Satoru feels the rays of the morning sun shine down onto his face and his body feels extra warm, as though it’s absorbing the warmth to make up for the freezing conditions of last night. “Last night!” He springs up in a panic, suddenly remembering his near death experience of last night. “Am I dead?” He feels himself and looks around, to see a normal looking bedroom. From all the stuffed animals and toys around, it appears to be a child’s room. “Where am I?”
“Ah! He’s awake!” Satoru is alerted to a voice coming from the side of him and twists his head around to find its source. Standing before him is a small child, likely no more than two, wearing a cute onesie with an animal ear hood. He stares at Satoru in excitement, then shouts, “Mama!”
He runs out and soon after, Satoru hears the gentle voice of a woman. “Yes, Yes Koharu, what is it? Oh, I see. Let’s bring him some soup then. You carry the spoon ok? Let’s go now.” Soon after, the boy returns and behind him comes a woman, dressed in a white dress, also with an animal ear hood, though her long white hair can be seen coming down her shoulders. She smiles sweetly once she makes eye contact with Satoru. “Good morning Fujinuma-san, how are you?”
Satoru is caught off guard by hearing his name. “Uh, I…you know my name? Who are you?”
“Ah!” She seems as though it slipped her mind. “I’m sorry, it was rude of me not to introduce myself. My name is Emilia Natsuki and this is my home I share with my husband and three children. The little one here is our youngest, Koharu-chan. My older girls, Rem and Ram are twins and they are out playing with their Papa. I know your name from Puck, my dearest friend. He’s actually the one who brought you here last night, saying you had business with Subaru.”
Satoru can barely believe his ears, but he’s very glad he’s hearing it. “Subaru? Don’t tell me…. Are you Natsuki-san’s wife? This is his home? Natsuki Subaru-san?”
“Yes….” Emilia looks uncertain. “Is there a problem?”
“No, not at all, the opposite actually. It’s just, I was actually looking for Natsuki-san, but didn’t know exactly where he lived, hence why I was in the forest at such a late hour. I thought I’d never find it.” He suddenly remembers he’s a guest in someone’s house. “I’m very sorry for my rudeness. I am Satoru Fujinuma and I’ve come to meet with Natsuki-san regarding some things. Thank you for your care and hospitality. If it had not been for your friend Puck and your graciousness, I could very well be a frozen block out there right now.” He bows.
“No, not at all.” She seems nervous. “Anyway, we’ve brought some soup, please have some to warm you up even more. Is pork stew ok for you?” She holds out a tray with a bowl and rice.
Satoru looks at it and suddenly feels famished. “Oh yes, this is just fine. Thank you very much.” He takes the tray. The boy comes over and hands over the spoon with his short hands. His violet eyes are filled with innocence. “Is this for me.” He nods. “Thank you very much Koharu-chan.”
“Yes!” He runs out the door as he yells, “I’m going to play with Papa and the girls!”
“Ok, be careful now!” She calls after him before he disappears from sight. “Such a rambunctious boy he is. Though he’s got a noble heart, just like his Papa.” She turns to Satoru. “Is it ok?”
“Yes, it’s delicious, thank you. Your boy seems very kind hearted. Reminds me of my girl.”
“Oh, you have children too? How old are they? Are they back home with your wife?”
Satoru looks somber for a moment, but then perks up. “Yes, you could say that. Just one girl, she’s two. I desperately need to get back to them, which is why I was seeking his help.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I’m not sure how Subaru can help you get back to them, but he will give it his all trying if it’s within his power. He never gives up; no matter how hard things get.”
“I see, that’s great to hear. May I speak with him once I’ve finished my meal?”
“Of course, you may. He’s out back with the kids. Please make yourself at home.”
“Thank you Natsuki-san.” Satoru smiles pleasantly. She nods and then leaves him to eat his food.
Once he finishes eating, he gets up and brings his tray in the kitchen. Emilia isn’t around, so he just places it in the sink. He looks around at the small cottage, the kitchen joined to a small nook area with a basic seating are for a small family. It’s simple and quaint, prefect for a family trying to lay low and avoid attention. Despite what Hiro had said, he didn’t see anything strange about Emilia that would make her seem like a witch or anything bad. She seemed to be nothing but sweet and kind. Satoru is convinced that they just misjudged them and that they are a normal family like any other. Satoru hears what sounds like laughing outside, towards the back of the hut and he remembered that Emilia did mention Subaru was outside with the twins. He walks to the back door and gently opens it, walking outside. He can see Koharu and two bigger, but still young children jumping around along with a man in a tracksuit who must be Subaru.
“Victory!” He does jumping jacks as he says this and the kids follow along as they laugh. Satoru watches them in silence, enjoying seeing such happy moments, moments he missed dearly. He’s caught in the moment, with his eyes closed, but soon after, he realizes it’s quiet, too quiet. He opens his eyes and sees that they are gone and as he looks around, there is no one. “Hey.”
