A/N: Hello all! I got burnt out writing this and had to take a break. But I got the bug again, and here I am with another chapter! I think I have a pretty good idea of where to go from here so that will help in writing the next chapter as well.
Your reviews were also very important in deciding to continue writing. I really do appreciate them, and they made me realize my writing is wanted. So I will continue to write, as long as you continue to review!
Subaru re-entered the mansion with Rem close behind. Ram was waiting for them at the top of the stairs, and made her way down toward them.
Subaru noticed her approaching and waved. "Yo Ram! Were you waiting long for us?"
Ram sniffed. "Normally I would lecture you on how one needs to be timely and we do not have much of it in which to act, but I know what you were doing was important so I will overlook it."
"Aha… is that right?" Subaru said nervously. "Truthfully, I was just kidding around. I didn't realize you felt that you were actually kept waiting."
Rem smiled. "Rem's Subaru-kun is silly, isn't he Sister?"
Ram looked between the two of them without speaking. After a minute, she turned around. "You have my blessing. Keep the affection to a minimum in front of me and absent completely in front of Roswaal-sama and Emilia-sama. Barusu already knows what will happen to him if he hurts you Rem, so I don't feel the need to reiterate."
Behind her, Subaru could feel his face heating up, and Rem looked embarrassed. "What we do in our personal time will not interfere with the duties and responsibilities assigned to us, Rem promises."
Subaru nodded vehemently before remembering Ram had her back to them, and felt foolish.
Ram turned back around. "Good. Now that we have that piece of business out of the way, we need to figure out how we're going to kill that Archbishop and his witch cultist followers."
The three of them met in the kitchen to discuss tactics while preparing lunch.
"So, why were you the only one that noticed we were in danger? Where's Roswaal when we needed him, an attack was going on right in front of his mansion after all." Subaru said, sighing in exasperation.
"Shortly before I sensed Rem was in danger, Roswaal-sama took Emilia-sama to the capital, citing something important that came up related to the Royal Selection. I also could not find the correct door in time to ask for Beatrice-sama's assistance before the threat arrived." Ram summarized.
"Is that so…" Subaru took a minute to process the information.
"So if Rem understands correctly, can't we intercept the witch cultists as they try to attack the village? That should be before Roswaal-sama and Emilia-sama leave for the capital which will increase our odds of success."
"But how will we convince them we know an attack will happen on the village? I know there's a little leeway with how the witch lets me warn people, but I think Beatrice is already suspicious of how we know about the shaman. She's going to want answers that we can't give if we don't make this look just right." Subaru said, creating the outlines of a plan in his head as he went.
"I see. Were you able to determine when the attack on the village took place?" Ram asked.
Subaru shuddered unconsciously. "I… we went to the village early that day, so either the previous day or the night before. I really don't have a frame of reference for attacks so I'm just guessing here, but I don't think it was longer than that.
Ram closed her eyes in thought. "So. We need a way for at least one of us to go to the village to be on the lookout for the witch cult. Once they show up, we need to get a message to those of us at the mansion, and stall them until assistance arrives."
"Rem will go to the village. If Sister maintains our Synesthesia she will be able to feel when Rem encounters the witch cult." Rem looked determined.
"Well, if that's the case, I'll be going with you to the village as well to support you. Can we count on you to cover for us back at the mansion Ram? We may be gone all day." Subaru asked, looking at Ram.
Ram sighed. "You're already trying to take advantage of the goodwill you've garnered with me I see… But yes, I believe I can lead away any inquiries about the two of you through one way or another. I will not be able to keep up with all the normal tasks the mansion requires, so be prepared to work hard upon dealing with this threat."
Subaru pumped up an arm and flexed. "Leave it to us! The two of us are as dedicated as demons!"
Rem giggled. "Subaru-kun, that's because one of us is an Oni, and the other has somehow inherited the spirit of one. Which Rem is enjoying thoroughly." She ended, blushing.
