Uragiri IF - Re: Obtaining Peace in Another Land from Zero
Rem: [The fact that you've chased us around, and the fact that you're emitting an awfully evil stench is suspicious, of course, and I think it's terribly strange. But,]
Cutting off her words there, Rem drew her lips tightly.
That was also as if she regarded Subaru, who remained unsure of the answers that lay ahead, as an unpardonable villain from the bottom of her heart, hostility gleaming in her blue eyes.
Rem: [More so than any reason, you can't wipe away the truth that you tried to abandon such a little girl. How are you telling me to put my trust in a ruthless and despicable person like that?]
Subaru was left speechless by her gaze, so sharp and malicious, it felt like it was splitting through his skull.
The words that had been thrust at him had burrowed into his brain like a parasite. Subaru understood he made the wrong choice in obtaining Rem's trust with his first move, regardless of his miasma, he had completely and utterly screwed this up.
...But what of it? True, he had suggested abandoning the 'child'. True, to Rem, it may have seemed heartless, a telltale sign of an enemy lackadaisical in supporting their own moral image - but so insistent in obtaining her undivided attention.
Was it for immoral reasons? No, Subaru thought. If she truly knew who that 'child' was, there was no way she would be suggesting bringing them along, but still... how could he convey that in a time short enough that she wouldn't flee immediately?
Subaru: [Rem. Listen. The only reason I suggested leaving that child is because it's a dangerous one. There's no way I'm bringing them along with us. You wouldn't understand because you have amnesia, but--]
Rem: [I knew it. I knew that you would be insistent on the same thing. Trying to take advantage of my lack of memory, all to argue against your own villainous character... It's clear to me! What an utter joke. I find it hard to believe that a little girl could ever be as dangerous as you describe.]
As Subaru's gaze faltered at her frigid expression, she sprang upwards with a huge sigh. Her intentions were clear - despite dirt caking her thighs she made no attempt to brush it off - instead, she rested her eyes squarely on the man she now revered as a coward, Natsuki Subaru.
She couldn't be complacent. If she fled once more, there was no question that the stench-billowing man would hunt her down. It was evident that he had some skill chasing people, and there was no guarantee that he only acted alone. Perhaps this was a devious ploy, and after stalling for a few minutes, feigning an aura of friendship, several of his accomplices would creep from under the bushes and beat them bloody or worse.
If that was the case, she had to act. Now.
Rem: [A coward like you... You're not my ally, and you're not my 'hero' either...]
Subaru's gaze locked onto Rem's face. His cheeks hardened, and he struggled to form words in time to dispute her nauseating claim.
No matter how intensely Rem stared at Subaru's dumfounded expression, she could not find it in her heart to view him as an 'ally'. Instead, her malice only grew as she witnessed his incompetence, and with each second more of that sickening stench assaulted her nostrils. She wanted him to say something, she wanted to believe him, but the situation couldn't allow for that. The child's safety couldn't allow for that.
He tried to think of something to say, but the words couldn't escape his lips. From the woman that had so boldly declared her love for him, declared him to be her 'hero', to hear that she now denounced him as her 'coward' tore knives through Subaru's heart. His mind whirred, perhaps his repeated deaths had caused him to act with more deliberation than necessary, but still, he wanted to find a way to dispel the projection of his own cowardice that Rem had so bluntly pointed out.
If only he could. Deep down, however, Subaru knew. He knew that he was just as much of a coward as Rem claimed. That's why he couldn't say anything.
His hesitation caught Rem off guard, but not for long.
Rem: [You can sit there looking glum all you want. If you really are an ally--no, well, I'm sure you can understand why I have to do this...]
After those words parted from her lips, Rem jolted towards Subaru, who barely had time to react. An icy grip bolstered Subaru's frail neck, he could feel every second of the oni sister's writhing fingers pressing the air out of his windpipe, her loveless eyes cast down.
It was a memory that seared into Subaru's brain. The scorn of his former friend sizzled into his mind and slithered around his neck, and as he stared into Rem's eyes that were as cold as a diamond, he could see it--
The mutation of a hero into a coward.
His brain, starved of oxygen, receded into a deep slumber, and his perception ceased entirely.
Slowly, his mind dredged back from his brief bout of unconsciousness. He could still feel the echoes of the bitter darkness, and the bite of a cold breeze.
Subaru struggled to utter the name of the friend that had forgotten him and subsequently choked him out. His lungs fluttered, they felt sluggish and irritated as if he had inhaled a thick parcel of sand.
Reflexively, he clawed his hand, which only made the forest dirt collect around his chipped nails. After a set of frantic, panicky breaths, he shot his eyes wide open.
Bathed in the visage of a beautiful forest landscape, his eyes darted eagerly around in a desperate hunt for any semblance of the blue-haired girl he so adored. After a few heaves and splutters in an attempt to clear his throat, his mind hovered around one crucial question.
Have I returned by death?
The acrid taste of his own blood and phlegm quickly dispelled that assumption. He could clearly feel the area around his neck that Rem had gripped, and it hurt like hell.
