Arc 5 – Chapter 40, “Corrosion of Wrath”
Twenty-five shelters per district made a total of about a hundred shelters in all of Pristella.
At Al’s suggestion, they started their search on First Street, where they were more likely to be able to find those needing help. They were pursuing a prudent path of travel and moving cautiously in order to avoid as much combat as possible.
Al: “Having said that, I feel like we’re overreacting. After all, we have that kid with us. You’d think we wouldn’t need to be so excessively timid, bro.”
Subaru: “It’s not excessive. Our own forces are limited, whereas the enemy’s barely been scratched. Even one second of negligence would cost us. Not to mention, in addition to the watching out enemy, we’re trying to avoid any kind of commotion, here.”
Back in the City Hall, Anastasia had introduced the notion that populace’s unrest could lead to riots. Although he wanted to believe it wouldn’t happen, he couldn’t deny that possibility.
Visiting the various shelters and trying to assess the situation while recruiting combat power— Subaru intended to his mission as an opportunity as fight the mounting sense of unease.
Al: “Yep, that also sounds about right. … Well, you won’t hear me complain about going the safe route. After all, if it comes down to a fight, all I can do is rely on the kid.”
Subaru: “You… although you deny being able to, can you really not fight? You did manage to reach the City Hall safely.”
Al: “If I had to choose between “combatant” and “non-combatant”, I’d have to go with the former. However, at best, my skill’s just that of a normal person. If I’m up against the superhuman type, the result would be my corpse sitting in a corner in about two seconds. Nope, no way, it’d be pointless to consider.”
As he waved his right arm about in dismissal, Al’s declaration of inability echoed from his helmet.
Although somewhat dissatisfied with his attitude, Subaru’s opinion on the matter matched Al’s. There was a certain level of skill that he would never be able to reach.
Perhaps the difficulty of survival in this world meant that the fundamental biological composition of its inhabitants was different. No matter how much Subaru trained, he’d never be able to match the likes of Julius or Garfiel. And let’s not mention Reinhardt; no one could ever reach that level.
Subaru: “But, that shouldn’t be enough reason not to fight.”
Al: “Shouldn’t it? Personally, I think that having no chance of victory is more than enough to convince me not to even try. Ahhh, leaving behind regrets is another topic entirely. Well, I’m not that type that kind of person anyway.”
Al: “C’mon, don’t be mad, bro. I think your positive attitude is great. It’s just not one that’d ever be meant for me. It’s just that kind of circumstance, y’know?”
With the stance of each party already established, their dialogue could only run parallel.
Subaru kept quiet, and Al apologized as is pleading guilty, before looking up over at Garfiel, who had been quietly scouting the road that lay ahead.
Crouching on all fours, Garfiel turned back eerily silently.
Garfiel: “Looks like th’ next three roads’re all clear. Or actually more like lifeless n’ barren n’ empty. ‘S technically safe, but really damn suspicious, yeah?”
That was the impression Garfiel’s twitching nose kept finding.
Avoiding battles had been their goal, but not having encountered a single incident also incited a sense of unease. Be that as it may, time didn’t allow them to entertain such hesitation.
Subaru: “Pointlessly fretting won’t do us any good. Our destination’s just up ahead. Let’s get as fast as we can. That’ll be fine, right?”
Garfiel: “My amazin’ nose says so, at least. Damn, looks like we don’t have any other choice.”
Scratching his short blond hair, Garfiel gave the ground an anxious stomp.
Subaru nodded, and Al’s silent shrug indicated that he had no objections.
Although their journey from the City Hall had already taken about fifteen minutes, thanks to the the care and attention they’d paid, it had been safe and sound thus far. After all, the worst case that they’d considered would be that the witch cult had stationed troops all about the city.
Thinking that they’d stumble upon road after road of them would be no exaggeration.
Al: “Doesn’t it seem like the Witch Cult’s unexpectedly neglected to set up sentries?”
As he ran, Al turned to comment. Following his line of sight, Subaru gave a “why would you think that?” in response.
Al: “The reason’s very simple, they don’t have the manpower to monitor the streets. Haven’t you noticed, bro? Compared with the archbishops on the towers, doesn’t this seem a bit too lax? And it’s the same with allowing the opposing forced to move so freely. If they seriously wanted their proposal fulfilled, they wouldn’t be acting like this.”
