༺ A Fragment of the Apocalypse ༻
Hunting and gathering were some of mankind’s oldest instincts. The sensation of reward that was gained from finding something was a primal instinct that had been passed down through generations of human history.
I felt the same way. Having found something useful from my expedition, I felt as if I could sprout wings and fly. Even the fact that this was the abyss, the furthest place from the sky, could not deter my joy.
Fortunately, it wasn’t even much work. It was quite literally akin to a dog finding a bone on a morning walk.
‘Thank god this is still around. Under normal circumstances, this is subject for immediate disposal as a classified level 3 national secret.’
In a good mood, I dug my fingers through Azzy’s hair and pet her.
“You’re sooo cute! How can you be this good?”
A normal person would probably be wary if someone suddenly hugged them and called them cute. However, Azzy was a dog who knew nothing of doubt or suspicion. She felt happy even at empty compliments.
Barking happily, Azzy turned back towards me and asked a question.
“Do you like walks now?”
“Just for today. I love walks.”
“It means you really like something.”
“Woof! Me too! I love walks!”
They said that a full belly was usually a cause for generosity. I felt even more benevolent with my heavy pockets. Even this good-for-nothing dog looked rather adorable today. Smiling happily together, we walked out of the ruins.
“Yeah. Keep acting nice like this in the future too.”
“I’m always nice!”
“Don’t lie. Every time you do not like something, you would bare your teeth and growl.”
Acting as if she had never done so, Azzy pretended not to know what I was talking about.
No, she might have actually deleted her memory of doing so. Dogs are shameless animals after all.
‘Hah, it’s a good thing that there is a human like me who remembers everything clearly.’
I showed my teeth at Azzy and made a growling noise. Azzy cocked her head and raised her tail, and followed my actions.
“Yeah. Don’t growl like that from now on. And don’t use your teeth either. Don’t try to bite me as well. Even if you have a problem, use your tongue. Got it?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
「Don’t use teeth… Only use your tongue…? Is he…?」
As I was having a serious conversation with Azzy, I felt a rush of bloodlust directed towards me.
「Light clothing. Has he already…? No, I followed them as soon as I knew, so there mustn’t have been enough time.」
The Regressor was glaring at me with murderous intent.
‘Huh? Bloodlust? Why?’
As I was in shock and unable to react, the Regressor clutched the blade behind her.
「Anyway, he attempted it, right? Yeah. I’ll kill him.」
I grabbed Azzy’s shoulders and thrust her forward, placing her between me and the Regressor. Ignorant to the fact that I had just used her as a shield, Azzy just blankly stared at the Regressor. Cowering behind Azzy, I shouted out in a panic.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but it’s all a big misunderstanding!”
“What’s the misunderstanding?”
“Everything! Starting with your dirty mind! Everything is a misunderstanding!”
“Dirty? I’m the dirty one? Not you?”
“Yes! You’re a pervert who thinks everything is about weird stuff like that!”
Ah, she took out her blade.
I stood behind Azzy as best as I could and continued shouting.
“People who are perverts, think everyone else is a pervert just like they are! Just what kind of a person do you think I am?!”
With a cold gaze, the Regressor replied.
“That’s just not true!”
The Regressor was having some really weird thoughts right now. The accusation she was throwing at me was so outrageous that I felt more confused than angry.
I mean, I’ve been framed for a lot of things in my life, but all my years, I had never been accused of bestiality. Regardless, she’s immediately going to kill me for that? She’s even worse than the Military State!
As the Regressor slowly approached me, I screamed with all my heart.
“With a dog? Don’t be so weird. What kind of sick individual would even consider having a sexual relationship with a dog?”
The Regressor delved into her memories, recalling a couple of people in her mind. They were probably people who had attempted such vile acts.
‘Fuck, I guess the end of the world will erode human sanity. You shameful subhumans of humanity.’
I put my palm to my head and retorted.
“I know. There are people in the world who have twisted desires that cannot be understood with the normal human mind. But not me! I’m a normal guy with normal tastes!”
“…You keep treating Azzy like a dog.”
The Regressor pointed at Azzy whose shoulders I was still holding on to.
“Are you doing that on purpose, or do you actually think so?”
“Azzy isn’t a dog. She’s the Dog King. A Beast King who adopted the form of a human.”
Azzy looked towards me and the Regressor with an empty look on her face; her large shining eyes and a face full of curiosity, panting as if she had just finished a race. She was a girl with luscious blonde locks.
She resembled a healthy girl who was a little hyperactive.
At least that’s how she looks.
“Do you understand now? You kept treating her like a dog, but she’s actually the—”
“Are you crazy?”
As the Regressor flinched at my outburst, I shoved Azzy right in front of her. Azzy had her eyes wide open as I moved her around.
“Why don’t you say it, Trainee Shei? Is Azzy a human?!”
“What? What are you…”
“Answer me! Is Azzy a human? Is she beautiful?”
At my relentless interrogation, the Regressor started murmuring in a defensive manner.
“Sh-She has the form of a human, doesn’t she?”
