༺ The Human Regime ༻
“You are… far more virtuous a man than I had imagined.”
Lieutenant General Ebon’s remark was abrupt. But due to its ambiguity, and the fact that he wasn’t a beauty, let alone even a woman, the undying didn’t pay much attention.
“I do not want none of that. A man’s compliments matter little to me.”
“Right. Yes, indeed.”
Ebon murmured to himself, nodding. His cryptic behavior made the undying lose interest in the lieutenant general.
“I will be going now to stop those two—“
“Oh, that won’t do. No.”
At that moment, without warning, Ebon thrust his hands out. Coldly, gleaming claws instantly sprouted from his hands, lunging for the undying’s back.
Just before the claws, resembling a beast’s maw, were about to slice into the undying…
“Hup! Not a chance!”
Sensing the murderous intent, the undying twisted around at once and raised his prided right arm to block Ebon’s attack… forgetting that his right arm was still detached.
“Drat! My right hand!”
The claws pierced his body unobstructed, ruthlessly breaking through his innards. In a moment of carelessness, the undying had allowed himself to be penetrated by six blades, causing him to cry out grievously.
“Grgh! What a mistake! I have become too used to being without my right arm!”
“This alone is fatal. However, I face an undying. He will not die regardless…”
Ebon coldly muttered under his breath.
“I will only render you unable to interfere, my virtuous friend.”
With that said, he summoned forth the energy within his body—blue mana. Employing a Qi Art, he unleashed dozens of strikes upon the undying, targeting his shoulders, thighs, chest, and sides. Dozens of bloody gashes appeared one after another on his massive frame.
For a fleeting second, the undying’s body froze, floating in midair. He moved his mouth, trying to say something, but no words formed.
The next moment, his body exploded and burst apart, filling the corridor with a storm of flesh. It was a merciless, efficient attack. With his body ripped apart like this, even an undying would require a day to regenerate.
It was too cruel a sight for Callis to witness, causing her to scream in panic.
Ebon spoke to her in a firm tone.
“Have you grown fond? Worry not, Colonel. He is undying, no? He will revive regardless.”
“How.. ever… This is. He was my helper.”
Ebon didn’t even listen to her. Instead, he checked off his fingers, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
“Good. The Cat King eliminated the hindrance, the undying has been put away, and the Progenitor seems unconcerned with us, as expected. Now all that’s left…”
He trailed off, slowly turning his gaze my way. I awkwardly met the lieutenant general’s eyes
as he continued.
“By the way, do you often hear that you have little presence? Or are you using some form of stealth? I nearly overlooked you without realizing.”
Oh, damn. That’s a pity.
I had been reading everyone’s minds here, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible by hiding in their blind spots of perception. Maybe it was because he was from a secret society, but the lieutenant general was more meticulous than I thought.
Counting off fingers is cheating. You should fight fair and square with just your memory!
Well, now I’ve been caught. What should I do? Can I just play it off?
“Necessity is the mother of discovery. Since you didn’t notice me, isn’t that a sign that there’s no real need to? I’m just an ordinary laborer, after all. If you’d just let me go, everybody would be happ—“
“Apologies, but that will not do.”
｢Laborer… A lucky commoner who merely survived. Perhaps he would be useful if the lieutenant colonel had died, but I no longer require a guide, and I don’t suppose it is necessary to leave a witness.｣
He flared with the unmistakable intent to kill. This was coming from a general, one of the strongest forces of the Military State. Just as starlight couldn’t be blocked, I had no ability to stop his attacks. Facing Chun-aeng was a different scenario, but this time I was up against claws that certainly held weight. With my strength, I’d be pierced through even if I blocked.
If I were in this situation from the first time I fell into the abyss, I would’ve died helplessly.
“Blame your ill fortune.”
I had a trusty backer, though. A backer who was tougher than most countries. No, she was a country itself.
But just before I called out to Tyr, Callis cried out first.
“You mustn’t attack him, Lieutenant General Ebon!”
Ebon didn’t even consider retracting his claws as he replied.
“Colonel, as I have mentioned before, abandon these trivial affections. It contributes nothing for the greater—“
“No, that’s not it, sir. He is under the Progenitor’s protection.”
Following that, sounds emerged from the shadows cast by the light – thin, high voices from the elongated shadows, and deep, resonant voices from the broad, dense shadows.
The duet of darkness shook the very space surrounding us, gradually converging into a single voice.
[He is under my protection, and his heart beats as one with mine.]