Subaru: “Blocking everything off and giving such exact demands would be the common thing to do, wouldn’t it? But you think they have some other goal in mind?”
Al: “Hah, I wouldn’t claim know. But, I’d imagine it’s something like,”
Although Al had probably wanted to respond casually, at Subaru’s stern glare, he fell silent for a moment, probably with a wry smile under his helmet.
Al: “—Whether or not we comply with their demands doesn’t really matter.”
Al: “If they were serious about their demands, you’d think they’d have been more precise and detailed. However, I’m sure you’d agree, bro… that they’re not seriously intending to insist upon their demands. If we follow through, great. If we don’t, whatever; it’s that kind of feeling.”
Subaru: “Then… it’s like they’re just toying with us…!”
Al: “Aren’t they just toying with us? Isn’t that what those bastards are for?”
In contrast to Subaru’s speechlessness, Al spoke with a blank, listless voice. And Subaru found himself unable to even utter an affirmation.
—They were entirely just being toyed with.
Considering the vicious imagination of the Witch Cult, such a possibility was no joke. During their attack, although they acted with the advantage and made tactically sound decision, there were many places where their movements were incomprehensible. During the battle in the City Hall, Capella and Alphard had been lying in ambush, but Sirius and Regulus were absent, indicating a lack of a full scale assault. In addition, Subaru’s side had suffered no casualties.
Now, the disparity between the city’s hopeless siege and the witch cult’s lax attitude also served as evidence that the Cult weren’t taking means to secure their demands.
Garfiel: “Cap’n! No need t’ listen that kinda bastard’s words. N’ you, ‘f you keep casually plantin’ funny thoughts like that in my cap’n’s head, my amazin’self’ll kill ya, yeah?”
As Subaru fell into a sea of contemplativeness, Garfiel turned to fix Al, who was running alongside Subaru, with a ferocious gaze as he snapped at him.
Garfiel: “Endlessly chatterin’ on ‘bout stuff that doesn’t even matter, a bastard with no fightin’ spirit like ya should jus’ shut th’ fuck up! No matter what those fuckers’re tryin’ we’ll just keep hittin’ and beatin’ and defeatin’ ‘em! ‘S long as we keep that in mind, we can go on!”
Al: “That a pretty extreme and brutal argument, isn’t it? Although it is true that I’m no match in a real confrontation, that’s unrelated to guessing what they’re thinking. Speaking of which, what harm does guessing their intentions bring us, huh?
Garfiel: “You bastard—”
As his teeth made a sharp ringing sound, Garfiel’s steps fell dead still. At the same time, Al also stopped moving, filling atmosphere with tension and mutual disregard.
Subaru cut between them at once, holding a hand against each of their chests.
Subaru: “Hold up! The hell’s wrong with the two of you? Is this really time to be turning your weapons on allies?”
Garfiel: “‘S bastard’s not an ally, cap’n. ‘S clear he’s up t’ no good. ‘T’d probably be best ‘f we just did away with him here ‘n now.”
Al: “Actively looking for a fight’s a “no thanks”, but I’m not a follower of those pacifist movements when it comes to motivated opponents.”
Garfiel cracked his wrists, and Al turned around.
And Subaru, frustrated at their attitude, felt rage begin to boil within him.
And he felt the pricking of a thousand thorns emanating from the core of his body, bidding him to beat and punch and kick the two uncooperative men—.
Subaru: “Something’s wrong…”
His head was messed up if it was overheating and immediately jumping to murder as a response.
No matter what, his own anger had escalated too quickly. And why were all of them so eager to turn on each other?
And the conflict between the two seemed to be agitating Subaru as well—
Subaru: “No, it’s…”
An inability to direct the flow of his thoughts and feelings— with that realization, Subaru felt a chill. After all, this exact sense of disgust was already incredibly familiar to him.
Subaru: “That bitch Sirius, is her influence approaching…!?”
Fanning his face with slaps, Subaru tried to reawaken his own sense of consciousness as he glanced around.
His inspection yielded no sightings of strange figures, not did he hear anything out of place. However, the dim feeling of gloom and disgust pressed heavily into his very being.
