaration made Emilia blink. She did not know the reason for the hatred in its voice. The spirit was unable to bear this attitude of hers.

“―Naive. It’s me. I suppose I might have just been some insignificant prey to you, though.”

The light swayed as it spoke, and scorched the atmosphere as it changed its form. The flame steadily took on a humanoid appearance, and Emilia was left speechless when she saw the face it reproduced.

The humanoid flame grinning boldly― Those red features felt familiar.

“The people who came to the forest back then, you’re their…”

“Understanding Affirmative. I’m the man who went through hell because of you and your spirit.”

Saying this as if spitting the words, the flame― Formerly the bearded man she faced on the snowy path, sneered cruelly.

Emilia had fallen unconscious after she unleashed her power toward the end of the battle with the Snow Blight. Because of this, she did not know what happened to the men led by the bearded man after that, but it seemed something had happened to him.

Something that changed him into this mass of flame.

“Sympathy Unnecessary. Don’t pity me. Despite how I look, it doesn’t feel bad at all. I was as good as dead when I got tossed out of the organization, and then the power to exact my revenge fell into my hands.”

“Revenge… On me?”

“Inquiry Affirmative! Obviously! When I was on the verge of death, a spirit that looked like a ball of flame appeared before me. I wanted to get my revenge, and he wanted to enter this forest… Our interests aligned. So I lent him my body, thanks to which the flower seed in my belly melted away and now I feel great.”

The man who had lost his human form to become a flame spread his arms and laughed like he was out of his mind. Emilia had no response to the intensity of his tenacity and unjust resentment resulting from a misunderstanding. But at the same time, she understood this.

It was the flaming man before her who burned away her contracted lesser spirits, causing this sense of loss that seemed to bore into her heart.

“… I understand what you’re trying to say. I understand completely.”

Putting strength into her shaky knees, Emilia stood up and faced the flame.

Drying the tears in her amethyst eyes and wiping the soot off her cheeks, she glared at the flame blazing with malice.

“I understand that you want revenge on me for what happened that day. I did something terrible back then. So I understand why you would retaliate. But…”

“But?”

“Why did you kill my lesser spirits… Those children…?”

Her feeling of loss was revived when she spoke the words, and rage surged within her to fill the hole in her heart.

In response to her question, the humanoid flame fell silent momentarily. But his features soon warped in an unsightly manner as he laughed, baring his horribly vulgar emotions.

“Simple, Clear. I figured I’d be able to see you cry if I did it.”

“――”

Emilia’s vision turned crimson with rage in response to this malice that was beyond her imagination. Immediately after, she once again released the power she had just suppressed, a chill spread underfoot and turned the burned ground white as it froze.

“Delight, Pleasure. Wonderful, get angrier and angrier. I’ll burn your limbs off and then roast the other elves when you can’t move. You’ll be the only one left!”

“If I’m the one you’re aiming for…!”

As if to oppose Emilia’s rage, pillars of flame erupted from under him. The waves of heat set the man who had fused with a spirit’s surroundings ablaze, and the lake’s remaining water and snow boiled and evaporated away.

A sign of the fire season that hadn’t visited Elior Forest in a hundred years clashed head on with a sign of the ice that froze Elior Forest for a hundred years, and the shore was turned into a hell of absolute hot and absolute cold.

“You are evil! You are a witch! You are a criminal! I, Criminal, Execute Judgement―!!”

“Leave the others out of it―!!”

The man yelled vigorously, and Emilia too raised her voice as if screaming at him.

The two shouts collided, and in an instant bullets of flame and bullets of ice blew away the shore’s atmosphere. The exploding red and white lights produced shockwaves, and innumerable explosions burned the forest white and froze it red.

―The fated battle between Emilia and the man had begun.

3

Emilia who unleashed the power hiding in her chest, and the man who fused with a spirit possessing immense power.

The clash between these two mighty powers was already trending in a certain direction even though the battle had just begun.

“――”

Endless flame bullets were fired incessantly, and jostled by the impact and hot wind, Emilia did not even scream in pain as she was knocked about.

Emilia was also using magic to counterattack, but she could not even graze him. This was an obvious outcome.

The opponent had fused with a spirit, and moreover a supremely powerful spirit possessing power on par with a Great Spirit. By contrast, Emilia could not even control her power, let alone use it properly.

As a result, Emilia was one-sidedly tormented by her opponent’s attacks, and was repeatedly blown away.

“Gutless, Weak! What’s wrong, is that it? You’ll die if you don’t do a little better, you know?!”

The man enjoyed the feeling of harassing her as he continued to release flame in this one-sided assault. But every single one of his attacks was extraordinarily powerful, and all Emilia could do was devote herself to dodging them.

His ability was with no exaggeration on Puck’s level― Who as far as Emilia knew, was the strongest.

“But, even so…”

Her lesser spirits gave their lives so she could keep hers, there was no way she could waste it by burning to death here.

Striking the ground to raise her body, Emilia escaped the explosive flames by flipping backwards. Continuing to flip, flip and flip, she twisted midway, overturning her body and breaking into a run.

“Unsightly, Disgraceful! Running is useless!”

“Even if you say it’s useless, I can’t let this be the end…”

Without the lesser spirits’ assistance, Emilia could not handle magic skilfully enough to produce footholds or ice boards. All Emilia could do was run on her own two legs, and desperately hold on with her own two arms.

“Thou, Insane! If all you can do is run around, just burn away quietly!”

The man was enraged by Emilia’s actions that seemed to be pointless struggling. The bright red attacks continued even now, and Emilia who was running across the shore desperately evaded the flames.

Even though she was running through extremely hot steam, Emilia had barely sustained any burns. This was thanks to the robe Puck gave her. The robe was probably woven with some special power that was reducing the damage. Even if this wasn’t the case, it was what she believed.

It was fine if it was just an assumption. The power of an assumption was nothing to look down on. Thanks to this robe, she was able to keep her legs going. ― And thus, she was able to create an opening to attack.

“Scheme Seen Through! Crafty woman!”

The moment she succeeded in her goal, the man’s relentless attack loosened for the first time.

Turning around, Emilia saw it. The man clicked his tongue as he looked upward, at the great black liquid that had thawed out and was now about to fall on him.

The black liquid Emilia had frozen with her magic had now been freed by the man’s flames. It was for this reason that Emilia had been running around the shore, she intended to revive the black liquid with his consecutive attacks.

It was a matter of luck who it would choose to attack when it was released, but―

“Now it’s your turn to get chased around!”

The black liquid’s persistence was guaranteed. The once smashed great black liquid had now been reduced to a size of about twenty meters upon its release, but compared to the man, it was large enough.

If it could create just the slightest opening, she could turn the situation around with one attack―

“Imprudent, Shallow, is that it?”

He held up his billowing arms of flame and turned the world a deep crimson.

It roasted the surface of the black liquid that was about to crush him, and in an instant the viscous liquid’s entire body started bubbling as it boiled, after which it exploded, spreading a foul smell as it was vaporized.

With the sound of water pouring on hot metal, the black liquid was mercilessly scorched by the ultimate flame. It bubbled up and burned away, completely vaporized.

This was complete destruction, on an entirely different level from being sealed in ice.

“―ah”

Emilia’s strength immediately left her when she saw this.

Emilia had to work so hard to beat it. She had gone so far as to rely on her power that was sealed away as taboo in order to bring it down.

The man had finished it off in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t a problem of compatibility. It was the overwhelming difference in power.

“Utmost Delight! This is it, this power! I was right to give the spirit my body! I, Absolute Agreement! Delight! Hiha, hihahahaha!”

Tramping on the remains of the black liquid that had been thoroughly burned, the flame scratched its head and turned back to Emilia. His gaze made her shoulders jump, after which realized that she had collapsed to the ground.

Her knees had no strength left, and her teeth chattered as she clenched them.

Begging for her life would be pointless. Stalling for time would be meaningless. Then at least―

“If it’s my life you want…”

“Affirmative. Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly right. What about it?”

“The forest, my companions, I’m begging you… Please spare them…”

Emilia pleaded with the approaching flame as its heat warmed her bangs and dried her eyes.

If his goal was to exact revenge on her, it was inevitable that she would lose her life here. Even so, she at least wanted to be sure no harm would come to her companions. She had to make sure nothing would happen to them.

