His eyes opened slowly as the gleaming rays of sunlight hit his face.
Damn it, still here…
It was the second time he had woken up abruptly during the last 40 hours, wondering if he was back home, but it seemed that he was here to stay, illusion or not.
They'd left the murderous woman in the care of several knights, some of whom had muttered something about her being some kind of huntress. Accelerator didn't care, but they went on their way once they had done their "civic duty". The owners of the house had seemingly been mere thieves and odds were that few would miss them.
Just like back home…
Accelerator stopped eyeing the sky as blue and yellow began to overtake the pink clouds of the early morning. He sat up and glanced across from him at the other seat in the cart. There sat the still asleep Emilia, head arched forward and mouth unceremoniously open as she breathed through it.
He looked around at the green fields the cart they were on strolled by and noted that there seemed to be some slight amount of pollen in the air.
He glanced at the sleeping girl again.
Much to his irritation, he felt guilt wash over him all over again.
He was a murderer, why on earth did she have to ask him for help?! What cruel circumstance would lead to someone that was almost sickeningly polite and outwardly kind to require the assistance of someone lower than septic waste?!
He remembered the boy who destroyed his idea of what reality was and stopped the Level 6 Shift experiment all on his own. Odds were, that ability would have worked far better at suppressing the thing that attacked them and hurt the girl. Maybe he would have even been able to prevent the girl from getting stabbed. The spiky-haired boy had proven himself capable enough to perceive and dodge attacks. Maybe he would have prevented the thieves from being killed. Maybe prevented the girl from getting hurt.
Why couldn't she have met him instead?
He forcefully pushed the senseless irritation away, deciding that if the world wouldn't allow for a hero to help the poor girl, then by God he would do his best just to spite whatever machinations orchestrated this abomination of a meeting!
As if she could sense the frustration, the girl began to shift and Accelerator averted his gaze.
After a sudden breath, she awoke.
Accelerator turned to her with a bored expression on his face, hiding his true emotions.
"O-oh, good morning! How are you feeling?" Emilia said.
Instead, he said "I'm fine. How's your wound?"
Emilia smiled slightly, likely out of politeness more than anything, but the smile was still genuine.
"I'm quite alright now... thank you."
He didn't reply, staring down at the dirt road they were on in silence.
"Oh, we're almost there." She said, quickly lifting a hood over her head.
Accelerator didn't say anything, figuring that it would hide her from anyone nearby that didn't particularly take kindly to someone with her looks.
It was sad.
Whatever that witch had been, it must have marked the people of the world to the point that even if they weren't constantly attacking those that resembled her, there remained a superstitious fear of her returning. He wondered how much that fear was based in reality.
The field slowly turned into a forest that grew in density the deeper the small cart traveled through it. Trees became closer together to the point it appeared almost like an impenetrable wall of green leaves, moss, and dirt.
The girl suddenly realized something and spoke up.
"Um… sorry, but… maybe you should wear this instead."
Accelerator simply raised an eyebrow.
Emilia returned a worried look that said please don't make me explain…
"Why?" he asked in a tone that suggested he didn't care if she wasn't entirely comfortable with the explanation. Accelerator rarely did things without some reason.
"Well… they- the villagers... they've never seen you before."
"Are they nervous around you?"
She didn't reply.
"You need it more than me, then."
"Think for a second and ask yourself if my presence wouldn't be found out eventually. They would probably wonder why you brought me in secret, and eventually, they would have to see me, and then they would wonder what some sickly albino is doing visiting that girl who looks like that witch that also had silvery hair."
The girl winced at the bluntness of the statement before thinking about it.
"You think it would be better not to hide your presence so that they don't overthink you being here?"
The albino didn't say anything; no need to confirm the obvious.
"Hmm, I see… alright." She concluded, placing the hood over her head once more.
They were both quiet for a minute, the trees passing them by, Emilia eyeing him with a curious glimmer in her eyes. Accelerator could tell she was likely wondering about his past. No need to tell her about it there and then, though he doubted she'd believe him if he did. Really, what exactly could he tell her that wouldn't sound like madness to a girl who's never been exposed to the sanitated laboratories of Academy City.
As if to challenge him on what he would answer, she asked "Have you remembered anything about your name or where you lived?"
"Not on my name, and the place I lived in is called Academy City, but maybe I've just been crazy and living somewhere else." he half lied.
"Don't you have any family there?"
The closest thing to family I've had was that bastard Kihara…
"Not that I know of…"
Just here to see if I can be pointed somewhere I can stay out of the way… Don't overstay your welcome.
Emilia noticed the tired look on the albino but didn't say anything. It was still early, so aside from a few adults milling about, there wasn't anyone to stare at them as they entered the village. The streets were empty and nearly silent. Accelerator didn't hear anyone whispering, but he caught a few curious and worried stares coming from what few locals were outside.
Maybe he should've taken her advice and hidden away, but he'd rather not risk some misunderstanding stemming from it later.
He didn't get much time to think on it as they cleared the village relatively quickly and arrived at the incredibly large home of one by the name Roswaal.
Emilia had explained that the man had many magical "blessings" which made him incredibly powerful and incredibly important.
Still… from the way she talked about him, it sounds like she was underselling it.
"We're here!" she said, even if it was obvious as the cart stopped and the driver waited to be paid.
Accelerator nodded and followed the girl to the entrance.
The door opened, two girls meeting them and for the briefest instant, Accelerator thought he recognized them as his past victims. The almost dead eyes, the ever-polite stare, the youthful face, the height... The maid dresses and blue and reddish-pink hair, however, made it clear they were not the girls he had slaughtered well over ten thousand times.
"Welcome back, lady Emilia." The two girls spoke in unison.
Once more, Accelerator found himself suppressing his inner turmoil at the eerie similarity to his past.
Stop talking all at once like that, it's creepy!
He managed, and he was thankful nobody seemed to notice.
"Ram, Rem, good morning!" Emilia greeted the maids.
"Good morning, Lady Emilia." came the disinterested reply from the girls at once.
The pink-haired one continued in a monotone voice, saying "Lord Roswaal hasn't returned yet, but expect him to be on time for breakfast."
Emilia nodded, saying "Great! I'll go get ready... um... I don't suppose we have any clothes for our... guest... do we?"
The girl known as Ram looked him over, then began walking in a circle as she eyed him up and down, measuring him up before mumbling "Skinny, almost sickly... we should have something that fits him."