Subaru: “Hey, Garfiel, Al, stop! Take a deep breath and calm down. Isn’t it strange that your argument’s escalating so quickly? That’s probably due to [Wrath]’s influence. Your feelings are becoming uncontrollable.”
Garfiel: “Hah? Whadya mean, cap’n? ‘S guy’s flamboyance’s what’s pissin’… wait.”
Hearing Subaru’s claim, Garfiel gritted his teeth, pressing a palm onto his head. Slowly, he shook his head and blinked rapidly.
Garfiel: “… ‘s not really worth fightin’ over. That kinda thing’s usually only just an annoyance.”
Subaru: “That’s [Wrath]’s ability. Let’s make sure that there are no enemies around us, okay?”
Garfiel: “Not a whiff, nor a sign… That’s for sure. But…”
Precisely because his senses were so trustworthy, Garfiel began to shudder.
In other words, the scope of the Sirius’s power reached far beyond anything they’d ever imagined. If the theory that she was currently occupying a tower was correct, then the range of her power extended over almost the entire city. Of course, there was a degree of difference compared to its intensity in the square, but—.
Al: “Well now. This what it feels like to be toyed with. Not something I’d want to experience more than once. Now I’ve tasted the worst feeling.”
Al murmured; as with Garfiel, the torrent of anger engulfing him had cleared. He glance over at Subaru, lifting his chin.
Al: “But, bro. If we don’t get a move on, we’ll be in trouble, won’t we?”
Subaru: “What, what are you talking about?”
Al: “You noticed it, bro, and after listening to you said, we also realized something was wrong. However, no one else would. If this feeling spreads through the entire city… for the average person, unaware of the situation, it’d be impossible to stay rational, yeah?”
As he considered the fact that Al had pointed out, the worst case scenario flashed through Subaru’s mind. He exchanged a glance with Garfiel, who had imagined the same scenario and flinched sharply. Instantly, they sprang into action, beginning a reckless sprint. Their destination was the nearest shelter.
Al: “Ah, wait for me!”
Watching the two of them shoot off, the slower Al hurriedly turned to chase them from behind.
In his anxiety, Subaru completely disregarded stealth as he raced forward with reckless abandon. Garfiel’s steps, however, were sharper and quicker than Subaru’s, and in the blink of an eye, he had left Subaru in the dust. His shadow vanished at the T junction of the next street.
According to the map, there should be a shelter at the corner where Garfiel disappeared.
Al: “Is the road safe!?”
Subaru: “Garfiel rushed in without any hesitation. So there shouldn’t be anyone there!”
Answered the shouts coming from behind, Subaru arrived at the corner, lagging far behind Garfiel. Without losing so much as a single drop of momentum, he turned the corner and saw the stone cottage.
Driven toward the hastily opened door, confirming that there was indeed a ladder connecting to the ground, sprinting frantically down the stairs, and his dim field of vision opened—,
Subaru: “You’re… kidding me…”
—Splattered with blood and sorrow, a landscape of hell spread before him.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
Al: “They killed and killed… and only a fifth of them are still breathing. And those guys are going to have to completely recover. This is really the worst of situations.”
Regarding the scene of horror, Al bit back his feelings and whispered with a strangled voice. Subaru, sitting toward the side, had no energy with which to respond.
In the shelter that they had rushed into, the refugees had turned on each other, causing a fratricidal catastrophe.
The initial argument had most likely been a trivial matter.
Forced to squeeze into a cramped, claustrophobic, fearing the demands that the Witch Cult had put on broadcast.
During that time, dark thoughts sneaked their way into their hearts. If we do what they ask, then the situation will improve, won’t it? Isn’t it okay to for us to take action?
Those emerging ideas aroused action, and action required contact with others. However, was contact brought wasn’t necessarily anything good.
The explosive conflict between Garfiel and Al, on the road, had been the product of that as well.
However, there was no Subaru in the shelter to calm everyone down. The quarrels had intensified as everyone feelings collided and spread, infecting the surrounding area, doubling the effect.
As emotions rose back and forth, anxieties became unbearable, grew into abominations, and resulted in tragedy.
