༺ The Resistance – 1 ༻
About a week ago.
* * * *
The Military State called a sudden rally of troops.
It was a routine for them to mobilize soldiers to protect law and order, not even newsworthy, but the scale of the event was on a whole different level this time. Apart from a minimally-sized force needed to defend the borders and other strategic points, all available troops were gathered in a certain city as if to wage war against it.
While the city’s citizens trembled and hid in their homes at the sight of soldiers filling the streets, the State commenced a major arrest operation using the gathered men.
Petty criminals who went ignored due to their vague crimes, people who were named in wanted leaflets, Resistance members who were hiding with the help of the citizens, and quite a number of city dwellers who were simply unlucky and did nothing wrong. All of them were trampled and restrained under the roving violence of the military.
Kanysen was also unable to avoid inspection.
In the days when the Military State was still a kingdom, he was a squire of a renowned knight order. He had retired after the State came to power, but the military intelligence division still regarded him as a dangerous figure and thus kept a close watch.
Naturally, the arrest operation was sufficient reason for soldiers to visit his small house as well.
But this much was merely part of life in the State. In the age of the Kingdom, important figures were always the target of such visits. A mere slip of the tongue was a good excuse for the authority to drag these individuals away to suffer interrogation.
However, if there was one thing different from the usual, it was that Kanysen really was a rebel and that he was preparing an imminent terrorist attack on the State.
Kanysen escaped with minimal equipment as soon as he sensed something was wrong. His comrades also went with him.
Upon confirming that their blind probe had exposed a gold mine, the State immediately went on the pursuit.
But their quarry was once part of their very forces, even if it was long ago. Kanysen felt doubt in the bustling movement of the military and so instead of running away, he hid in the logistics division of the enemy. There, he discovered a shocking truth.
A horde of nefarious criminals had broken out of Tantalus, the great prison that harbored the worst of evildoers, and the State had rallied its forces to prevent the chaos they would wreak.
Kanysen had gained unexpected information, but he still didn’t have much time left. The chase never ended and the enemy was too many. Resistance would be utterly futile. They would only be swept away by the overwhelming difference in numbers.
It was at that critical moment that a way out miraculously appeared in front of Kanysen.
A supply box that should have gone to Tantalus but was left behind with nowhere to go due to the jailbreak.
* * * *
Thoughts flashed past my mind at lightning speed. In an instant, I stuffed those memories into my brain to obtain information.
My head ached. I clutched my aching temples and raised my body in the flow of thought.
There was a sudden large-scale inspection which the Resistance escaped from. After reading the gist of how they ended up here, I lamented the absurdity of the matter.
Retarded Military State. For all their pretended usual meticulousness, they actually overlooked that box.
I got the urge to shake that Signaller’s golem up and down for swaggering about supplies arriving soon. Could they not check again before sending things? Didn’t they even confirm their goods?
The five members of the Resistance had barely held through thanks to the food in the box and the State’s neglect of management, groaning painfully throughout the transport in that cramped space. And now, they charged right out after landing.
The first thing they faced was me, and naturally, I became the target of their bitter resentment.
Sigh. The Resistance. While the name sounded impressive, it was mostly made up of youngsters who were unhappy with society.
I may be the bottom-feeder of this abyss, but I had no intention of losing to mere children. Now it was time to teach them a hard lesson.
I’ll have you all know that I’m the final evolution of you brats.
As I loosened up my hands, one of them, a sturdy-looking young man, thrust the muzzle of his gun at me and shouted sharply.
“Don’t move! Hands up!”
I hastily complied. Can’t do anything against guns.
I sighed in relief. I could’ve died if Azzy hadn’t fixed my shoulder. She deserved thanks.
… No, wait.
In the first place, it was all her fault that I got injured and that I was out in the courtyard at this time. I would never have encountered the Resistance empty-handed if I didn’t play ball with her!
Azzy tilted her head at my burning glare. She had been wildly spinning her tail, happy to see new humans. I kept glaring even as I held my arms up, contorting my face in all kinds of ways to convey a message: I’m about to be taken down because of you, so you deal with them!
