༺ The Resistance – 4 ༻
Delta wasn’t capable of even changing expression due to the large needle stuck in his head. All he could manage was to force his lips to strenuously form several words as his face spasmed.
“Huh? Where’d the card go? Tada, tada! Here it was!”
I pulled out the skewer lodged in Delta’s head. With the stopper removed, blood burst out like a broken dam.
Bleeding from his head, Delta staggered like a broken robot as he tried to grab his gun again. His hands only clutched at the wrong places, though. His attempts to reach for the trigger kept veering to the right, his fingers trembling pitifully.
I turned over the retrieved skewer, and the weapon that had just punctured somebody’s head disappeared. A blood-stained card appeared in its stead.
I shook the blood off the card and bent deeply at the waist toward Delta.
“Thank you for watching until now. You made for a pretty decent audience, but I am a magician! And I can’t die in a place like this, you see.”
“Whether he falls into a river in chains or is trapped somewhere full of lit explosives, the magician must get out alive in the end. Which is why I can’t participate in your group’s extraordinary suicide bomb show. So sorry! I’ve decided to perform an escape act with Tantalus as the stage, and your people as the obstacles!”
Delta slumped to the ground. He could no longer reply with his brain damaged. Only his sporadic, disconnected thoughts told he wasn’t dead yet. But even that wouldn’t last for much longer.
I squatted down to meet his eyes.
‘You—knew our—purpose from—the beginn—’
“But of course I knew. How could I not? There’s no way you all would’ve come charging in here with any safeguards, not after resolving to die, don’t you think?”
“Deceived, eh? Now I wonder about that. Who deceived whom first? Your captain, who offered an empty promise of escape? Or you, the one who overlooked that lie in silence, acting all noble and contemplative while hiding in the back? Can you say you didn’t deceive me?”
“No matter how noble you want to be, it doesn’t matter much. Because justice that is not shown through action is like undigested vomit. No matter how much you value your feelings, whether you pass it off as the greater good, your justice is no more than an expression of self-love.”
｢You—read my— thou—｣
Delta’s thoughts gradually blurred. From one side of his head, blood was running out of a hole, while on the other, blood was pooling. The pressure caused by the imbalance was crushing his brain, and the more damaged his brain became, the more his consciousness collapsed.
Delta’s last thought stretched out. Like the final word that marked the closing of a book, his lingering regrets stretched on and on like inertia.
A book was announcing its completion.
Having read enough of his mind, I whispered, eye-to-eye with him.
Delta’s trail of thought met a dead end.
That marked the ending of the book.
The body of codename Delta, real name Elsie Clark, became a splayed corpse on the ground. I swept a hand across its wide-open eyes, closing them.
And that was it. The end of an average, short life.
Thankfully, there was no need to wipe away the blood. The fluid coming out of the corpse was rolling toward the underground armory as if that was the natural order of things. So long as the vampire existed, there would be no bothersome need to clean up any bloodstains.
I shook my stiff shoulders and muttered to myself.
“Now, That’s one job done.”
Next was the Captain. Since he had the explosives, this matter wouldn’t end unless I took him down.
Now, Captain. It’s time to read where you are and what you’re doing.
I closed my eyes and expanded the range of my mind-reading, spreading it out like a mist, letting my senses grab onto the faint thoughts in the distance.
“Nine-thousand nine-hundred ninety. Nine-thousand nine-hundred ninety-one. Nine-thousand nine-hundred ninety-two…”
– Fwoosh. Fwoosh.
An invisible sword cut through space. The weightless, widthless sword, Chun-aeng. The reason why the widthless sword was making sounds was that its wielder was swinging it sideways to feel a minimal degree of weight.
Even so, the swings were sharp enough to rip through the air.
The ten-thousandth swing ended.
Droplets of sweat ran down Shei’s face. Although her loose-fitting pants were made of well-ventilating material, they were far from enough to cool her steaming body.
Shei brushed her short hair that came down slightly below her ears, shaking off the drop of sweat hanging by their tips.
Then she reacted subconsciously, out of impulse, cutting the falling sweat drop.
Once, twice, five times, ten times. A superimposed series of slashes.
One fall turned into a total of three-hundred-nine-two small collisions.
The fragmented sweat droplets scattered in all directions upon reaching the floor.
Shei poised herself again, taking a perfected stance. It was an impeccable middle posture she had created through personal study over 13 cycles of regression.
It was a good way to use the weightless sword Chun-aeng. There was no need to store power in advance due to its feather-like aspect, so even merely turning her wrist in the middle posture could bring out diverse, dynamic changes.
Of course, like all things in the world, there were only two directions to a side, left and right, so being unable to store power was also a disadvantage in itself. The sword lacked weight behind its every strike. But that issue would be solved once Shei obtained the Earth Sword, Jizan.
So what she had to do was train. Until Jizan was in her hands, before that powerful treasure sword overshadowed her force, she had to attain a new layer of strength.
That was why she came to Tantalus, and also why she learned bloodcraft.