"Is that necessary?" he asked.
"If you wish to meet Master Roswaal dressed like a disjointed skeleton that is your choice. I doubt it will worsen the impression you will make, sickly-looking as you look." the girl replied in a tone that made it very clear he didn't have a choice in the matter.
Thus, the mightiest, strongest, most feared esper in the history of the scientific studies of Academy City found himself inside a hot bath with an irritated look on his face. Of course, it was less at the fact he was taking a bath, more at the fact he was becoming subservient. Really now, what was he doing?
He took the time to reflect.
If this is some simulation by a telepath, I would have detected something wrong by now... even if they'd altered my sense of space and time, they can't keep a simulation this detailed forever... which means that either I've lost it, or I'm in a real place... then that means...
He glanced around the bath, which felt more like a jacuzzi.
He allowed a tired sigh, taking a hand to his forehead.
Then this is a chance to start over, but...
He glanced at his blurry reflection in the water, the crimson eyes and white hair staring back at him with an almost ethereal and uncaring glare. A reminder that he was, at the end of the day, a murderer like any other deep down.
He shut his eyes tightly and sucked in a breath.
He couldn't pay back his sins, he couldn't go back and bring 10,000 dead girls back to life, he couldn't go back and try to fix his encounter with the strange level zero who had defeated him, and he certainly could never go back and make amends with the young Level 5 who had fought like hell to save the girls from him. He wasn't a hero, and with all the killing he was done, and frankly, still willing to do, he never really could hope to be one.
Yet here was.
Damn it all...
He shut his eyes tightly once more, letting his frustration and anger at the current circumstances dissipate before getting up to leave the bath. Accelerator was somewhat startled, not that he would show it, upon turning to see the door opening, the girl with pink hair stepping inside with a towel and fresh clothes for him.
They made eye contact. His eyes narrowed at her studious and analytical stare that didn't betray any emotions or thoughts. Rem said nothing, placing the clothes on a counter near the exit, bowing, and heading back outside. Again, the feeling of being watched came over him, unlike anything he'd experienced before. A sort of sinking feeling in his gut as he looked around the seemingly safe bath.
Yet no one was there.
Accelerator calmly pushed the thought aside, making a note of it, taking the towel, and looking over the clothes. Simple clothes, really. A dress shirt, dress pants, and a coat. Gray and black. Once he was dry and dressed, he walked out of the bath and saw the blue-haired maid, Rem, out in the hall, staring at him.
There was something wrong. Something about the way she was eyeing him. Something about the almost dead eye that didn't betray any human emotion, almost like a video game NPC. An uncanny stare that caused his defenses to go up ever so slightly. It wasn't so much the look a hunter gave its prey or the fear the hunted have when they were face to face with their hunters.
No, it was a look he knew he'd seen on the Sisters many times.
"You're my enemy. You're going to kill me unless I kill you."
"What?" he asked her instead.
Rem didn't speak, her head turning away slightly, the well-combed bangs of blue hair covering her other eye from his view. Then and only then did she reply.
"Master Roswaal is here and waiting in the dining room. This way, please."
Such was Accelerator's first impression of Roswaal Mathers. A tall, slender, blue-haired man that might have appeared intimidating if not for the copious amounts of makeup covering his stupid, grinning face. There was, of course, something off about the way the man eyed him when he entered the mansion and led him to the table where they would have breakfast, but that in it of itself wasn't the problem.
Oh, there was the very expected curiosity and likely internal analysis of the pros and cons of accepting someone that possessed an ability such as what Accelerator had, perhaps he wished to see it for himself, or perhaps see how it could benefit him, or any variety of selfish reasons. The young albino having seen exactly that same expression many times in the eyes of scientists and random thugs on the streets of Academy City wasn't put off by the studious glances.
Yet there was something more.
Perhaps it was the man's different-colored eyes. The eerily bright yellow and blue could simply be messing with his study of the owner of the mansion he was currently in, but he couldn't help but see something he hadn't ever seen before in those who analyzed him in Academy City. No, it wasn't kindness or concern, he had seen enough of that every time he glanced at the white-haired girl sitting across from him at the table. No, there was an almost clinical coldness to it that reminded him more of a certain mad scientist he had once worked with, but even that wasn't a proper comparison, though perhaps it was the closest he could think of. Where the Kihara family saw a potential solution in their quest at creating a level 6, this man seemed to be not only certain that he was looking at a solution to a problem, but that he expected it in a way. Less curiosity sparked by the unknown and more an inquisitive stare of what he was to do with a new item he had purchased after being told "this is what you're looking for".
And then, there was the way the man spoke.
"I do hope the trip here wasn't perilous." was what Roswaal said, staring at Accelerator. It was a normal phrase with normal words. However, the way he said it and extended some syllables, seemingly at random and with no real pattern, at least none that Accelerator could determine with the words spoken at the moment.
...an enigmatic clown...
Accelerator's reply was, "Didn't seem to be perilous."
The enigmatic clown then said "Oh, I'm glad, especially after what happened at the capital. It is quite dangerous even for skilled individuals like Emilia."
Accelerator didn't speak as the maids with the candy-colored hair brought the breakfast to them. Once the plate of... breakfast... was served, he was unsure if he should thank them or not, but quickly decided to err on the side of politeness.
"Thanks..." he mumbled.
The blue-haired girl merely bowed and took the other plates to those at the table. The look in her eye was gone for the moment. He didn't say more as he focused on eating breakfast, eyes closed as he tried to shut out the world around him and focus on exactly what was happening around him. Specifically, the enigmatic clown.
He's studying me...
It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling for the albino, but the unknown reasons potentially behind it were cause for concern.
Little was said as they ate.
Emilia, however, glanced between the two with a degree of confusion.
Being who she was, she calmly spoke up.
"So... um... how was everything in my... absence, Lord Mathers?" she asked politely.
Roswaal turned with an equally polite smile, saying "It was all fine, my dear. No new word has come of the final candidate, so it is possible that the opening ceremony may commence with only four candidates."
"Oh. I see."
Accelerator didn't say anything, listening intently from the looks of it, but Emilia couldn't be sure.
"Um... how are you finding the food?" she asked Accelerator.
The albino looked up and said, "It's good, thank you."
Roswaal laughed then.
"A man of few words I take it?"
Accelerator's crimson eyes met with the different-colored eyes of Roswaal.
