༺ I Gazed into the Future, but There Was Only… ༻
“Everyone, Tantalus is safe! I’m your ally!”
I shouted with full confidence in what I uttered, but the Regressor snickered at my heartfelt speech.
「Our ally? Don’t shit me. Does the State consider anyone as their allies?」
‘Hm, she doesn’t trust me. Let’s try to create a positive impression. All girls love animals, right? If that’s the case…’
I grinned as I shifted my focus to the Dog King.
I kicked the broken golem, and a magic orb popped out of the golem’s eye, rolling on the floor. I flicked the orb up into my hands with the use of my foot, and proceeded to toss it up into the air repeatedly.
The Dog King wagged her tail as she approached.
Although her body was like that of a human, her heart was that of a canine’s. She wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to play with a ball.
The Dog King fixed her gaze on the orb, bobbing her head as I tossed the ball in my hand. I could feel the exhilaration from her perky ears and sparkling eyes. After sensing that I had gotten her attention, I threw the orb with all my might.
The orb drew an arc in the air as it soared far away. At that moment, the Dog King slammed the floor as she took off to chase it.
Nothing could beat a ball when it comes to playing with a dog.
I put on an amiable smile as I shifted my attention to the regressor.
“That’s a cute puppy. Did you guys raise her?”
‘This should lower her guard.’
I briefly looked at her with a sideways glance, gauging her reaction by reading her mind.
「A… puppy? He’s treating the Dog King like a mere puppy?」
‘Weird. I was trying to loosen her up, but now she seems even more suspicious of me. Did I mess up? I thought people trusted those who were kind to animals… Let’s try it again.’
“Dogs are great creatures. They’re loyal and most importantly, cute! Not many animals besides the ones that we raise for food are as useful as dogs.”
「…He’s regarding a demi-human as inferior to humans. And what’s that about meat? Is he a racist human supremacist?」
‘Hm. I didn’t expect to increase the suspicion.’
Either way, I didn’t do anything like treating a demi-human as subhuman. The Dog King may look like a demi-human, but she is just a dog who looks like a human. What’s wrong with treating a dog like a dog?
You wouldn’t bow down to a queen bee. Likewise, you wouldn’t eat on the same table with the Dog King, would you?
“You see, I’m here to have a positive exchange with you all. I am…”
The first step to getting close to someone was having something in common.
‘I’ll be fine if I tell them that I had been captured as well. They wouldn’t be wary of me either.’
Just as I was about to utter these words, a thought emerged from the regressor’s mind.
「In a year, Tantalus will fall. The abyss will collapse and many lives will cease to exist. Only a handful will end up surviving.」
‘’Tantalus…Tantalus will fall?’
「Azzy the Dog King, and Tyrkanzyaka the Progenitor, they’ll survive the collapse…But they would become corrupted in the abyss.」
‘On top of that, the Progenitor of Vampires who terrorized the world as well as the Dog King who stood for all dogs in this world… would become corrupted?’
「The apocalypse is set to occur in ten years, and the corrupted seeds of corruption will make it happen earlier. The two would then massacre innocents, bringing the world into an age of chaos. And…」
Ten years at the latest, if that forsaken day were to arrive, a true ‘apocalypse’ would occur.
And the world would come to an end.
After reading her mind, I was in shock.
When I was captured and thrown into Tantalus, I thought that I could somehow find my way out of this predicament. That—maybe—I could use my powers to suck up to the guards and prisoners, then try to create a favorable position until I would somehow escape.
Yet with what I just learned, my plan was in shambles.
The despair-ridden future had been preordained. If oracles saw an unchangeable end to all things, it’s no wonder that so many of them went mad or ended their own lives.
…What do I do?
「And in none of the futures I experienced have I ever met this man.」
‘Well, duh. I’m just a regular, low-time criminal. Why would I ever get involved in a fight with a scale so large? You’re really too wary of people…’
However, the next thought I read completely changed my outlook on the situation.
「In the previous attempt, when I had arrived at Tantalus as soon as it collapsed, this man was nowhere to be seen. All I saw were corpses filling the abyss.」
The regressor glared at me as she continued thinking.
「A man who arrived in Tantalus so late… could be the seed of corruption. He could also have been a casualty… but one thing’s for sure. This man doesn’t exist in any future I’ve experienced.」
So, to summarize:
This world ends in ten years.
And I’ll die in the abyss even before that happens.
A bewildered chuckle slipped out of my mouth.
My life had just been spoiled for me.
Not only that, considering that I would die in Tantalus, there was no way my death would be peaceful.
I had successfully foreseen the future by reading the regressor’s mind.
Practically like the oracles.
However, I was different from them.
I had the regressor in front of me. The one who could traverse time and alter the past to make a nonexistent future reality. Now that I had read her memories, I could change the future that contained my death. An ambiguous prophecy that could be changed by man.
‘Relax. Keep smiling. Use it as my mask and go forth. Nothing’s changed. When have I ever been sure of my life? I made the strong my ally, and ran away if I needed to face them. What I used to survive was not power, but knowledge.’
The colossal enemy known as fate was the same. I didn’t need to fight it. I just needed to make sure I didn’t incur its wrath.
Thankfully, I had all the necessary tools at my disposal.
The Progenitor of Vampires, the Dog King, and the Regressor.
‘I’ll become close to them, craft a friendship, and make sure that they protect me instead of trying to kill me. I’ll survive, no matter the cost. Alright. I know what I need to do now.’