Shei poised herself again, taking a completed stance devoid of any flaws.
To make further advances, however, she had to destroy that completion and capture non-existing flaws. Breaking down the shell around her was the only way to see the bigger world.
Long ago, in her initial life cycle—which was now a fading memory—she had relied on vagabond techniques to cling on to dear life. But now, as a half-transcendent being, that technique only held her back.
It was time to abandon the swordsmanship that had sustained her and died with her over the many years.
To completely ruin it and build it anew, Shei took up Chun-aeng again.
She had gained quite a lot in Tantalus. She clearly witnessed the jailbreak incident, of which she had only heard rumors of, and even met the vampire and the Dog King.
Plus an unexpected factor.
Shei’s sword lurched and its trajectory twisted. She stopped swinging and grit her teeth.
That easygoing, relaxed man. Every time she thought of him, Shei felt something was wrong. He didn’t exist in the future she knew, yet he was living here with a definite presence.
The man was closer than anyone to Azzy, and Tyrkanzyaka also secretly cared about him. He was sure to leave a lasting influence even if he were to disappear now.
More than anything, Shei herself was excessively bothered by him.
“Cheh. If only I wasn’t caught back then…”
It felt like she was getting caught up in his pace every time they got involved. While that did irk her, it wasn’t like that man did anything bad. It was just oddly unpleasant whenever he did something.
Not to mention that he was hiding something. Otherwise, there was no way he could see through her invisibility at a glance and predict she would eavesdrop.
Shei could win in an all-out battle, sure, but she didn’t feel the need to put everything on the line for a death match, not when he didn’t seem particularly hostile. So her conclusion was to keep observing for the present. She wouldn’t attack so long as he didn’t pick a fight.
An ambush, while she had her guard down, would be troublesome, but…
“Not really. I rather welcome it. That’ll tell me he’s untrustworthy.”
If she ended up dying, Shei could move on to the next regression cycle.
From that point on, if that man ever came across her, she would dismember his limbs and interrogate him.
I got distracted.
Shei brandished her sword as if to clear her thoughts.
She continued swinging until the count of the two-thousand.
Sweat droplets wet the floor as her breath started to run out, but still, she wasn’t satisfied.
Empowering her blade with her newly acquired bloodcraft resulted in imbalance, while executing a clean strike without wasted energy gave her the feeling of returning to her old sword technique.
Blood. Shei had figured that fully understanding blood and the weight flowing through her body would change something.
Perhaps her talent was lacking. Or was she failing to find the right posture to contain all her strength?
If only she had a helpful sparring partner at a time like this… For example, that man of fathomless ability…
She heard someone cry out in surprise at that moment.
It seemed Shei was too focused. She hadn’t even sensed someone was approaching.
Pausing her swings, she took a deep, steadying breath and glared at her unwelcome visitor. Whoever it was, they wore thick armor.
Shei instantly recognized its model. The military gear of the State, the combat suit. Judging by the signs of poor management on that outdated design, someone must have stolen a model that was going to be discarded for being old.
Shei wiped her face with her sleeves, muttering to herself.
“Wha-what? How did you know?”
The intruder, a young man, looked surprised.
It was simple logic. Even if it was an aged model, the Military State would never neglect one of their combat suits, the quintessence of military technology.
They would either collect and dispose of them all or disassemble them to create new combat suits.
If there was someone equipping one of those old models, they must have either stolen or seized a combat suit scheduled to be scrapped. And that was something only the Resistance would do.
The intruder was only bewildered for a moment before laughing off his discomfort.
“Haha. Our fame must have spread widely for such a young boy to recognize us… Boy, are you also a laborer?”
“No. I’m a prisoner.”
Shei responded curtly, showing no intention to continue the conversation.
A second later, Shei suddenly noticed something off about the young man’s question. Was she also a laborer?
But she was sure there was no laborer in this place.
Before she could point that out, though, the young man started ranting off.
“How could they lock such a young boy in Tantalus! The State truly is an inhumane, cruel country! What crime could such a youngster have committed!”
“I sat down in the middle of a city and told people I’d give a gold coin if they beat me. I took down every last one of the crowd that gathered. The army came later on, so I took them all down too. Then a so-called general came and arrested me.”
The young man started dripping with sweat. When the “boy” showed a different response than he expected, he finally got the idea to take a proper look at Shei.
He assumed the boy wasn’t well-fed as he had a skinny, flimsy-looking body. His bones seemed inherently slender despite being “male”.
Those thin ankles visible under the bottom of his loose pants looked like they would break at a light whack. He didn’t have a physique suitable for fighting.
But the intense gleam in the boy’s eyes showed not a hint of fear, and his upright posture was like a well-honed blade. He was more like a sword than a human being.
Even his mere breathing was chilling, giving off the feeling of being able to cut someone while standing still.
The young man instinctively adjusted his combat suit.
The armor moved, covering his neck and lower chin.