The man hadn't touched his breakfast.
Roswaal then said "Alright, then perhaps I should cut to the chase, no? I am incredibly grateful for your assistance in protecting Emilia and I wish to pay you back."
Accelerator nodded slowly.
Roswaal clasped his hands together and asked "What would you like?"
Accelerator blinked, but Roswaal continued.
"Name anything you wish and I will be more than happy to give it to you. We owe you a great debt and I more than intend to repay it."
Emilia turned to Accelerator, unsure what to expect, but the albino's expression was almost blank. As if he hadn't expected such a generous offer. At least, not so soon.
"Anything I want?" Accelerator asked.
"Anything. Luxury, power, training... what would you like?"
Emilia saw Accelerator's crimson eyes slowly drift around the room, first to her, then to the windows, then past her, taking the mansion in.
He finally said "I can't read your written language, I barely know the layout of this place, I barely have an idea of its history... but I do have my ability... how about you give me a job here? I can guard the premises and do other work if asked."
Roswaal tilted his head slightly, saying "You wish to work here then?"
Accelerator huffed, saying "More like I believe it's the most mutually beneficial. Emilia being a candidate is probably dangerous enough and I've yet to see any kind of security detail."
Puck cleared his throat.
"I don't think you exactly count when you're physically incapacitated for the entire night."
Accelerator replied with a cold "She doesn't have a 24-hour security detail... and even if she did, I doubt you'd find someone who can match my abilities."
"Humble." Puck snorted.
"It's a fact... I think we can help each other. I'll work to keep this area safe. That way I can learn more and not have to sleep in the streets." he said in a slow, monotone voice that implied he was hiding something.
"So, you gain a home, and I gain a worker. Is that what you're proposing?"
Accelerator slowly nodded.
Roswaal clapped his hands once, and said "Granted! You may start today. Ram shall teach you the ropes... but first, you've piqued my curiosity... what exactly can you do?"
Accelerator sighed, shoving his hands in the pockets of the dress pants, focusing on how soft the fabric felt compared to his usual jeans. Perhaps there could be some greater comparison to be made about handcrafted goods compared to the mass-produced goods of Academy City, but really, he was simply doing his best not to look at the blue-haired girl facing him. The colors around them all were greatly emphasized by the morning sun and green fields outside the mansion.
"Master Roswaal. Shall I begin?" Rem asked, almost robotically in the teenager's mind.
"Shall we commence the experiment?"
He shoved the awful memories aside, noting the girl had materialized a large mace from... somewhere.
Where did she get that?
He instead glanced at the small crowd out in the mansion's incredibly well-kept garden. The Gazebo and ponds, the trimmed brush and flowers all kept pristinely free of weeds and deformities, clearly well maintained. The metaphorical cherry on top was the fact everyone observing him was similar in color to the many flowers in the garden. The pinks, the whites, and the blues mixing with the pink, white, and blue-haired individuals watching him.
Roswaal's ever-present smile widened ever so slightly as he said "Go ahead, though try not to kill him. Healing magic can only do so much."
Emilia called from a safe distance away, "I'll have a healing spell ready in case you do get hurt, Accelerator!"
Rem simply nodded, and then turning to him, said "I won't hold back."
It was more a statement than a warning, Accelerator figured.
He eyed the spiked mace, the chain extending as required as she swung it above her head with an expertise he'd never seen before anywhere, television, internet, books, or real life. The Sisters had always stuck with the powerful weapons available to them, but he failed to recall the last time one had come at him with a blunt object. Thugs usually attacked him with bats or less blatant weapons like pipes or kitchen knives. Never a mace.
It flew towards him.
The calculations in his head were done immediately and without requiring him to move an inch, the spiked mace was redirected, crashing into the grass beneath him.
Rem appeared somewhat shocked by the suddenness of the action as if she had expected him to do something else. Not that she vocalized her apparent surprise. She pulled it back and tried again, this time from a higher angle. Accelerator changed the vector of the weapon with ease, sending it flying upwards like a baseball. He watched as Rem calmly regained control of it and brought it back to her waiting hand, the force he sent it back with not enough to move her footing. Finally, she tried a swing from his left side. Again, he knocked it to the ground, but this time he decided to end the game.
Before she could pull it up again, he tapped her shoulder, having moved behind her before she could sense it.
"You'd be done by this point if not before." He sighed.
Rem blinked, slowly gathering the mace again without a word, her angle of attacks bested without any doubt.
Roswaal clapped, saying "Impressive. What magic is that?"
"I told you, it's science, not magic. I can essentially change the direction of objects coming my way... that's the skill I perfected in Academy City."
Roswaal appeared to smile as Rem finished gathering up her weapon from the ground, saying "Incredible that a city I've never heard of has apparently produced such a fine and powerful individual all without the use of magic or mana... truly incredible."
Accelerator was silent at that, noticing the girl somehow hiding the mace under her skirt... somehow.
"I find it strange that you don't use any mana... is your gate not open?" Puck asked, floating over, Emilia not far behind. He ignored the almost proud smile on her face and focused on the words of the floating sin against nature.
He replied with a shrug, "If I knew I would tell you. Never heard the term mana except in games back home."
"Strange. Well, I can check easily enough, just hold still!"
Accelerator glanced at Emilia, the girl only smiling reassuringly. Noting his uncertainty, however, she spoke.
"It's quite standard. If you have an affinity it might be better to know of it."
Accelerator only shrugged.
"Right, just a sec!" The floating cat got close, pressed himself up to him and-
Accelerator felt a sickening shock as if a million tiny needles were piercing every pore in his body. He gasped, gripping his chest and taking a step back just as Puck backed away on his own, a startled expression on the spirit's face.
"Woah! Are you okay?"
Accelerator sucked in a breath, the pain dissipating, asking "What the hell was that?!"
"I was just verifying if you even had a gate! Yours seems... broken for some reason... you can't exert any mana... at all. As if... as if your body rejects it." he replied, also in apparent shock.
Accelerator caught his breath, saying "So... what does that mean?"
Puck smiled slightly as he said "It means you can't do any magic. I have to be honest when you said you didn't use magic I had my doubts, but... you're really a particularly bizarre sample Accelerator! A total weirdo worthy of the title!"
He ignored the sad attempt at lightening the mood and got his composure back. His mind was more focused on just what this anomaly that had nearly ripped him apart was, and just what exactly it could do. Roswaal, however, only laughed, saying "Honestly, you offering to work here may prove more beneficial to me! You're certain that's all you want?"