However, the flaming man’s expression was one of joy as he looked down at Emilia.

“Laughter Inevitable. Don’t make me laugh, you stupid girl. Why exactly should I listen to your request? If it brings you pain, I’d much rather…”

The man’s sadistics words thoroughly mangled Emilia’s heart one by one. His ill will caused Emilia’s cheeks to stiffen with grief. And seeing this, the man became even happier as―

“That’s right. I’ll line up all your companions near this lake, and burn them all away. And in the end, I’ll burn you… Unnecessary, Deed. I, Objective, Thou, Annihilation―”

“――?!”

Suddenly, the man stopped smiling and spoke in a completely emotionless voice.

The sound and its contents caused Emilia to stare in wonder, and immediately after even the man himself blinked. The man then grabbed his own throat, and started yelling at something she couldn’t see.

“Hey, quit talking like you own the place! This is my body… Appeal Refused. I, Objective, Half-Devil Annihilation. Thou, Objective, Half-Devil Annihilation. Objective Priority. Thou, Inefficient―”

The flame trembled before Emilia’s eyes, and two voices emerged from the man’s mouth. One was the man’s voice filled with rage, and the other was a low, emotionless voice. They were currently quarreling.

“Don’t screw… She put me through hell… No, destroy the half-devil swiftly. This existence shall bring harm to the world. Descendant of the Witch… Half-Devil, kill, right now…”

Grabbing his head, the man and the flame’s voices mixed together. Emilia understood that that was the voice of the spirit he fused with. Right now, the man’s will was being consumed by the flame spirit.

But at the same time, she had heard something she couldn’t overlook. The man’s― No, the spirit’s objective.

“It’s not just him… You want to kill me too…”

“Inquiry Affirmative. Thou, Criminal. You are sinful. A criminal deserving of death. A half-devil…”

“… Half-devil? What’s that?”

“Half-devil, descendant of the Witch…! Your hair, eyes, appearance, everything about you is the same as the Witch! Not just your appearance, even your bloodline is the same as the Witch’s! The same as the half-devil!”

Emilia could not comprehend the man and the spirit’s chaotic, overlapping words.

Words that she couldn’t overlook just kept piling up. Witch, to Emilia and to anyone else in the world, that was an ominous word―

“Why are you suddenly talking about the Witch… Half-devil, do I have some sort of connection to…?”

“Don’t play dumb, half-devil! No, half-elf! You who bear the same appearance as the Witch! Born from the same cursed blood as the Witch, descendant of the Witch! Reincarnation of the Witch! Danger to the world!”

“Half, elf…”

The word the flame spoke was completely unfamiliar to her.

It was supposed to be, but the sound of it melted into her heart awfully easily. With her breath taken away, her chest produced pitiful heartbeats, and her understanding deepened in tempo with this sound.

“I’m a, half-elf…”

“Affirmative. Thou, half-elf. You alone are different. In this forest, you alone are an outsider!”

“I, alone. I’m different from everyone else in the forest… That’s why I alone woke up?”

Emilia was most likely in the same state as the rest of her frozen companions before she woke up. Despite this, she alone was released from her slumber, and continued to live her life.

There must be some reason, she thought as she battled the guilt that kept asserting itself within her.

There must have been a reason that she alone woke up, unlike her frozen companions in the forest.

―This was probably it.

“Then, do you know? What I did.”

“――”

“You… You came to kill me, so you must know, right? What it was that I did, and why the forest was frozen!”

Facing the silent flame, Emilia forgot all about her unfavorable position and raised her voice.

Over and over, whenever night came, she would see the same scene in her dreams, her nightmares.

At the end of her battle with the black liquid, when the door to her memories opened ever so slightly, the scene she saw towards the end―

If that was the answer, if that was the unforgivable sin she had committed―

“Tell me what I did! What did I do to everyone in the forest?! Why am I… Hated by everyone? Why am I alone?! Why…?!”

Emilia shouted desperately as her voice quavered, as if she was crying, as if she was shrieking in despair.

That was the doubt she had always carried within her.

The guilt that kept smoldering in her heart, the people that detested and feared her existence, how she lived alone, unable to come into contact with anyone―

She always told herself that it couldn’t be helped. But even that had a limit.

It didn’t matter if it couldn’t be helped. She didn’t care if there was nothing she could do.

But if it really couldn’t be helped, then she at least wanted to be able to accept that. She was aware that she had committed a sin. Then using that as the reason, she wanted to put an end to this guilt.

And she believed that the flame before her would give her that chance.

“If you’re going to kill me, tell me why you’re doing it. If you just tell me that much, I… If I don’t know why, I won’t just do as you say…!”

The strength that had once left her once again filled her limbs as she mustered up her willpower.

This was rage, rage had given her this strength. Even though she was plunging into the depths of despair, even though the sense of loss was breaking her, her rage lit up her power. That was what was happening here.

“I, Protect the world’s balance. You are a threat to this world’s peace…”

“I don’t know anything about that! I haven’t done or even thought anything like that! That’s not the sort of thing I want you to tell me! I’m talking about the sin I committed!”

“Thou, Your, Past, Committed, Crime, Sin―”

In response to his argument that seemed like nothing more than a false accusation, Emilia expressed her irritation directly. Her objection caused the man and the spirit’s voices to mix together as they fixed their flaming eyes on Emilia. Looking at her, they continued.

“I, I, Unknown, as if I’d know.”

“――.――.――Ha”

The flame’s words burned brightly, and their contents momentarily rendered Emilia speechless.

Seeing her reaction, the flame repeated itself.

“I, Thou, sin or whatever, I have no clue―”

“――! That can’t be…?! Then why…?!”

In response to his unbelievable statement, Emilia gasped frantically as her voice caught.

The flame had answered her. It wasn’t concerned about Emilia’s past or the sin she had committed.

Then―

“Then why are you, for what reason?!”

“You are, criminal. I am, criminal judgement. That is, I, Mission―”

“But you’re saying you don’t know anything about my sin, aren’t you?!”

Emilia’s past, the source of her guilt. Though it did not know about them, the flame had declared her guilty.

Emilia’s voice grew tight at the absurdity of the situation, and to her the flame said,

“Thou, Existence, that is your sin―”

“――”

“Your very existence in this world is a sin. That is unforgivable. A great sin―”

“――u”

She let out a ragged breath.

And before she knew it, she had once again sunk down to the ground. Even the strength that her chaotic emotions brought forth had now disappeared, and she could no longer move properly. That was how badly those words just now had wounded her heart.

“Thou, Half-Devil. You are the descendant of the Witch. Thou, World Balance, bring about destruction. That Is Sin―”

Tormented by the violent words striking her, Emilia could no longer even raise her face.

Half-Devil, Witch, Danger to the World, she had nothing to do with any of that. She had no clue. Even so, she was declared a sinner.

She had spent countless sleepless nights assailed by her guilt. And when she would wake from her nightmares, the question of what she did in the past would wring her heart.

Hated by everyone, ostracized by everyone, distanced by everyone, these always brought her heartache.

Something had happened, there was some reason, the reason lay within her sealed memories, that was what she believed.

Her awareness of her sin in itself became a form of support for Emilia.

A form of support that allowed her to accept the situation she was placed in, and that she had to live all alone.

Despite this, the crimson flame casting accusations upon her burned away all of that, declaring this:

―You cannot be allowed to exist, your life itself is a sin.

“… Why is it always like this?”

As Emilia powerlessly hung her head, a hoarse, tearful voice left her lips.

“The reason you all hate me… Why is it always something I can’t do anything about…?”

If the sin she committed was the cause, she wanted to be judged for it. If atonement was possible, she would do anything.

But if she was hated because she was not an elf, but a half-elf, there was nothing she could do about that.

But if she was hated because her silver hair and amethyst eyes resembled those of the Witch, there was nothing she could do about that.

But if she was hated because she was a half-devil, a witch, a threat to the world’s balance, there was nothing she could do about that.

“If you loathe me, if you hate me… Make me the reason you do so…”

“Denial. I, Sentiment Unrelated. You are a half-devil, you are a witch, that is your sin―”

“This is about me, so why are you talking about someone else…?! I’m Emilia, just Emilia… Not a half-devil, not the Witch. Look at me, talk about me and not someone else…”

Emilia raised her head, voicing this desperate plea as tears streamed down her cheeks.

