༺ The Resistance – 3 ༻
The Resistance members left for their respective positives, while Azzy and I stood around blankly.
Delta, the only one in his group who stayed behind, kept a distance from us, gripping his gun tightly.
He started talking to us.
“… Please wait here. The Captain will be back once all the work is done.”
Now, they were all scattered. The situation was excellent.
Kanysen and Gamma left for the control center, while Alpha and Beta went off to the hells reserved for each of them. As long as I dealt with Delta, no one could get in my way.
It was time to get to work.
I changed my expression and put on an awkward smile, trying to appear harmless as possible as I innocuously struck up a conversation with Delta.
“Dear Lord, my legs are all shaky. We only had a talk yet I feel drained like I’ve just had a workout.”
“… The Captain does have a powerful presence. It’s not strange for you to feel strained.”
“You all amaze me. It mustn’t be easy to even follow a man like him.”
“… But we must. Still, the Captain leads us quite well. This plan would have been impossible if not for his wits.”
Despite his diligent responses to my words, Delta was completely occupied with keeping wary eyes on Azzy, which was really a no-brainer. The dog-girl capable of catching bullets with her teeth was scarier than an unequipped, weak-looking “laborer”.
Though that mindset would be his biggest weakness.
“Hey, isn’t it fine to put down the gun now? It’s not like Azzy will bite.”
“Oh what do you mean ‘but’? You just saw. She has the crazy ability to catch bullets with her teeth even if you shoot. It’s utterly pointless to aim that thing at her.”
I secretly pointed at Azzy. Her excitement at seeing so many people a while ago was gone, and now she was sitting still with a rather gloomy face.
I didn’t know why. Dog reasons, probably.
But even in that distracted state, she seemed completely unafraid of Delta’s gun. Then again, how could she be afraid with a bullet-proof mouth? I’d be relieved if she didn’t mistake bullets for slightly faster balls and get into playing with guns.
“I’ve spent a few days with Azzy, so I knew that she’s not very dangerous despite her strength. I was also scared at first and ran away, but at some point, I got used to her. Here, take a look.”
I picked up the leather ball I had put away earlier.
As it held it high and shook it sideways, Azzy’s tail began to wag left and right first. Her head then turned to give me a stare before she jumped to her feet.
I quickly tossed the leather ball and shouted to her.
Azzy shot off after the ball.
Unable to keep up with the situation, Delta raised his gun a beat late in dismay.
“What have you done!”
But his concern was in vain as Azzy fetched the ball in her mouth and came straight back to me. She dropped it at my feet and gazed up with a proud look.
I lowered a hand to stroke her hair, and she enjoyed the touch with half-lidded eyes. It was hardly a threatening sight.
Delta had quite a principled and thorough personality, but even he couldn’t help easing up.
“… Is this really alright?”
The muzzle of his gun fell as he relaxed a little.
I petted Azzy energetically, trying to appear as harmless as possible as I replied.
“Actually, I’m not sure myself. Things just, became like this before I realized.”
“She’s still a human being, dog-kin or not… Even if it is in her instincts, is it right to treat her that way?”
“But it’s not like I force her, right? In fact, I’m the one working for her. I throw, and when she fetches, I throw again. Azzy is the one who takes the fun out of this.”
“That is true, but still.”
“Well, I figure you have a similar relationship with your captain, Sir Delta. The disparity in power between you two is like heaven and earth, yet regardless of that, you just grew used to each other.”
Delta seemed to realize how foolish it was to be guarded against Azzy; he couldn’t feel even an iota of threat from the way she rumbled happily at my every touch.
I continued stroking her to enact a pastoral atmosphere.
“I was so frightened and afraid when I was arrested by the State and ended up down here, but thinking back now, I’m glad. It’s peaceful, aside from the danger of being killed by the trainees, you see.”
“Peaceful. That’s not a word that suits Tantalus.”
“It’s how I actually feel, so. I suppose it could be thanks to all those jailbreakers who are gone.”
I took a pause for a moment, then lowered my voice to a rather melancholy murmur.
