༺ The Resistance ༻
A leather ball flew high up, followed by joyful barking and the patter of clawed feet.
I heard those feet skittering across a hard concrete surface in an offbeat rhythm. Concrete couldn’t absorb vibrations like dirt, so the impacts were fully converted into sounds heading my way.
My short break was ending. Before I knew it, Azzy was running over with a ball in her mouth. I faced the approaching small calamity in daze.
My rest time lasted only as far as I threw the ball. I had to toss it high for Azzy to take longer to catch it, and also hurl it far so she would arrive slower. So at first, I gave my best throws without pushing my body, so I could relax while the dog-girl went far to fetch.
But nothing in the world lasts forever. Except for Azzy’s stamina, that is. I realized this fact as I continued the game of ball.
The more we kept playing, the shorter my throws became. No longer did the ball soar into the skies. It only flew slightly above my head before dropping to the ground. It rolled farther than it flew at this point.
Now even Azzy didn’t get ready to run. She merely crouched by my feet, then fetched the ball when it went rolling. Then I would pick up the ball again and throw it using my hand with the still-intact wrist.
But eventually, the moment of danger arrived.
Humans were ultimately animals, and sometimes our animal instincts would suddenly kick in. It had been a long time since the animal in my heart came to whisper in my ears. It was telling me: Any more throws and your shoulder would get screwed.
I paused mid-throw and raised my arm, feeling the peculiar sensation of my shoulder creaking, like a pencil in a pencil sharpener that’s off-point and trembling wildly. It was a rather familiar image, but one that should never happen to my limbs.
So I stopped throwing the ball and relaxed my arm. Azzy came over to me looking puzzled.
In my slack state, I declared, “That’s it for today’s game.”
“Woof-woof! More! More!”
“I could throw more, but…”
I released the clothing packet I wore. The sweat-drenched standard-issue shirt unraveled, exposing my unflattering figure that was hidden underneath it.
I had a thin, agile physique specialized for escaping and survival. I never felt any great discomfort with the way I was until now, but in the present situation of having my durability tested, I regretted the past days of laziness. Had I predicted a future of being locked up in Tantalus to become a ball-throwing machine, I would have exercised when I was given the recommendation to…
Alas, regrets always come too late. All I could do was give my best efforts, hoping that tomorrow-me wouldn’t regret today.
Putting those gloomy sentiments aside, I sank to the floor and showed my red, swollen shoulder to Azzy.
“Then my shoulder would break. Are you okay with that?”
“You want to die?”
Azzy whimpered in response. Still, she seemed dissatisfied that we couldn’t play anymore. The dog-girl assumed a standoffish air, walking around me in circles and giving me the side-eye.
Humph. As if that would work on me.
“What’re you going to do? Just try and make me throw a ball. I’ll become a cripple, and I’ll suffer from the injury until I end up suddenly dying one day.”
“What? Losing an arm won’t kill me? Don’t be ridiculous. I could trip down some stairs and die because I couldn’t lift an arm to grab the railing, or I could even be shot to death in a terrorist attack because I couldn’t obey the order to raise my hands! A single disability is an incredibly serious danger in of itself!”
“Just think, what if I died? There’d be no one left in the world to be so nice and play ball in this abyss like me! Do you intend to wound the goose that lays golden—no, the machine that throws balls? Just for a fleeting moment of joy?”
“Woof… That, don’t want.”
“Haha! Do you understand? So promise me resting time if you don’t want me to break!”
And thus, I finished teaching this mentally-lacking beast about labor efficiency, fatigue limit, and rest. A moment later, Azzy seemed to contemplate something before grabbing my arm with both of hers and drawing her mouth close.
What the? Is she trying to eat me? Does she want the goose’s meat since it could lay no more golden eggs? No, she can’t be that dumb.
Oh shit. Then I realized a dog would prefer goose meat over eggs it couldn’t even eat.
Now I was panicking.
“I’m sorry ma’am! I’ll keep throwing so take anything but my life!”
I tried to pull my arm away, but Azzy’s mouth came closer first. I squeezed my eyes shut, anticipating terrible pain. And then… I heard licking as something wet and soft flicked past my shoulder.
