Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (LN) - Volume EX5 - Chapter 2.03

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The sword-slave island, Ginonhive, lay in the western reaches of the Volakian Empire, so thoroughly surrounded by a lake that it could very well have been called the island of unrelenting water.

The only way to reach the island was a single bridge—specifically, a drawbridge that was usually kept raised and impassable. Admittance to the island—as well as departure from it—was strictly controlled, and the reason for this near-total isolation of those on the island was quite simple: The sword slaves could not be allowed to leave.

The sword slaves were exactly what the name implied: slaves who were allowed to have swords. However, such possession was permitted only during their death matches in the arena at the center of the island, matches staged for the amusement of spectators who came from outside. Put in the frankest of terms, the island was home to a twisted spectacle in which the slaves were put on display as they killed one another.

Most of the sword slaves were either criminals or people who had been left with no choice but to sell themselves into this life when they had been unable to repay a debt. Every once in a great while, though, some unlucky person with nowhere to go would be caught and brought here. Wherever they may have hailed from, once they had fallen to the station of sword slave, they each wanted one and the same thing: to survive one more day by killing their opponents. That was all.

“I’ve been thinking, Al. You really think we can go on like this?”

Underground beneath the island were living quarters where the sword slaves boarded. “Living” was a relative term, however; there were no conveniences or considerate touches that might make the place more welcoming. It was just a space in which the slaves could exist.

Each of them claimed a place to camp out down there, then passed the idle hours until they were led away to fight again. Al was no exception.

He had just been lying in his bed, grateful to have made it there another day…

“Hey, Al? Are you listening? Helloooo, Al!”

“ ” He frowned at the man’s syrupy sweet voice and rolled over on the hard floor. Putting his back to the other person was supposed to signal that he wasn’t interested in talking, but the man didn’t seem to take the hint.

“Hey, come on,” he said, shaking Al’s shoulder. “I’m telling you, you have to listen. I’m talking about something really important!”

“I’m not listening, and would it kill ya to sympathize with a guy? I just wrapped up a job, and I’m tired. I want to go to sleep. It’s my only damn pleasure.”

“This again? You know there are things to enjoy on this island besides sleeping. After all, you’re very popular, Al.” The man grinned and gestured with his chin at some figures who could just be seen in the distance. They were women in provocative clothing, and though they were officially sword slaves themselves, they served as the island’s prostitutes. They were never—well, almost never—summoned to fight in the arena, but instead, they were expected to make themselves available as an outlet for the other sword slaves.

The idea of being “popular” with them was more credit than Al would ever give himself…

“Ugh,” was all he said.

“Wah! Al, you can’t— That’s just too rude! These are beautiful women we’re talking about! Neither of you has a better job than the other!”

“I’m not discriminating because of what they do. It’s…like, a feelings sorta thing.” Al scowled, fighting down the nauseous feeling that accompanied this flurry of criticism.

He could grab the women and play games with them, sure. They would wave to him, smile, each of them looking for her next trick. Some of them were broken by the tricks they found. These were women who were given no kindness. But even in this place, they were trying to live as best they could. Who was he to treat them as less than him?

“You’re not very comfortable around women, yet you’re always respectful toward them. No wonder they like you, Al.”

“They just don’t have a lot of choices. If they had more options, they wouldn’t give a second look at a run-down old fart like me.”

“Hoh-hoh, ain’t mincing words! But that’s one of the things I like about you, Al.” The outrageously gorgeous man smiled at him. Al sighed, not sure what to do with the man’s ingratiating attitude.

The pretty boy with the long gray hair—Ubirk was his name—had been brought to Ginonhive as a sword slave five years before. He was slim and pretty—but not exceptionally talented. In fact, he was about as unsuitable for fighting as they came; it was obvious that he would be trampled into the dust after no more than a few minutes in the arena. So how had he survived five years here? The same way as those women.

The Hornet might have been the most noted of the female sword slaves, but no small number of women proved capable fighters in the ring. Ubirk’s job was to keep a number of them fulfilled, just as the female prostitutes did for many of the male sword slaves. His abilities in that regard were what had kept him alive this long.

“So, Al, to get back to what I was saying…”

“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not in the mood for a chat.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. I have a special invitation direct from the Empress herself.”

“Then I’m even less interested.” Al gave an exaggerated frown; that was a face he didn’t want to see and a name he didn’t want to hear for a while.

Ubirk grinned at that. “Wow, you’re talking about the Hornet like that! Nothing scares you, does it, Al?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You saw me a few minutes ago. I’m terrified of women. Which obviously includes the Hornet. QED.”

“Kyooo eee… What? Another of those funny words from your homeland, Al? I never do understand what they mean!” Ubirk tilted his head, trying to grasp Al’s unusual vocabulary.

Al had no intention of going out of his way to explain. Ubirk, perfectly accustomed to this behavior, didn’t press the matter. Unfortunately for Al, that didn’t mean he was done talking.

“Come on, just listen. Otherwise, the Hornet might crush me the next time she makes love to me. And wouldn’t you feel really guilty about that?”

“Oh, for the love of… If I listen to you, do you promise not to bother me during my sleeping time? If you can manage that, I’ll give you a few minutes to talk.”

