༺ Hygiene Is Life ༻
If there was one thing better in the abyss than on the surface, it was probably the quality of the air.
It was hard to understand. Everyone knew that the wind that came from the sky was cleaner than the air on the ground that contained all kinds of dirty things. So why was the air in the abyss cleaner when it was farthest from the sky?
That was due to the trait of the abyss. Because of Mother Earth’s curse, the fabrics of Gaia, earth and dust, avoided this place like the providence of nature. It was why the wasteland above didn’t sink despite the presence of such an enormous hole. The abyss was surprisingly not dirty as dust didn’t fall, and in addition to that, there was no bottom here.
To borrow a pet phrase of mathematicians, it meant that no matter how far down I am, there is always someplace beneath me. In other words, anything heavier than air sunk further down.
That’s what happened to all the air that should go stale. The rare breeze you felt in Tantalus was a portion of the wind that had lost its way and ended up in the abyss. The lost wind, carrying the things that melted in the air, like dust or smell, would flow down the numerous holes in the abyss. This was why the air inside was as fresh and clean as it could be.
When grading your quality of life, your current position is far less important as an indicator than whether there is a life below yours. The filth of the world is bound to pool in the lower realm, after all. This allows people to indirectly understand that happiness is relative.
Although that didn’t change that wind was rare and the air was heavy, at least healthy breathing was guaranteed. How could I not be thankful?
… Maybe the abyss was a pretty decent place despite Mother Earth’s curse and the lack of light.
Another refreshing morning accompanied by my dog alarm. I stretched my arms and filled my lungs with the fresh air through my no—
I sneezed explosively as an unexpected morning irritation squeezed my lungs. Azzy stared at me in surprise, hands gathered on her chest.
Ugh. They say you’ll be in bad condition for the day if you sneeze hard right after waking up. It startles your muscles.
But that aside, what made me sneeze out of nowhere?
“Did living here for a few days produce so much dust…?”
As I was wiping my nose, I faintly spotted something floating in the air. I glared at whatever it was with scrunched brows. It was hard to see due to the lack of light, but that golden, bendy, curvy, long, thin thing was…
Azzy barked at me as I coincidentally took notice of the fur on her head and limbs. That brownish golden fur… no, it was originally golden. The filth on it made it seem dirty.
Anyway, that fur was the same color as the things floating in the air. Covered in dust and muck.
“Wanna go for some pork cutlets?”
“Woof! I wanna, I wanna!”
She agreed despite not even knowing what pork cutlets were. I smiled faintly at her.
Water flows down, traveling between heaven and earth, serving as the messenger of love between the Sky God and Mother Earth. Therefore, the liquid, which didn’t entirely belong to Mother Earth, dug into low places according to instinct. It didn’t care if that was the abyss.
But the abyss was an infinite pit. Even adorable airborne troops, who could swiftly reach the ground from the clouds on their bulgy parachutes, would perish in the everlasting fall of the abyss.
The water melted into the air would become more drifting air. However, the State’s special water tank captured such gaseous moisture. The water gathered in a huge collector, enchanted with the Aqus spell, would flow through a filtered tube and into the water tank. There, it would keep waiting until someone below opened the faucet.
Plenty of water was sloshing in the water tank because of the greatly reduced usage following the jailbreak. The diminished numbers brought us abundance.
I nodded in satisfaction upon confirming the amount of water available.
“Good. This should be enough to wash that mutt.”
I temporarily locked the water tank and instead, connected a hose to the pipe. I turned on the hose to test, and water slopped out as if there was a blockage. The water pressure was poor, perhaps due to the low volume. I figured it was best to collect some more before washing.
I picked up the hose and a small box, then went near the drain before calling Azzy.
But when I turned my head, Azzy had scampered far away before I knew it. She hid behind a square box, barking as if the hose I held was a gun.
“Azzy. Come here. You have to wash.”
“What do you mean you hate it? Look at your hands and feet.”
Azzy held up her limbs as I suggested. All kinds of filth were hiding in those soft, lush furry mitts of hers. Although it looked bad, it was actually relatively okay. If we were on the surface instead of the abyss, that four-legged-fur-duster of a dog would have gone on a grubby rampage.
“There, you see? Dirty, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s clean!”
“What are you on about? That’s clean?”