I took a small peek and found Azzy diligently licking my swollen shoulder.
“The heck? Are you giving me lubricant for the pain or something?”
I knew it. There was no way the Dog King would eat a living human. Well I mean, it was a knee-jerk reaction because I couldn’t read her mind. Couldn’t be helped, right? It was a survival instinct.
I scratched my head awkwardly and stared at Azzy as she was busily licking away.
She was a complete slave driver, really. Look at her oiling the machine because it’s acting up.
“Look. Even if a Beast King’s saliva can heal wounds, how could that fix this? This isn’t an injury, just a body part worn out from too much use—”
I froze, feeling an oddly refreshing sensation around my shoulder, as if a window was opened in that part and wind was blowing through it. I didn’t feel cold or anything, just good.
It couldn’t be the saliva; there was none of that ickiness. I raised my arm in half-doubt. Despite a bit of stiffness, it moved much more smoothly than a while ago. No, its condition was possibly even better than when I began throwing balls.
Sure I heard about the licking of Beast Kings being as effective as holy water, but it was this good? Or was it simply that Azzy was special?
While I was lost in confusion, Azzy examined my shoulder carefully before barking as if to say she was finished.
“Woof! All better!”
“At least your after-sales service is spot on. Guess I won’t need to worry about losing an arm. Still, it’s only just healed so let’s keep going after a little break.”
Azzy flopped herself over my lap. I ruffled her hair and looked around.
According to the golem, supplies would be arriving soon. The question was, how was it going to be delivered?
Logically, it would be dropped by air. But could it arrive at the bottom of the abyss through ordinary means? And if it could, how was I supposed to receive it? Surely they wouldn’t expect me to catch it myself. Only the vampire would be pleased if I ended up squished like a burger patty.
Oh, thinking of which, we had a vampire among us. I turned my head toward the underground armory in the distance. The doors to the armory were shut tight as usual, looking like the ominous gates to a bottomless chasm.
“She simply hasn’t been waking up recently.”
Apparently, people slept longer as they got older. If there was even a tenth of the truth in that belief, then it wasn’t strange that the vampire’s average daily sleeping time amounted to 24 hours.
Plus, it was hard for her to get out of her wheelchair, I mean, coffin due to orthostatic hypotension. Yet she went as far as to generously donate her primordial essence to her disciple… even though there’s no more blood supply available.
Suddenly, I realized something. Blood. Supply.
“Hang on. Don’t I fall in danger if the vampire starts lacking blood?”
If the vampire forgot my identity as a human being because she was senile, or simply felt the urge to have a snack in a sleepy state, wouldn’t I be the first to die? I had no ability to resist. She would take my blood as easily as opening a can of soda.
“I don’t suppose blood is on the supply list… right?”
A chill ran down my spine. Shouldn’t something be done about this?
Blood bags are… well they aren’t goods that can be supplied through airdrops. Maybe they would send some death row inmates instead?
“Oh, that’d be a problem too. There’s no saying I can beat those fellows.”
I would be fine. For the time being at least. Since the original 3 days worth of food became 90 days worth for us four here, this meant at least over 100 prisoners used to be in Tantalus.
Excluding those who broke out, a significant number must have died, yet I found no corpse nor traces of blood when I first came down here. It was unlikely the State dispatched a cleaning team, so that left only one possibility: the vampire had devoured them all.
Now that was rather gross to think about. It wasn’t like this was some human sewerage…
In any case, the vampire wouldn’t want any more after sucking that much blood, not for a while. But who knew? A started engine needed a continuous supply of fuel. Likewise, the vampire might need as much blood from now on.
I needed a source of blood if I wanted to survive… Was there nothing like cattle for that purpose around here?
Hang on. There was. Didn’t I find it recently?
“The Undying, yes. It was called an Undying, wasn’t it?”
I unthinkingly applauded my brain. It was a brilliant idea! It may be unsightly and embarrassing to blow my own trumpet, but this time, I surely deserved to be called a genius.