"Well then, hop to it. Ram will help you get started. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!"
Again with the emphasis on the vocals, again with the annoyingly long enunciations... is that an act?
"Well, come along then, weirdo worthy of the title." the pink-haired girl interrupted his train of thought. Somehow, she looked more bored than her fellow maid. The way she spoke to him already told him she would probably be a strict superior, which might be unfortunate.
But as he briefly made eye contact with Emilia, he didn't regret it.
"Alright, um... talk later, Accelerator. We're cheering for you!"
"Me less for support and more because I'm genuinely unsure if you'll succeed."
"I'm just being honest."
"Hey, weirdo! Quit lazing around and come on."
Accelerator nodded, turned to Emilia, and said "Thanks."
If this was a new beginning, he could've easily picked a worse one.
"Straighten your back, you look like an oaf."
Thus began the life of the once highest ranked level 5 turned servant.
With an insult.
Where the blue-haired maid named Rem was far quieter than perhaps even himself, her twin sister had a sharp tongue that was unsheathed the moment she was out of Roswaal's sight.
But Accelerator did as told without complaint. He was a patient young man after all, and at least this job didn't involve him killing, nor did it involve him torturing others.
He simply buttoned up the new dress shirt that made him look more like a butler and entered the room the pink-haired maid had led him to.
A simple kitchen awaited him.
"Can you peel apples?" she asked.
"Probably isn't an answer."
"It's the answer I can give you right now. I've never peeled them before."
"Well, then you don't know how to peel apples."
"You asked me if I was capable, not if I knew how to cut them or not."
The girl handed him a clean knife, saying "Mind your tongue, weirdo."
Accelerator didn't reply, taking the knife with caution.
Ram motioned behind him, where Rem was suddenly standing with a basket full of apples, her eyes staring at him. Ram then spoke up.
"Peel them. Try to do it properly."
Accelerator nodded. Taking one apple, he pressed the blade to-
"Not like that." the pink-haired girl said without a hint of emotion, yet somehow appearing disappointed.
Accelerator nodded again, and slowly moved the knife so its blade was at an angle that-
"Not like that." she groaned, her face twisting slightly, as if in disgust.
Accelerator now looked at her with almost imperceptible confusion. Was there some secret technique to peeling apples he was unaware of? Instead of enlightening him on such topics, Ram said "You're truly a sheltered child that you know nothing about even basic chores from home?"
Accelerator's brows ever so subtly furrowed into a frown that he quickly hid by turning away from her and saying "Maybe I need a knife that's as sharp as your tongue."
The girl smirked, then said "Not true. Rem!"
Accelerator turned, both surprised and underwhelmed at the sudden appearance of the blue-haired maid between them. As if she could materialize upon request without making a sound.
"Peel an apple, if you please."
"Of course, sister."
The apple was peeled in a few seconds, the blue-haired maid quickly showing off her skill, though clearly, it was less to teach and more to show off. Oh, not for Rem, but her older sister. Ram gave Accelerator a soft, almost imperceptible smirk, before speaking in a smug tone that bothered the albino.
"That's how it's done."
Accelerator only nodded again, not about to play along with whatever game the pink-haired maid was trying to push him to.
And so it went...
Ram would give orders, Accelerator would follow them, seemingly screwing something up before Ram ordered Rem to "demonstrate".
"No, not like that." Ram said as Accelerator handled a broom the wrong way.
"No, wrong." Ram said after Accelerator apparently scrubbed the mansion's floor the wrong way.
"Rem, please show him how it's done." Ram said, Rem swiftly cutting the slightly grown tree branch with a velocity Accelerator wasn't sure he could compete with.
It was here where he finally said "I take it I have a lot of learning to do."
"The weirdo dunce that can't even peel an apple properly has the capacity to learn. What a fantastical idea."
He didn't reply.
Ram huffed, saying "Here, take the cleaning supplies back to their storage. Surely you can carry things at least."
Accelerator picked up the bucket and mop.
Ram clapped unenthusiastically, saying "Hooray. You managed part of the task. Perhaps you can be taught after all."
Accelerator ignored her, walking down the hall. The perceptible sunrays entered through the impeccably clean windows, shining on the reflective floors of the mansion, almost reminding him of the sanitized labs of various buildings in Academy City.
Ram suddenly asked, "What are you thinking about?"
"Ah?" he half grunted.
"What are you thinking about? You look distracted."
He only said, "I'm thinking of where I came from."
"Oh, you're feeling sorry for yourself?"
Accelerator ever so slightly smiled at that, saying "I guess I am."
Really now, who was he to feel any form of self-pity? Did it excuse his actions? His atrocities? He was a monster who did monstrous things and now had a chance to try and make it all better by helping someone else?
He was still a monster. But if he could use his monstrous nature to genuinely help those who were kind, then maybe-
Accelerator discovered then that the Roswaal mansion was full of interruptions to his inner thoughts.
He had just opened the door to the storage room and was now staring straight at a little blonde-haired girl, sitting on a stool, a black book in hand, glaring at him with what appeared to be flower-shaped irises.
The little girl blinked, a look of perpetual irritation in her eyes ever-present.
She finally said, "I suppose you're a mute of some sort?"
"No, I just don't know who you are or how you turned the storage room into a... massive library." Accelerator replied, looking around the area, large bookshelves covering the room top to bottom.
The little girl said, "You just got lost."
"No, I'm sure this is the storage room."
"Humph! Such insolence... close the door immediately!"
He slowly inched the door closed, hearing it *click* before taking his hand off the doorknob. Then, with a confused expression, he glanced at Ram.
She didn't say anything.
He left the wordless question hand in the air for a moment.
She finally said "That's Beatrice. She's a spirit that inhabits this mansion."
"Oh, a spirit... I see... so, she transforms rooms of the house into her own?" he said, trying not to sound bemused or sarcastic.
Clearly, he failed.
"A brainless weirdo dolt like yourself won't be able to comprehend. Just know that she inhabits this mansion as well. Try the door again."
He did and wasn't sure how to react as the door opened once again into the storage room.
Accelerator considered the information.