Satoru jumps at the sudden voice beside his ear and twists around to see the man behind him. He’s smiling pleasantly, his eyes closed and squinted upwards and although a smile usually means warm intentions, Satoru can’t help but feel unsettled. “I’m sorry, you just startled me.”
“Oh did I? I apologize, it’s far too noisy for me to gauge my voice level and I yell.”
Satoru is confused. “Noisy? It’s actually quite silent I thought. Nothing like the city.”
“The silence is precisely what I’m referring to, it’s quite deafening, isn’t it?”
“I…I’m not quite sure what you mean.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t. You’re far too sane.” He walks to the side. “Please follow me Satoru.”
“You already know my name too? Did your friend Puck also tell you who I was?”
“There was no need, I can always read a tortured soul and yours is quite the easy read.” He leads him off to the side, such that they are partially in the forest and away from the house. This makes Satoru a bit nervous, especially after what Hiro had said. “Don’t be afraid, I’m not planning on killing you or anything, I couldn’t dare steal her glory. She has plans for you Satoru and they will destroy your very soul.” He stares off into the woods and Satoru feels a chill run up his spine.
“She? Who is this woman you are referring to? What plans could she possibly have for me?”
“Who can say. It’s always different, yet it’s all the same in the end. She always wins.”
“You seem to speak from experience. Has this person wronged you somehow?”
“Has she wronged me you ask?” He starts laughing. “You don’t get marked by her and not be wronged. She will not rest until she’s taken everything from you and left you insane.”
“Natsuki-san, could it be…that you are referring to…the witch?”
“Shhh!” He shushes him and then starts laughing. However, just as quickly as he does this, his face gets serious, though his eyes remain closed. “We don’t speak of her out loud.”
“So you acknowledge she exists. Please then, tell me about her and where I could find her.”
“Oh no Satoru, you will never find her, she finds you. Even if you don’t want to see her, you cannot escape, you cannot hide, you cannot get away. Though it seems she’s already found you and has taken something dear to you. Let me guess, she’s taken your family hasn’t she?”
Satoru’s eyes go wide. “How, how did you know? How can you be so sure she’s after me?”
“Your stench of course!” He finally approaches Satoru and grabs his shoulder. Satoru comes face to face with him and his eyes, which are pale and lifeless and send a chill through him. “You reek of her scent. It’s how she enacts her curse against you. She imbues your body with her essence and like a beacon, it draws all sorts of misfortune towards you, until there’s nothing.”
Satoru can see him staring at him in a frenzy, seeming distracted, as though remembering unpleasant things. “Um Natsuki-san, sorry, but could you please let go?” He snaps out of it and releases Satoru. Satoru straightens up and says, “So, do you know where I can find her?”
“You really are an idiot aren’t you Satoru?” He walks over to a tree stump and sits. “Maybe if I tell you what happened to me you’ll become sensible and move on with your life while you still have it.” After a few moments of silence, he speaks again. “I used to be a simple young man, living in Japan on my own. I wasn’t living the dream, but I was happy with my simple life and I got by. However, one day I was pulled into a strange world and it was there that I met Emilia. I was instantly smitten, but I soon realized that this world was not going to be a sweet romance opportunity. I instead was dragged into a terrible conflict, and she was the instigator.”
“The witch you mean? She was responsible for this conflict you are referring to?”
“Yes, she set it all in motion, with the help of her wicked cult and I was the center of it all. She used me as the catalyst for it all, while at the same time making me the solution. She basically made it so that I would suffer immensely from having to relive the events over and over again, but also made it that I was the only one who could save everyone and end the loop. After many trials and errors and many loops of suffering, I finally came face to face with her and it was only by the sacrifice of all my friends that I’m alive today. They all banded together to help me defeat her, but even that wasn’t a true end. All it did was pacify her enough to allow me to escape with Emilia and puck. The two of us alone survived, the lives of our friends as our bail money. She sent us back here to Japan, but we appeared here with nothing but ourselves and because of Emilia’s appearance, they called her a witch. Just like in that world, she was still being ridiculed all for being different. No one would believe us and they attacked us, so we fled and hid out deep in these woods. Puck keeps people away, like our personal guard. The only reason you even survived was because you mentioned you knew me. I had spent years since we arrived here trying to prove everything that happened and even went on a fool’s quest like yours to try and find answers, but all I was left with was dead ends and suffering. I finally realized that nothing would come of it and I was wasting my life. I had Emilia by my side, I finally had her, after paying such a high cost, so I refused to squander it any longer. I settled down here with her and we started our family. We’ve been very happy these last several years and that’s how I want it to stay. So that’s why when I saw your blog post that time, I just couldn’t help but send you that response. I had hoped you’d take my warning and give up, but like a fool you actually followed the trail all the way here to find me. You must be truly desperate to get your family back, and I do understand, but no good will come of this. If you really love your family, you should just give up and live your life for them. Don’t lose your mind to her games. If you pursue her, you will certainly regret it. She will take it as a challenge to her and you will suffer to no end. She will make you wish you were dead, but she won’t let you die. You will become mad, just as I did.”