With her hand on her chest, she faced the flame that burned away criminals as she declared that the girl standing before it was her own person.

Amethyst eyes filled with tears and silver hair fluttering in the hot wind― In response to this girl who possessed the characters of the Witch who brought disaster, the crimson flame―The Arbiter spoke loudly.

“I, I, Arbiter Melakuera. Trial, Arbitration, Execute Judgement―”

The unfeeling arbiter did not offer the slightest bit of sympathy to her plea that seemed to reach one’s very soul.

The flame’s form then changed, its humanoid shape swelled up, taking on a half-human and half-horse appearance. The flame’s hooves seared the ground, with fire hot enough to scorch eyeballs.

The absurd heat it was gathering would completely and utterly burn away Emilia’s existence, mercilessly ending her with no remorse, sorrow, or anything.

“――”

The tears flowing down her cheeks evaporated. Emilia simply stared at this countdown to her death.

If it released those flames, she would disappear into nothingness. That was the man’s― No, Melakuera’s role as the arbiter, to mercilessly erase from this world with not a trace left.

She would vanish, become nothing. The days she had spent living here were something no one desired.

―It wasn’t even about how she lived.

Her existence was, to the forest, to her companions, to anyone and everyone, completely meaningless. It didn’t even matter who she was, that Emilia was Emilia.

Nobody, not one single person, would ever even call her name―

“―Puck.”

On the verge of erasure, Emilia regretfully mouthed that name.

Her life that no one desired. Within it, there was just one being who would call her by name.

Imagining the familiar cat with her eyes closed, with this one and only warm memory―

“Arbitration, Execute―”

Light rushed towards her.

The swelling red light reached her in the blink of an eye, and then―

“―That’s enough.”

A gray cat appeared before her and brushed away the red hot light.

4

“―You properly called my name this time. That’s great, Emilia.”

The cat smiled back at Emilia as he waved his tail.

The cat’s attitude, conduct, and smile were all familiar, and Emilia’s throat tightened.

Puck shook his head at Emilia as she repeatedly faltered, unable to even say his name because of how sudden this was.

“Relax, there’s no rush. We’ll have plenty of time to talk. ― After I drive this guy away.”

“Brethren. You, I, Clash with Part―”

“How noisy. This is between me and this girl, don’t interfere.”

Puck’s mood turned sour as he frowned, and the next instant bullets of light were fired at Melakuera.

The centaur raised its forehooves to intercept this sudden attack, and trampled the approaching light bullets with its blazing hooves. However, its hooves that touched the light were frozen in an instant, after which they fell off with a low sound.

Of course, Melakuera was able to reform his lost hooves with flames right away, but in response to Puck’s attack that declared further conversation would be useless, he made his entire body billow as he cautiously raised his firepower.

“Hey, did you know? It seems that those who get in others’ way end up getting kicked to death by a horse. But if it’s a horse getting in your way, that doesn’t seem to make much sense, huh. Well, that’s a saying about romance, though.”

[T/N: Refers to a Japanese saying, people who interfere in others’ love lives should get kicked to death by a horse.]“Brethren, Appeal Stand By. That Half-Devil, True Nature Exposed. Witch Descendant, Annihilation Necessity―”

“I don’t really care about any of that nonsense. That body is… The bad beardy, huh. You deceived him and borrowed his body to trick my barrier, I see. You’re as sneaky as ever.”

The two spirits exchanged words, but the rift between them could not be filled, and Puck in particular made his hostility clear.

The cat used his tail to point to Emilia as his eyes filled with rage.

“Poor girl, she’s about to cry. You hurt her with your heartless words. With your worthless suspicion and nonsensical delusions. With this, we’ve become enemies for life.”

“That Girl, Half-Devil! She’s the reincarnation of the Witch! That girl is a menace who shall bring ruin to the world’s balance!”

“The world, the world, like that’s the only thing you know… It’s tedious. You think that anyone and everyone would be out to do something to the world if they just had a little power? Let me tell you, there’s no one so obsessed with the world as you. And also, the world doesn’t need you or your power nearly as much as you think.”

“Contempt, Firm Refusal! My mission, objective, denied, as if I’ll let you get away with―”

“Looks like we’re finally on the same page. I can’t forgive you either.”

As Puck’s anger got colder and colder, Melakuera’s blazing rage responded to it. The two spirits who held extreme power were already beyond the point of reconciliation.

A clash between them was now inevitable. However―

“Puck, no… You can’t win, you’ll die…”

Shaking her head, Emilia pleaded with Puck from behind as he prepared for battle.

She was happy that he came for her. She was truly happy. But―

“If you die too, then… No…”

“―It’s going to be a bit of a problem if you underestimate me, Emilia. Sure, he might look a little stronger, but I have an overwhelming advantage when it comes to cuteness and fluffiness.”

As Emilia tried to stop him, Puck deliberately put on a carefree expression and raised his hands to encourage her.

However, Emilia who was a spirit arts user understood. All over Puck’s behavior, and in the corners of his smiling face, there were signs of exhaustion that he couldn’t conceal.

It seemed that something had happened before he got here, he had already used up a considerable amount of his power. That definitely couldn’t be ignored considering his opponent was Melakuera, an opponent at the same level as him.

“Bluff Futile. Your resistance is pointless. Your, Reserve, Enormous Expenditure―”

And this fact was clear to Melakuera as well.

Despite this, Puck continued to face the centaur as he proudly threw his chest out.

“Saying that sort of thing, considering how I just took out a part of you that you put quite a bit of effort into, it seems to me that you’re actually scared on the inside, isn’t that right?”

“Cowardice Nonexistent. Imprudent, Shallow, I’m disappointed, you damned cat!”

“Be disappointed all you want.― You can go ahead and turn into shaved ice while you look down on me!”

Ending their conversation, the one who acted first was Puck who overlapped his paws. An all-freezing light emerged from his linked paws, gushing out straight towards Melakuera.

Melakuera countered the instantly approaching light with a flame bullet. The white light and crimson flame collided, and the space between absolute hot and absolute cold was ripped apart.

“――!”

The resulting explosion of wind ran amok like a typhoon, and Emilia desperately clung to ground on the verge of being blown away. As this happened, the cat and the flaming horse flew through the wind and clashed mid-air.

“How about you become an ice sculpture too, and get polished by that girl every morning?”

“Firm, there’s absolutely no way―”

His joking provocation was taken seriously and angrily rejected.

Forming white light in the shape of a sword, Puck used it to attack the flaming horse. The light grazed Melakuera and slashed the world diagonally, and in an instant the sky, the ground, the forest, everything in the light’s path froze.

Puck then spun his body, swinging the sword of light all over the place as he spun like a top. His body was well suited to this high speed rotation, and the tornado of light turned into an onslaught of countless attacks relentlessly pursuing Melakuera.

However, Melakuera wasn’t just going to sit there and take it. As the centaur dodged this extraordinary sword dance, it underwent a bizarre transformation, changing into a mass of flame.

“Rushing to finish it, Reserve Nonexistent! Proof! You’re going to lose and die!”

Having changed into swirling hellfire, Melakuera’s power and the hostility of the man it fused with roared.

The swelling crimson flame struggled against Puck’s sword of light, ultimately burning away the freezing sword with its extreme firepower, and the freezing waves were at once overwhelmed by the scorching heat.

“Puck―!”

Emilia screamed in despair at this scene that proved the man’s, Melakuera’s declaration of victory.

At this rate, the cat’s small body would be swallowed up by the flaming horse’s raging fire―

“A cornered rat bites the cat― I’m a cat, though.”

“What, What―!”

Puck was engulfed by the flames, and immediately after Emilia screamed, Melakuera who was supposed to have the advantage suddenly had his torso swell from the inside. His torso formed from flames swelled to the point of bursting, and finally flowers of ice bloomed from it as if ripping through the flame.

Puck had slipped into the flaming horse’s body, and created a beautiful explosion of powerful magic from within.

“And this is what you call roasting the flesh and crushing the Od.”