Garfiel: “We can let th’ survivors fall asleep n’ I can treat their wounds. But th’ burial ‘f the dead… ‘ll have t’ wait. Cap’n, have ya contacted ‘em yet?”
Subaru: “I have. The Iron Fang should be on their way. I think entrusting survivors to them is will be fine. The problem is, after that…”
Subaru had underestimated the degree of the disaster caused by an unnatural increase of tempers running high.
The intensity of the waves of emotion transversing through people trapped in the enclosed space of the shelter was not unforeseen. Of course, no one would be able to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude; however, even amongst negative emotions, nuances could still usher in tremendous differences.
If the initial feelings were only sorrow, lament, or despondency, without any initiative to take action, the people would be relatively fine.
However, if the initial emotion had been rage, or anything similar, the result would be the one they were currently witnessing.
Subaru: “Being forced to trap themselves within these shelters… that emotion could even be one of hatred.”
If the [Wrath]’s ability were something akin to the sharing of emotions, then the greater number of people residing in her sphere of influence, the more effective her power would become.
In short, if people were mirrors, any beams of light originating from them would be reflected back infinitely, due to the sheer number of reflections. Replace light with emotions, and…
Even the barest contact with others would lead to a terrible end.
In this place of unease and fear, this power forced each person to walk alone.
Subaru: “How disgusting…”
Garfiel: “Cap’n, how d’ we go about handlin’ this? Although we said we’d visit each shelter, ‘f things go on like this…”
Having finished with healing, Garfiel, with sweat beading forehead, wore a disturbed expression. Understanding the reason for his unease, Subaru fretted over the wording of his response.
No matter what, Subaru couldn’t organize his thoughts. To visit the various shelters, to assemble forces, to call on everyone to not give up; none of those courses of action were wrong.
However, the pressing situation did not allow the Subaru slowly travel the city.
The handful of people who were willing to fight on had likely been the source of the tragedy; their hearts had brought about strife. The shelters had become a coagulated solution of emotions; perhaps persuade the remaining refugees to leave improve their respective survival rates.
Subaru: “But if we do that and fail to retake the towers, they’ll all die.”
After all, these were shelter residing in the city of Pristella.
They were design to protect its citizens against any potential floods the Watergate City would experience; in the case that Subaru’s side was overwhelmed and the water gates were released, the people who left the shelters due to fear of their companions would suffer certain deaths.
Whether staying inside or going outside, a foolproof measure did not exist.
As Subaru wallowed in his indecision, Garfiel called for him.
That was an expression and voice which sought answers and salvation from Subaru. That was the figure of someone seeking the only light they could depend on in a world of darkness, looking for guidance and reassurance.
How could Subaru respond to that expression?
Grasping for solutions? He was the same way. Seeing a light in the dark? Subaru too was lost.
However, there was no point in complaining about his weakness. Throwing a tantrum, raging to the heavens, would save no one. If he had the leisure to complain, it would be far better for him to say something meaningful.
Anything meaningful at all would be fine, as long as it meant something to someone.
Al: “Captain this, captain that… really, it’s like you’re casting a reliable, convenient charm, kid. What an outstanding attitude, it’s making me tear up, really.”
However, the one who broke Subaru’s hesitant silence was instead the one-armed man. Leaning his back against the wall, Al’s gaze move from the scene of horror Garfiel.
His cold indifference shocked Garfiel silent for a spell.
Garfiel: “Hah? Th’ hell’s that mean, ya bastard…”
Al: “Do you not understand without explanation? I meant just what I said. Refusing to think and delegating your judgment to others is easy. Is “captain” some kind of magic spell to you? To be able to figure out solutions to anything at all, is he some kind of renowned Superman?”
Interrupting Garfiel was Al’s mocking attitude.
Al: “From just those moments I can tell how much you depend on him, but is he really so exaggeratedly reliable? In terms of strength, you have him beat, no question. In terms of intelligence, there’ll always be someone out there better than him. And luck? Even if you dare to mention luck in a situation like this, no one’d believe you, yeah?”
Garfiel: “Shut th’ fuck up! Ya can’t talk shit ‘bout the Cap’n like that! Th’ hell d’ ya even know ‘bout his strength? This person here’s damn amazin’!”