As though to prove his point, he starts laughing again, but it’s more crazed than before. Satoru can see he’s slowly losing his grip on sanity as they speak and so he decides it’d be best to ask him his final question, before he’s completely gone. “Natsuki-san, I’m sorry to make you think about this, but just one more thing. Do you know where I could find Homura Akemi-san?”
Getting an instant reaction, Subaru’s eyes snap open and he looks at Satoru with a crazed look in his eyes. “Homura…Akemi-san….” He grits his teeth and shouts. “Homura Akemi-san!” Subaru charges Satoru and before he can react, he tackles him to the ground and his hands are wrapped tightly against his throat. “Homura Akemi-san! Did she send you? Is that why you’ve come?!”
Satoru reaches for his hands and attempts to pry them off, but he’s too strong. “Please….”
“I’ll kill you! You dare mention that name?! She wants to torment me even more now?!”
Satoru feels like he’s starting to fade from consciousness, but then he hears a shout. “Subaru!” Emilia arrives and calms him down. “Subaru stop, he’s innocent!” She grabs his face and makes him look at her. “Subaru, it’s me see, look, it’s me. I’m here now.” He finally seems to notice.
His grip slowly loosens, until finally he lets go, allowing Satoru to roll on his side and breath. She hugs him and he starts calming down. She turns to Satoru. “I’m sorry about that, but that name is one of his triggers. You say you’re looking for the witch right?” He nods. “Well, if you really want to find her, Akemi-san would be the person to ask. She’s closer to her than anyone. I don’t know all the details as Subaru doesn’t talk about those things anymore, but that much I know. However, I wish you’d reconsider. I still don’t know what Subaru went through before and he won’t talk about it. For me, the battle against her happened, we lost many of our friends and narrowly escaped to this land, but for Subaru, it seems it was just an end to a long nightmare. He still has nightmares about whatever it is he went through and he often suffers random breaks in his sanity throughout the day. It used to terrify the kids and me at times, but they’ve come to accept it as part of our life now and so they don’t get scared, but they still avoid him at those times as we’ve instructed them to. It hasn’t been easy, living with Subaru and trying to live the life we’ve chosen, but even with his madness, as hard as it can be to handle, in the end we always know, that he loves us and has a good heart underneath it all. We’ve become a twisted family, outcasts to the town, such that only the twins can go to the town for our necessities because no one knows they are our children. But even still, we’ve found our way to happiness, so I’d rather not bring all these things on the witch or otherwise up again. I’m sorry he couldn’t be more help to you and that he attacked you, but now that you’ve said what you wanted, I ask you to please leave. This isn’t good for him and you won’t get anything else from him. I wish you the best on your journey, and pray it leads you to the happiness you are searching for. Take care.” She helps Subaru up and guides his almost lifeless body inside, saying nothing more.
Satoru stands, still a bit shaken and walks back to the house. He finds his things on the porch, along with a bento box he can only assume was made for him by Emilia to take with him on his way. He collects these items and looks back at the house. He bows down to it, though no one is looking and says farewell. “Thank you fo everything. I’ll be taking my leave now.” He enters the woods again, this time looking to get out and back to town. He finds this takes much less time and in no time he’s back in front of the Inn. He sees Hiro sweeping out front.
Hiro looks up as he approaches. “So, you’ve returned I see. Did you find him?”
Satoru begins to answer honestly, but then reconsiders. He’d rather just respect their privacy and have the town believe they’ve really vanished. “No, I’m afraid not. I’ll have to change my plan.”
“Well, that’d be for the best. Will you be staying another night or will you be on your way?”
“I’ll be on my way actually, thank you Sir. It was a pleasure receiving your hospitality.”
“Ah, don’t mention it. Now get going on home boy, enjoy your youth while you can.”
“Of course Sir, thank you. Well, I’ll be going now. Thanks again and take care.”
“Yea, you take care as well boy. Safe travels on your way home.”
Satoru waves and then heads down the path he had come in on and leaves the town. He thinks about all Subaru and Emilia had said and for a moment considers maybe just giving up on this after all. However, he quickly dismisses the idea when thinks of his family. He promised he’d find them again and they’d all be together, so he can’t give up, no matter what. He shifts his thoughts instead into figuring out how he could possibly find Akemi-san now, but then from the corner of his eye, he catches movement. He spins around and scans his surroundings, sure he saw what he thinks he did. He starts to think he’s going crazy, but then he hears the flutter. He spins around again and finally catches sight of it…a little blue butterfly. It flies away and he takes after it. “Wait!” He follows it into the woods, doing his best to keep his eyes on it. He can’t let it get away again. “Stop!” He chases it, seemingly for endless minutes, until finally he comes to a clearing. The butterfly has disappeared, but he can feel he’s not alone. He turns and looks up to the trees; sitting on branch is a woman. Her long grey-black hair hangs down as she looks at him.
With intense violet eyes she stares at him. “I hear you are looking for me.” She jumps down and cocks a gun. Pointing it at Satoru she says, “You found me, congrats, but now you must die.”