“Imposs, ible… That Phrase, I, Unknown―”

“I just thought of it as I said it, you see.”

As the astonished flame ruptured, Puck who was still in good health inside it was holding a red light.

A light that could be held by Puck who was small enough to fit in a palm― That was the core of a spirit, the Od. To a spirit it was the source of their life, and when exposed it was also a fatal weak point.

If their defenseless Od were to be crushed, any spirit would die. Even Melakuera.

“Any last words?”

Puck who quite literally had victory in his hands asked this as if offering his final sympathies. With its Od stolen by Puck, the mass of flame that was losing its form started blazing especially bright―

“This, can’t… I, with the spirit’s power, get my revenge on that girl…”

“You were just used as a Yorishiro, but I don’t really pity you in the slightest.”

“Don’t sc…! I, Arbiter Melakuera. Mission, Carry Out. World, Protect Balance, Deterrence―”

“I see. Those were both lackluster farewells, but I’ll be sure to engrave them on your tombstones.”

Intense hatred and unshakeable tenacity, Puck carelessly tilted his head at these two extremes. He then used his magic to mercilessly freeze Melakuera’s Od, crushing it completely.

Like a fruit being crushed, Melakuera’s Od scattered into red particles disappointingly easily. At the same time the flames drifting through the air also turned pale, and were blown away unable to even resist the wind.

There was nothing left. Not of the mighty Great Spirit, nor of the pathetic man it used.

“――”

Puck slowly descended to Emilia who was unable to believe what had just happened. With his tail swaying in the wind, the cat looked at her battered state with sad eyes.

The emotions filling his round eyes caused dread to well up in Emilia, making her grab her shoulders. Reminded of Melakuera’s outrageous accusations, she tightly embraced her slender body.

Melakuera had declared this: The reason Emilia was ostracized by everyone, was because she was a half-devil, a witch.

There were many people who had called her a witch thus far. The people in that village nearby, the scoundrels who came to commit evil in the forest, the bearden man who was obsessed with her, and finally the Great Spirit Melakuera―

Every single one of them, they were not looking at Emilia, they looked past her at the Witch as they said those words.

And that was probably―

“Emilia, let’s rest a bit first. You probably can’t think straight right now no matter how hard you try.”

“――”

Puck’s gentle, considerate voice made her afraid. She couldn’t look him in the eye. She didn’t want to find out what emotions were reflected in his eyes.

She wanted to believe. Emilia wanted to believe in Puck. However, if even Puck was looking past her at someone else, what would she do?

“… Emilia.”

As Emilia shook her head in refusal, Puck called her name in a lonesome voice.

She couldn’t raise her head. The threat of Melakuera had passed, the great black liquid was gone too, the forest was supposed to be free of danger now, but she now felt far more isolated than ever before.

“Puck, did you know…?”

With her head still lowered, without showing her face, Emilia asked this of the spirit who was always by her side.

Emilia’s bloodline that she herself was unaware of. Puck knew more than her about the world, the forest, and maybe even Emilia herself, perhaps he knew about it.

“That I’m a half-devil… That I’m different from everyone else.”

“Emilia, there’s no such thing as a half-devil. Don’t say that sort of thing.”

“――”

“It’s true that you’re different from the forest’s elves. You’re a half-elf. That’s the truth.”

“――”

Her breath caught, and she clutched her chest despite her heart’s pounding.

He knew. Puck knew about her origin after all. He knew, and kept it secret until now, never telling her it was something bad.

“Why didn’t you tell me?! That I have evil, evil… Blood? Was it blood? If I knew I was descended from that sort of blood, this…!”

“―That’s wrong! That shouldn’t be something that hurts you!”

“No…!”

As Emilia dug her nails into her shoulders, Puck’s voice turned desperate for the first time as he yelled this.

Puck’s grim voice was so close she could touch him, causing her to step back instinctively.

Raising her head, she looked at him. He looked terribly hurt by her reaction. Seeing this, Emilia realized that she had committed a sin that she shouldn’t have―

“―a”

―Heat rays closed in from every direction, shooting the floating cat down.

5

Even when burned by heat rays beyond imagination, a spirit’s body would turn black or anything of the sort.

Unless the attack penetrated the defenses of the mana composing their body and harmed their Od, the spirit would appear to be in perfect condition.

However, if their Od were to sustain fatal damage, the spirit’s existence would crumble away like sand.

Just like Melakuera, whose Od was crushed by Puck just moments before.

―And just like Puck, who was currently dissipating into particles of light in Emilia’s palms.

“Brethren, Foolish. Result, Natural―”

“Real Body, Equivalent Part, One Body, Not―”

“Total Seven, Two Forfeit―”

“Arbitration, No Obstacle!―”

“I, Arbiter Melakuera”

Descending from above her were five voices and five flames.

The flames surrounded Emilia, and circled around her as they changed shape. The crimson lights produced four limbs, a torso, and a head sporting a mane, five flaming horses had manifested into the world.

All five of these flaming horses were beings equal to the Great Spirit that had just been defeated― No, not equal beings. One could believe they were the exact same being.

This was nothing special, the principle was simple.

The Great Spirit Melakuera had divided his existence into seven parts, and was controlling each of them individually.

Possessing seven bodies each of which was on par with Puck, he used this overwhelming power to monitor threats to the world, secretly acting as a force to deter any potential causes of calamity.

His unrivaled conviction was backed up by this power, he truly lived up to the title of Great Spirit.

―But this fact currently held no meaning at all to Emilia.

“Puck… Puck…”

She paid no attention at all to the five great spirits surrounding her or the fact that her death was rapidly approaching.

Right now, she was completely focused on the spirit that was fading away in her palm.

“――”

Completely powerless, Puck’s fallen body did not stir an inch. The contours of his body were steadily blurring, and it seemed like he could disappear in the blink of an eye. So Emilia couldn’t allow herself to blink.

But it was clear that this would have absolutely no effect on Puck’s disappearance, she could not delay it in the slightest.

“… Puck…”

Puck gave no response to her call. He did not even react.

Normally, he would spring right up at any moment and say ‘Just kidding―’. However, even Emilia understood that that wasn’t going to happen now.

Puck was beyond saving. Just like the lesser spirits, he too would die protecting her.

“Brethren. His Death, Meaningless. Brethren, His Death, Regrettable―”

“Why… Did you…”

Puck’s feeble warmth, feeling it to the fullest with her fingers, Emilia turned toward Melakuera who was saying something or other. The tears on her cheeks were drying. Her eyes were fully open.

The gaze of those amethyst eyes caused all five flaming horses to intensify their flames.

“It’s fine if you hate me.”

“Denial. I, Thou, Hatred Nonexistent―”

“It’s fine if you loathe me.”

“Denial. I, Thou, Loathing Nonexistent―”

“If you were only hurting me, I could take it. But despite that, the lesser spirits, and Puck, like this…!”

“Denial. I, Deed, Hindrance Elimination. Brethren Sacrifice, Thou, Sin―”

“If! My life! Was such a terrible thing!”

Why did she alone awaken from the ice?

Why did she live by herself in the forest?

Why did no one tell her?

Why, if her being alive was such a sin―

“Was I born to bring someone misfortune…?”

Filling others with dread, hurting someone, losing her lesser spirits, and now losing Puck too.

And after giving rise to all this sorrow, Emilia herself would lose her life.

“Affirmative―”

As Emilia trembled, Melakuera powerfully stomped on the ground as he affirmed her despair.

The spirit announced this to the girl stricken by the grief and sorrow brought about by her existence:

“Thou, Involve, Another Misfortune―”

“Thou, Acquaintance, Calamity―”

“Thou, World, Balance Collapse, Threat―”

“Therefore, Thou, Annihilation Necessity―”

“Thou, Existence, Grave Sin―”

The five spirits spoke in turn, calling out the surrounded girl’s crimes.

And finally, the five voices spoke in unison.

“World Consensus, Thou, Death, Crave―!”

Representing the world’s desire, the five Melakueras simultaneously delivered their verdict. The voices from all five directions desired her death, this crushed Emilia’s heart.

She lowered her eyes, and though her tears had dried, just one drop flowed downward.

And landed on Puck’s forehead as lay in her palm, on the verge of disappearing.

“―I’m sorry, Puck.”