How exactly had the so-called "spirit" done her tricks? He didn't know. It was more plausible that the girl somehow controlled a portal of sorts, maybe a black hole, which opened at certain parts of the mansion and led to her library which was likely located somewhere else entirely, but if that was the case he most certainly would have sensed something wrong with the door the second his hand made contact with it. He hadn't particularly sensed anything wrong with the door itself, but it wasn't like he was paying much attention. He internally shrugged it off, assuming he would likely get acquainted with the spirit once more.
Tools placed inside, Ram then said "Good. Now come this way."
She began leading him down yet another hall, but it was here that Accelerator noticed the many doors to his left as he walked down the hall.
He passed his hand, touching each door as he did so, trying to-
He froze on the fifth door, right before the hall turned a corner.
Ram noticed and turned to him, asking "What are you doing?"
"Testing something..." he said, pushing the door open.
Once again, inside was the girl, sitting on a stool, book in hand, irritated as she glared at him.
"I told you to get lost!"
Not deterred this time, Accelerator studied the doorframe.
"How do you do this?" he asked instead, passing a hand over the frame, gathering the information.
"I said get lost!"
"I will just let me-"
The small girl glowered, yelling "If you won't get lost, I suppose you leave me no choice!"
Accelerator only said, "Listen, if you're going to appear at random rooms of the house, I-"
A powerful gust of wind slammed into him, his vector control dispersing it with ease, books flying all over the room as the magical breeze threw them out of their shelves and onto the floor, and he remained where he'd stood, unaffected, and yet...
Why didn't I fully reflect it?
To the small girl's shock, the attack had not done anything, and now she stared at him wide-eyed.
Accelerator shook his head, saying "That doesn't work on me... as I was saying, if you're going to appear in random rooms, it would help me understand how you do this."
"W-w-what exactly is in it for me then?!"
"If I can predict where you are I won't accidentally walk into your library."
"And if you do want to bother me, I suppose that means you'll find it easier to find me?!"
The girl's glare didn't soften, instead, she yelled "I refuse to cooperate with you! Leave me alone!"
Accelerator finally took his hand off the doorframe and said "Alright."
He closed the door behind him only to be met by the unblinking stare of the pink-haired girl next to him.
Ram studied him for a moment and said "Can you give me your hand for a moment?"
"Do it, please."
"Do it, please." She repeated in the same monotone.
He placed his right hand on her own.
She held it there for a moment as if studying it.
Then she pulled it so he fell to the one knee before suddenly gripping it tightly. Accelerator felt the pain and his scream would have likely shattered glass had it not gotten caught in his own throat. He turned to her, wondering why she was trying to break his hand.
Ram said "Do not speak to the inhabitants of the mansion like that. Perhaps where you were from you were high and mighty, top dog material even, but here you are perhaps only supposed to be slightly higher in status than the garbage we tell you to throw out. Understood?"
Accelerator nodded shakily.
Ram leaned in slightly and whispered "And if you speak that way to Master Roswaal... I will kill you."
Accelerator huffed back "Point... taken..."
And with that, she let go of his hand. Shaking her head and walking away, she ignored Accelerator as he remained there, crimson eyes open wide, staring at the reddening mark on his hand.
I... I almost...
The image of a bloodied corpse shot into his mind. Another of shattered remains as blood and human organs lay strewn about an alley. Had he not restrained himself he doubted the girl would have been walking away.
He shakily got up and walked after her, Ram finally saying "Perhaps your powers are strong, but you are physically weak. Shall I call you Glass Cannon, weirdo dunce who can't even peel an apple?"
Accelerator was silent.
"Or perhaps I should call you Anthill? Powerful for some things, completely inept to others in the grand scheme of things?"
Accelerator said nothing.
Ram sighed, saying "So long as you know your place it doesn't really matter. I'll probably think of something, weirdo."
Then she pushed a door open, the room inside being a small guest room with a bed and a desk.
"These are your quarters... slightly above trash. Make yourself at home but do try to keep it clean."
"What? That's it for the day?"
"Oh, and now he speaks?"
Accelerator didn't reply, awaiting an answer from the pink-haired maid.
Ram huffed, "Yes, that will be all for the day. Lunch and dinner are prepared in advance, and Rem will take care of tomorrow's breakfast. Unless something needs cleaning or fixing, or there is an emergency there's little more to do today. As I said, make yourself at home, dunce."
He nodded, saying "Thanks." and then stepping into the room.
Ram eyed him as he closed the door.
The silence of the forest made sense as its monsters were all gathered peacefully around the girl in front of him. He had told her the information, and now he had to reason with her. Why children like her were allowed to become assassins wasn't so much a concern, but it made things mildly inconvenient when plans changed.
Even a change as small as this seemed to raise the assassin's eyebrows with curious questions.
"You want me to wait?"
"Just a while longer."
"Why? Because Big Sister Elsa was imprisoned? You know she'll escape with ease! I'd be willing to bet she'll get here before-"
"That's not the reason. The abilities of this newcomer aren't what I was expecting."
"While I was certain he would have powerful abilities... This reflective power, this lack of a gate to take in and expel mana... he's certainly a greater anomaly than I had imagined."
"You mean I should wait for big sister Elsa to come around before trying-"
"No, not at all... I just think you should wait a little longer before attacking. Analyze his strength, his weaknesses. What exactly can he do, and what exactly can you do against it?"
"Oh, so this new guy isn't a regular human?"
"Deep down he is... it's what surrounds him that's extraordinary."
"Hmm... well, I was planning on a way to stealthily kill a few people."
"He's perceptive. Do try not to be caught."
"Oh, I would never get caught! Mother would punish me terribly if I was! The only reason big sister won't get punished is that she probably got away before she screwed up the mission..."
"Indeed. Do with the information what you must."
The plan had to go on.
The forest remained quiet as he left the assassin and her beasts.
Accelerator sighed as he sunk into the heated water of the mansion's bath once again. He glanced at his hands, noting the subtle marks on the pale skin as he had done as told during the day. He ignored the image of the blood splattered on these hands. He shook his head slowly, his hair floating slightly in the water as he stared at the rising steam.
He was an obedient dog if anything.
Accelerator tended to keep quiet, rarely asking questions unless he was absolutely uncertain of something, and did as he was told. It rarely worked out in the end, but it seemed that this time around there was a positive effect already noticeable.
He did as he was told, thus, his rewards were also equally received.
Once in his "uniform", he walked ahead down the halls, noting the blue-haired maid was doing her job of keeping the mansion quite literally spotless.
In fact, does her sister do anything?
"Good morning, Accelerator!"