“Did I ask you that? So what if she has the form of a human? Do you get horny when you look at Azzy or something?”
“No! O-Of course not!”
“If you think that way, then why do you think I would be any different? Are you disregarding my basic morals and dignity that much?”
「Y-You’re overly close to her and also the only guy here…」
‘So you’re accusing me because I’m a guy?’
I was at a loss for words.
Before Azzy is considered a female, please remember that fundamentally, she is a dog!
Wait, you’re supposed to be pretending to be a guy as well!
It was so outrageous that I couldn’t even get mad. I usually tolerated insults, but to disregard my basic human dignity was going too far.
“Trainee Shei, listen closely.”
I found myself at a point where anger had turned into tranquility. After letting out a deep sigh, I directed my sermon at the Regressor.
“Let’s say there’s a person who tries to play fetch with another human, and another person who asks how their day has been. Who is the normal person here?”
“Th-That’s… The person who asks how they’ve been.”
“So you know. Now, between a person who tries to play fetch with a dog and another person who tries to ask a dog how its day was, who do you think is the normal person here?”
「She’s a dog, but—」
‘So you’ve admitted it yourself. Why are you getting mad when you know the answer yourself?’
I glared at the Regressor.
“Yes, exactly! It’s normal to treat a dog like a dog! You don’t ask a dog, ‘Hello, how was your breakfast?’”
“Is it because Azzy has the form of a human? Oh, so that means I can assume you think of Azzy as a human, right? With your perverted eyes, you’re pretending to treat Azzy like another human, trying to get to her body?”
“You’re a man as well! Just like me! Actually, you’re even more suspicious than I am! Why are you always talking to dogs like they’re people and stalking me? Are you getting jealous? Is that it?!”
“Of course not!”
“Anyone can say that. Have you seen your own actions?!”
「Ugh, if only I wasn’t cross-dressing…!」
The Regressor who was currently pretending to be a man, was not able to come up with a rebuttal. I took a step forward, confident of my victory. Azzy, whose shoulders I was still holding on to, just seemed to think of the whole thing as a funny occurrence.
“Do you understand? You’re the weird one here!”
Logic always professed the truth. Even the Regressor knew it. She knew that I was right. That I was the normal one here. Faced with my attacks involving facts and logic, the Regressor had no choice but to take a step back.
Of course, Azzy, who couldn’t understand sentences which were longer than two phrases, was just staring between me and the Regressor. However, even that just proved she was innately a dog.
Dogs were dogs at the end of the day. To the Regressor who had forgotten such a simple fact, I let out a finishing blow.
“You’re the weird one for thinking so much about the small talk you have with a dog! Do you understand now? I could tell Azzy a hundred, or even a thousand times that I love her! Even if I don’t actually have emotions like that towards her!”
However, at that moment, I had forgotten a very important fact.
Azzy was not only a dog, but the Dog King that the world itself had appointed as a representative of their species to communicate with humans. She didn’t really understand what I really meant, but she could still hear my words.
“Arf?! You don’t like me?!”
With suspicion swarming in her bubbly eyes, Azzy stared up at me from the ground. Her usually playful tail was now lying limp, and her perky ears were drooping downwards.
“You… hate me then?”
“Oh, Azzy, that’s not what I meant. It’s hard to explain—”
‘Wait. Hm. Let’s think about my next course of action. The Dog King is a dog. I can’t use any complex words. Even if I try to push this off for later, she wouldn’t accept that answer. So, whatever I say to the Regressor as a part of my argument, Azzy will consider it my actual thoughts.
‘With all that in mind, I had a few options. Do I push the Regressor even further so I can tease her at the risk of Azzy liking me less? Or do I retain a nice relationship with Azzy and let the Regressor go?’
…Well, the answer was quite obvious. I am not stupid enough to give up on the future for a moment of fun.
Making my decision, I opened my arms wide and made a huge smile at Azzy.
“Of course, it’s a lie. I like Azzy a lot.”
“Yes. A lot. You’re the nicest and cutest girl around.”
I wasn’t lying. With the scary vampire and the bloodthirsty Regressor around, Azzy was infinitely more helpful. If she could read the mood better and had a little bit more self-control… it’d be optimal.
But dogs were dogs. Her behaviour was something that I would need to accept.
“You… like me?”
“I do like you.”
‘I don’t know if she’s just naive or stupid, but her mood changes so easily with a few words. Oh, it’s probably both. And yet humans loved dogs exactly for their purity and stupidity, so it was a little ironic to berate her for it.’
While I was still grinning…
“Woof! Do you love me?”
Why did you have to ask me this now when someone is watching? Did someone do something to you? In the first place, who taught a dog a word as meaningless as love?
Oh, they’re both because of me.
Shit. I’m suddenly being pressured by my past actions.
Trying to ignore the cold gaze that the Regressor had suddenly regained, I slowly nodded and answered Azzy’s question.
“Yeah… I do.”
I could tell a dog that I loved it a hundred times.