An apology, not for getting him wrapped up in this, nor for disobeying his instructions, nor for anything that happened in the days until now. This apology was for just one thing.

For being born, for being alive, and for bringing him misfortune, that was what she was apologizing for.

In those words were disappointment in herself, and an empty hopelessness―

“―Don’t screw around.”

Emilia gasped when she felt the vanishing spirit in her palm move.

In her field of view that was blurred by that single tear, she could see the spirit tremble as it got up. The cat spirit’s body was fading away, but its black eyes were filled with intense emotion,

“Don’t screw around, Melakuera…!”

With his voice trembling with rage, Puck glared at the Melakueras surrounding them.

“How many times are you going to make her cry? How many times are you going to hurt her? How much will you make her suffer? How much light will you steal from her…?!”

“Brethren. Thou, Annihilation, Unavoidable―”

“The reason this girl was born! Is not something you get to decide!”

“Puck…”

Her cheeks stiffened, and the tears that should have stopped started flowing again. Emilia desperately tried to keep her trembling out of her palm. She thought that even the slightest interference could make Puck vanish.

“This girl was… Emilia was born with blessings and hope…!”

On her palm, the spirit yelled even on the verge of disappearing.

His mana came loose with each roar, steadily shaving away his body. However, Puck persisted in spite of this, and thrust his tail at Melakuera who maintained his burning coldheartedness.

“This girl will become happy. Happily, happily, happily… Someone’s misfortune or being shunned by someone, there’s absolutely no need for such things to hurt her. This girl was born to be happy. Emilia was born to be happy!”

“Firm Denial. Anybody, That Birth, Desire―”

“I do―!!”

“Ridiculous! Firm Denial, Continuation―!”

Puck struck his chest as he said this, and all five voices responded in unison.

The five overlapping voices spoke the same words denying Emilia’s existence and Puck’s screams.

“That Power, Witch Reincarnation! That Appearance, Witch Reincarnation! That Existence, Witch Reincarnation! Therefore, World, That Existence, Threat! That, History, Spiral! Error, Endless Repetition! Error, Endless Transmigration! I, Endless, World Downfall, Crisis, Experience―!”

“You’re not talking about me! Nor are you talking about this girl, quit spouting off about whoever! No one’s talking about that! Now, look at the girl in front of you and answer me, Melakuera!”

Their turbulent emotions collided, and in response to Melakuera’s roars Puck pointed to Emilia.

To the girl who had fallen to her knees sobbing, afraid of Puck’s impending doom, wounded by the insistence that no one wanted her alive, plunging into the depths of despair even now.

“She’s just a girl in tears. Where the hell is this threat to the world?!”

“That Power, Threat! That Mind, Immature, Threat! Crisis, Oneself, Approach. Uncontrollable, Magic, Easily Released. That State, Threat! Threat! Threat―!!”

“―hiu”

Emilia, weak-hearted as she was, thoughtlessly used the taboo power multiple times.

Because of this, Melakuera had decided that he could not overlook her existence. In order to protect herself, she would use her uncontrollable power, he regarded this mentality as dangerous.

That was an undeniable fact. Emilia could offer no rebuttal. However―

“The Black Serpent’s poison at the bottom of the lake, weren’t you the one who released it into the forest?! Tricking a weak-hearted person into cooperating with your plan… You trapped Emilia.”

Melakuera’s accusation enraged Puck even further. The cat examined their surroundings, and correctly deduced what had occurred at the ruined shore.

“You intentionally put her in a dangerous situation, and just waited to see if she would use her power!”

“――”

“And in the end, you brought out the source of the poison and had it fight her, isn’t that right. It’s true that she used her power when she was in a bind. But the whole thing was just a farce of your creation, wasn’t it…!”

“Details, Argument Meaningless! Truth, That Girl, Uncontrollable, Magic, Use―”

“Both of us would have done the same thing! If we were in danger, we would try to do something with our power. Despite that, are you trying to say this girl is the only one not allowed to do that?!”

“Affirmative! That, That Is, Fate―”

“―Fate.”

There was absolutely no room for argument, Melakuera firmly declared this, and Puck repeated the last word he spoke.

Fate, to the self-appointed Arbiter Melakuera, this word truly was the be all and end all.

It would not allow anyone to object. Because fate was decided by the world itself.

This magnificence of this word that denied all resistance took Emilia’s breath away―

“―We won’t lose to something as trivial as fate.”

Puck said this with a smile, and Emilia forgot all about having her breath taken away.

“――”

Both Emilia and Melakuera fell silent at Puck’s slight smile. Under their gazes, Puck calmly turned around and faced Emilia directly.

The cat on her palm was already disintegrating, and yet he groomed his face like nothing was wrong.

‘――Emilia, let’s form a contract.”

“――”

“Nonsense―!”

His sudden proposal rendered Emilia speechless, and Melakuera loudly expressed his rage in her place.

But Puck waved his tail at the raging flame spirit,

“Be quiet, Melakuera. This is the sacred dialogue between spirit and contractor. Someone as obsessed with the rules as you shouldn’t be able to interfere.”

“――”

Perhaps his statement was right on the mark, Melakuera chose to remain silent in response. There was no longer anyone getting between Puck and Emilia. There wasn’t anyone, but―

“Puck, why…”

“The situation isn’t very romantic, sorry about that. But look, I could disappear at any moment, so I’d definitely say there’s a certain mood to the situation.”

“No, that’s not it…”

She shook her head. Puck’s current attitude was completely different from what it was when he was facing Melakuera. His voice was gentle and his gaze was warm, and it made her chest hurt.

She understood he was on the verge of vanishing and didn’t have much time, but she still hesitated.

“… If that’s not it, what are you worried about?”

“I mean, you… Until now, you never once mentioned a contract. So, I…”

It was Puck himself who discovered Emilia’s aptitude as a spirit arts user.

And he was also the one who taught her how to form a contract with lesser spirits, and helped her do it. She was thankful for this. However, at the same time it also made her anxious.

He was a whimsical stay spirit who wasn’t contracted with anyone, but even though he was always following Emilia around, he had never once offered to form a contract with her.

“I thought someday, you’d go away somewhere… That’s what I thought, so…”

“―That’s, I guess I didn’t give off the right impression.”

She was afraid that broaching the topic of a contract would mean acknowledging that they might eventually part.

She thought that perhaps Puck was silently expressing his intent by avoiding the topic of a contract.

Because of this, Emilia never once suggested to Puck that they should form a contract, she couldn’t.

“Seriously, you’re so distrustful, like an unfriendly kitten.”

As she revealed her thoughts, Puck scratched his cheek with a somewhat troubled smile. He then floated up to Emilia’s face with a lazy expression.

Separating from her palm, he met her eyes from directly in front her, so close that they could feel each other’s breaths.

“Alright then, I’ll properly convey it in a way you can understand.”

“… Yeah.”

“You’re important to me, so I want to protect you forever.”

The spirit with round black eyes said this and then touched his forehead against that of the girl who possessed big, amethyst eyes.

“― You were born to be happy. So I want to help you achieve that.”

Not vanishing, not embarrassed, and not deceiving, this was pure compassion.

Those words pierced Emilia’s heart, erasing the ache from her memories and her guilt.

All she felt now was the warmth of the spirit touching her.

“You won’t go anywhere?”

“I won’t. I’ll always be with you.”

“You won’t hate me?”

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who loves you more than I do.”

And as the spirit smiled bashfully, the girl faintly smiled as well―

“Then, please. ― Let me believe in you.”

“Sure thing.”

In response to the girl’s smile, the spirit casually struck his chest―

“―Called by you, I am here. If it’s for you, I can become anything.”

And with that, the contract was sealed―

6

In the very beginning, it all started when a spark emerged from a small campfire.

Back then, it did not yet possess either intelligence or anything that could be called self-awareness. It just remembered that this was its beginning.

On a cold night out in the wilderness, surrounding the campfire it was born from, was a family seeking warmth.

There was nothing about them really worth mentioning, they were a completely average family.

A stern father, a gentle mother, a disciplined elder sister, and a mischievous younger brother. A kind of family you could find anywhere, a scene you could see anywhere.

―They traveled from land to land, living their lives all over the world.