Accelerator glanced away from the windows, noting the silver-haired half-elf in... were those supposed to be casual clothes? He wasn't sure what to call whatever the girl was wearing, but it did seem more simple and somehow less formal than her attire the previous days. Her hairstyle was also different, tied into twin tails, different from her hair in the previous days.
"Morning." He replied curtly.
"Why do you just say morning? Are you not appreciative of the beautiful day you are seeing?!" came the soft reprimand and equally soft paw of the floating cat.
"I didn't say it was a bad morning."
"But you didn't say it was good, either. That negative attitude is not healthy, you know? And the one who saved my Lia should be a bit more aware of what he's accomplished instead of appearing all mopey."
Accelerator didn't reply immediately, now a touch unsure of what to say to the cat. It was a fair point. A hero would likely be smiling, encouraging those around him, just... radiating positivity.
His mind briefly went back to the night in question, the spiky-haired hero that protected the dolls from him, how even beaten as he was, he still smiled for the girl he was protecting as if to say "everything's alright, don't worry".
He wasn't like that.
Before he could say anything, the floating cat said "Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I may have a date, so keep a close eye on Lia if you please."
He didn't have to ask as he heard the rapidly approaching footsteps.
Accelerator glanced at the running pair of drills in a pink dress that ran down the hall that gleefully came to a stop beside Emilia.
"You said you'd be able to play with me all day today, do you suppose you still can?" the small girl asked cheerfully.
"Of course, I said we would relax today, and I keep my promises." Puck replied, floating into the girl's waiting hands. The girl's smile only grew and she happily ran off with the floating spirit without uttering a word to him or Emilia.
"That... was the same girl from the library, right?" he asked, which was his way of wanting to ensure there weren't another pair of twins in the home to worry about.
"Oh, you've met her?" Emilia replied, putting the fear of twins to rest.
"Yeah. Didn't like me intruding in her magical room."
Emilia now smiled softly, saying "Beatrice is like that. But she has a nice friendship with Puck, and she can become quite adorable then."
Accelerator didn't reply, glancing briefly out the window to observe the still familiar blue sky. Unsure of what to say next, he turned to Emilia.
"Do you need anything?" he asked.
"Um... no, not really. I just wanted to talk if you weren't busy."
It only took a second for Accelerator to realize his folly. He was someone who hadn't ever gotten accustomed to casual conversations. Most conversations he participated in rarely went beyond a typical quid pro quo. Even Yoshikawa's late-night chats with him were more medical and scientific than casual.
Perhaps this, ultimately, would be no different.
But perhaps not.
He groaned "Damn it, I'm sorry. I don't mean to come off as... abrasive."
"No, no, it's alright! Your memory is a bit fuzzy still, isn't it?"
Accelerator briefly thought back to how he almost splattered the maid's insides all over the hall the previous day had he not restrained himself.
"Yeah... you wanted to talk then?"
Emilia smiled, nodding.
"How has the mansion staff treated you?" she asked.
Accelerator replied curtly, shoving a hand in his pocket.
"I can't complain."
"Alright then. Walk with me, please?"
He nodded, following after her. Keenly aware of the eyes on them.
The weather outside was not entirely hot nor cold. It was still early morning, and the sunlight was reflecting on the small water droplets from the morning doe, enhancing the scent of all forms of nature around the mansion.
It was wholly unlike Academy City.
Accelerator kind of hated it as he followed after Emilia, ignoring the somewhat wet grass beneath them as she spoke.
"Exercising is important, Puck says. So, in our contract, I must exercise a little after waking up and before going to bed."
Uh-huh." Accelerator replied.
"I believe it's important you get some exercise in since you look quite malnourished."
"Call it a consequence of my ability. Never required much effort to do things."
"Hmm, still, it shouldn't be too taxing on you to exercise a little."
He huffed, mumbling "I doubt it would have helped much..."
He shrugged, again, choosing honesty.
"Ram used the term glass canon to describe me... It applies very well if you think about it. So long as I don't understand something, I can get hit like anyone else."
"So then... if say, Puck tries using one of his spells on you, and you don't understand it, you can't just deflect it?"
"I wouldn't know. That blonde brat with the drills tried some magic on me. Was able to reflect... no... divert it would be more accurate. Something about the essence of this... mana... I can't exactly understand it."
"That's actually something worth asking about. If you don't have a gate, then how can you... well... take in and expel mana?"
Accelerator paused, glancing at his hands, saying "I don't think my body can process it."
"When you used a healing spell on my cut that night, it healed, but it also felt strange... like... if the cut had been any deeper my body would have rejected what you were doing, similar to how it rejected Puck trying to study me yesterday."
"That's unheard of, I think. I certainly haven't. You're quite a unique person, Accelerator!"
He hid his disgust of the almost angelic amount of positivity emanating from the girl. As if somehow, she was glowing in a holy light that was going to burn him alive if she kept at it.
"However, I can't say it's exactly healthy. Maybe we should try some training as if your gate is broken and just needs a healthier host to heal."
"You say that as if I'm physically ill."
"Hey! T-that's not it! I'm just trying to help you out. Because I want to, of course. You said you owe me and I know you're an effective worker, so I just don't want you paying off the debt you have to me so easily. After all, this is a mutually beneficial agreement, so it's better for all parties, yes?" she said in rapid succession.
Accelerator blinked, not entirely impressed, but did glance past her, noting the blue-haired maid tending to some bushes, her gaze turning to them every so often.
He turned back to Emilia and nodded, saying "Alright... whatever you say... teach me about this magic of yours."
"Hmm... teaching you magic? Um... Well... it's all down to instinct, really."
"Can you give an example?"
"Um... an example? Um... oh! Talking to lesser spirits!"
"They're beings that haven't fully passed on. They haven't gained self-awareness to become full spirits like Puck. I've been able to talk to them for as long as I can remember, like so..."
Accelerator watched as she closed her eyes, her mouth moving as no sound came forth. Subtly in the morning daylight, tiny orbs of blue began to float around her as smiled and silently spoke. He watched her, trying to gauge exactly what was happening, what he was seeing.
After a moment, the lights diminished, and Emilia turned to him with a bright smile.
'Instincts' my ass...