"Yes yes, you two are determined to make eyes at each other every waking minute, I understand. Just make sure you aren't distracted, too many vassals of Roswaal-sama are counting on us to not take this situation as seriously as we can." Ram said exasperatedly.
They turned somber at that, as they remembered the carnage witnessed at the village. "You're right Ram. We're going to be in top form, and stop the witch cult in their tracks. Isn't that right, Rem?" Subaru asked with a smile.
Rem smiled back, and nodded determinedly. "Right! You can count on us Sister."
"Yes, what is it Roswaal-sama?" Ram asked, looking up at the Margrave as he held her in his arms as he applied mana to the scar on her forehead; a reminder of what Ram had sacrificed and what bound her still.
"What do you think of Natsuki Subaru?"
"What do I think of Subaru…"
Ram was silent for a minute, gathering her thoughts. Then – "He is more than what he seems." She said simply. She looked to Roswaal's face for any clues, but the moonlight cast shadows in devious ways upon it.
Roswaal frowned slightly. "Based on my interactions with him I wouldn't have expected him to have hidden depths. He seems to entirely wear his heart on his sleeve. You say this is not the case?"
Ram shook her head, then remembered they were in the dark. "No, Subaru is entirely too forthcoming with his thoughts and feelings. If he has told you something with emotion in his words you can be certain those are his true thoughts."
"I see… good. That straightforward nature of his makes him quite malleable toward my own pursuits." Roswaal said, staring out onto the surrounding grounds.
"I must also inform you Roswaal-sama… Rem and Subaru have entered into a relationship, it seems." Ram said, looking up at him. "I have already made it clear that they are not to let it interfere with their duties to you and the mansion, and they will keep the public affection to a minimum."
Roswaal stilled, the mana flowing from his fingers ebbing away. "Subaru and your sister you say? This is a highly unexpected development. Was it not Emilia who Subaru doted on and adores?"
"I do not know the full extent of circumstances. I imagine it is related to the Mabeast incident. It is within the realm of possibility that they drew close together after surviving the attack." Ram said speculatively.
"Hmm…" Roswaal's brow furrowed as he contemplated the situation. Then, the mana flow resumed, and Ram let out a sigh of content as she felt it restoring her limited stores.
"Though this was outside my predictions, this can be turned to my advantage." Roswaal said, continuing his line of thought. "With Subaru's heart tied to Rem, he will have no reason to leave the mansion. She is turning out to be a more important piece than I had originally anticipated…" he said, more to himself than to Ram.
Ram bristled at his words, but didn't let it show. She disliked equating her beloved sister to a mere piece on a board. "As you say, Roswaal-sama."
Roswaal's thoughts turned inward. The Book of Wisdom allowed for small changes in circumstance; he would need to check later to ensure events were still progressing according to his desire, but he didn't imagine much would be altered. This budding relationship could be used to influence Subaru onto the correct path, so he will allow it for now. But if events begin to stray from the Writ…
His eyes narrowed. That is something he will not allow.
It was early the next morning. Ram was at the front door, handing a pack to Subaru filled with food for the day.
"Thanks Sister!" Subaru said cheerfully, taking it from her.
"…You're welcome." Ram said after a pause.
Rem turned toward her in surprise, but Ram cut off her question before it was asked. "I've stopped trying to fight it at this point. Subaru should know what it entails if he continues to call me that. So if he has accepted that reality, I should strive to as well. As much as it goes against my very being."
Subaru chuckled good naturedly. "Well, I'm glad that you're accepting it. To be honest, my family was never very large and I always wanted a sister. So I've got to grab the opportunity with both hands while it's here, you know?"
Rem's eyes sparkled as she looked at Subaru. "Rem is very happy Sister and Subaru-kun are getting along so well."
Ram sighed. "For your sake Rem, I'll make an effort at anything. And Subaru has his merits. Now." She gestured toward the door. "Not to cut our conversation short, but there are lives on the line. I will make sure I am attuned to Rem's emotions as closely as I can be at this distance. As this is an imperfect method of communication, I will not attempt to gather assistance until I feel intense bloodlust. No doubt this is what I will feel from Rem's sighting of the witch cult."
