༺ With Only My Grandfather’s Honor on the Line ༻
– Press, press.
While having the best sleep of my life, I felt a heavy weight on my waist. Something was interrupting my sleep. As I scrunched my face and flailed my arms, the pressure on my body disappeared. Finding comfort again, I fell back to sleep.
Something heavy laid on my waist again, but it disappeared when I flailed my arms aggressively. Once again, I made a satisfied face and went back to sleep.
It’s really pissing me off now. What kind of asshole is getting in the way of my beauty sleep? I should teach them a lesson.
I twisted my body in the direction of the culprit, grabbed the foot weighing me down, and pulled at it so that it couldn’t go anywhere.
‘Huh. Why isn’t it moving? That’s strange. I’m pulling as hard as I can, but it’s not budging at all. Where have I felt this thing before?’
The State was a land of concrete and steel frames. All of its elements were made up of hard materials; regardless of whether they were buildings, people, or ideologies.
There was a time when I walked under a bridge and touched its supports. A very strong pillar made of steel frames and concrete. It’s still clear in my mind, the feeling of a structure that can easily withstand numerous people and giant carts going over it. It didn’t even budge slightly when I kicked it. It was like we didn’t even exist on the same plane.
The leg pushing me down was akin to a pier made of steel and concrete; it wouldn’t budge. The only difference was that this one felt warm and squishy. Other than that, it really felt the same.
As I was grabbing the leg while still half asleep…
…The leg moved along with my hand.
Like an adult being pulled around by a child. It wasn’t due to the fact they were weaker than the child, but because their heart moved with them. Following the same logic, the fluffy and squishy foot moved where I pulled it. Then, a large shadow came over my bed.
What appeared in front of my eyes was a girl whose eyes were full of curiosity. It was hard to miss the messy blond hair along with the huge face that came along with the leg.
I had my shirt reach below my waist, but I wasn’t sure if it was to conceal my chest or to keep ‘that’ under control.
A tail was swaying lightly, half-wrapped slightly below my belly. As the girl looked at me, she smiled and tapped my chest with her hand. I was taken aback by the amount of trust and affection the hand had towards me.
‘What’s this? There’s a girl being flirty with me while waking me up? Is it an assassin? Or is my rent due…?’
Feeling threatened, I was about to read her mind until I remembered.
‘No, it’s a dog. The Dog King, Azzy.’
I combed my hair back as I got up from the bed. After waking up, I start regaining my senses. My quiet head filled with white noise as my sight widened like a spreading fog.
As I moved to get off the bed, Azzy swiftly got out of the way.
“You’ve come to wake me up?”
“After listening to what I said about how I was going to wake up without the alarm?”
“Sure. Thanks. You’re a good girl.”
“Woof, woof! I’m good!”
From the way she barked and rolled around on my bed in joy after getting a compliment, it was evident that she really was no different from a regular dog. If you considered her nature, she was closer to the ‘dog’ species than the human one.
Yeah, that’s right. She’s a dog. Not a girl.
I washed my face and got changed. The standard supply shirt was absorbed into the Bio-receptor, and I inserted a new Clothing Packet into my wrist.
For some reason, I had the urge to douse my head with cold water.
Obviously, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy such a luxury with the limited rations I possessed. Since the rationed water ran out in my room as I was washing up, I had to move to the other room with my hair still dripping. While the room’s bed was folded and the cabinet was destroyed, the tap was fine, so it had become a habit to use this room every time mine ran out of water.
After I finished washing, I lifted my head and saw Azzy still prancing around beside me. I wiped myself down with a towel before checking the remaining water.
‘There’s still a bit left. A single person’s worth of rationed water is too little, but the quantity for two people is a bit too much. What a State-like thing to do.’
I poured the remaining water into a cup and gave it to Azzy. She dug her face in and started to lap it up.
Even though she was acting as usual, for some reason, something seemed kind of off, so I needlessly criticized her.
“Come on, Azzy. You have the biomechanical structure of a human. Please use your hands when drinking from a cup.”
Azzy innocently reacted to my words with a confused head tilt.
“Woof? You call me?”
If she had understood my words, she wouldn’t have been a dog after all.
I let out a sigh as I sat her on my thighs, put the cup on her mouth, and carefully tilted it.
She seemed to be quite perplexed by the liquid trying to gush into her mouth.
Stop moving away from it.
Fortunately, as I grabbed her firmly and slowly patted her to calm her nerves, she started to relax and drank the water normally.
“Yes. You’re doing good. How much easier is that? From now on, try to drink this way. Okay?”
‘You understand now right?’
I carefully put the cup on the ground. Immediately, without any hesitation, she knelt beside it, dug her face in, and started lapping up the water again.