Accelerator only stared at the candlelight in his room in disappointment while lying in bed, eyes half-open. "Magic" it turned out was, as far as he could tell, an anomaly. The ice, the wind, whatever it used that had a vector he could fully factor in and calculate... but whatever actually caused it to behave in such erratic ways that allowed the caster to send ice projectiles or shove people using strong gusts of wind was beyond his understanding of reality. Really, now, if physics applied then how in the world were people there capable of such feats?! Was his sudden appearance in this world part of it? Was his past life even real if this "magic" was capable of illusions? No, he could detect this so-called "magic", it was just something that he couldn't factor into his calculations properly. Or at all, really, but who was counting. The important thing was that he kept the girl safe, an act he could maintain from his own room as he would be alerted of any strange movements thanks to their vibrations.
It wasn't easy escaping from The Accelerator, after all. And it wasn't like he was falling asleep, he was keeping watch in his own way. Perhaps it was better this way, as he wouldn't get in the way of either of the maids, or the strange child who-
His heart rate accelerated briefly and he felt a chill go down his spine.
There was that feeling again. That he was being watched. That there were eyes just eyeing him from every dark corner in the room, unbeknownst to him. As if just out of the corner of his eye, if he simply moved fast enough, he could catch the culprit.
Yet he also knew there was nothing there. At least, not in his room. Accelerator was usually able to detect vibrations of others in the vicinity, and here was no different. Yet there was, of course, the unknown factor of strange abilities that were outside his cope of understanding.
The way he detected Emilia's "magic", aspects of that assassin's blades...
This world has slightly different rules.
Still, nothing he couldn't workaround.
Not yet, at least.
The bed was comfortable, the clothes fit, the room was dry and fairly clean, which was already an upgrade from his often-vandalized apartment back in Academy City. As he finished that thought, his eyes darted to the door.
He groaned as he sat up and walked to it, opening it slowly and stepping out into the hall.
The second he turned left, the heavy projectile that would have ripped his torso in two had he not had his ability stopped inches from his body before bouncing upwards with not enough force to hit the ceiling above, but certainly, enough to give the attacker a chance to draw it back in so it wouldn't damage the mansion's expensive furnishings.
Accelerator turned slowly towards the blue-haired maid.
"What was that?" he asked, as if not surprised yet still disappointed.
Rem appeared from the shadows, wordlessly gathering her mace, looking at him with uncertainty.
She finally said, "Why are you out of your room?"
"I'm thirsty. I was going to get some water. What exactly are you doing following me around?"
Accelerator shrugged, saying "Right... figures. Were you ordered to keep an eye on me?"
"I suppose it is..." he sighed.
He took a step forward, Rem following in step. Accelerator paused; Rem paused. She remained silent, as though she didn't need to ask permission to do what she was doing. And of course, she technically didn't.
Accelerator held in a sigh and kept walking.
It made sense. Why would they trust him? Why wouldn't they be concerned about someone as frightening as him? It wasn't like they had a reference for what he could do. His ability wasn't some magic trick, it was a result of scientific understanding and research that couldn't really be comprehended by people who didn't have a concept of the scientific world. Still, he could feel her gaze on him, and as he glanced at her he noticed how frustrated she appeared.
He didn't comment. If she wanted to ask him, she could speak first, if not, why should he take initiative?
The girl finally broke the silence as they arrived at the kitchen.
"Why do you have the witch's scent on you?"
Accelerator had to pause at this.
Glancing at the girl, even in the darkness, he could tell her calm demeanor was being unraveled at a faster rate as if his mere presence was disgusting to her and she was failing at hiding it.
"It's there... it's subtle... to the point it's infuriating but not to the point it would easily attract monsters. But I can still smell it, so don't try hiding it. Why do you have the witch's scent?"
Accelerator blinked. He had only seen a girl give him a look like that once, and only once.
That's the reason you killed her?!
He forced the memory away and replied "Sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about. I can't smell anything on me."
The girl stepped forward, angrily whispering "A bad response. At best, it's a mark of the Witch's Cult. Have you encountered them?!"
"That I'm aware of, no."
"That you're aware of?!"
"Yeah. That I'm aware of. I don't care if you believe me or not, but I know so little about this world I didn't know about the Witch of Envy or why people here apparently discriminate against girls like Emilia. Maybe I ran into some of them and I didn't know it, maybe it brushed off on me and I can't sense it with my ability. But I have no way to prove it, and I really don't know enough to say otherwise."
The girl didn't respond.
So, he asked "What does this scent mean? Am I poisoned or-?"
"You'll draw unwanted attention... and like I said, it's a sign of the witch's cult. It makes you suspicious."
"Any other way I could have gotten this scent on me?"
The girl didn't answer, asking instead "Why are you here?"
"Or perhaps sloth?"
"Or perhaps you lust after lady Emilia?"
"Wow, three out of seven deadly sins. Keep going, let's see how many you can tack on." he huffed, crossing his arms.
"Your snark may be an attempt to deflect the gravity of the truth, but the fact remains that the Sin Archbishops each hold an authority named after such sins. I wonder which one you fall under."
"Archbishops of Sin... so that's another problem in this world... great."
"Why do you keep saying 'this world'?"
"Because all my life I've been living in another world. Maybe I just thought I was. But the fact is, a lot of what I see here is not what I'm used to."
"Is that how you're trying to hide your suspicious behavior?"
Rem didn't reply, as if he should know exactly what she was talking about.
After a moment, she finally said "Get your water. We both have a job to do tomorrow."
He didn't say anymore, knowing the conversation would probably not go anywhere. The maid was secretive in her own right, and he wasn't one to pry. Not if it wasn't necessary. So he went, drank his water, the maid eyeing him every step of the way, the expression in her eyes never changing.
The fact was clear now.
Out of the twins, Rem was the one to be most concerned about.
Awakening from his sleep once again, Accelerator stretched and got up. The day was calm, and it was really starting to sink in how peaceful it was compared to the bustling streets of Academy City.
Arriving at the kitchen, he found Ram handing Rem a slip of paper. The pink-haired maid turned to him and said "Ah, excellent, the dunce is here. You can help my sister carry the groceries needed."
Again, he didn't ask questions, simply nodding as a gesture of obedience, and following after the blue-haired maid.
Out of the mansion, it was a slightly different story.
The trees were more unkempt, the road was worn, the grass was partly overgrown. It was a forested area, alright, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized how unaccustomed to the sight he was. Oh, he'd seen pictures, videos, all about the various parts of the globe that had areas like these, but to actually go and see one personally wasn't an action he had really done all that often. Not even his occasional walks through the greener areas of the city, where the parks only used the shade of trees in an ideal setting.