“Ha-ha! You’re such a nice guy, Al. It’s such a shame you can’t handle women.”

“Shaddap,” Al growled, dismissing Ubirk’s teasing and demanding he hurry up and talk in the same breath.

Finally, Ubirk got to his point. Namely: “Rumor has it there’s going to be a major event happening here at the arena very soon. Bigwigs from all over the empire are going to be there.”

“Really? They haven’t done that in years. Why now?”

“It’s ’cause… You know. The Volakian emperor died, and we’ve got a new one now. In other words, all the imperial candidates are dead.”

“They’re all dead, so we’ve got a new emperor? Oh, you mean the last surviving candidate becomes emperor. Yeah, I guess that would mean the others are gone.”

Ubirk’s explanation left something to be desired, but Al was wise enough to figure out what he meant. He winked silently.

Even here on this isolated island, they’d heard of the death of the Holy Volakian Emperor and the so-called Rite of Imperial Selection, which was conducted to choose his successor. Whatever this upcoming event was, it must be intended as a celebration of the new ruler.

“None of ’em probably like each other very much, but I guess even they throw a party at times like this. I’m betting it’s not very good news for the likes of us, though.”

“A ten-year sword slave just has a different level of experience, doesn’t he? You have my respect!” Ubirk said, half earnestly and half sarcastically.

Al gave a click of his tongue. “Stop it. Thinking about all my ‘experience’ is only gonna make me depressed.”

Reflecting on examples from his past, Al knew that the celebration of a new emperor was likely to involve death matches of some “special” variety. The usual one-on-one rules would be modified or done away with. In at least one case, ten slaves had been pitted against a massive demon beast caught especially for the spectacle.

“The fight against that mountain of a magic beast four years ago… That was the hardest. Without the Hornet, we would all have bought it right then and there. The horns from that thing are still decorating the hall.”

“Truly, a battle to inspire legends. Too bad you and the Hornet were the only ones to survive it.”

“Yeah, and it’s what made the Hornet start paying attention to me.”

Until that point, she’d regarded him as hopeless small fry, but his lucky survival of that hellish encounter had piqued her interest, much to Al’s chagrin. Now she tried to involve herself with him every time they passed each other. She was truly the author of his worst nightmares.

And yet it wasn’t as if he owed her nothing—she was the reason he had survived that brutal battle four years earlier.

“But sometimes, when ya can’t cope, ya can’t cope. So what is it? What does the Hornet want?”

“Nothing complicated, I promise. This is going to be a big, special event, so lots of people who don’t normally come will be here. And that means…”

“ ” Al didn’t say anything.

Ubirk dropped his voice to a whisper. “We might just be able to take someone important hostage, maybe even a high count or better. Then we can demand our freedom!”

Al winced again. Audacious as that might sound, it was old hat to him. “You guys really don’t know when to give up, do you? How many times have you kicked that idea around?”

This wasn’t the first time Ubirk had brought this extraordinarily unlikely fantasy to him, and Al was starting to get tired of it.

Ubirk wasn’t alone; many of the sword slaves on this island were secretly plotting their bids for freedom. As long as they were here, no sword slave was assured that the next day would come. It was the most natural thing in the world to wish for freedom. And yet…

“I guarantee you that hundreds, maybe thousands of people have dreamed that dream before you. And you know how many have escaped? Not a single one. It’s a ridiculous, impossible idea, getting away from here.”

“Believe me, I know. But that’s because they didn’t plan well enough, or they didn’t pull it off right. Those plans were always going to fail, and they failed.”

“I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” Al didn’t disagree with Ubirk, but everyone thought in terms of ideals when they were planning. Ubirk’s argument wasn’t enough to overcome Al’s inertia on the subject. “Anyway, I can’t see the Hornet ever actually agreeing to that sort of bullshit. The Empress likes it here. She’s a berserker. Lives for the fight.”

The Hornet lived without impediment and wanted for nothing; she had found a place where she could fulfill her every whim. Al couldn’t see why she would relinquish such exceptional treatment. Which, in turn, made the whole idea that this invitation came from the Hornet deeply suspicious.

“I’m on to you. You apologize right now, I might just forgive you,” Al said.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha! No good, huh? The Hornet seems to like you, Al, so I thought maybe if you could talk her around… Ouch!”

“I only said I might forgive ya.” Al rapped the guileless-looking Ubirk on the head with a knuckle, causing his eyes to brim with tears, then swept him out of the way.

Al was substantially worse off now than he had been before indulging Ubirk’s little chat. Nonetheless, it was probably worth paying attention to the fact that there would be a major event here on the island, and soon. Especially considering how many such events he had suffered through in the past, how many times he had been sure he was going to die.

“That’s exactly why we need to push through this difficult moment and—”

“Get out of here already! Next time, I’ll hit ya for real!” Al brandished his fist at the ever-persistent Ubirk, intent on being rid of the little jinx for good.

Ubirk could talk, but there was no way he really believed his plans for escape would ever work. It was a dream no sword slave would ever realize, a wish that would never come true.

And Al had spent enough time on futile dreams.

He’d been a slave on this island for more than ten years now. It had become the only life he could imagine.

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