“If this place was the hell it’s rumored to be, not even the Military State would have sent an ordinary, petty criminal like me here.”
I emphasized my words to imply I was a powerless nobody who did have a great deal of common sense.
Take the bait. Come on.
As I anticipated, Delta showed curiosity.
“What were you brought in for?”
Having hooked the question I wanted out of him, I deliberately took on a faraway look and answered in a muttering tone.
“I was originally a magician. My job was to entertain people with magic in the back alleys. Although I hardly made anything off it, seeing the amazement of my audience always had its satisfaction. But.”
I broke off for the space of a breath, pretending to be lost in thought.
“Uh. I think it was about a week ago. Soldiers came in out of nowhere and started arresting folks on sight. I happened to be playing a card game with some friends when I was put under inspection and…”
“So that’s when. You were also taken in unfairly.”
Delta filled in the blanks by his own misunderstanding. He also fell into his own thoughts.
‘They would use an innocent person as a laborer. I knew it. The State is wrong. It has to fall. But forcing that same person to his death for that purpose… Are we in the right?’
My plan was going well.
I scratched my head awkwardly, giving an added explanation.
“Ahaha. About that, it wasn’t completely unfair. I did use a bit of magic in that card game. Haha.”
“… That’s a shame.”
‘So he was a gambler.’
Delta’s expression soured slightly. As an inherently upright type of fellow, he held gambling in absolute disdain.
Here I had to mix a spoonful of repentance into the act. A moderate sprinkle of sentiment on top of a solid background story would add depth to my persona.
“I was overconfident in my meager talent, forgetting that magic tricks hold the most value when they stay magical.”
With that said, I furtively took out a white card.
Interest flashed in Delta’s eyes when he realized what it was.
“Where did you get that?”
“I don’t know if it’s because I was born to be a magician, but I get anxious without a hidden card up my sleeve. So I did whatever I could to get one.”
The card danced under my fingers.
Left hand, right hand, palm, dorsal.
It flitted to and fro like a crawling bug, then when I spread out both hands at a certain point, it vanished like it was never there.
Well, I could see it clearly sticking to the back of my hand, but in Delta’s eyes, it was as good as gone. He looked genuinely amazed.
“What, you don’t even have a sleeve to hide the card, so how…?”
“Haha. You need to be capable of this much to be called a magician.”
I flipped my hand while secretly pulling the card to my palm, showing him the dorsal side while concealing the card.
By pushing the card again to the back of my hand while showing my palm, the card would seem to have completely disappeared for Delta.
Having drawn enough of his curiosity,
I raised my left index finger and slowly pulled out the card on the back of my right hand.
Delta was clapping before he even knew it. A decent reaction.
I smiled, scratching my head as if embarrassed by the impressed look he was giving.
“But it’s unexpectedly useless in card games. However amazing my sleight of hand may be, it won’t stop people from suspecting.”
“It was fantastic. I wouldn’t have even thought to suspect you at all.”
“Oh a few lost pennies will fuel anyone’s suspicion. I’ve seen some grab my wrist after losing just several dozen coins, their eyes stained with anger and mistrust. I was momentarily blinded by greed back then, which made me lose sight of the essence of magic tricks: entertainment.”
I put the card away with a shrug.
“That’s how I lost my roots and got caught. But what about you, Sir Delta? How did you become part of the Resistance?”
My question punctured the vulnerable opening in his mind with precision. He became locked in recollection without any doubt of my intentions.
“My real name is Elsie. Since I was a child, I was a fast learner. I entered a secondary military school according to my parent’s wishes, but even there I kept thinking to myself. Am I doing the right thing? Is the policy of the Military State just? But the State doesn’t allow that kind of debate, and I felt it was wrong that we couldn’t discuss right and wrong for the sake of order. That’s why…”
“You joined the Resistance?”
“That’s right. At least in the Resistance, you can express ideas for the future path of the country. I found many like-minded comrades too. It’s just that…”
｢I still don’t know if it’s right to keep resisting at the sacrifice of the common people.｣
The man named Elsie, codename Delta, was a thoughtful type.