Azzy stared back for several seconds, then nodded with glittering eyes as if in understanding.
Yes, Dog King. It’s finally time for you to earn your keep.
“Dog-woman, put your hands up too!”
Azzy barked cheerfully and raised her hands after me.
Yeah. What was I hoping for from you? You’re just a mutt with a promiscuous tail that would wag for anyone who comes by.
The young man with the gun grew slightly suspicious to see Azzy’s overly bright expression. I hoped he might attack her, but…
｢… She’s obedient for a dirty dog-kin. Looks a bit dumb, but she doesn’t seem dangerous for now. I’ll leave her be…｣
His judgment was affected by her appearance.
Pity. If the young man had just gone out guns blazing, his group would have received a dog-punch each and some broken bones to go along with.
The young man swung his gun intimidatingly.
“Now! Next, get on your knees and on the groun—”
A middle-aged man soundlessly appeared from the back of the box. He stepped forward in a natural manner and touched the shoulder of the man called Alpha. While Alpha held his breath, the middle-aged man slowly lowered the muzzle of his gun.
Alpha finally exhaled.
Be it age, skill, experience, looks, or atmosphere, the man didn’t look to be anything other than the leader of the bunch. He was Kanysen.
Kanysen took firm steps forward. I could feel the power in his movement. He gave the impression that even if the world collapsed, he would fall a little later than that. Despite crouching in the supply box for days on end, his body and mind appeared flawlessly strong.
Kanysen, the leader of the Resistance group, coaxed Alpha.
“We don’t know about this place yet. I understand you’re frustrated and anxious, but what we need to use now is our tongues, not our guns.”
“… I’m sorry, sir. I was hasty.”
“We all make mistakes. I understand. We were locked up in there for too long.”
Kanysen stroked his bristly beard as he cast a cold look over me and Azzy. Then, he glanced at the searchlights illuminating Tantalus far away before coming up to me with a calculated smile.
“Excuse us. Did we surprise you a lot?”
I was surprised. I nodded and gave a genuine reply.
“Well of course! W-who are you people? To be pointing guns out of nowhere!”
“Do not be wary of us. We are the enemy of the Military State, and we are on your side. I apologize for pointing a gun at you. You are…?”
Kanysen trailed off, hinting for me to introduce myself.
The man was polite and moderately intimidating at the same time as he demanded an answer. The way he so naturally pried for information could almost be called exemplary. And he didn’t stop thinking all the while.
｢He’s young. His top is off. Seeing how he doesn’t wear a warden’s suit, much less a military uniform, he doesn’t appear to be military affiliated. His physique is lean and agile, but he doesn’t seem strong. I heard most of the prisoners broke out, so he’s most likely a laborer to be the first to come out for the supplies. Then we should be able to get what we need most out of him… information about this place.｣
It was apparent the Resistance didn’t pick an incompetent leader. The man was rational and quick in judgment. Despite dropping into the legendary abyssal prison called Tantalus and coming out for the first time after enduring three days in a small box, he didn’t lose his composure.
Now that was my favorite type of person. I clearly knew what attitude to take.
His impression of me would shape my persona. Since he thought of me as a laborer, I would become the most perfect laborer he thought of.
I took on a slightly slouched posture, didn’t hide my exhaustion, and injected a bit of fear and confusion into my voice. It was lucky that I didn’t have my warden’s uniform. That saved me from having to make excuses.
I deliberately faked a feeble, shaky expression and mimicked the reaction of a laborer who had encountered an intruder.
“I, I was captured and brought here about a week ago. Soldiers barged in out of the blues, and after arresting me, they tossed me in here with nothing but an order to work. I d-don’t know anything. Don’t have any money either.”
“What work are you tasked with?”
“Chores like cooking and cleaning!”
“I see. You were brought in by the treacherous State.”
“Yes, I did nothing wrong.”
Kanysen nodded in a content manner and offered his hand.
“I knew we were comrades. For we also hold a deep grudge against the Military State.”
As I reluctantly held out my arm, he snatched my hand and gave it a good shake. He was so bloody strong that my whole body swayed.