Rem looked embarrassed. "Rem feels as if she should apologize for feeling this way, but witch cultists have taken so much from us… That is to say, she is not sure how to feel about being accurately characterized in this manner."
Subaru draped an arm around her shoulders and drew her near. "I wouldn't worry about it Rem. As long as you can contain it and don't go rushing to fight them on your own, no one will fault you for how you feel about them. To be honest, I don't know how well I'll react to seeing them, considering what they made me witness last loop…" His voice trailed off as he stared straight ahead, looking at something Rem could not see.
Rem gave him a reassuring hug, and Subaru snapped out of his reminiscence, giving her a small smile. "Well, anyway, let's do this. We have villagers to save after all!" He said, taking Rem by the hand and waving at Ram as they stepped through the door and made their way down the path toward the village.
They walked cautiously through the forest, alert for anything out of the ordinary. Despite this, they encountered no enemies or issues, and the village gates came into view. A villager noticed them approaching and greeted them warmly.
"Subaru and Rem-san, it's great to see the both of you! What brings you to our humble village today?" He asked expectantly.
Rem looked to Subaru to explain. He cleared his throat. "It's great to see you guys too! I'd actually like to talk to the village head if she's not too busy?"
"I don't think she's too occupied at the moment, and she would want to come say hello regardless. Let me go get her." The man said, running off.
Rem's head appeared to be on a constant swivel as she took in her surroundings. "Subaru-kun, there is one aspect of this plan that Rem does not understand. If we wait for the witch cult to attack before we call for reinforcements, does that not put the villagers at risk?"
Subaru nodded. "You're right of course. If we just use the villagers as bait, there's a good chance many of them will die as we try to hold them off." He looked off to the side where the village head was coming toward them from a distance, waving. "That's why I plan to search the surrounding area of the village and find the cultists before they encounter the villagers. I figure with the stench I'm putting out, "He gestured vaguely toward himself, "they'll be eager to meet me and will reveal themselves."
Rem put a finger to her lips in thought. "Subaru-kun is putting himself into a dangerous position yet again to defend others. Rem knows she shouldn't encourage this behavior, but there are no other viable options available."
"I'm glad you understand. I wasn't sure what Ram would think of me putting myself into danger with you nearby so I couldn't really tell you my thoughts about it with her nearby. I hope she can forgive me…" Subaru said, feeling anxiety bubbling up at the idea of Ram finding out.
Rem frowned. "Sister should recognize that I am making my own choices. If Subaru-kun is in danger, Rem will gladly be by his side."
Subaru smiled gratefully. "And I am glad for that. I can just see Ram saying that I should know you would respond like that and to stay out of danger always as a result. But unfortunately I'm not lucky enough to stay out of danger it seems."
The village head, Milde finally made it over to Subaru and Rem and greeted them. "Subaru! Have you told the children you're here yet? We didn't expect you for another day at least, so this is a rare treat indeed."
Subaru laughed. "No, I wish I could spend time playing today with them, they're always so full of energy, they make me feel ten years younger! His gaze turned more serious. "We're actually here because we have reason to suspect the witch cult is nearby. In the past, they have attacked villages and towns indiscriminately, and we worry for the safety of the village."
Milde's face morphed into surprise, then horror. "The witch cult… first the Wolgarm attack, now this? It seems Arlam Village has not had good luck lately, has it?" She looked expectantly at Subaru. "We know about how you put your life on the line for our safety before, and we are in your debt. I will be happy to listen to your direction in this matter. What would you have us do on our end?"
Subaru's eyebrows rose. "I didn't realize anyone here knew the specifics of that attack… Well, I do appreciate it. Rem and I are going to search the surrounding area to try to smoke out the cult. It would be best if everyone gathered in their houses and stayed inside for the majority of today while we look for them."
