༺ Then the Culprit Would Be In Here ༻
In the abyss, it wasn’t the setting sun that signified nightfall but the flickering daylights. Whenever the State-issued clock hit 6 p.m, the artificial lights that attempted to imitate the sun glowed red, as if to mimic how the sun set.
Imitations were often constrained by the very structure that made up the original. Throughout Tantalus, the rays from the daylights slowly fade away, mimicking the setting sun. Shortly after, the nightlights that were scattered around the abyss would start glowing faintly, lighting up the sides of the buildings.
Copies would undoubtedly differ from the original. The nightlights that lit up Tantalus were lacking in comparison to the real night sky. Instead of a navy sky dimly lit by the scattered light, the abyss was lit by weak imitations that paled in comparison to the original. It was an unsettling light that created a shade in the dark; rather than the normal nice shine of moonlight and starlight through a fog.
It pales in comparison to the real rays of the sun that would cover the world with its grace.
As the daylights turned off, the corridor’s visibility dimmed. Now, the mirror that I had set up on the door frame now reflecting nothing but the darkness outside. Apart from that, the light in my room had also gone out, so I couldn’t continue working. I stopped my work and got up from my desk.
On the desk, there was a deck of cards. I had worked most of the day to make these cards with the alchemic gold that I had received from the Regressor.
‘I am a magician. An alchemist who uses cards and manipulates pushovers to create money. A deck of cards is my weapon.’
I swiped the desk with one hand. The 52 cards that were scattered across the desk swiftly came into my hand in one fell swoop. They were square, strong but still flexible. The familiar sensation greeted me.
I halved the deck and proceeded to shuffle it. The flexible cards knit nicely together. I shuffled, flipped, twisted, then shuffled again.
I placed the well-shuffled deck onto the table.
“Ace of diamonds.”
I flipped the top card over. It was the ace of diamonds. It was to be expected since I had shuffled it that way
It had been a while since I had touched a deck of cards, but my skills were as sharp as ever. They had just been waiting to be revealed again.
I nonchalantly picked up the ace of diamonds. The single sharp, red shape displayed itself on one side of the card as if it were claiming it for itself. I pinched the card between my middle finger and thumb then flicked it over. As soon as I opened my hands, the ace of diamonds was nowhere to be found.
The card’s quality and condition weren’t bad. I took a deep breath and steeled my heart.
“Now. Shall we go?”
‘I would like it if it really was Azzy who stole the food. But if it wasn’t… I must carry at least a weapon of choice to give myself the ability to escape. ’
I carefully opened the door so as to not make a sound.
The corridor that was enveloped by darkness seemed to swallow even sound. In the day, even if it was quiet, there was a vibrant atmosphere.
However, it was dark and quiet at the moment, befitting the name Tantalus.
I walked through the spacious corridor. I felt that I shouldn’t make any sound with my footsteps, so I unconsciously tiptoed across.
It didn’t take long to reach the cafeteria. I focused my mind to see if I could sense the thoughts of any minds present.
‘I can’t sense even the slightest thoughts. That means that no one is thinking, at least where I’m currently at.’
Well, we’ll have to see if there’s a thoughtless man or not a man at all in there.
I stealthily went into the corner of the cafeteria and grabbed a seat.
‘I just need to wait here and jump at Azzy once she tries to eat out of the pot. Or run away if a ghost appears.’
Hunting was the art of waiting in the first place. Even the most glorious hunters were formed by their endurance in patience. I held my breath and stared in focus at the direction of the pot.
A long and boring time passed when my focus started to wane, my head was bobbing up and down, about to fall asleep.
‘I wonder how long it’s been.’
I felt a presence outside.
‘You fell for it. See? I told you, it’s an intruder. What are you on about, “someone being on the inside?” I won’t ever believe such a baseless conspiracy theory.’
I tensed up, as I waited for the perfect opportunity where my prey would be caught in the trap. As soon as they put their hand on the pot, they would be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
‘When that happens, I’ll get out there swiftly and catch this thief.’
The silhouette that came into the cafeteria scanned the area with glowing yellow eyes and spoke.
“What are you doing over there?”
They came towards me.
Just because I can read minds doesn’t make me a master of hiding.
I got up from my seat and pointed at the Regressor.
“So it was you. I had expected this outcome.”
“If you were that curious, you could have just asked for a bite. Did you really have to sneak in here in the middle of the night to do that? Because of your deviation, distrust has spread amongst us! Distrust is the evil that eats away at society. It is like the rust between gears that creates screeching noises—a distraction, a hindrance! Do you realize the gravity of the deed you have committed?”
“Seriously, what are you talking about?”
The Regressor ignored me and turned away.
“If you have nothing better to do, at least keep quiet.”
“You smelt it, you dealt it. How can you feign ignorance after shitting all over this place?!”
“What kind of vulgar language is that?!”
The Regressor looked at me with a gasp after reflexively refuting me.