Shei hadn’t even expressed any hostility, yet he protected his vitals out of fear.
She fixed a cutting gaze on the man.
“Why would the Resistance have come to Tantalus… It couldn’t be anything as ridiculous as rescuing the prisoners. You came to execute a terror attack, didn’t you?”
The young man hastily gestured in denial and raised his voice, acting like she had hit the nail on the head.
“What are you saying!? Are you suggesting we’re terrorists?!”
Shei’s response was cold.
“The Resistance… A bunch of riff-raff with nothing to show but vague, visionless dissent. All you people do is fly like moths to a flame and terrorize others…”
She sounded disappointed and disillusioned as if she had experienced it all herself.
In fact, she did experience it all.
Shei’s voice contained conviction, and the young man must have felt it. He flinched.
“You must be too steeped in ideology! We are the Resistance, a group that resists for freedom. We will defeat the military government that has unjustly grabbed power and grant this country true liberation!”
“I’ve tried that, but things didn’t change much. No, they became worse.”
“What are you saying?”
“You don’t need to understand. And I don’t intend to explain.”
Shei slung Chun-aeng over her shoulder and glared at the young man.
“You want to destroy Tantalus? What a riot. Rats like you can squeak and gnaw away at it all you like but it won’t fall. All of you will fail. Because it’s not yet time for its collapse.”
“No! We will succeed! The captain is already in the works. Once he’s finished, this legendary prison will crumble and we will go down in history as liberators!”
The young man was so worked up he couldn’t help screaming.
Shei snorted at that.
“You just said it yourself. That you’re here to carry out a terror attack.”
Now he couldn’t even deny the truth. The young man grimaced and raised his arms menacingly, lowering his voice.
“… Not bad, kid. I didn’t expect you to lead me on questions.”
“Idiot. You just have a cheap mouth. If that was leading, then the State’s Security Agency’s profiling would have mind-readers.”
The continued taunts made the young man snapped. Forgetting his captain’s warning, the young man burned with hostility.
“That’s right! Tantalus will disappear beyond the abyss! We will break down this symbol of oppression! So, what are you going to do?”
“But if Tantalus falls, your group won’t be safe either.”
“It doesn’t matter! We came prepared to die! The Resistance is always prepared to die for its country!”
“Hmm. Country, you say.”
As far as Shei had experienced, there was no one sane among these would-be-patriots.
She chuckled and raised her arms.
“Well, I don’t know. I doubt that man will stand by and watch it happen.”
Tantalus would fall, but not now. In a little less than a year, she would come, following which the prison would crumble, and true despair would crawl out—the Fragments of the Apocalypse. Monsters that could, if given free rein, bring the end of the world by themselves.
That was why these rebels could only fail. Even when Shei wasn’t here, they weren’t given a single line of mention in any news outlet. Tantalus wouldn’t be called the abyss if it could be destroyed by a few terrorists.
They weren’t an issue she needed to mind. That warden would probably take care of it since he seemed good at dealing with such matters.
“But that aside, there’s no reason for me to leave you people be, is there?”
Shei drew Chun-aeng with a clear ring, holding it aloft. Even the mere sound of her blade seemed to possess a tangible edge.
She muttered fiercely under her breath.
“A training dummy has willingly come to be used, after all.”
“A training dummy?!”
After crying out loud, the young man rushed to operate his combat suit; its helmet that was cocked back shot up with a clank and covered the man’s face, then its visor came down.
Steel scales sprouted over weak points like his neck and armpits.
The metal interlocked.
– Clunk. Clank.
Orderly, mechanical sounds surrounded him. Gaiters formed over his legs, and gauntlets over his arms.
The muzzle of a gun formed on his left hand, loaded with six armor-piercing rounds, while his right hand was fused with a huge greatsword capable of ripping through blades.
Upon fully arming himself, the young man roared at Shei.
“Training dummy? No! This is a combat suit! Do you think you can beat me in that ungeared state?”
As long as one had a bio-receptor, mana to support alchemization, and the strength to equip and move it, this full-body alchemic gear enabled even ordinary people to wield knight-class power.
Armed with the combat suit’s power, the young man made a threatening approach.
“You’ll regret shooting your mouth off!”
“Hmmm. Ungeared. Ungeared, huh…”
Yet Shei wasn’t surprised at all despite being up against a combat suit. Instead, she measured the power between the opponent and herself, and also analyzed what she lacked.
“Good. I just happened to need a close fight, so I’ll face you without wearing any gear.”
Immediately after, Shei ceased using her Qi Art and withdrew the mana in her blade as well.
Now, she was only a frail young girl holding a treasure sword she didn’t deserve. She had to rely solely on her martial prowess and experiences to overcome a weapon that was built on the blood and history of the Military State.
The question of whether she could do it wasn’t important.
“It’s just about matter of trying.”
If I die, then I die. Nothing more than that.
The girl took her invisible sword, Chun-aeng, and approached the activated combat suit, her blade chiming through the air as she moved to face the aggregation of clanking metal.