I looked at the wagging tail above her raised backside and mumbled.
“That was really stupid of me.”
Azzy stopped drinking and turned her head as she heard my voice. As we made eye contact, she made a gleeful face and barked.
A smile escaped me.
How do humans find comfort in seeing a pure and simple animal?
Was it by feeling superior at the sight of lower lifeforms?
Or was it by reminiscing about their lost purity?
The reason doesn’t matter. The emotional aspect probably comes before the logical aspect anyway.
In the end, if it’s good, then that’s that.
Azzy finished drinking. I put the cup back on its rack and headed out.
“Let’s go get breakfast.”
Today’s menu was the leftover meat stew from yesterday. There wasn’t much meat left, but there should be enough for one breakfast. And for dinner, we would have… beans.
I was getting sick of eating stew, but it was currently the best option we had got.
“Don’t they provide any commodities? I was hoping to get some fresh ingredients.”
It wasn’t like there are tens of thousands of people here; there were only two people, a dog, and a corpse. You could at the very least provide us with something better. Besides, only one of us was only providing for themselves.
‘It’s not like they don’t know this place exists. Supplies and communications… they’re both quite delayed.’
I headed to the cafeteria while complaining.
The fourth floor. I wouldn’t be able to say the workers’ living spaces were remotely ‘fine’ even if I was exaggerating. The concrete walls had numerous cracks and it seemed like a continuous force had created a pattern similar to growth rings in a tree. A number of doors with no locks were spread along the narrow corridor. If you were to suddenly put your weight on the wall, either a door would fling open or the wall itself would crumble down.
At least the cafeteria was spacious and stable.
The cafeteria was way more spacious than the normal rooms and was equipped with all the necessary tools. Standard-sized pots, along with many plates, and even trays to carry them in. They probably thought of making the workers deliver food to the inmates.
“They shouldn’t have needed a tray to carry the food. They would have just needed to walk down a couple steps with the food to deliver it.”
I shrugged and headed over to the closed pot.
And as I went to lift the pot lid, I felt something unexplainable.
Is it déjà vu? Maybe it’s closer to foresight.
‘Nah, no way. Again?’
“Can’t be. We fought over it yesterday already. There’s no way.”
I smiled and tried to shake off the foreboding feeling I was getting and took off the lid…
…only to be met with the sight of emptiness, as if I were staring into my past.
“You fucking muuuutt!”
My cries resounded through the cafeteria.
“Do you have the inability to learn? What’s the difference between the Dog King and a dog? A dog that’s well known for a few tricks in a forgotten town would be a hundred times smarter than you!”
“Awoooooo! It not me! Woof! Woof!”
That was the moment when a sacred war was waged between a human and a dog. The Regressor ran over at the commotion only to pinch her forehead before asking.
“What is it now?”
「It’s probably the same old thing again.」
‘“Same old thing”? Clothes, food, and shelter. The one thing that decides the fate of a person is food. In other words, this is a problem between life and death!’
I grabbed the pot and stomped over to the Regressor, showing her the empty Compressed Can and the pot before yelling at her.
“You see this? Usually, you could feed a man for four days with one Can. There’s that much food concentrated in there! But because of this fucking mutt, it disappears in a day!”
Azzy’s sullen voice could be heard from far away
“It not me!”
“Liar! Who else is here aside from you?!”
“Not me! Not me!”
“If you really are a Beast King, stop repeating the same words over and over again! You sound like a parrot that’s struggling with its vocabulary!”
“I’m not parrot!”
“Then convince me otherwise by saying something different!”
The Regressor pretended to cover her ears and interrupted our exchange.
“Stop. Both of you, be quiet.”
Azzy and I looked at each other and growled. The Regressor let out a sigh and then mumbled.
“How can you be so sure that Azzy is the culprit? It might not be her.”
“Then are you the culprit, Trainee Shei?”
I stared at her with twitching eyes and continued.
“Trainee Tyrkanzyaka is a vampire. She only drinks blood. The remaining humans are you and me. But it wasn’t me. I’m not so shameless as to eat it myself and blame it on a dog. And after all, I’m the one who manages the cellar.”
「Do you know that you’re shameless?」
“If the culprit wasn’t Azzy, then logically, it would mean that you—Trainee Shei—would have stolen the food. Do you understand? What you said only made me doubt you more!”
I chucked the pot into the sink and yelled.
“You even have a personal supply of food! You told me that you don’t need to prepare any meals! But even after eating your personal luxuries, were you enthralled by the State’s soul food that you had to go through the pot in the middle of the night? Is the soul food spawned by poverty only a prize to be shown in your display case?!”