Al: “He’s strong, he’s amazing, are you just a kid? Where is that strength, then? If he were really as amazing as you say, he’d already have done something by now. Or are you saying that he’s already thought up a solution, and he’s just pretending to fumble along?”
Even as Garfiel began shouting, Al’s ironic tone didn’t falter. And as he learned over to peer into Subaru’s face, Subaru found that he couldn’t dismiss him.
At that reaction, Al straightened up, continuing with a “you see?”,
Al: “Being responsible for everything, carrying every solution in your hands, is remarkable, isn’t it. It’s a protagonist privilege. However, most commoners can’t afford that mission; they’re not strong enough. Of course, that goes without saying for me, and even your bro’s the same. So why are you making him carry all that? Don’t place too much hope in him, yeah? How pitiful!”
Subaru had no clue whatsoever of what Al was trying to say.
Could he be once again under the sway of [Wrath]’s power? If so, what kind of feeling now dominated Al’s heart?
Anger? Sadness? Something else?
He seemed furious, but also mournful, and also jeering; even figuring out what he felt in that moment was impossible.
Al: “Hey now, bro. What’s been troubling you all this time?”
Subaru: “… what’s been troubling me? All this…”
How to save this city. How to find a conclusion without hurting the people fleeing the shelters.
How to rescue Emilia. How to cure Crusch. How to restore Rem. How to drive away the Witch Cult. How to find the best path, where everyone would be saved.
Al: “How to best serve your venerated princess— are you unable to even immediately say that?”
Hearing the disappointment in Al’s voice, Subaru slowly raised his head.
Motionlessly, Al was scrutinizing Subaru. As his face covered with a helmet, his expression was indiscernible. However, somehow, Subaru found himself incredibly anxious.
Al: “I only care about the princess… about Priscilla. So everyone else, frankly speaking, is completely irrelevant to me. For example, acting in tandem with you, bro, is only so I can improve my odds of surviving and encountering the princess.”
Al: “So, I don’t understand your feelings at all, bro. This is important, that’s a priority… In that case, it’ll be impossible for you to see what’s most important. Trying to solve everything and whatever, doesn’t that just make you a cliché of a guy who doesn’t know how to fight for what you find most precious?”
Clicking his tongue, Al strangled some kind of emotion.
Even Garfiel couldn’t find a retort to that chilly demeanor. And Subaru, who bore the brunt of it, found himself lost for words.
Al: “The silver-haired miss is your most important one, isn’t she, bro? If you’re just saving her, do away with the fretting and hesitating and act. It’ll be easy.”
Subaru: “… Don’t say that to me. I’ll definitely kill the bastard who kidnapped Emilia. And in any case, it’s not like I even have any concrete plans. It isn’t as easy as you say.”
Al: “But it’s a much less arduous task than saving everything. If you reduce your load, your body becomes lighter, and the scope of your reach will increase. Isn’t that the case?”
Subaru’s weak resistance was deflect smoothly by Al.
Al: “Are you trying be a saint or a hero? If yes, you should have a limit.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Al discarded the Subaru’s confusion as something ridiculous. Subaru found that very attitude incomprehensible.
When he’d quarreled with Anastasia in the City Hall, the one who could even described as stubbornly assertive, and who regarded him as an ally was none other than Al.
The one who had agreed with his desperate struggle of self satisfaction was also Al. However, after arriving here, why did subvert his opinion?
Subaru: “What is what you’re saying now totally different from before? Are you or are you not interested in acting as my ally, which is it?”
Al: “No, no, you’re completely off. I’m not saying that indulging in self-satisfaction is wrong. But the limit of that self-satisfaction is another topic entirely. Your idea, of wanting to rescue everyone, bro, was denied when you saw the horror in this shelter, right? In that case, it’s enough, isn’t it? Frankly, if you’re only guarding what matters to you, slipping away from here isn’t a notion that should be condemned, is it?”
Subaru: “Slipping away… you mean running away? At a time like this?”
Al: “What’s so wrong? In a place where you’re so powerless, is choosing to flee really so wrong? I, after the recovering the princess, intend to flee from the city. in this way. I don’t have any obligation to the people here, or to morals about humanity or anything.”