“We are the friends of the public, the Resistance. We aim to defeat the cruel Military State and find freedom and peace.”
Now was the moment to be surprised, so I raised my voice in an exaggerated fashion.
After the military drove out the royal family and took control, they enforced harsh labor, low wages, radical regulations, and merciless punishments. The rabid urbanization led to the collapse of the existing order. Those who lost their property or family because of the State went into hiding and created an organization against the military.
However, the fragmented rebel groups were unable to oppose the enemy’s elite soldiers. Rebels would appear sporadically only to be suppressed in no time, over and over. The rebels felt the need for systematic leadership and came together under an outstanding leader.
Thus the largest rebel organization, the Resistance, was born. The oppressed who howled for liberation from the military government.
But it had been a long time since the State came to power, and the public perception of the Resistance wasn’t so good. So I decided to add a sprinkle of vigilance to my act, to make it more believable.
“The R-Resistance, those, terrori— Ahh!”
I deliberately stopped mid-word to block my mouth and look at Kanysen with terrified eyes. It was a normal reaction for an ordinary person, albeit rather rude.
As I expected, he didn’t seem particularly suspicious of my attitude.
“I understand. You must have heard only of the bad rumors about us. The Military State no doubt spread propaganda, setting us up as ruthless terrorists.”
“Ah, um. Yes.”
“But know this. Most of the cruelty they attribute to us is in fact… the government incriminating us for what they committed. We are essentially the same in that regard.”
I didn’t know if it was because he was a former knight, but his serious words held weight. I would’ve unthinkingly trusted him were I the average Joe.
He first reassured me by claiming to be allies, skilfully building empathy by saying we were no different. The man evidently had experience leading people.
“Trust us. We have come here to aid you.”
This fellow had quite the talent for scamming. He would’ve become a back-alley swindler if he wasn’t a knight.
But Kanysen had met his match. I was the biggest swindler of those very alleys, so his persuasive words were mostly ineffective.
I acted as if I was gradually getting over my fear.
“You’re here to help me?”
“Of course! To help those unfairly oppressed by the Military State—that is what the Resistance stands for! It is a given that we help you, along with the other unfortunate souls imprisoned here!”
I let out an impressed exclamation, and Kanysen laughed heartily at my predictable response.
Then he turned his attention away for the moment and looked at Azzy, who was still holding her hands up.
“Now, who might this beautiful beastkin young lady be?”
Azzy replied in a bright, loud voice.
“Woof! I’m Azzy!”
“Azzy? That’s an unusual name. How did you end up here, young lady?”
“Nice to meet! Nice to meet! Nice to meet!”
Azzy abruptly rushed over and began to go around Kanysen in circles. She was so fast, and it was so unexpected, that even the former knight couldn’t react in time. Flinching in surprise, he reached for his belt.
Just then, I sensed rising hostility from inside the supply box. I turned around and found a female member of the Resistance aiming a gun at Azzy from the box.
The young woman sounded clearly wary.
Hearing that, Kanysen’s face contorted.
｢You mustn’t shoot!｣
But the trigger was pulled before he could even finish.
A bullet exploded out of the gun barrel. The armor-piercing shell flew slightly faster than the gunshot, zooming directly at Azzy. It happened in an instant. It didn’t take any longer than that for the bullet to reach her at this short distance.
Yet Azzy suddenly stopped in the middle of circling Kanysen, stared at the incoming projectile, and caught it with her teeth before it hit her.
It was a peculiar sound, one of teeth digging into steel, of metal being relentlessly crushed. And that was it. The bullet’s short journey from the gun’s barrel ended between Azzy’s teeth.
No one properly saw what happened. Only Kanysen quickly grasped the situation.
｢She caught an armor-piercing shell shot up close? With her teeth at that?｣
It was common to keep standing even after getting hit by a bullet. You only needed to learn a bit of Qi Art, wear some tough clothes, or simply be born healthy. That was enough to let a person easily withstand a couple of shots. Guns were useful but not very powerful weapons.