No, not like Academy City at all.
Rem asked suddenly "Have the people in town seen you?"
Accelerator shook his head, saying "A few saw me when I arrived. Early risers."
Rem nodded, saying "Fine. Don't cause any trouble."
Irlam village wasn't really all that alien to him. People were both staring at him and trying not to stare at the same time. As if they knew he was an outsider in more ways than one, some simply waved politely and went about their work. A man carrying a bucket of water to a well nodded to him as if to say "hello" and kept walking. To their credit, it wasn't like Academy City, where most people knew better than to try and annoy him by politely greeting him, but there was enough of an unknown factor to his presence that the adults were being understandably cautious around him.
The children were the ones most naturally curious.
They weren't so much speaking or muttering about him as they were actively staring, wordlessly acknowledging his presence was, to put it bluntly, "strange".
Rem stopped walking in front of a shop, and quietly said "The items on the list, please."
The man nodded, smiling at her, then turned and went into the home.
Accelerator kept his attention on their current surroundings, noting that children were still staring at him. Their simple clothes, their innocent looks, their parents' concern as they kept them away from the strange white-haired man.
He envied them.
Not that he would admit it, but who could deny that that's what children needed? A need that he had been denied, that had he perhaps simply have had it a while longer he could have gone down a different path that didn't cause so much pain to those around him.
He thought back to the blood on his hands.
Damn it all... focus...
"Excuse me, mister, but is your hair dyed?"
Accelerator glanced at the child.
There were a few other kids around the girl with reddish-brown hair. Well, not so much "around" her as almost hiding behind her. Still, she appeared a touch nervous as she stood there, waiting for a response. Her eyes not leaving his, like a deer in the headlights.
Accelerator closed his eyes, turned away from the kids with a sigh, and quietly said "No."
The boy behind the girl muttered, "See, I told you."
The little girl quickly said, "But you're here to work, right?"
Accelerator nodded slowly.
Another little girl quickly said "Ah! So you got a job so easily! You must be a really talented person!"
That got Accelerator's attention.
He glanced at the small girl with blue hair, the way she had spoken somewhat bothering him. She was dressed just as plainly as the other children, but... something in the way she looked at him, the way she had spoken...
Rem had said nothing, and Accelerator was unsure what he could say, so he simply told her "No, I just got lucky."
The girl with reddish-brown hair then asked "So-so you're like... the new maid?"
"Butler." the boy behind her corrected.
"I-I knew that!"
Accelerator kept his attention on the blue-haired child, as she seemed to switch from the chat with the kids near her, to him.
What are you-
It was sudden. Like a jolt, an alarm bell, going off in his head all at once to warn of an incoming attack. He felt the slight presence of magic and immediately reflected its source away.
The dog flew away from his pant leg where it was about to bite, rolling on the ground before stopping and making pained whimpers.
The blue-haired girl quickly ran to it, picking it up and looking it over.
The kids and the adults alike only stared in shock at the sudden act of brief violence. The small dog apparently wasn't too badly injured, but the way he had just... tossed it aside...
Accelerator ignored the stares, quickly saying "Stay away from that animal! It's got magic and it tried to use it!"
Accelerator saw the briefest flash of anger in the child's eyes before she quickly said "It's just a puppy! It just wanted to play!"
Accelerator noted the tiny horn on the creature, knowing very well it wasn't like any dog he had seen back in Academy City and the fact it tried magic...
"Can dogs do magic?" one of the younger boys asked nervously, an adult, presumably his mother grabbing his hand and pulling him away.
Accelerator said, "I'm serious, I sensed the magic coming from-"
Accelerator turned to Rem; the girl already glaring daggers at him again.
"What are you doing?!"
"It's a pup! Puppies have to teethe! You don't kick them, not like that!"
"you've said it yourself, you're not accustomed to magic. I bet you imagined it. And even if you didn't imagine it, do you really think the best thing to do is scare the people helping us?!"
Accelerator fell silent, eyeing the blue-haired girl as an almost devious grin manifested on her face before quickly being hidden away. The blue-haired child gently placed the small "dog" back down, petting it as if checking it, while her eyes darted to meet Accelerator's.
Rem snapped her fingers, saying "Apologize!"
Accelerator eyed Rem for a moment, but did as told, turning to the people with a tired expression he bowed, saying "I apologize for causing a disturbance."
The people only nodded slowly, Accelerator catching a woman whisper "Wow, the Oni Maids have him under control. At least that's commendable."
He rose back up, then turned to Rem.
Before either of them could speak, Rem winced, turning to look down at the ground.
There, right above her ankle, a tiny, almost imperceptible trickle of blood snaked down to her sock, the small dog's tooth having bitten into her.
A/N: Hey, I'm back!
So, wow, you guys really liked this one.
Truth time, I'm still not 100% sure where to take it as I'm not really a Light Novel reader for either Re; Zero or Index. Thankfully there are plenty of YouTube channels explaining bits of Re; Zero due to how popular it is, so maybe I can manage for an arc or two.
Again, I don't 100% know where to take this story yet, but I think I can at least cover a good chunk of what the anime covered, so... let's try to at least cover season 1 but with the changes that Accelerator could bring.
It's something I want to avoid, actually, because I don't want this to be "oh, Re; Zero but with Accelerator", I want this to be a "what if" that looks into how Re; Zero would change if Accelerator was the one who got called in, for better or for worse.
Oh, and since I left it on a bit (heh) of a cliffhanger, you know I'm going to continue it... eventually. I do have other fics to work on, but I plan to come back to this one as I may have a more manageable schedule.
Anyway, how were the characters? Accelerator is softening up a bit, or at the very least is mostly keeping quiet, somewhat similar to how he was with GROUP at first, but what about the Emilia Camp? Roswaal, Rem, Ram, Beatrice... they're all simple and complex characters, so I want to be sure I got them down properly here. If I didn't, please let me know so I can improve my writing and the experience for you guys cause this fic is very much an outlier in the kinds of stories I do here, and it's also kind of experimental for me.
Here's hoping it delivers!
Thanks again so much for reading! Remember that reviews and criticisms are greatly appreciated and if there is anything you think could be done better or felt off feel free to let me know. Hope this chapter was enjoyable and I hope to have another chapter out soon.
Hope to see you then!
Very special thanks to /u/Aidensman for helping proofread this chapter.