Subaru: [Fuck... I think this is one of the only times I would've preferred to have died!]
A solemn gaze stared up at the sky, Subaru slunk his head backward as he propped his body up.
Rem's disgusted glare flashed in his mind. It sent shivers down his spine. His heart twisted in agony as he recalled her poignant words and her declaration that he was no longer her hero. In truth, those words served as emotional support for Subaru, so to have them rescinded...
Subaru: [Ahhhhhhhh damn it!]
Subaru slackened his back. Despite his anger that started to boil at Rem's behaviour, he quickly corrected his thoughts.
Subaru: [This is no time to feel sorry for myself... Where could she have gone?]
Subaru once again surveyed his surroundings, his eyes narrowed. He filtered every crevice of the scene before him through his pupils as he wiped debris from his clothes.
Subaru's heart thrummed and jostled - his eyes grew restless and his face tensed in surprise. He recalled the marksman from before that had sliced his heart with an arrow, only to trigger his return by death. Whilst that death was a swift one, it had left a strong impression, signifying the presence of a terrifying individual in the foreign forests. He could still feel the terrifying sharpness of that arrow as it drilled through his chest, the sting of that memory caused him to wince in disgust.
However, that wasn't the only thing that muddled his expression.
Although it was far, Subaru's gaze had settled on splotches of deep crimson within the forest shrubbery. Painted lines of scarlet drops, too dark to have been fresh, but they were there. They hadn't faded just yet.
That could only mean one thing.
His hands slashed around his frame, he flung his body upwards with no regard for the painful tension around his neck. Without hesitation, he snapped his fingers in his pocket and unsheathed the knife that the strange man had given him earlier, and gripped it tightly.
It was a trail of blood. Blood that had dried, but it hadn't been swallowed by the forest just yet. That meant it was new blood. Subaru recalled the scene earlier, and he certainly didn't recall any blood there either.
Was this it? Subaru thought. Was this the end? After being randomly teleported to some strange land, he would embarrass himself in front of Rem and let her stumble to a grisly death? Surely not. If that happened... if that... happened...
Subaru would just kill himself. That was what his enigmatic, awesome power, 'Return by Death' was for. A self-deprecating chuckle burst from his mouth before he shot a solemn glance at the scarlet trail. Despite everything, he still relied on that power as a crutch. In the back of his mind, his over-reliance on return by death resonated with the words Rem had snapped to him - that he was merely a coward.
And that power had only served to amplify the suspicion of the girl he wanted to save the most.
Subaru: [I have... no choice.]
Having mumbled that excuse, Subaru focused on the blood. It was a trail that snaked into the dense forest, it darted around with no regard for clear-cut valleys. It was as if she was trying to evade something.
Subaru: [Rem... I will find you.]
After a few minutes of tracking the trail like a feverish bloodhound, it started to wear thin. The streaks of blood embalmed in the soil turned into skittish drops that could barely be recognized even if one looked specifically for that alarming crimson hue.
Subaru's grimace became ever-widening. His eyes jostled about in their sockets - in all honesty, he wanted to cry, to bawl his eyes out at this very moment, but doing so wouldn't help in the slightest. It was almost impossible for him to shut out visions of the many mortifying fates that Rem may have already endured, only made more visceral by his own gruesome experiences.
Resolve; it was something he lacked often, but in this very moment he had resolved himself to die on the spot should he witness Rem's corpse. That was his doctrine, he thought as he clutched the knife far too tightly, causing his palm to swell red in response.
Diligently, he followed the trail which seemed to disappear before his very eyes. After he reached a small outcrop of moss and soil, he couldn't help but let out a small yelp.
Strewn about the green fuzz was a tiny scrap of coral-pink fabric - and it was one Subaru immediately recognized. After all, it matched Rem's skirt exactly.
The most alarming thing about this scene was not that the fabric was there, it was that Rem wasn't. The trail had dried up. There was no more blood to scout. All that was left was a solitary fabric scrap, as if mocking Subaru's efforts because it confirmed that, in fact, the blood did belong to Rem.
He held up the piece of fabric, he tried to glean any information he could from the thin strands that had been cut, but what information could you gain from a single scrap? It was pointless. Subaru let out a debilitated sigh. He cradled his forehead in his palms, an act of self-comfort before he turned his head towards the same outcrop.
Subaru had some confidence in his analytical skills. After all, within his NEET phase he was no stranger to video games - several of which required problem-solving skills that would be unheard of in the magic-reliant world he now inhabited. It would be fantastic if this was another case of 'bringing 21st-century science into an archaic world' but that was simply wishful thinking. In truth, he didn't know nearly enough about forensics to even begin utilizing those methods. A dust explosion was about the peak of his knowledge.
He scanned the surrounding foliage. Shrieks of various small animals scattered around his ears, but he had to hone in further. He made several attempts to visualize the potential paths Rem had travelled, but even so, there were no clear routes of exit, and he instead found his gaze settled on various jumbled assortments of plant life that pointed nowhere in particular.
