༺ Thirteen Is Too Many, Even If It’s the Number of Times One Goes Back in Time༻
「We won’t interfere, no matter what you do. Your actions are of no significance to the State. Your duty is to fill up the head count. Of course, it would be unfortunate for both of us if you died.」
The golem’s news was puzzling.
‘I don’t need to do anything? The State—who brings in not only criminals but regular law-abiding citizens into their labor camps—doesn’t have something for me to do?’
I could not rejoice, since I knew the State too well. Unorthodox actions meant that I needed to find the hidden meaning within them.
I was about to question the golem, as I felt anxious from the news.
However, the prison gate swung open with a roar, and something sprang out at lightning speed. As the being made it past the garden, the alarms blared, and the searchlights began their attempt to track down the escapee.
Yet it was meaningless. She ran so swiftly, the searchlights couldn’t even catch her shadow. The moment the lights attempted to illuminate their target, the girl had already landed in front of me. Both the golem and I were speechless at the abrupt entrance.
A second later, the girl barked as she wagged her tail.
“Woof! Hello! Hello!”
Triangular ears and a puggy golden tail that swayed side to side. Her large eyes contained nothing but affection and joy as they stared at me. Her luscious locks swayed back and forth.
A descendant of a bloodline that shouldn’t have been bred over a millennia ago. It was a dog demi-human.
The dog-girl was crouched down on all fours, gazing upwards at me from around my ankles.
‘What’s going on?’
I held up a hand half-heartedly.
“Hello! Hello! Hello!”
She jumped up and down in response. There was no desire to attack, and her tail was indicative of that. Rather than a person’s behavior, it was akin to that of a well-trained dog.
In response to the pure-hearted and innocent behavior, I was unable to feel even the slightest suspicion one would normally have when meeting people for the first time.
And that was why it took me longer than usual.
The fact that a being that I had seen for the first time held affection for me.
And that I, a mind reader, couldn’t make out what this creature was thinking confused me.
“Let’s play! Play! Play!”
“What? Why would I?”
“Woof! Let’s play!”
The dog beast-human dove her face towards the ground and sunk her teeth into the hem of my pants. As I was about to shake her off—puzzled—I was knocked off my feet by a force akin to that of being tied to a carriage moving at full speed.
The leg that supported half the weight of a grown man flew off the ground without any resistance. I fell to the ground, and the dog beast-human who ran out dragged me with her jaw.
– Thunk, thud.
My body bounced up and down at an incredible speed as if I were a rock being skipped across a river’s surface; as if a wagon with several horses dragged me along by one leg.
The pain caught up to me moments later.
I expected terrible things from Tantalus, but I didn’t expect to be dismembered right off the bat.
Especially not from someone who appeared to like me!
Trying to grab onto something was futile; a much higher force snatched them out of my hand. The friction began to singe my clothes. Droplets of blood from my skin, decimated by the rough surface, made a trail on the ground.
‘I’ll die. I’ll actually die at this rate.’
I waved my arms as best as I could and shouted.
A miracle followed.
The dog demi-human, who had the power to pull me by their jaws, stopped at my request. Without a moment of hesitation.
I was completely shocked.
“Huh? She listened to me?”
Regardless of whether a person could read minds or not, most people would probably have experienced that there were way more people who ignored what they said than those who listened. Especially if it was to prevent them from doing something they liked.
But the moment I made an order, this girl followed without a shred of hesitation.
What’s going on?
Confused, I tried to read the girl’s thoughts again.
Yet I couldn’t.
「WAIT? WAIT? WAIT, WAIT!」
To be exact, I could make out what she meant, but I couldn’t exactly pinpoint her thoughts. It was as if I were reading a book in another language I barely knew. I could only make guesses from the mood and emotions associated with the thoughts.
‘Is she… not human?’
Someone who waits on another’s command without any doubts or hesitation. Just like a child… No, in the sense that they didn’t even question the order, they were like a dog. A loyal, well-trained dog.
Yet their appearance was that of a human girl with dog ears and a tail, and their strength easily surpassed that of any grown man.
If she wasn’t a mentally ill demi-human that believed herself to be a real dog, was she…
“A Beast King?”
Ever since the two-legged humans became the ruling mammal of the lands, the Beast Kings gained the bodies of human beings. They wore the bodies of humans, talked like people, and became the diplomats representing their respective races towards all of humanity.
However, their essence was that of a king. A king of animals.
The dog-girl in front of me was the king representing all dogs of the world. She was ‘Azzy’.
“Fucking hell. A Beast King is a sacred entity. Why is one locked up in prison?”
In Tantalus, at that. Of all places in the world. Had the State completely lost their marbles?
As I was about to turn back to the golem to protest this ridiculous situation, I heard a thought from deep within the prison walls.
「…I sense the scent of blood.」
Every hair in my body stood up and I froze. The blood droplets flowing down my wounds quivered. Darkness engulfed me. Unable to even move my head, I watched through the corner of my eye as my blood moved.
The blood on the concrete vibrated and began rolling off like marbles. They didn’t even leave a trail in their motion. As if the floor were a sheet of ice, the drops of blood made their way into the dark, gaping doors.
I felt a remarkable sense of satisfaction from behind those doors; the feeling a predator got once they bit deep into the flesh of their prey.
…And I trembled, realizing that the feeling was a response to my blood.
