༺ The Castle of the Depths ༻
These guys had no desire for self-improvement nor a sense of crisis. Even after all my explanations, they only reacted with mild interest. My chest tightened with the frustration that only those who have taught others would know. Did none of them feel anything?
At that moment, the Regressor, who was silent with her arms crossed, finally opened her mouth. I wondered what sort of question she’d ask.
“Why are you telling us this?”
Ugh. She was probing me instead. Talk about terminal paranoia.
I didn’t hide the disappointment in my voice.
“Don’t you like being taught?”
“How can I not? Tantalus is a level 5 security facility. The structure of a State secret facility holds, at the least, a corresponding security level. Yet you casually reveal something like that to us when we have no security clearance at all. You’re leaking level 5 secrets to level 0 outsiders. What’s the reason?”
Busting my balls even when I teach her something. How could she live on while suspecting everything in the world? I wished she’d just respond with amazement like the vampire.
It seemed the Regressor wasn’t going to back off without a proper explanation, so I decided to tell her a small part of the reason.
“Because, you all need to know this to gain a sense of ownership.”
“Sense of ownership?”
“Indeed. You know about the Resistance’s attack yesterday, yes?”
“What about it?”
Look at her calmly go ‘What about it?’.
Furious, I shouted at her retort.
“Do I use this land alone? Do I protect it all by myself? Somehow it feels like I’m unfairly doing all the work. If you’re all residents of this place, then show some care! The ground was about to literally disappear yet everyone was lazing around in their rooms. What were you people thinking!”
You guys need to realize the land we are standing on could break apart in a flash so that you’ll get a sense of crisis and try to stop it from happening!
“I alone went to pick up the supply box this time. I alone discovered the Resistance in advance. And I was the one who stopped their plan! I got dumped. Dumped with all the work!”
“Isn’t that your job?”
“Survival is every individual’s responsibility! Will you simply die if I don’t save you?”
“Did you even save me?”
“Oh you know it! Do you know what the Resistance was planning in yesterday’s invasion? Look!”
I strode up to the chalkboard and rubbed out both ends of Tantalus with my fingers, then crossed the middle with my chalk stick.
“Here! The opposite side! The middle! They were going to plant bombs at these three points, blow them up at the same time, and drop Tantalus by splitting it in half!”
I slammed the board, making the drawing of Tantalus drop chalk powder from the vibration. Starting from the collapsed ends, the prison lost its exquisite balance and tilted. When it came to a heavy structure with broken balance, its own weight was the biggest enemy that would lead to its destruction. In that state, an additional explosion at the center was like a nail in the coffin.
The Regressor uttered a small sigh of realization at the outcome of my drawing.
｢So this… This is how Tantalus collapsed?｣
Tantalus couldn’t hold on, it split in half and fell down, way down. That was how the prison depicted in chalk went to ruin.
I banged the board again, and the Regressor returned from her thoughts.
“See? The land right before your feet almost ended up like this! Yet you people lounged about, all relaxed, only after the situation was over! If I hadn’t actively moved to stop it, everyone including myself would’ve been lost to the abyss! Am I right or am I wrong?”
Not even the Regressor, who was taking a defensive attitude with her arms crossed, could help but be convinced. She furtively loosened her arms and turned her gaze slightly.
“…You’re right, I guess.”
“Should you thank me or should you not?”
“Thank… a thank you isn’t really in order. You did it to save your own skin too.”
Look at her holding on to pride to the bitter end. Is it so hard to give a simple word of thanks?
“Woah. I recall someone was unconcerned about the invasion, happy about getting a training dummy. How can you think that way?”
The Regressor looked shocked.
“How did I know? Did you think I wouldn’t? The fellow wearing the combat suit plainly headed to the 1st floor, and Trainee Shei came out with his head a long while later. Isn’t that right? I’m sure that with your ability, you could have beheaded the man in a single blow, so why would you start a brawl there?”
“W-Well. Because I lack real experience.”
“Fighting with your life on the line because you lack experience. While the other intruders were planting explosives at that! That complacency is what brought on a crisis like this! And it’s because I responded in time that Tantalus is safe!”
Every word I said was true. The Regressor tried to pick at my argument in instinctive self-defense, but she found no excuse for all her effort. She clicked her tongue and agreed.
“Tsk. I get it. I’ll step up next time, are you happy?”
“Very good! Make sure to remember that!”
According to the Regressor’s brief recollection I read, at least a few more people would be invading this prison. Someone among them would probably be significant enough to be involved in the destruction of the world.
Could I stop that? No way. Not only was it impossible, but I also didn’t even want to try. I had to risk my life to take down the mere likes of Kanysen and the other Resistance members, so why should I face an even greater adversity?
“The next time people fall down here, you ladies deal with them on your own. Don’t think someone will do it for you and procrastinate! Let’s have the first person to find them handle the matter! Are we clear!”