I mean, some people love their dogs more than they love other human beings. However… it was something hard to do in front of the Regressor’s cold, judgmental eyes…
But it was inevitable. I gulped as I sensed the suddenly rather serious mood and opened my lips once again.
“I love you…”
Hearing that made Azzy’s tail wag. People said that words held no weight, but Azzy took even the smallest things with no prejudice. She smiled and thrust her arms towards me. Leaning onto me, she allowed me to support her weight. It was an indication of trust that dogs only showed to people they were really close to.
Pure happiness filled her face. Grinning like an idiot, Azzy’s eyes were smiling as well.
“Woof! I like you too! I love you!”
I never thought I’d end up whispering words of love to a dog in my life.
Azzy hopped into my arms. With a trembling hand, I stroked Azzy’s head.
And like always—
「I… need to keep my guard up against that man.」
The Regressor’s wariness had only intensified.
Man, stop. Stop looking at me with those judgemental eyes. And stop fidgeting with the handle of your blade. I’m not that kind of person.
I just like her as a pet.
「If he is an official of the Military State and volunteered to come to Tantalus… it would certainly explain his strength. That’s why I need to stay conscious of him.」
‘Oh. I mean, I can relate to those feelings. If I heard someone bragging about how they had intercourse with an animal, I’d be disgusted too. And although I don’t have the power to do so, I wouldn’t immediately try to kill them even if it were true. Don’t you think executing someone for loving an animal was a bit too harsh?’
「…An organization in the Special Forces of the Military State. The secret society that tried to control the Beast Kings and bring them under the Military State’s will in order to topple nearby countries.」
‘Wait, what? A secret society?’
「The Human Regime. Experts in training beasts, and racists who despised beastmen more than anything else. He’s likely one of them.」
A series of images flashed through the Regressor’s head.
In a past that had not been recorded, the Regressor stood in a vast plain. Her blade was lighter than a feather as she held it in her hands, yet her heart felt as heavy as stone.
The guilt that she wasn’t able to stop the apocalypse weighed heavily on her. The feeling of helplessness that she wasn’t able to change anything. She had failed in this life as well. Everyone around her would perish yet again. And she alone would open her eyes once again…so that she could go forth to find another future.
Next to the Regressor, dozens of people had been lined up, cowering in fear. Cold sweat dripped from their hands, and their eyes rattled from fear, but they couldn’t even dream of escaping what awaited them.
If their adversary was human, they could beg for mercy, plead for their families’ safety even if they themselves perished…
However, what they were facing now was not bound by human rules. They had the form of a human, but they were not humans in essence.
The horizon quaked. A rampage of frenzy, led by a couple of stray leaders, were the harbingers to thousands of beasts—enough to be described as a layer that coated the earth.
They had some differences. Some were two-legged, while others had four. Some of them were closer to humans, but had ears or tails of different animals. Beastmen. They were the offspring of a sin committed long ago by humanity. The offsprings of beasts—born as humans yet treated as outcasts—used everything they received to try and annihilate humanity.
In front of them, human figures that produced an extraordinary aura led the charge.
The Beast Kings.
The leaders who each represented an entire race.
The Beast Kings were mighty, but they did not seek violence. They were ultimately those who reflected the will of their whole race; diplomats who were meant to convey the will of their people to humans.
However, if the species they represented had decided to rebel against humanity, if the will of the species was clear enough…
Then the Kings would enact the will of their people.
Those who could no longer bear the persecution and hatred, driven by their fierce instincts, stood at the front lines.
Blood, fire, cinder.
The Beasts armed themselves with steel and fire to attack humanity… The combination of their wild instincts and weapons was almost like a calamity.
Furthermore, those who made up the majority of the beastmen that had revolted against humanity were—
The Beast King who had gathered the largest army to slaughter humanity was—
The creaking past then faded away, and I was brought back to reality. What I had just seen was so vivid that I could still see traces of it in my mind’s eye.
The event that I had witnessed was the future, and at the same time, it was the past as well. The same past that the Regressor had experienced, and the same one I would go through if nothing were to change.
I rested my trembling hand on Azzy’s head as she leaned into me. Her ears fluttered like the wings of a butterfly as they raised slightly at my touch.
The Dog King who had her mouth shut as she embraced me—the leader of the trusty, lovely dogs—was smiling while covered in blood in a future that would arrive soon.
「The existence of Beast Kings is preordained by the world. Even if I killed her here, another one would be born elsewhere.」
Why did I overlook the Regressor’s worries?
There is no way the concerns of someone who had experienced so much would be overboard.
「As long as Azzy seems emotionally dependent on that man, I can’t remove him. And it’s also hard to verify if he’s part of the Human Regime. But right now, he’s the most likely candidate to cause some rampage. I’ll need to keep my eye on him.」
Azzy’s body was warm to the touch and soft. Her hands which had slightly bent backwards to prevent her claws from hurting me provided insight into her desire to not hurt anyone. She definitely didn’t do that consciously, so that desire to be nice was likely just deeply ingrained into her very instincts.
Just what caused that thoughtful hand to lead the way towards bloodshed?