Complaining about the taste of the blood you stole. For someone in prison, their palate is strangely refined.
Yet I couldn’t voice a single one of my complaints.
There wasn’t a need to read the mind of whatever dwelled behind those doors to understand its origin.
A vampire who had lived a millennium and would continue to exist until she was erased.
The Queen of the Sanguine. The Progenitor of Vampires.
The oldest vampire who had barred herself in the abyss after countless quarrels with humankind.
No criminal could compare to those two. The Dog King was a sacred being that surpassed regular animals, and the vampire was a monster that could rival the Beast Kings. Beings that one couldn’t fathom meeting in their mundane lifetime.
Though I felt fear towards the sheer scale of the events unfolding in front of my eyes, I also felt relieved.
Thankfully, the two beings were either friendly or apathetic towards human beings. The Dog King adored humans, and the vampire would keep me alive as a blood pack. As long as I didn’t offend them too heavily, they would spare my life.
Maybe I could even turn them to my side…
At that moment—
A strong yet sharp voice cut through the silence. It was a voice with enough glamour to turn heads on the street, yet it was laced with malice.
As I read the mind of the person who possessed the voice, I flung myself as far away from the golem as I could.
A fracture in space.
In a realm of only light and dark. The two powers warped as if trying to consume the empty space. A diagonal crack formed in the darkness. Sparks flew from the cut into the air until a spear of lightning irradiated the abyss. An imperceptible blade had completely split the golem in half.
The magic that fueled it, the intricate gears and circuitry, the apotheosis of human creation—had ceased function.
The golem lost its light as it was cleaved by a single strike.
The halves parted as they slid in different directions towards the ground.
With a simple affricate sound, the golem’s body slumped.
It was such a clean cut that the cross section could’ve been part of a diagram on the golem’s blueprints. I wondered if putting the two parts together would bring it back to life. But the orbs of the golem never regained their light. The remote-controlled golem’s lifespan ended there. A second of static persisted from the mic before it went silent.
A voice comparable to a sharpened blade spoke in place of the golem.
“There’s more golems? This is almost as bad as cockroaches. Hopefully, this is the last one.”
A girl with short-cropped, black hair and loosely fit clothes walked up to me. The girl snatched the invisible blade out of the air and scowled at the remains of the golem.
A few seconds later, her eyes switched their focus to me.
“Now… who are you?”
My instincts blared red flashing lights, screaming that I would die if I didn’t act fast.
I subconsciously used my powers to read her mind as thoroughly as I could—as detailed as I could.
She wasn’t a special person.
She was born in an orphanage, grew up in the back alleys, and died after being exposed to the usual violence, sickness, and crimes that occurred in the slums. An extra so common that they would take up less than a paragraph to describe.
She lost her head to a wandering swordsman when she tried to learn the sword and was reduced to ashes by a mercenary mage when she attempted the path of arcane. No matter what she did, she remained talentless. An average person who couldn’t succeed, even if given the opportunity.
The only difference was that she could try an infinite amount of times.
…Huh? Did I read that right? I don’t understand.
She overcame her lack of talent with five deaths and gained the technique to challenge a swordmaster.
During her other seven lives, she studied magic and gained enough magic power to grasp at the feet of the strongest mages.
Of course, she had merely stepped foot into their realm. She would be utterly defeated if she were to challenge them directly.
However, that was not the end.
The girl retrieved Chun-aeng, the Aerial Blossom. The legendary blade that could only be obtained in the highest mountain. The blade—which resembled the sky and couldn’t be retrieved by anyone besides those who could see the future—resonated in her hand. She pointed Chun-aeng at me.
Having already conquered death thirteen times, she was a being who regressed to save the world.
Shei, the Regressor, gazed at me as she held her invisible blade.
“If you don’t answer… I’ll kill you.”
In order to become stronger. To stop the end of the world. And to achieve eternal rest..
The regressor had arrived in the abyss, in search of power.
She was genuinely weighing the value of my life, deciding whether to kill me or not. Wondering which option would be the correct choice to take in ‘this run’.
If she deemed me worthless, she would eliminate me to get rid of ‘variables.’
One could run faster than light.
The other could control blood from several hundred metres away.
And the last could destroy a military-grade golem with a single strike.
Despite the existence of these monsters, I felt relieved.
I waved my hands high in the air as a sign of greeting.
“Hey there, everyone!”
‘Yeah. The people left in Tantalus are all insanely strong. They can probably exterminate several thousand of me in a few seconds. They all have the ability to do so.’
Since when did I need to be strong to survive? I wasn’t even close to being the strongest in the back-alley dump I spent over ten years in.
But in the end, I was the one who survived.
The superhuman capable of crushing boulders with his fists lost his head to the swordsman who could slice steel. That swordsman burned to death in a trap set by a random mage. That mage then died of poisoning after drinking from the wrong cup.
Only I, the mind reader, could kiss up to the swordsman, avoid the mage’s trap, and pick out the unpoisoned cup, thus securing my life.
It was the same game here.
Even if I was playing with monsters, as long as I could read their thoughts…
If I played along with their pride, avoided their sensitive triggers, and built up trust…
What reason would they have to kill—No, what reason would they have to let me die?
‘I had lived my entire life swindling people in the alleyways. Nobody could catch people’s attention and manipulate them as well as I could.’
Those were my thoughts as I shouted out into the sky, waving my hands in the air.
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