I wouldn’t mind if I was the only one here, but why should I work with the Regressor and Vampire Progenitor around?! The powerful had to take care of conflicts to exert a good influence!
“The next time an ill-intentioned intruder drops in? I won’t lift a finger against that intruder!”
Good. With this, I had an excuse to run away the next time someone broke into Tantalus. That was a precious gain. A one-time clemency ticket.
Hoo. The next time someone comes, I’ll line up the undying’s limbs and play dead.
While I was mulling over how I’d escape, the vampire tilted her head, asking a question.
“Are you not exaggerating over a small incident?”
Do people nowadays think it’s an exaggeration to be concerned about their life teetering on the edge?
I gaped at the absurdity of what she said, but the vampire didn’t stop there.
“For all you said, you easily solved everything that happened yesterday, as cleanly as gargling after a meal. Yet you complain so much.”
“What do you mean gargling?”
Did she think I had an easy time handling those Resistance members?
Overestimation is fine, but the moment it’s used as a pretext to overwork me, it becomes a damnable shackle.
I hastily gestured in denial.
“No, please don’t trust me! Unlike you lot, I’m a normal human being with only one life, alright? I can’t survive a bullet unharmed like Trainee Tyrkanzyaka, and neither do I have all kinds of bizarre tools like Trainee Shei! All I have to rely on is my body!”
“Yes, you defeated three foes with only your body. Without shedding a drop of blood, too.”
“What’s the big deal about that? Two were small fry, and the other one was nothing much either! It wasn’t dangerous in the least! It’s not that I’m great or anything!”
“Your last opponent, he was definitely a knight. You overpowered and even restrained such an individual. When I sensed his death, there was no wound on his body aside from your final blow.”
“Not to mention, you are in a league above Shei. It is only right that the person of higher standing and power take on greater obligations.”
This was bad. The vampire was totally convinced that I was stronger than the Regressor!
Completely ignorant of the present-day world, the vampire was very receptive to information and stimuli from the outside. Even if I told her that the top of the State’s headquarters could split open and let a giant magic golem fly out of it and across the sky, she would take my word for it. It was like how a newborn baby bird perceived the world.
“In the first place, since you hold the title of a warden, you should be thinking of taking charge. A man who works for the country should lead the citizens, should he not?”
And she couldn’t throw away that geezer’s mindset! She lectured me according to her misjudgment!
I didn’t mind her mistakenly believing I was strong since that was slightly intended. But putting me on a pedestal like this was dangerous.
Once the misunderstanding was resolved, they’d resent me for their misconception, and if it wasn’t resolved, I’d be forced into perilous situations.
The higher you climb, the harder you fall. I was lost. It was time to deflate their expectations.
But at least the Regressor was insightful. Wouldn’t she start to see me for what I was?
｢He overpowered a knight? Without receiving a single injury? With nothing but his physical body…? Could I do the same? No. It’s impossible right now. I still haven’t built up all my strength. Tsk. I don’t want to admit it, but… I think he’s stronger than me. For now.｣
Don’t go basing your judgment purely on someone else’s words! Please see for yourself how I fight first dammit! If you don’t want to admit it, check with your own eyes!
Tsk. It looked like I’d have to protect the Regressor with my meager talents if I stayed here any longer. There was no choice but to make an emergency escape.
I bared my nails and scratched the chalkboard, causing a terrible screech. The Regressor grimaced, the vampire frowned, and Azzy—who was sleeping on her belly at the back—sprang up with a yelp.
Secret Technique: Chalkboard Scratch. It was a technique to break the flow of unfavorable conversations using dreadful noise and get out of harm’s way.
After catching their attention using this forbidden move, I shouted to them.
“Then let’s go by a rotation system. Whatever the case, I cleared the mess this time, agreed? So the next time some baddie comes breaking in, one of you guys take care of it! End of story…!”
“Ruff! Ruff-ruff! Ruff!”
I thought it was over, but this time Azzy started barking fiercely at me.
What’s with her now?
“Grr! Ruff! Ruff-ruff!”
To take a rough guess, she seemed angry that I made a bit of noise with the chalkboard while she was sleeping.
The hearing of a dog was dozens of times better than a human’s, and when it came to Azzy the Dog King, she could even catch whispers from the other side of Tantalus.
She was a bit dumb and also knew how to ignore meaningless noise, which was why she ignored most sounds. If I muttered “mutt” anywhere in the prison, the dog-girl could hear me wherever she was. Then she’d bare her fangs with a stiff tail.
So a noise attack was extremely effective against her. Realizing this, I did feel about a dog’s hair of remorse. But as a human being, I couldn’t bow my head to a dog first.
I held my chin high and glared at Azzy.