“Do you seriously think that I came here to steal some food?”
“Just a bit ago, yes.”
“In that case—Wait, no! Just a bit ago? You really saw me as your equal?!”
‘Yes, you’re my equal. We are trapped here together.’
I just read her mind. Unfortunately, the Regressor wasn’t here to steal the food. She had come back to the cafeteria at night to check out the presence that was bothering her, which wasn’t here before she left.
I scratched my head and talked to her.
“Then is there really some kind of hidden being in here?”
“Probably. We can’t be sure, but it doesn’t hurt to find out.”
I gathered my belongings. When I got up from my seat, I looked at the Regressor and nodded.
“I hope you do well.”
“…Where are you going?”
“I’m scared, so I’m running away.”
The Regressor looked at me with a stupefied face before asking.
“What happened to ‘I’m a warden of the State, an overseer with the responsibility of looking after the trainees’?”
“‘Trainees’ doesn’t include ghosts.”
“What about me? Are you going to just stand there and watch as I investigate the prison
“Who told you to investigate? And are you going to stop if I ask you to? Do you really need me to tell you off if you’re going to do it anyway?”
「He still talks in an irritating way. Anyway, is he for real? No, there’s no way. He’s surely got to be planning something.」
‘I’m not planning anything. If there really is a ghost, I can’t read its mind. Therefore, I can’t do anything. I’m less than an insect against inhuman beings.’
I walked towards the cafeteria door without looking back.
“Now, I’ll be taking my leave. Don’t forget the ex post facto reports. And if possible, please submit a report according to the sample one.”
“Then why don’t you just watch?”
“Sorry, but it’s lights out, so I should go to bed.”
“Stop your nonsense and watch from there.”
「Someone powerful enough to parry my blade is wary… Is there really something that strong lurking here? Or is he trying to throw off my caution? Whatever the reason, let’s try going against it. Not that I’m scared of anything… but just in case, let’s leave him in the rear.」
Fear is contagious, so when I showed how scared I was to the Regressor, her vigilance went up just as much. So much as to even consider leaving me in the rear in this situation.
The Regressor paused her thoughts and started concocting excuses.
“There could be an intruder in there, feeding off us like a parasite. Then the responsibility of eliminating them is on you since managing the prison is your responsibility. You should be watching out as well.”
“That’s true. If you confirm that it is an intruder, please submit an post-report. Until then, I’ll be in my room.”
‘Go break a leg. I’ll be going now.’
However, just as I was about to walk out the door…
「Hey! I told you to stay! Tsk, let’s just throw Chun-aeng at him for now!」
‘Please don’t. I’ll die.’
I spun my body around, walked back into the cafeteria, then stuck closely behind her.
The Regressor was grossed out by my sudden change in behavior.
“What are you doing?”
‘I can’t say that I was scared she was going to persuade me by force. And to be honest, if there really is an intruder like she said. Wouldn’t it be far safer to be with her than to be by myself? Currently, Azzy is mad at me, and the vampire wouldn’t care because she’s an inhuman being herself. If I exclude the Regressor now, the only one left to defend me is myself.’
Even if she is quite untrustworthy.
“Now, take the lead. We’re going to go and defeat the ghost! We can’t let a mere ghost harass us!”
「But… it is reassuring to have someone behind me. Tsk. Even though it’s a problem how the person behind me is that man…」
The Regressor let me stand behind her as she scanned the area with her glowing yellow eyes.
The third of the Seven Colored Eyes, Golden Eyes. The Fiery Golden Eyes that let you see the unseen.
You really wouldn’t be scared of something like a ghost if you had those eyes.
What can I do? Nothing. Except for having some popcorn while watching.
‘Ah, you want moral support or something?’
“You can do it! Ghosts are just remnants of mana that are left behind after death! Don’t be scared. Let’s move forward! Trainee Shei, your sword can surely cut even ghosts!”
“…Can you be quiet? I can’t hear anything because of you.”
“You’re only using those glowy eyes right now. Just concentrate on your vision.”
“I’m also listening.”
The Regressor thoroughly went around the cafeteria. She even checked the storage unit on the shelf that was a bit deeper into the cafeteria. Then, she tilted her head, confusion on her face.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Oh. Well, there really was nothing there.”
“That can’t be right. My gut feelings are usually correct.”
‘Your gut feelings don’t seem too trustworthy. After all, it couldn’t see through my bluff.’
Anyway, I couldn’t say anything because it was that gut feeling that kept me alive.
“If you can’t see anything with those shiny eyes, then there’s likely nothing here.”
“Just give up. There’s nowhere to hide in this tiny cafeteria. There’s only a table for two and a storage unit the size of a small box. Where else are you going to look? It might be different if they could pass through walls.”
I obviously said it sarcastically, but the Regressor took it seriously and started to think.
“Yeah. The walls. There’s that place. The State’s concrete is thick. If it hid there, I wouldn’t be able to know.”