“Prize? That’s nonsense. I wouldn’t eat it even if you offered it to me.”
“Then be quiet, you proletariat! It is imperative that I settle this life-or-death dispute with the mutt!”
The Regressor spoke in an annoyed tone. Chun-aeng, moving by Shei’s will, was slowly turning towards me while floating above her head.
I shut my mouth.
Even if it is a life-or-death dispute, I can’t afford to die a dog’s death.
“What I’m trying to say is that there might be someone else here that we don’t know about.”
“The idea that there is another person hiding somewhere in here without any of us knowing about them is too opportunistic for my taste.”
「…So he’s telling me that, while I usually make sound arguments, sometimes I spout nonsense. I really can’t understand this man.」
“I’m saying that whether you like it or not, the possibility still exists.”
“Well, it might sound reasonable. But…”
Her conjecture had so many holes in it that it had become quite difficult to point out exactly what was wrong.
Are you only capable of this much, dear Regressor? I shall enlighten you.
That amidst a seemingly complicated situation, the truth is always the simplest answer.
I pointed my finger at the Regressor and made a declaration.
“Trainee Shei, your deduction is quite wrong.”
“This is the Abyssal Prison, Tantalus. A completely isolated space in which no one can easily enter or exit. And you’re telling me that in such a place, there is someone who neither I, you, Azzy, nor Trainee Tyrkanzyaka know about that comes out in the middle of the night just to steal some food?”
I let out a deep breath and unraveled my perfect logic.
“I’m dumbfounded. Such a person would not and should not exist.”
“I get that it’s hard to take in, but what do you mean by ‘should not’?”
“If there were such a being, wouldn’t it most likely be a ghost?”
“That’d be too scary. I don’t want to believe that.”
The Regressor slowly processed what I just said, and then her jaw dropped.
That stupid face really fits you.
“So you’re telling me… that you don’t even want to consider that possibility just because it’s too scary for you?”
I swiftly nodded.
「Are you actually out of your mind? Or are you doing this on purpose?」
‘On purpose? What are you on about? Think about it. A Regressor with all sorts of tricks, a vampire who could smell your spilled blood from miles away, the Dog King with the nose of a dog, and my mind-reading abilities that could see through the Regressor’s camouflage. You’re telling me that there’s some being in the cafeteria that none of us can detect? And one whose mind can’t be read by me? If there were such a being, we should be running right now.’
「You’ve made a miscalculation if you think there’s nothing here. Tyrkanzyaka and Azzy becoming ‘pieces of the end’ was the result of the interference of an outsider. Additionally, the fact that ‘she’ is going to come for ‘that’ under the abyss. There’s also a possibility that ‘they’ are still here somewhere. How do I explain this…」
…Why is that all so true.
‘No, I can’t accept such a future. I’m already losing it with the people already here. Now you’re telling me that there is something else that is on the level of these monsters still lurking around here and that there will be an outsider breaking into Tantalus?’
「You know what? Nah. I don’t need to explain. It’s my first time coming into Tantalus anyway. What’s there to explain? Let’s just leave it to when it happens.」
‘It’s got to be a lie. It has to be. There’s no way.’
I flicked my attention back to Azzy.
“Hey, Azzy. Did you really not eat it?”
“You say no, but… Sigh. Why am I even trying to talk with you.”
I strongly felt the ever-present gap between humans and animals and just shook my head dejectedly.
‘It wouldn’t even matter if I could read this mutt’s mind. She would deny it till the very end.’
So there really was only one option left.
To catch her red-handed.
‘I’ve got to catch this mutt the moment she puts the pot in her eyes. Then, I can pull it over her. Let’s open one more Can. The operation starts tonight; when the lights are out and the night lights cover the area. At that moment, I’ll have this mutt by the collar.’
I twisted my lips dismally and looked down at Azzy, proceeding to lock eyes. Both our eyes had fire in them.
「I can’t tell if they’re getting along or not.」
The relationship between a human and a dog wasn’t that simple. There were good times and bad times.
You just wait and see, mutt.
As I snarled at Azzy, the Regressor glanced at me, narrowed her eyes, and started staring at me. Chun-aeng made a slight humming sound, as if indicating her caution against me.
「Wait. I can sense something over there.」
‘Oh, please. Don’t. It’s actually scary. When you say it like that, it really feels like something’s there. And it’s a perfectly dark and small place for a ghost to appear. That’s the same level as my bedroom. What do I do if I get attacked in my sleep? I don’t have a trip alarm. Hmm… I don’t have an alarm, but I do have a guard dog.’
I looked at Azzy and spoke rather softly.
“Hey, Azzy. You want to sleep with me tonight?”
I guess not.