“Woof! Sometimes, I lick my fur! It’s clean!”
Azzy stuck her tongue out towards her hand. She was going to lick that hotbed of disease.
Haha. Is she mad?
Azzy froze, her eyes darting about. I sighed and let go of the hose to approach Azzy.
“Are you a cat? You never usually lick yourself, yet now you will because it bothers you? Cut it out. That’s dirty.”
“Woof! Not dirty, not me!”
“It is. Look at all that grime. It smells, and you’re also shedding a lot.”
“Woof! You shed a lot too!”
“Don’t compare your fur to my hair! They may share characteristics but they’re in a completely different genre!”
Fuming, I went up to Azzy, grabbed her behind the armpits, and dragged her with me. Although she twisted about in defiance, she didn’t break free and run off.
But as we neared the water hose, she straightened her feet and dug her claws into the ground. Azzy didn’t budge as if her body was nailed to the concrete. Actually, it literally was.
“Sigh, really now. It’s not like I can just drag her…”
I couldn’t do anything with my strength against a Beast King.
This moment called for the fable of the North Wind and the Sun. If I couldn’t do anything physically, I had no choice but to change her mind. I put my face over Azzy’s head.
“Azzy. Come here. Let’s wash up first.”
“I’ll make you something tasty after we’re done.”
Azzy fell into deep thought momentarily at the mention of something tasty. Why does it always take a treat to make her move? Not even persuading State officials back in the day took so much effort. How was a dog more difficult than a prime minister?
But what could I do? The weak one has to put up with it. This dog was stronger than most prime ministers, after all.
I whispered sweet words into Azzy’s ear.
“Remember the hamburger the other day? The food made by rendering meat, heating lard in a pan to the right temperature, then grilling a patty made of ground beans.”
“But to tell the truth, that hamburger was unfinished. Its texture was broken due to the lack of stickiness. It was basically a meat paste cooked on a pan. But this time it’s different. There were eggs and butter in the supplies. Though they didn’t send even a full carton, the misers… Anyway. This time, I can make a perfect hamburger that sticks together whole, cooked in plenty of oil.”
I enticed her senses as strength faded from Azzy’s body. When I pulled her again, her claws easily left the concrete. I smiled triumphantly as I dragged her near the drain.
“That’s right. Good girl, good girl…”
Now. First, I was going to undress her. Then I would toss her in the tub and douse her with water. Once I scrubbed her down completely, I would launder her clothes while she dried herself off.
It would be nice if there was a change of clothes, but all we had left here were clothing packets. Azzy couldn’t wear them as she didn’t have a bio-receptor. Hmm. I had no choice but to simply have her wait while the clothes dried.
I left Azzy for a second to turn on the hose and gather some water. The trickling water dripped into the small box I had found as a substitute bathtub. Water droplets pounded the inside of the box.
And the mutt zoomed off into the distance, putting my efforts to waste. She gave a small bark, as if feeling some guilt.
I palmed my face, sighing deeply.
What is she, a king? I offered her a washing service yet she rejected that?
I mean, I guess she is a king. But not my king, right? She is the king of dogs at most.
It was infuriating. I did humor her like I was raising a cute puppy until now, but there was no reason to bear her antics anymore if she was going to be this willful.
Azzy barked cautiously at me, a furtive look in her eyes as if she had realized my anger. That didn’t make me feel any matter, though. In fact, it was utterly outrageous that she didn’t come straight over despite knowing my mood.
I sat straight down in a fit of rage.
Azzy flinched hearing her name called. I crossed my legs, adopting a closed body language as I infused emotion into my voice.
“Are you really going to be like this? After seeing me sneeze earlier?”
Bang-bang. I slammed the ground with the dipper I had prepared. Azzy recoiled, making a guilty face.
My shaking voice, contorted expression, and rough breathing were all clear signs of anger.
Dogs are old friends of humans and can read human emotions to some extent. Actually, they might even read emotions better than people. Humans learn to hide their feelings from others under the excuse of courtesy, but dogs don’t mind our manners. And that’s why we love dogs.
Anyways, I was angry and had no thought of hiding it. As I intended, Azzy clearly noticed my mood.
“I cook for you, play ball for you, and also take you on walks! I call you at every mealtime and pet your dirty fur every day! I do so much for you! Yet you don’t even try to wash!”