‘At this rate, the conspiracy theory is turning more into an illness.’
I let out a sigh and waved my finger in front of her.
“Hey. So what now? Are you going to break the wall down? That’s vandalism.”
“I won’t break it down.”
「I’ll only cut it.」
The Regressor lifted her head, raised her finger, and poked her eye with it.
One of the primary color eyes from the Seven Colored Eyes, Jade Eyes.
This eye that emitted an ominous green light could see through objects. Although, seeing through metals—especially lead—was much harder to see through.
‘Harder to see through’ meant it would take up a fair bit of space in a her field of vision. Which meant that she could use it to easily find metals underground.
I used my mind-reading ability to take a look through her eyes.
I could see in black and white. It was dark and light, as if the world was made up of thin strings that overlapped each other multiple times. The penetrative sight could see through to the inside of objects, and when the Regressor’s vision fell on me, I could see the white bone in my body.
It’s strange how you feel embarrassed when you’re naked, but when you strip away the skin, there is no sense of shame.
The Regressor’s sight moved toward the wall. The concrete wall looked like a white strawboard, and the steel frame inside it stood out, looking like a net. The Regressor carefully searched the wall and then found something.
In a section of the wall, there was a small doll-like silhouette. It almost looked like someone had accidentally left a doll in the wall while constructing it.
However, the identity of the doll was…
“Found you. Still some more of you left, right?”
…A magic golem of the State. A miniature model.
The Regressor stretched her hand behind her head and grabbed Chun-aeng. At that moment, the blade had already been drawn.
The rapid true strike cut a thin slice off the wall in a flash. The concrete that was cut like a bark from an old tree unraveled like a scroll, covered in dust from top to bottom. A gap appeared.
The Regressor pulled the skewered magic golem as it was. The golem’s body twitched.
｢This individual is strongly requesting that you cease your destructive actions.｣
A dull and monotone voice flowed out of the golem. It was the same voice as the one I heard when I first landed in Tantalus.
Captain Abbey was it? The radioman of the State. An emotionless trumpet blower of the State.
The Regressor scoffed at the request.
“You should have requested that before spying on me while hiding like a rat.”
｢Taking into consideration your destructive and sensitive personality, I concluded that this individual would have already been destroyed even if it had revealed itself first. That conclusion is still valid. Additionally, when this individual determines you are nearby, it stops all functions. You could conclude that you were not being spied on.｣
“Yeah. Yeah. Your decisions and requests are all right. Just as expected from the State. Always logical. In saying that…”
The Regressor raised her blade again. A spark shot out of its end. Then, a part of the golem’s circuit burned, and it made static noises, as if it were screaming in pain.
“I’m going to destroy you now. See you. Hiding in the wall was kind of clever.”
｢Cease your destructive action immediately. Cease of communications leads to a lack of efficiency.｣
“Heh. It’s in a hurry. The golems must be nearing their end. Well, it wouldn’t matter if there were more. I’ll just go investigate every wall here with Jade Eyes.”
The Regressor seemed awfully joyful for once as she toyed with the golem.
‘So I couldn’t read its mind because it was a golem. Phew. That’s a relief. It was a golem, not a ghost. There’s nothing as uneasy as a ghost when it comes to not being able to read minds, but the Regressor’s here to destroy them for me, so there’s no problem. I should just keep watching.’
At that moment…
｢I repeat my request. Cease your destructive action immediately. Because of your actions, communications—which include supplies and other related matters—won’t be possible. I repeat my request…｣
Supplies. That word triggered my thoughts.
‘As long as we’re trapped here, our resources will eventually run out. If Azzy keeps eating away mindlessly, we’ll run out of food in no time. The Regressor doesn’t need anything with all her treasures, but I, on the other hand, need supplies… Now that I think about it, I can’t afford to have this golem destroyed!’
I hurriedly went behind the Regressor.
“‘Repeat’. That’s a word I despise, but I could do it as many times as I want.”
The Regressor didn’t notice my approach and continued to be absorbed in her joy in tormenting the golem.
“Me destroying this golem won’t do anything to your real body. But the State becomes slightly inconvenienced. That’s all I need.”
｢Warning. Hostile actions will—｣
At the flick of Chun-aeng, the golem flew through the air. The Regressor retrieved her blade and prepared to obliterate the doll. She was in a preemptive stance, full of potential energy.
I approached her from her blind spot, afraid of getting stabbed, and reached out my hand.
“Wait! Stop for a second!”
It was then that my hand touched the Regressor’s shoulder.
I could see something jump in the corner of my eye. I felt a sudden push that I couldn’t react to. Something large was coming at me.
No, it’s the opposite.
The world was upside down and my vision followed along with it.
It wasn’t anything else jumping, but me.
‘A counter that doesn’t need cognitive action, but one that is automatic?’
As I read that, my body was already heading toward the ground.