I gave him enough time to settle his feelings before speaking.
“But you could lose your life.”
“I’m not afraid to die. I’m only concerned whether I am going the right way or not.”
“It must be the right way. You’ve thought it over plenty, haven’t you?”
“Contemplation doesn’t necessarily lead to the correct answer.”
“But you’re more likely to find the answer compared to not thinking at all. Since humans can’t be perfect, isn’t it better to chase the possibility?”
“… I appreciate the sentiment.”
“Well that’s all I can offer. A street magician only has his tongue to boast of aside from dexterity, after all.”
After comforting Delta, I smiled warmly and took out my card again.
“Now, now. Enough with the difficult talk. I’ll show you something interesting. It’s not often that I show this to anyone, but I’ll make a special exception for you.”
Delta swam out of his memories and fixed expectant eyes on my card.
With his focus on me, I put on a magician’s grin and flipped the card around in my hand.
“This is a trick involving a magic tool, so it should normally never be revealed.”
“Because it’s your source of income?”
“Haha. Partly, yes. But the moment this is revealed, people will start to feel more dubious than mystified. They will perceive magic tricks as something to analyze and disassemble rather than to enjoy. When that happens, magic is reduced to a rigged game. There will be no wonder, no joy. Only a fierce confrontation between the magician and his audience.”
I gathered mana at my fingertips, funneling it into my card which had a strange glyph was imprinted on its back. A faint light glimmered along its lines.
“Those who chance upon secrets inevitably search for someplace to spill them, but it just so happens that we’re in the abyss. And it’s not every day you make a new friend, so I’ll exclusively let you in the know.”
I sandwiched the card between my index and middle fingers, then slipped it along my left wrist. I unfolded my palm to cover his gaze for an instant, following which I flipped my left wrist and right hand simultaneously—and revealed what used to be a card.
What was supposed to be an ace of diamonds was replaced by a dark-red pointed skewer.
I gave a few swings of the stick, swishing it through the air, proving that it was no gimmick nor hallucination but an object with a clear form.
I bowed, taking an imaginary hat off for my audience.
Delta applauded in admiration.
“That trick, was it alchemy?”
“You got some sharp eyes. I was going to make a slow reveal.”
“What, it was such a swift, stealthy display of alchemy. I would’ve been oblivious if I hadn’t seen it so close.”
“I admit it was no ordinary alchemy. This card was alchemized based on clothing packets, you see. So if you put in mana through the bio-receptor, like so.”
I put the skewer against my left wrist with the bio-receptor and rubbed it. The stick disappeared like it never existed.
When I lifted my palm again, the ace of diamonds was back.
Delta exclaimed in amazement as I proudly continued to explain.
“It can become a card or a stick. I normally hang seasonal flowers on the end for the audience, but sadly, not even a magician can procure the letters of Mother Earth in this abyss.”
Delta stared at my card in wonder, dazzled by my magic.
His eyes were no longer wary in the least as he muttered a remark.
“It’s a pity. It would’ve been much better if I had seen it in the outside world.”
“Haha. I wouldn’t have told you my secret then. Ah! Rats, it looks like my card is gone? I wonder where it went? Uh, hang on. What’s that in your hair, Sir Delta?”
Anyone would think this was part of the magic act. It was the only natural conclusion after everything that happened so far. That was why Delta didn’t even feel the need to be vigilant.
I walked toward Delta, casually holding out a hand. He kept still even as I approached.
‘What trick will it be this time?’
Watching the anticipating look on his face, I smiled faintly, transformed my card into a skewer, and rammed it into his temple.
Delta’s head was pushed lightly sideways. The interest filling his expression turned to puzzlement.
Then his brain, which wasn’t functioning very well, belatedly registered what had occurred—a sharp stick had pierced through the side of his skull.
His damaged head desperately rang alarm bells as I stretched out my arms for Delta in a ceremonial flourish.
“Tada! Vanishing Magic!”