Over the course of their travels, fire was indispensable to them whenever they set up camp. Cold, bandits, unforeseen circumstances, fire would prove useful no matter the situation, it possessed universally useful power.

“Once we’ve chosen where to camp, light the fire. From now on, that is your duty.”

The father passed down the important role of managing the fire to the youngest son.

The young boy would enthusiastically gather withered wood and light a fire whenever they set up camp. And when the campfire was lit, ‘it’ would appear from the flames.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

From the moment the flames gave it life, it forever accompanied this family on their travels. It had no reason. It did not possess the intelligence to think of one. If it had to say, it was simply natural.

Going with the flow, it continued to accompany the family on their long, hard travels.

Extremely cold snowscapes, deserts full of hot sand, huge, rushing rivers, enormous, dense forests, there were far too many to count.

However, no matter what hardships befell them, when he settled down at their campsites and lit their fires, the boy was at peace. The flickering, wavering flame provided the family relief and tranquility.

And ‘it’ was always with them. With the flame, with the family, always.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

And then a long, long time passed, years, even decades.

This time that didn’t feel particularly long to ‘it’ was plenty long to humans who had finite lifespans.

He who was a boy when he first gathered around the flame had become a young man, and then the young man became a father, after which the father became a grandfather, and now, he lay at the end of his life.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

His once youthful and lively voice had now become hoarse, and his hair had lost its color.

The old man lying on a crude bed repeated these words any number of times as if delirious.

He had already lost sight of reality. That was what his family thought as they each in their own way bid farewell to their grandfather, their father, their husband.

There was only being in the room who understood that his words were not nonsense.

‘It’ which had accompanied the boy for so long, which had watched over the young man, which had spent its time with the father, and which was now bidding the grandfather farewell from the quietly burning fireplace in the corner of the room.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

Those words were a prayer from the boy as he lit a spark on the withering wood and blew on it to make it burn. Even as a young man, a father, a grandfather, he would always say this prayer whenever he lit a fire. This prayer whispered so quietly that no one could hear it was a secret known only to the old man who had once been a boy and ‘it’ which had accompanied him.

So that it wouldn’t lose to the freezing wind, so that it would drive away the savage bandits, so that it would protect them from suffering and misfortune, so that the family could live in happiness―

The old man who had once been a boy was always with the flame, always with ‘it’. So even as he was losing his life, he prayed for his family’s safety.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

To the very end, the old man that had been a boy continued to whisper this prayer.

His family buried his corpse that had lost its soul under the freezing ground. ‘It’ wanted to burn his remains to ashes.

It did not know the reason. At this moment, for the first time, it gained self-awareness.

“―A flame, a spark, a friend.”

A friend, that was what he had called it.

It recalled the prayer of the man who was now buried under the freezing ground, never to move again.

“Friend―”

Until the very end of his life, he continued to pray to it for his family’s safety and wellbeing.

The man who had spent his entire life with the flame― The man who was its one and only friend had entrusted everything to the flame.

It had to protect them. It had to fulfill its friend’s final prayer.

“I, Sole, Friend. That Name, Melakuera. Therefore, My Name, Melakuera―”

“It’ took the name engraved onto his tombstone as its own.

He had accompanied it his entire life, until he finally burned out. Therefore, his name would live on with ‘it’ until ‘it’ burned out.

“I, Melakuera―”

It was still but a lesser spirit far from the status of spirit, however its purpose had already been decided.

It would fulfill its friend’s prayer. It would fulfill Melakuera’s hope, he who had entrusted it with maintaining peace and tranquility.

It would protect the world from all dangers. It would save others from all suffering.

―Its friend’s life was proof that fire was a power that could protect everything.

7

He did not understand why he suddenly remembered his past at this moment.

That was his origin, which Melakuera himself had started to forget. Regardless of the reason, regardless of the details, who Melakuera was right now would not change.

But having uncovered this memory tucked away at the bottom of his mind, Melakuera understood.

He had sworn a vow before the grave of his one and only friend who had prayed to him until the very end.

The man had accompanied him until his life burned out. So in exchange, his name would live on with the Great Spirit Melakuera until he burned out. This was his vow.

Therefore, it was inevitable that he would now remember that day.

The deterrent that protected the world, one of the Four Great Spirits, the Arbiter Melakuera― His end was near.

“This is a complete reversal from before, huh.”

“――”

“To be honest, I’m a little disappointed. Even though you’re missing parts of yourself, I never imagined that I’d be this much stronger than you.”

As Melakuera reminisced about his origin, a voice much more fierce than its tone would suggest pierced him. When the flaming horse lowered itself, it met a towering beast’s eyes right before it.

―Calmly standing there was a feline beast more than twenty meters long.

With gray fur and a mane like a lion. The tips of all four limbs were as sharp as talons, and its formerly round, black eyes now glowed gold. Even its countenance that would have been considered cute by human standards had now changed into that of a carnivore craving flesh and blood.

There wasn’t even a trace of its former appearance. The form of a fellow spirit that had released his his true power―

“Four Greats, Outsider. Beast Of The End―”

“I can’t say I’m very fond of that old-fashioned name. Furthermore…”

The great beast grimaced at Melakuera’s murmur, and then swung its paw sideways. In an instant, one of the flaming horses charging from the right took a direct hit, and its flaming body was easily ripped away. In other words, its Od had been exposed―

“For one of the Four Greats, you’re not putting up much of a fight.”

Ensnaring it with its claws, his fellow spirit ripped the Od apart with no hesitation. That was all it took for the part of himself that had been ripped open to lose its core and for the flames to then disappear with a noise.

Every single one of his parts fell before the Beast of The End, and what was left was―

“You’re the only one left.”

“Affirmative, I, Melakuera. Last, Individual―”

“Perhaps you’re just saying that when in truth you’ve got reserves hiding elsewhere? You’re pretty cunning, so I can’t really believe you just like that.”

“Investigation, Caution, Thy Liberty―”

“‘Go ahead and doubt me all you want’, huh. Well, I’ll believe you. ― No matter what tricks you get up to, you wouldn’t lie.”

His fellow spirit that had transformed its appearance only resembled its small self in terms of gestures as it closed one eye.

Saying nothing in response to his fellow spirit’s carefree attitude, the final Melakuera raised his head. He was looking up at the slender girl clinging to the gray fur on the giant beast’s back.

“――”

The girl tightly holding on to his fellow spirit did not avert her eyes from him. There were no tears in her eyes, there was only calm determination as her cheeks stiffened.

Silver hair, amethyst eyes, and devilish beauty that captured the hearts of those who looked upon her― Regardless of what she herself thought, they would probably continue to cast a shadow on her fate.

Melakuera did not regret telling her that her existence itself was a sin.

However, he did regret that he could not stop this sin from continuing to torment her.

“Brethren. Thou, Cruel. That Girl, Alienation, Hatred, Fear, Inevitable―”

“That might be the case. Certainly, just as you say this world does have too many troublesome rules and restrictions that would make it just a little hard for her to proudly be out and about.”

“Agreement. Doubt Recurrence. Why, Thou, That Girl, Cruelty Inevitable, World, Push To―”

“That’s because I believe.”

A gentle and tender tone, this statement didn’t really fit his current beastly appearance, but Melakuera waited for his fellow spirit to continue.

Belief. Like Melakuera had believed in the power of flame in order to fulfill his friend’s prayer.

Why did his fellow spirit that was worthy of the title ‘The Beast of The End’ believe in the half-devil girl on his back? What did he see in her?

“I believe that this girl can strive for happiness no matter what kind of world she’s facing.”

“――”

“I believe she’s that kind of girl, so I want to help her achieve that. It is for this reason, Melakuera, that your line of thinking was inaccurate. Although I’ve been telling you this from the start.”

He had no basis, he believed just because he wanted to believe, as he spoke these extremely spirit-like words, Melakuera’s fellow spirit brought his head down to Melakuera who had fallen silent and wrinkled his face as he smiled.

“This girl will not become the Witch. ― Your worries are nothing more than pointless anxiety.”

With this clear declaration, it seemed his fellow spirit had no intention of saying anything further. The flaming horse remained silent for a while in response to his fellow spirit’s attitude, and then once again directed his burning yellow eyes toward the girl.