An Undying wouldn’t die of a dismembered limb, so similarly, they wouldn’t die after having some blood sucked out of them. The immortal would keep regenerating by eating food, so it could provide nearly an infinite amount of blood, as long as there was enough supply.
“Heheheh. Good. It’s perfect. Where there’s a will, eh?”
“Azzy. I just had a freaking awesome idea. Want to hear?”
“I know. You’re too stupid to understand. That’s why I’m telling you, so just listen. I’ve just discovered a plan that would impress even the greatest genius in history, yeah?”
“Woof? Stupid? Me?”
“Heheheh. My original intention was to put you in charge of the leftover disposal, but is that necessary between us? I say we both eat well and live well. As for the leftovers, the burnt and spoiled food, we let the Undying have them.”
“Woof! I’m no stupid!”
“Spoiled food should be given to a person who is rotten. Not to mention, the Undying probably won’t die of any food poisoning. It’ll cure itself and make blood. Then, we squeeze its blood out and sell it to the vampire. The vampire’s dead broke, but her so-called disciple is rich. She’ll pay up instead. So…”
Azzy’s hit my cheek with her forefoot. My head jerked around at the abrupt impact.
It didn’t hurt, but I did feel bewildered. No way she just did that.
I glared at the dog-girl, feeling slightly angry. She stared right back at me, and she was still lying on my lap! Did she have no awareness of what she just did?
A brute dared to slap a human’s cheek?
She had crossed the line. I really didn’t want to do it, but it was time to prepare the shit-is-going-down protocol.
With that decided, I jumped to my feet to shake her off. I expected Azzy to slip off my thighs, but before that, she got up first and looked up.
Huh? What was there to look at?
I followed her and checked what was up there, but there was nothing apart from the usual pitch-black darkness.
Did she just trick me?
But no, Azzy didn’t have the intelligence for that.
I raised my head again and squinted furiously. Moments later, I saw something shining in the darkness, like a hole. Was it the sky? But the light was growing bigger as if coming down this way.
Merciful Mother Earth would sometimes deign to come to us, but never the lofty Sky God. The act of climbing the heavens to reach the divine would only be met by the Sky God’s punishment of wind and lightning.
So the sky couldn’t be coming this way. It was probably…
“The supplies the golem talked about.”
Immediately afterward, I heard flapping and felt something huge in the dark. The abyss was quiet for there was no wind, yet the air was pressing down heavily.
I didn’t need to be impatient. Whatever it was would arrive. I waited calmly as the flickering darkness and periodically flashing light in the distance came closer and closer.
When it entered the range of the illumination on the ground, I could see what it was much more clearly.
A square box packed with tarpaulins was hanging from a large parachute. A small, flashing indicator light was attached to the side of the box; it was there in case anyone didn’t see the box in the dark and got crushed under.
The golem didn’t lie about the 90 days worth of food. The box was big enough to contain a person. It had to be full of goods.
The supply box didn’t shake in the least, probably due to the lack of wind, as it landed squarely on the concrete ground.
Thud. A heavy vibration ran through the concrete.
Azzy pounced over to the box. I followed her to the drop point.
I guess that’s how they drop things into the abyss. I bet I was dropped the same way. It was rather surprising the State used a parachute to prevent breakage. Sure it was common sense, but I was honestly a little moved that they adhered to normal practice.
As I approached, I heard the stirring of cloth as the parachute was sucked into a small packet. It was also made using a Clothing Packet. That saved the pain of folding the whole thing away. The State really did make good use of their invention.
But as I was happily about to open the supply box lid, I noticed something off.
Huh? Why was the seal sticker ripped off? Did someone help themselves to a meal mid-delivery?
Someone’s thoughts entered my mind at that moment.
‘Infiltration successful. It was a long wait, comrades. Now we break in.’
Comrade? Break in? That wasn’t something I should be hearing out of a food supply box.
As I stood there in a daze, I heard a hasty movement inside. The supply box rattled ominously—whatever was crouching inside had stretched its limbs.
‘Let us throw down our lives, my comrades! To defeat the despotic Military State!’
The front of the supply box burst open before I could take any preparation.
God damned Military State, what the hell had they supplied?