Azzy whimpered in fright, tucking her tail. But that wasn’t enough. I only planned on clearing the air once she came to me herself.
If she didn’t? Then that was it. The strong relationship between me and that mutt would be over. I was going to abandon her in my heart.
“It wouldn’t matter if you only lived in the yard. But you enter the building! And even crawl up on my bed sometimes! That makes my home all dirty! Do you think I wash daily for nothing? I need hygiene unlike you!”
Azzy whimpered again.
“If you can’t stand this much, then you’re not the Azzy I know. My kicks will be the first thing you greet from now on. You hear?”
She whined in response. It looked like I didn’t bond with her in vain until now. Honestly, I would’ve been deeply disillusioned with the beast if she kept her attitude up.
At any rate, it looked like Azzy didn’t want to cut ties with me. She furtively padded over to where I was.
Sigh, well. At least she came.
I put Azzy on my lap, wrapped my left arm around her, then turned on the hose with my right hand, filling the makeshift tub with water.
The sounds of the tub filling and water drops splashing was a cool, cleansing symphony, but to Azzy, it seemed to sound like the requiem of an evil spirit. As if feeling chills, she shut her eyes tightly and pressed her lips together, looking away from the sounds.
Still, she didn’t break free of me and run away. The good dog-girl was holding herself back. Seeing that good attitude, I turned off the hose and petted her hair.
“Yes, well done.”
Her voice was powerless. I was reluctant, but there was no choice. Azzy and I would be living together for several months more. We couldn’t exchange dirt and germs every time we touched and cultivate a disease, could we?
Seriously, if this wasn’t the abyss, I would already be more than sick.
“Now, let’s undress first. Hands up.”
Azzy half-raised her arms, her eyes still closed. I tried to take her top off, but something caught on the way.
I took another look at her clothes. Someone had tied her shirt firmly beneath her chest. The knot was so tight that it was hard to undo. It looked like it was to stop her top from slipping off or from someone trying to take it off.
“Really? The things people get up to…”
Clothing packets provided clothing that perfectly fit the wearer’s size, and that included standard shirts worn underneath everything else. The collar and cuffs were so tight that they couldn’t be worn or taken off as you would with non-packet clothing. There were no loose ends like with what Azzy was wearing either.
But since Azzy didn’t have a bio-receptor, she couldn’t use clothing packets. That explained why she wore a shirt that was a few dimensions larger. It could easily come off or be taken off because of the size, and to stop that from happening, it was necessary to tie the loose part…
“Like anyone would try to strip a dog…”
… Though I said that, I grew strangely conscious of what I was doing. Putting aside Azzy’s true nature, her form was strictly that of a woman, and that was oddly concerning.
Were humans creatures that were ultimately constrained by outer appearances?
Well, no matter. The thought was pointless. I was a normal human being. It was time to finish undressing Azzy.
The tightly tied hem of her shirt interfered with my work, but who was I? The magician of the back alleys, that’s who. I was a master of dexterity, capable of tying both hands and undoing them alone. I could even release a knot with a single finger. This much was nothing.
If I put my finger in that gap and ease it around, it should loosen. Alright. I should quickly undo it and toss her in the tub…
But at that moment, the Regressor appeared at the rooftop door. Her hair and part of her clothes were wet with sweat. It looked like she had just been training.
“The water isn’t coming out here. Did you lock the water tank? Without even telling—”
The Regressor was about to pull away a thread of hair sticking to her forehead when she spotted me and froze. Instantly, her eyes darkened as she swept a sharp gaze over me and Azzy.
｢He has Azzy on his lap, and he’s trying to undress her while holding her from behind. Azzy is shaking with her eyes shut.｣
The Regressor didn’t think much at all. In a pure sense, I mean. She ended her thought right at that point and drew Chun-aeng.
｢Good. I’ll kill him.｣
Hang on. Isn’t there a leap in your logic? Rather, how can you put “good” and “I’ll kill him” together? Killing isn’t good at all, you know?
The Regressor swelled with hostility while I hastily hid behind Azzy and cried out to her.
“Wait a moment! This isn’t what you’re thinking, Trainee Shei!”
“Skyblade Art, Thunderbird…”
“I said stooop!”
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