But catching a flying bullet? Now that wasn’t easy, not even for an expert fighter, and even if it was possible, no one would dare try it with their teeth. Fail, and the bullet would tear through their delicate inner flesh.
Azzy pulled it off, though.
She chewed the steel bullet once before spitting it out with a sour face. The twisted piece of metal bounced off the ground. The dog-girl looked dissatisfied.
“Hot! Hard! Tastes bad!”
Teeth marks were visible on the crushed bullet.
Finally, the other Resistance members realized what was going on. But just as they raised their guns at once, Kanysen yelled for them to stop.
All of them lowered their weapons like students who were scolded by a teacher. Kanysen wore a grimace as he shouted at them.
“Who let you shoot? Beta, did I not warn you to never fire without my command?”
The young woman called Beta bowed her head hurriedly.
“If you are, then be still!”
With that said, Kanysen respectfully gathered his hands and lowered his head to Azzy.
“Forgive our disrespectful behavior. We are unlearned and do not know of your eminent name. Could I have the honor of being enlightened?”
｢That dog-kin is no common pup. If a battle occurs… we’ll all die!｣
Wow, the man knew his place and even apologized first. It was my first time meeting someone so normal and ordinary after coming to Tantalus. How refreshing!
And here I was, feeling like I was turning abnormal with the rest down here, even though I was such an exemplary citizen.
Then again, it wasn’t like there was anyone to respond normally to my normal behavior.
“Woof! I’m Azzy!”
“Azzy? I beg your pardon, but is that a title?”
“Name! Woof! Woof! Nice to meet! Nice to meet!”
Kanysen stared dazedly at Azzy, looking like he was about to lose it. He recovered a moment later and turned to me pleadingly.
“Um, if you could introduce her…”
“Ah. They say she’s a trainee who stayed behind. Her name’s Azzy or so it seems. She’s powerful but acts obedient, almost like a real dog. That’s why we go around together sometimes.”
“Could she be the Dog King only mentioned in legends? No, there’s no way. Not even Tantalus could contain such a being.”
Correct! The man was smart, and apparently quite knowledgeable too.
He was polite, knew how to fear others, knew his place, and knew lots of other things. If there were other trainees here, I hoped they were all like him.
Sigh. That’s what made it all the more a pity that I had to kill him.
Kanysen regained his senses and asked an urgent question.
“Are there more soldiers or pris—trainees who stayed behind?”
“Uh, there are no soldiers. There are about two more trainees, though. But they’re either busy sleeping like a log or doing their own things. I don’t think they’d come out unless a bomb blew up or something.”
“Is that so? What a huge relief.”
｢The chills on my spine! To think there are at least two more like that dog-kin… No, a much greater number must have been imprisoned since a jailbreak occurred. How in blazes did the State manage to lock up such monsters?｣
Kanysen fell into deep pondering for a long while. Thoughts continued to flow through his mind, and I calmly read them all with an innocent expression.
｢This place is nothing to laugh at. If I don’t rush the plan, it might be stopped by the other convicts of Tantalus. I have to finish things as quickly as possible.｣
The Resistance was the enemy of the State. So were the prisoners.
The enemy of my enemy is a friend, especially if my enemy is powerful.
The Resistance usually preferred the strategy of recruiting prisoners or simply releasing them to put large pressure on the State.
For some reason, though, Kanysen didn’t consider the idea of requesting help from the prisoners of Tantalus, as if that wasn’t his purpose in the first place.
Why had the terrorist-cum-Resistance member come to Tantalus? Why did he hide in a supply box headed for Tantalus in the middle of escaping?
When there was no way out of this abyss cursed by Mother Earth?
｢We can’t get out after coming to Tantalus. The only equipment we managed to take in our escape is a bomb for a terror attack. The way to deal meaningful damage the State using this is..｣
Simple. I murmured cynically under my breath. What else did a terrorist have to do apart from committing terror?
｢To completely destroy Tantalus, the symbol of oppression, and sink it below the abyss.｣
These people had come to simply blow up the place without a care for their own lives.
My eyes sank coldly at that revelation.