Sticking his fingers into the neck of the helmet and scratching lightly, Al turned to look at the silent Subaru.
Al: “You could do that too, bro. Save just the miss… just Emilia, and run away, and you’ll be just fine. Anyway, pests like the Witch Cult’ll just come back even if defeated here. Just like bandits on the side of the road, yeah? You’ll lose something just by interacting with it.”
There was only one answer to Al’s suggestion.
The Witch Cults were pests; Subaru shared this exact feeling. And that they could stain even those unrelated to them was a notion he wouldn’t deny.
However, they were the ones who had instigated such a catastrophe. Subaru had to take action to deny the advent of those sparks.
From Al’s perspective, he had no reason to interfere.
Of course, the imminent danger Emilia was in was another matter. Even assuming that Emilia had nothing to do with the situation, Subaru could never choose the option of escape.
And the question was why. Well, that was because—,
Al: “And even if it needs to be done, it doesn’t have to be you, bro. So why are you so insistent?”
Subaru: “When a kid runs toward the busy intersection of a road without paying attention to the light, before thinking about the why, I’d immediately pull him back onto the sidewalk… it’s probably something like that.”
Al’s sigh in response to Subaru’s answer was obvious.
His answer just now was unrefined, and bits of it were still confused. But when he took a moment to think, he could blurt out that answer, and the tightness in his chest would vanish.
Subaru: “I don’t find it a hassle to put everyone into consideration. Because I’m here, I’ll try to do those things. one by one to think ah. Because I am here, I will be able to do things. The are a lot of places I won’t be able to reach, as the people here prove. But,”
Wasn’t thinking that everything was out of the reach of your fingertips cowardly and despicable? Subaru thought of his goal as an obligation.
As be began to blurt something toward Subaru, who had responded so calmly, Garfiel seemed to cut himself off.
Now, Garfiel hesitated say “captain”; as Al had just pointed out Garfiel’s reliance, he was probably trying to resist the automatic urge.
Subaru found himself pleased by Garfiel’s concerned hesitation. At the same time, he realized something. A sudden whim.
A miraculous coup that could be used to take advantage of the authority of [Wrath].
Subaru: “Garfiel, don’t hesitate, okay? Just call out to me like you always have.”
Subaru: “Although, initially, you embarrassed me a little, that shyness is long gone. Although there’s no guarantee that I can live up expectation, as long as it can be done, I’ll do it.”
What the Subaru reflected in Garfiel’s expectant gaze looked like, he had no way of knowing.
However, in the a place that Garfiel must have thought to be the hopeless, he saw the sun rise where Subaru stood, precisely as a result of Subaru’s flailing actions. And a once lonely young girl, who had once denied everything, felt the same way.
Therefore, Subaru had no choice but to take responsibility with his actions.
Garfiel: “…… Yeah. Yeah, ‘s right, cap’n. Got ‘t. My amazin’s self’s also going to be helpin’, no how much power’s needed. So, ‘s long as ya don’t say anythin’ feeble, ‘t’ll turn out jus’ fine.”
Subaru: “Alright. Then, I’ll be relying on you. After entrusting the wounded here to the [Iron Fang], we’ll have to return to the City Hall immediately. Anastasia, after all, probably thinks something contradictory.”
Standing up and patting himself down, Subaru also went over to Garfiel, whose head was still lowered, and patted his shoulders.
After seeing Garfiel clench his first with an air of reinvigoration, Subaru turned to the silent Al.
Subaru: “My mind’s been made. Although in a different direction than you were hoping for.”
Al: “… as you like, bro. At least, unless I confirm that I can’t find the princess, before it becomes meaningless for me to stick with you, I’ll follow you everywhere, bro.”
Although his proposal was entirely rejected, Al responded without any disappointment.
Even if puzzled by the attitude, Subaru shifted his footsteps toward the outside of the shelter, prepared to act immediately after reinforcements arrived.
Behind him, along with Garfiel, Al followed suit from a slight ways away.
As he regarded the backs of the two who were striding forward, Al reached for the back of his neck with his one arm, propping it up with a hand, and exhaled a long, long sigh.
Al: “Like this… when you have to respond to the expectations of all kinds of people, what’ll become of you? After all, without those painful experiences, you certainly wouldn’t know.”