Milde hesitated, then nodded. "It will be an inconvenience, but an inconvenience borne of necessity. If Subaru says it is important and that we are in danger, I am certain I can convince everyone else to cooperate."
Subaru let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. "Thanks, you don't know how much this means to me. I want to make sure everyone is safe, but until we can pinpoint their exact location this is the best we can do." He seemed to think of something else a second later and added: "Do you have a way to signal to us if you spot someone unknown in the village?"
Milde thought on this a moment. "We have special rocks we can add to the fireplace that can change the color of the smoke produced. If we see someone in the village, we can do this. As long as you aren't too far away from the village you should be able to see it."
Subaru nodded. "That will work fine, thanks."
"Then I will go relay the instructions to the rest of the village." She turned to go, then looked back. "Good luck to the both of you, and thank you for protecting us."
Subaru watcher her go, then turned to Rem. "Ready to go witch cultist hunting?"
Rem readied her Morningstar, smiling grimly. "I thought you would never ask."
They began their search in earnest, checking the immediate forest surrounding the village. Every few minutes, Subaru would check the sky for colored smoke in the direction of the village. So far there was nothing, but he had to remain vigilant in case they snuck by.
After a couple of hours without uncovering the cult, they were becoming disheartened.
"Where are those monsters hiding…" Rem asked to nobody in particular, annoyance clear on her face.
Subaru was of a similar mind. "I really thought my scent would have drawn them out by now. Is it possible they're a little farther out? We didn't know the exact time of the village attack after all."
Rem nodded. "It's possible. If we extend our search a little farther, Rem thinks we should still be able to see the smoke if it is sent up."
"All right, let's go look near that rocky outcrop then. That just screams 'I'm hiding evil people in me.'" Subaru said, walking toward the aforementioned area. As he drew near, he felt a chill, followed by the sound of rustling robes.
Rem stopped beside him, fury in her eyes as she took in the witch cultists surrounding them.
"I guess I was right on the money…" Subaru whispered to Rem, then in a normal voice: "Hello fellow followers of the Witch! I was hoping to speak with Petelguese the Archbishop. Is he in that direction then?" He asked, pointing toward the rocky area.
There was a brief pause, then they all knelt as one. The one closest to him nodded, answering Subaru's question.
"Well perfect then. I'll just be off to see him, important witch cult matters to attend to and all that. If you could just let me through?" Subaru said, appearing nonchalant even as he was sweating through his clothes.
The cultists parted, allowing passage toward their leader. As Subaru passed, they quickly closed their ranks again, leaving Rem trapped inside.
Alarm and worry crossed Subaru's face, and he quickly added. "Ah, please also allow this woman to pass. She is with me, Petelguese will want her to remain unharmed. She is vital to his plans, after all."
For a moment, Subaru did not think they would. He began planning out how he would attack them without injuring Rem in the process. In the middle of his quick preparations, he was surprised to see their ranks open once more, allowing Rem to skirt past.
Subaru whispered a silent thank you to whoever might be listening up above. "Excellent work. If you could, please remain in the area until our business with the Archbishop is concluded. We may have use of you."
In unison, they all nodded their heads, then disappeared into the surrounding foliage. Once they left, Subaru sagged down, Rem supporting him from the side.
"Well that was just terrifying. Good thing I have a great poker face, eh Rem?" He said weakly toward her.
"Rem does not know what poker is, but Subaru-kun handled that situation very well." Her eyes narrowed at the ground as if it offended her. "And Rem believes she handled her part as well. Sister should know we have encountered them now, and can lead them to us."
Subaru straightened back up, standing under his own power again. "So now all we have to do is buy time for the reinforcements to arrive. Well if there's one thing Natsuki Subaru was ever great at, it's wasting time!"
He turned toward the direction that housed the Archbishop Petelgeuse Romani-Contee, and began walking. "Just follow my lead."
Rem smiled and followed. "I would be happy to."
Into the den of evil they go.