His impression of the girl stiffening at his gaze had not changed one bit.

“Thou, Half-Devil. Thou, Witch, Descendant. Thou, World, Balance Collapse, Threat―”

“――”

“Thou, That Doubt, Denial Possible―?”

That she was a half-devil, that she was similar to the Witch, that she possessed a power that could destroy the world, not one of these things would change.

He just wondered how the girl and his fellow spirit would overcome these.

“Just as you said, it seems I’m a half-elf.”

“――”

“Different from everyone else in the forest, with hair and eyes resembling those of the Witch, and furthermore with a reeeally huge power sleeping in my body, I understand that you think that make me dangerous.”

“――”

“I’m a weakling and a coward, so if I were alone something like this would definitely happen again. That’s reeeally scary… However, Puck will be with me.”

The girl strung her words together with difficulty, expressing her opinion in such a way that it would be easily understood.

She possessed silver hair and amethyst eyes, the same characteristics as the Witch, but she continued with this,

“I won’t become a witch like you’re worried about. I’m Emilia. A half-elf born and living in this forest.”

She who possessed silver hair and amethyst eyes, the same characteristics as the Witch, declared that she was not the same as the Witch.

Consequently―

“Understood Completely―”

Accepting her gaze and resolve, Melakuera gave his answer after which his burning hooves bored into the ground.

Waves of heat spread with the tremors, and his fellow spirit and the girl both widened their eyes when they saw him once again create a sea of flames. With a sidelong glance at their reactions, Melakuera’s flames became even more powerful, and expanded.

His body became a roaring blaze, and the crimson horse of flame reached a size rivaling that of the Beast of The End. The Great Spirit of Fire and the Great Spirit of Ice confronted each other head-on.

“Thou, Appeal, Contents Understood. Thou, Survival, Resolve Understood. However, I, Arbiter Melakuera―”

His fellow spirit’s appeal and the girl’s resolve had both reached him. However, Melakuera’s several centuries weren’t so shallow as to be swayed by this. Melakuera too had his resolve as the protector of the world.

“I, Execute Arbitration! I, Carry Out Judgement! Thou, I, Everything, Show―!”

“――”

“Brethren, Nay. Thou, Puck. Half-Devil, Nay. Thou, Emilia―”

He called their respective names for the first time, and his fellow spirit and the girl―Puck and Emilia prepared themselves.

Lowering his body, Puck gripped the ground with his four limbs and Emilia tightly held on to him.

“Emilia.”

“What is it?”

“Once this battle is over, can I call you Lia?”

“… You dummy.”

With this exchange, countless bluish white lights started dancing around the fierce beast. His overflowing mana turned into waves of absolute zero and clashed with the waves of heat formed by Melakuera’s mana.

Fire and Ice, Crimson and White, Melakuera and Puck, the battle of two extremes would finally reach its conclusion.

“I, Arbiter Melakuera―”

“My name is Puck. Remember that name in the afterlife.”

The two great spirits exchanged introductions, and in the end his attention turned towards Emilia who did the same.

“I’m Emilia, just Emilia. ― I was born with that name, and will live with it until I die. I’ll be sure to remember you too.”

She declared resolutely, and in an instant the flaming horse and massive beast unleashed their power―

―In the end, the lake in the northern region of Elior Forest was utterly annihilated with not a trace left.

8

The evening sun descended on Elior Forest’s sky, and the snow-white forest was dyed orange.

The forest was always covered by thick clouds and snowfall persisted throughout the year. The very fact that they were able to look up at the sky’s evening glow could be said to be a catastrophe on par with a cataclysm.

But that sort of emotionless analysis wasn’t necessary right now. Just a few words, this would be nice.

“―What a beautiful sky.”

Falling to her knees on the snow, gazing at the sky and forest illuminated by the evening glow― The scene of the entire surface being dyed orange, Emilia seemed enraptured as she murmured this.

“It is quite the view, isn’t it. Guess Melakuera did something decent in the end.”

Saying this with a smile was Puck, who was by Emilia’s side gazing at the same scenery.

The spirit curled up his body that was more than twenty meters in size, and his fierce features somehow seemed to retain his usual charm. Even though his appearance had changed, his behavior was still the same as that of that cavalier little cat.

Finding it just a little bit funny, Emilia ended up smiling.

“Ah, you’re finally smiling, Emilia. Yep, even that idiot managed to do something good in the end.”

[T/N: Idiot contains the character for horse]“Puck, you’re going waaaaay too far.”

Emilia cautioned Puck who said this when he saw her smile.

Needless to say, Emilia herself did not hold a very favorable impression of the flame spirit, but―

“Melakuera, wasn’t he an old friend of yours?”

“Just an old acquaintance. I don’t really have very many friends, you see. Because cats are solitary creatures. Nyaon.”

“Puck, you dummy…”

Her strength suddenly left her when Puck mimicked a cat’s meow with that huge body of his. With a powerless posture, Emilia directed her gaze forward―Toward the peak of a hill from which one could see the entire forest.

There, dyed vermillion by the evening sun’s light, was a grave that was little more than a pile of rocks. The name of the flame spirit was engraved on it, but there was nothing buried there. It was a grave in name only.

Making such a thing might not have been any consolation to the Great Spirit. But for some reason, Emilia felt that she had to do it.

“I wanted to make him a more proper grave, but…”

“It’s a fine parting gift. You can think of this evening sky as a thank you.”

As Emilia stared at the grave, Puck responded while grooming his tail. His words caused Emilia to look up at the evening sun once more and let out a sigh of admiration.

The beautiful evening sky, a miraculous scenery that Melakuera had unintentionally created.

Puck seemed dissatisfied that it was because of Melakuera, but the details didn’t matter when it came to the deep emotions it produced. Come to think of it, this was Emilia’s first time seeing such a clear sky.

“This sunset too is something you couldn’t have seen if you died. The world still has a whole lot more that can make you happy.”

“… Yeah. I suppose so.”

“―Emilia?”

Emilia shook her head, “That’s not it.” In response to Puck’s puzzled voice.

She found it difficult to properly express these feelings in words. Emilia just needed some time to choose her words, and Puck affectionately looked over her without rushing her.

Right now, she was somewhat embarrassed to be gazed upon by those golden eyes full of consideration.

“――”

Her relationship with Puck had changed dramatically since they were now contracted to one another.

Until now, his whimsical, frivolous, flippant, aloof attitude had made her anxious countless times.

Unable to grasp his true feelings, not knowing if maybe he’d go away someday.

That was―

“Hmhmhmhmhmm”

When she cast a fleeting glance his way, she found him humming in a good mood. Not even knowing how she felt, like he was enjoying her confusion.

―Having formed a contract with him, they were now deeply connected, and through this connection she felt these emotions flow into her.

Within this colossal wave of emotions flowing into her, she felt a deep affection that made it hard to pull oneself away, and it made her so emotional she almost felt dizzy.

To think that he felt this way about her all along, she was so upset she wanted to kick herself for not realizing sooner.

Her ears and cheeks felt like they were burning. Her face was definitely red. She thought she could hide it from Puck by pretending it was from the evening light, but.

“Eh, Emilia, your face is turning red. Are you okay? Maybe it’s a fever from the exhaustion?”

“Th-That’s not the case. You’re probably just seeing things. Because you became so big.”

She completely failed to hide it, and spoke rapidly as she tried to evade his question. Puck grumbled, “Ehh, is that it I wonder―”, but she immediately cleared her throat and changed the subject.

Hiding her shame and embarrassment, she asked something she needed to ask.

“Hey, Puck. Why did you form a contract with me?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have?”

“That’s not it! That’s not it at all. It’s just, until now, even though you were jealous of those lesser spirits, you still…”

Puck had adamantly avoided the topic of forming a contract with her. What changed to make him choose to form one despite that?

“… You’re only sharp at times like this, and you just won’t give up until you get an answer, huh.”

In response to her sincere gaze, Puck muttered this with the nuance of a wry smile. He then directed a distant look at the evening sky,

“The reason I never spoke of forming a contract with you was because I made a vow. I can’t tell you who to, but the vow basically restricted me from entering a relationship of spirit and spirit user with you.”