Three dark knights rose from my shadow, standing as shields before me, three swords of darkness held sharply at the ready.
[I declare, here and now, that any harm done to him will incur a blood debt to be exacted.]
The energy in the air was so potent that it sent shivers down my entire body. Just as no one would compete against a natural disaster, ordinary people would cower without even daring to consider opposing her.
However… even that primeval darkness wasn’t enough to frighten a general.
Lieutenant General Ebon expressed great surprise.
“So, laborer, you did not survive for no reason. Cajoled the Progenitor, did we?”
“Haha. You could say it was my struggle to survive.”
“The result is rather significant for mere struggling. Then naturally, I should treat you accordingly!”
As he said that, Ebon swiftly swung his savage weapons, tearing through the darkness. One dark knight withstood only two attacks. His shadow-made sword broke in a single exchange with the general’s blue mana blade, and very shortly after, the general’s other claw felled him.
The other two knights lunged in at Ebon, however, the colonel suddenly intervened and blocked one of them.
“How dare you attack the general!”
Boom. The colonel stamped his feet on the ground and launched a rain of punches. His opponent’s umbral body disintegrated and reformed with every hit landed. Then, he delivered a direct forefist strike, imbued with blue energy, on the dark knight’s face. The knight staggered and soon dissipated into smoke.
Meanwhile, Ebon had diced up the last remaining knight and now faced me without any hindrance.
…Thinking about it now, weren’t these dark knights seriously too weak? I liked their trivial presence when fighting Tyr, but they were totally unreliable now.
The lieutenant general flashed me a benevolent smile.
“However, we happen to need a hostage. Do cooperate.”
It was the same smile he gave upon seeing Callis alive–kind, yet coldly calculated. I realized then. That curve of his lips appeared for those he deemed useful to himself. It was the mirth of a merchant who delights at an unexpected windfall while coldly calculating profit and loss.
This meant I had become useful in his eyes. Not that it made me particularly happy.
“Rest assured, Progenitor. I promise his safety for our well-being. Not even a hair of his shall be harmed… so long as you, Progenitor, do not get in our way.”
[Wretches… You had better keep your word.]
As the shadows seethed intimidatingly, Ebon bobbed his head in the direction of the voice, then beckoned to the colonel who had been waiting behind him.
“Colonel, bring some rope. We must bind him.”
“Sir, yes sir!”
The bear-like colonel retrieved rope from a leather bag. It was a State-made special product that was fire-proof and even blade-resistant. After testing its strength by pulling it taut, the colonel nodded and approached me with a cold smile. In response, I gathered my arms and quickly stuck them out to make it easier for him.
“Here! Tie me quickly!”
“…What is this?”
“Eager cooperation toward the Military State! You were going to tie me up like this anyway! Let’s get it done and over with fast! To reclaim the peaceful Tantalus of old!”
The colonel seemed rather skeptical, but that didn’t change the job he had to do. With suspicious eyes, he firmly bound my wrists, and for good measure, pulled them tight with his bear-like strength. So damned tight that my fingers were hurting. The knot was perfect, evoking the sentiment of “that’s the state for you alright”.
Ebon remarked on my attitude.
“How cheerful despite the situation, laborer.”
“It’s the kind of situation that calls for cheer. Frowning and posturing down here only adds to the dark mood, doesn’t it?”
“Were you also like this when charming the Progenitor?”
“That’s a trade secret… is what I’d like to say, but honestly, I’m not sure myself. Maybe it’s because she’s an elderly who lived 1200 years all alone, but after a bit of chattering by her side to keep her company, she opened up completely to the point of being willing to give out her heart and sou—Agh!”
A faraway shadow tossed an empty food can at the back of my head. Hit out of nowhere, I tried to rub my aching head, only to realize my arms were tied and groaned.
Ebon gazed between me and the shadow in interest.
｢I should remember this. It will come in useful later.｣
Taking his eyes off me, the lieutenant general addressed Callis.
“Now, Lieutenant Colonel. Lead us to the Dog King. We must finish before the ‘path’ opens
in 30 minutes.”
“Yes, I understand. Please follow me.”
Callis took the lead, and Ebon began to leisurely follow her. Then suddenly, he caught notice of a small blade fragment on the ground. He narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the blood-stained piece.
It was the thin, sharp blade from the escape packet of the death ticket kit.
Ebon observed it for a moment longer before glancing to confirm the wound on Callis’ right hand. He snorted quietly before going outside.
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