It's useless, he thought. Even if he tried to submerge himself in the thought processes and consciousness of the current Rem, that wasn't the Rem he was acquainted with. Apart from being more vigilant, he knew nothing about the new Rem's true goals or thoughts. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more dire the situation became. Come to think of it, she could smell Subaru from a mile away. If she was in the area, she would've fled soon after the stench intensified.
Subaru: [Damn it...!]
Subaru punted a rock into a nearby tree with enough force to cause the surrounding nature to scatter. Several leaves fell to the floor, and he found himself lost for words once more.
He had been disemboweled, eaten alive, beheaded, and sniped, however, there was nothing quite like the despair involved with having someone you care about slip further and further out of reach.
Something stirred within the forest. Subaru swore he heard something strange. Out of reflex, he checked his pockets, but swiftly he remembered that his phone was long gone.
Damn, that's so annoying. He couldn't help but flinch every time that irritating sound rang out. Just what was the source of that noise?
Bzzzzzzzz.... Bzz... Bzzzzz....
Subaru slowly and cautiously glanced downwards.
Underneath the tree that he had kicked a rock at was a hive.
BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ!
And inside the hive - wretched insects.
BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZZ!
They were hornets of a size that would make your average man faint just by looking at them.
It didn't take Subaru long to figure this one out. Feet smashed against the stone, he rocketed away from the buzzing noise any which way his trembling legs would carry him. Thump. Thump. His heart buzzed almost as intensely as the hornets, which by this point were chasing him, a horde of angry hornets were chasing him, and they were hungry, and they were angry and hungry...!
BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZZ!
Subaru flailed around, brushing thick leaves and vines away as he frantically, fervently made a mad dash toward any conceivable form of shelter. With several swift stomps, as his legs smashed down they grazed the myriad of razor-sharp thorns that sprawled across the forest floor. Thick chunks of plant entrenched into his flesh, gnawing at his skin.
Subaru: [Gyah...! Aguuuuhhh.--!]
He whipped out his knife and dislodged the unnecessary flesh chunks. Those thorns-- they were bigger than the ones on earth... and... and they're... painful. Very painful.
BZZZZ! BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZZ!
Some kind of toxin perhaps? Venomous? It doesn't matter. Subaru's leg sloshed against a tree trunk as it lost footing -- it sloshed. His left leg had been paralyzed, the thorn had coagulated all of the blood, turning it a sickly green colour. His flesh was as good as dissolved in that area, and black bits sprouted up from where the blood vessels should have been. Was that--- are they bubbles? His blood, it felt a little-- hot?
His lungs fluttered, pulverized by the pain they screamed for air but it would not come. He limped towards the light, the forest canopy submerged his rotting limbs in a perpetual dusk. He tripped. His limbs snapped and he found himself tumbling down a small hill, barreling into those same wretched thorns that had bubbled his legs into a necrotized lump of flesh.
His head flicked back and forth as he felt his insides dissolving. With the small amount of strength held in those feeble limbs, he stared at the bark of a nearby tree and found himself repeatedly smashing his head against the trunk for the promise of eventual release.
The buzzing continued to lurch upwards in amplitude, becoming increasingly and sickeningly loud, although, by that point, Subaru was unable to tell if it was due to the wheezing of his lungs, the boiling of his eardrums, or the incoming horde of insects.
Desperate, the man called Natsuki Subaru continued to smash his cranium against the thick forest bark, desperate gulps intermingled with the cries of pain as his fleshed peeled, as if he had sunburned and blistered his internal organs.
BZZZZ! BZZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZZ!
Subaru could not tell if the insects were coming closer. Blood trickled from his forehead and he found himself blinded. Before long, he could not even tell if the insects had entered him, as the bubbling of his blood would feel just the same.
Before long, he was granted a merciful rest.
His consciousness faded to nothing.
He almost didn't want to wake up.
Natsuki Subaru had his flesh boiled and eaten by hornets - who would want to wake up after such a nightmare? The buzzing noise played over and over again in his brain.
It was so loud, the buzzing was so deafeningly loud. Despite the hornets and the flesh bubblers not being around, it still drilled into his psyche.
It took a while for the buzzing to simmer in his mind until eventually, Subaru reached the point where he had gotten used to the revolting sound playing in his brain over and over. His eyes slowly and carefully pried open once more.
Subaru: [R-rem... That's right...]
Prickly - his skin still felt like needles were poking through them, but he recognized it as only a phantom pain. He pressed his palms against the coarse mud and pumped his body away from the dirty forest floor.
After his skin went back to feeling like skin and not needles, he surveyed his surroundings. His throat was frighteningly dry. In fact, it felt as if an uncomfortable weight rested on his larynx. He snapped his gaze to the side.
A trail of crimson that snaked into the forest stared back-- it was the same blood that he had been hunting from before. It was blood that was new but faded. It was the blood of his companion Rem, and he had to find her by any means necessary.
Subaru: [Hah! Hah-ha... What the heck... is with this checkpoint?]