“Vow…? That you wouldn’t form a contract with me? But, Puck…”

“It was a really important vow, you know? But compared to losing you… The choice was obvious.”

Puck spoke as if it was of no concern, but the weight of this made Emilia fall silent. To a spirit, a vow was of utmost importance. They had to keep their vows even at the cost of their life. When she formed her contract with the lesser spirits, it was Puck himself who taught her that.

“Doing something like that, are you okay…?”

“Hmm, to be honest I don’t really know what’s supposed to happen. I imagine there’ll probably be a lot of fallout. Ah, I’m not talking about my fur.”

[T/N: What Puck actually says here is more along the lines of various things will fall out.]“Don’t joke around at a time like this! You don’t even know what’s going to happen, and yet…”

“But it’s fine. You don’t need to worry, Emilia.”

In contrast to Emilia who was panicking at the seriousness of the matter, Puck’s laid-back attitude showed no signs of crumbling. His attitude made her anxious, but Puck continued.

“Even if something happens, we’re already connected. No matter what happens from now on, we’ll be together. So you have nothing to worry about.”

“――”

Puck’s manner of speaking was so cheerful it was as if he truly felt no unease or worry.

Because of this, Emilia restlessly looked around any number of times, and finally gave in to exhaustion.

“It’ll be okay because we’ll be together, you don’t even have any basis for saying that… You’re really not worried?”

“Not really? I mean, I’m satisfied as long as I get to be with you. So I don’t really care about any of the other stuff.”

“M―, The way you talk is so unfair…”

He’d talked away her unease and anger. After all, he had something so joyful. That he wanted to be with her, surely Puck had said something like that before―

“―a”

She let out a frail, strained breath.

Puck’s affection was slowly opening the lid to her memories, and the contents were pouring out.

Her dim, blurry memories connected, and were revived in that moment.

“――”

“Whoops, that was dangerous.”

Puck supported Emilia’s body with his paw when her sudden dizziness made her stumble. But the paw he had extended was the paw of a terrible beast. It was somewhat risky even though he skillfully caught her with his pads without letting his claws touch her.

“Aah, that was close. I got careless because I haven’t used this form in a long time. Sorry about that.”

“―Sorry.”

“Yeah, sorry. I’m sorry.”

“… Puck, you were apologizing to me back then too.”

Still leaning on his paw, Emilia looked into the giant cat’s eyes that were right beside her as she said this.

Her words caused Puck’s eyes to widen, after which his pupils contracted as if he realized something. And then the spirit that had turned from a small cat into a big one awkwardly averted his eyes.

“… You didn’t really have to remember that.”

“That’s wrong… That’s not how it was.”

Every night, she would see that dream. Every morning, she would wake from that dream. The answer to that dream made Emilia bite her lip. She grabbed the spirit who was still holding her, clinging to his fur as if to keep him from running away.

“Puck, back then… I, I…”

“Emilia, back then, you’d just woken up so you were in a serious panic. So no matter what you said it wouldn’t be weird, and I wouldn’t have minded no matter what you said to me. Also…”

As Emilia’s voice turned tearful, Puck gently, calmly spoke to her as if handling something terribly delicate. He then paused for a moment, and continued.

“I was happy. That you needed me.”

“――”

“I can say this now, but although you were in that state back then, I was in quite the state myself. After all, in my hundreds of years of life… That was my first big moment. Makes me nervous.”

“Nervous…? You feel that too, Puck…?”

“What do you think I am? Maybe I look like some superhuman with a body and heart of steel, but the truth is that at heart I’m just a little cat as sensitive as my paws, you know?”

Puck bounced Emilia with his paw as he said this. But now Emilia understood that even such pranks were just to hide his embarrassment.

“Searching for you, I finally found you, and you woke up… You probably experienced many things for the first time back then, but that was my first time too.”

“Your first time, for what?”

“The first time I felt happy, the first time I was glad to be alive.”

Puck said this with a smile, causing Emilia’s eyes to widen. And then the spirit reflected in those wide, amethyst eyes donned an unusually serious expression.

“Thank you, Emilia. For making me happy. By waking up and by spending all this time with me in the forest, you made me so happy.”

“Puck…”

“Those feelings were really hard to express in words… So I wanted to show them every day through my actions, but it seems I was too vague.”

When Puck hung his head as if regretful, Emilia shook her head vigorously.

He would always come to see her every morning, exchange some trivial chitchat, and always act like he was having fun, because of which she couldn’t understand what he was really feeling, but it was no big deal after all.

Every single day, it wasn’t as if he was acting like he was having fun. He truly was enjoying himself.

“―Me too, there’s something I could never tell you, Puck.”

“Hm?”

Puck had honestly, truly honestly told her what he really felt, so Emilia felt like she had to reveal her true feelings as well. Her embarrassing true feelings.

She always wondered if he would laugh at her if she told him, so she could never say it.

“I love you, Puck… You’re like a father.”

“Pf”

“W-Why are you laughing?! I gathered all of my courage and endured the embarrassment to say that.”

He really did laugh at her when she came out and said it, her face turned red as she separated from his paw. When she did so, Puck apologized while still laughing uncontrollably,

“T-That’s not it, Emilia. I’m not laughing at you or anything.”

“M―, then, why are you laughing?”

“… You said you could never say it, but you already told me that at the very beginning.”

“Eh…”

Puck’s face was still wrinkled with laughter as he said this, astonishing Emilia. Though her memories seemed to have returned, she had no recollection of any such conversation.

“Don’t tell me you’re just making stuff up because I can’t remember.”

“You’re saying something absurd again, my daughter.”

“… You’re already treating me like a daughter.”

“You remembered… Isn’t what happened, but it looks like you felt the same way. I was actually holding back my affection too.”

When Puck winked at her, Emilia averted her eyes in embarrassment.

The same conversation back then, ahead of the memory in her dream― Her consciousness suddenly flickered, and the events of that day were revived in her mind.

Back then, in the scene her young self saw, there was a cat spirit hanging his head―

“Why are you apologizing…?”

“――”

“Why are you crying…?”

“―Because I left you alone.”

“You left me alone?”

“―Because I could never find you.”

“But you’re right here?”

She held out her hand and shook her head, telling him he didn’t do anything wrong.

“Your name is?”

“My name is…”

Her dream would always end at this point. But today, today was different.

What happened next, what they talked about, what they promised, she remembered all of it.

“―I’m Puck. Until now, and from now onwards, a spirit just for you.”

“Spirit…?”

“When you’re afraid, when you’re sad, I’ll protect you. When you’re having fun, when you’re happy, I’ll celebrate with you. ― That is, if you’ll allow it.”

He would always be with her, he would always be kind to her, and he would allow her to rely on him. Even Emilia who knew nothing knew what kind of person that was.

She didn’t remember, she didn’t know, but she always wanted to meet him.

“―Father.”

“Eh?”

“That’s a father, right?”

“――”

Pondering for a moment, the cat spirit nodded as if confirming it.

“I’ll stay by your side and protect you. Your family, I suppose that’s right.”

“――”

“Then, from this day onward I’ll be your father. You can depend on me, Emilia.”

She remembered how she always depended on the spirit who said this to her.

“――”

“Emilia?”

Emilia blinked several times when her consciousness returned to reality, causing Puck to call out to her.

The synergy between the voice and her memories made her face turn completely red. It was to the point that she couldn’t even blame the evening light, not just her face but even her neck had turned crimson.

“E-Emilia? Are you alright?”

“… Not Emilia.”

With her face red and her cheeks warm, Emilia pouted as she said this. When she saw Puck’s eyes widen, she stared at him while turned to the side as she repeated herself.

“Puck, you said you’d call me something else.”

“… Yeah, I did say that. Is that alright?”

‘That’s, you know, it’s obvious. I mean, you formed a contract with me, so we have to be more, you know, affectionate. Also, I just remembered our first meeting, and you… So, um.”

“Calm down, you don’t need to be so flustered. ―Lia.”

His voice was kind and his gaze was gentle, just like the memory she just remembered.

So Emilia donned a gentle smile.

“―Yeah. Understood, Puck.”

And with the evening glow behind her, she nodded. The girl and the spirit then affectionately cuddled up to one another and happily watched the sun go down.

―As they felt closer to each other than ever before, the two once again became family.


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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