“Who told you to doze off during class? And what, don’t you scratch concrete with your claws? A man can scratch some chalkboard too. What’re you gonna do? Rebel?”
That was a yes.
Ridiculous. The likes of a dog defying a human? How arrogant. I’ll show you the exact difference between us.
I raised both hands towards Azzy and smiled lamely.
“On second thought, I think I feel a little sorry. Why don’t we make up here?”
This was what a human could do and a dog couldn’t: dialogue and concession. So I tried to compromise with the dog.
It didn’t have a dog’s chance of working.
The domestic animal’s rebellion was so abrupt that I had no time to react. Azzy came flying across the classroom. I was caught before I knew it and fell rolling to the ground with her. When I regained my senses, I found myself at the bottom of a mount position.
Azzy didn’t seem intent on attacking. She merely pressed me down without baring her claws, but that alone was enough to render me helpless. It felt like metal stakes were pinning my shoulders.
It was a wonder why they thought of me as strong when I showed them this miserable sight every day. They had to be blind, I was sure of it.
Still, I couldn’t let them see me losing to a dog. My pride as a human wouldn’t allow that.
So I signaled the end of class.
“Today’s lesson ends here. Now, everybody go back.”
The vampire took her parasol and sat on her coffin. The black coffin floated up as usual
and flew towards the door.
“Very well. It was fun.”
“The lesson wasn’t meant to be fun, you know? Get out quickly. I’m going to give this dog hell.”
I locked gazes with Azzy for a moment. Her eyes were full of discontent.
You insolent creature you, daring to revolt just because I scratched the chalkboard a bit. I’ll show you what I’ve got.
The Regressor stopped in the middle of following the vampire out and looked our way.
｢Is he going to fight? If I see those two go at it for real, I could probably get a rough idea of how strong they are. Mm. Shall I have a watch?｣
“What are you doing? You think this is a show? Unless you’re going to take this dog off me, get a move on.”
As I shooed her off lying down, the Regressor swallowed her regret and looked away.
｢He’s wary after all. I guess he doesn’t want to show everything he has.｣
Bzz. I mean that I have no power worth showing you. There’s no sight to see either, so get out already.
I shooed her again, and the Regressor quietly turned around.
“Yes, you two work it out.”
Then she coolly went out the door. Thud. The thick tin door closed firmly and a brief silence fell. Then I heard a line of thought on the other side of the door.
｢Piercing sight, Jade Eyes…｣
“I didn’t mean for you to watch from outside when I said get out, Trainee Shei. Peeping isn’t exactly good behavior, so leave quickly before you disgrace yourself further!”
The Regressor flinched hard and used that windwalking or whatever to run down the hallway without making a sound.
｢T-this isn’t me running away. Yeah. I’m pretending not to be outside so I can find a more definite opportunity later. Taking one step back to take two steps forward.｣
Pretending my foot. I completely sensed her there. The girl had some things easy after regressing, and now she couldn’t give up the habit.
Anyway. Now I only had Azzy with me, still baring her teeth and in that mounted position. She was growling even more fiercely because I hadn’t been paying her attention.
“Are they all gone?”
“Mm. I think they are.”
After making sure I couldn’t hear any thoughts, I stared straight ahead, met Azzy’s glare, and took on a tone more determined and sincere than ever.
“I’m sorry, Azzy. I won’t do that from now on.”
“Oh, don’t be mad. I just forgot you were there. I never thought you’d hate the chalkboard screeching so much.”
“Aww, good girl, good girl. Azzy~ Azzy~ Good Azzy who doesn’t get angry.”
“You know I love you, right? Now, I’ll pet you. Move your feet.”
Azzy removed her forefeet that were pinning my shoulders and swerved around. Seeing her ears twitch, it seemed that’s where she wanted me to pet. Look at her lording it over me.
I raised my torso with a groan, sat Azzy down on my lap, and stroked her unkempt hair.
A couple of pets later, she was rumbling with a completely relaxed face.
“I meant it’s so nice to be with a dog like you in my life.”
Well. While I did complain, if I had to pick who the best was out of those left in Tantalus, I’d truthfully pick Azzy. It wasn’t a matter of preference, it was about return on investment.
Where else could you find someone so dense with such a clearly beneficial input and output? Even if I displeased her a little, all it took to loosen her up was some whispered sugar-coated words and petting in my lap. So much easier to handle compared to the vampire and Regressor.
Sure it took a routine of cooking her meals, taking her on walks, and playing with her daily,
but no biggie.
Sure she was a fusser, so if something went wrong she’d keep barking at me,
but no biggie.
And when it came to fighting humans, she was no help at all. But no biggie.
… Huh. Maybe this doggy is the most useless of the lot?
But I had already poured too much effort to be cutting her off now. So I swallowed my tears, lifted my fingers, and added today’s maintenance fee to this sunk-cost furball.
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