In a previous timeline, I probably told them the truth; that I was a worker and had been captured by the Military State, and that I wasn’t their enemy. I probably tried my best to stay inconspicuous because it was the best thing I could do.
However, now that I had the chance to see the future, it’d be idiotic to do the same thing again. I had to do something drastically different in order to arrive at my desired future.
‘Let’s trick fate. I’ll become a different man, one that fate has never accounted for.’
I held my head up straight and shouted.
“Because I’m a warden sent by the State, here to oversee and teach you trainees!”
The regressor asked with a sharp gaze.
Impersonating the military was a grave crime in the Military State.
But who am I to care? I’d rather get arrested for impersonation than die within a year.
I had already chosen to proactively change the world. If I was going to poke my head into all these affairs, it would be nice to have a name for myself. I continued my lie without any remorse.
“Indeed! Dear trainees, due to your dangerous abilities and violent conduct, you were scheduled to receive rehabilitation to rejoin society in Tantalus. However, an unfortunate event has deterred our duties!”
Reciting the information from the golem, I continued my facade.
“Following the massive prison break, the State has determined that the re-education of the trainees of Tantalus is of utmost urgency. That is why they have deployed me here! I will stay here and oversee you all!”
Let’s start off on the other foot.
My path has only changed slightly. However, even this would change the future in the long run. Starting with my situation right now…
‘But wait, if we’re talking about variables…’
I grimaced as I stared at the regressor.
‘She’s also a variable… that was absent from Tantalus in the previous timeline, isn’t she? Did I actually need to do something? Should I have just stayed silent?’
When I was beginning to regret my rash decision…
“A warden… So that’s who you are.”
A cold ray of bloodlust pierced through me.
In that split second of confusion, she had already gripped Chun-aeng. Almost like a reflex, her instinctive hatred towards the State became a spear pointed right at me.
‘I messed up.’
Knowing that she had the ability to go back in time, I overestimated her. Her cold gaze was not a calculating, analytical stare.
It was one of apathy.
The fact that she had gotten stronger after experiencing thirteen different lives also meant that she had died thirteen times.
She was a walking lump of PTSD.
And in seven of those thirteen lives, she had been killed as a result of the State’s actions and sought vengeance against them for those lost lives.
「I’ll kill him.」
The bloodlust soared to undefinable heights. It was a change in emotion so drastic that it could almost be described as bipolar.
‘I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be weird to have a couple of mental disorders after dying thirteen times, but she was awfully quick to draw her sword. Not only that, but my right arm would be severed by her sword’s arc.’
「Let’s start by slicing off a limb and then I’ll torture him. I’ll squeeze out the answer as to what business the State has in an empty prison.」
‘D-Did I just flick the self-destruct switch? Or is this that concept about preordained events?’
Whatever it was, what I was faced with now was a weightless blade that had been swung, aimed at my right shoulder.
Chun-aeng was a weightless, ‘width-less’ sword. Compared to its speed, my body was laughably slow. With a mere twitch of the regressor’s wrist, the invisible blade would extend.
I could already see what would happen next. The invisible blade would slice through my shoulder and my arm would drop to the ground. If I were a normal person, I would have lost my arm before I could even react.
However, I am a mind reader.
A moment before she swung, I began to ponder the best course of action.
‘Should I block it? No, she has the power of thirteen lives. If I tried to block it, the rest of my body would be sliced along with my arm. Dodge? No, the blade will be too fast.’
Even though I had the upper hand by reading her mind, her Aerial Blossom was too fast. At worst, it would change from losing an arm to losing my head.
‘What else can I do?’
‘Wait, I’m gonna die? I thought I had at least a year left, but I’m about to die within a minute…?’
I can’t let that happen.
‘I need to survive. I need to continue my worthless life somehow. I’ve done so much to stay alive. I’ve sunk to the lowest. I could go in the back alleys! I didn’t do all that just to die here!’
I lashed out my arms. It was a futile struggle, a last-ditch attempt at survival.
And those who seeked opportunities were the ones who received it.
A clear sound reminiscent of a bell’s hum echoed in my ears. Waves rippled across the invisible blade’s surface, and its altered trajectory aimed a hair above my shoulder.
A spark flashed across the surface of the invisible blade. Chun-aeng could cut even air molecules. The gasses clinged to the invisible blade’s surface, engraving a bolt of lightning into the air as they ruptured. A moment after the spark, the deafening roar of thunder assaulted my eardrums.
Every hair on my body stood up. I couldn’t tell if it was from the static or because I was terrified.
「He deflected Chun-aeng?!」
‘Huh? Did I survive? Arms, okay. Head, still attached. Pain, nonexistent…’
I lived. The Aerial Blossom missed.
‘Wait, no. Did I deflect Chun-aeng with my hand when I swung my arms?’
What exactly happened?
「He… didn’t even need to block it… And he changed the trajectory with only his finger? No way… He didn’t seem strong at all…! Was he hiding his strength?」
I read her mind and was able to understand what occurred.
I could see people’s thoughts. Whoever it was, I could see why and how they were going to attack. This was one of the few benefits of my useless ability.
When I read her intention to slice off my arm, I swung my arm instinctively. The only problem was that the regressor’s blade was as fast as my comprehension. Because of that particular overlap, the regressor’s blade barely touched the tip of my twitching finger.
It was completely unintentional, but Chun-aeng was a weightless sword. It curved at the touch of my finger and allowed me to prevent myself from being struck.
‘Wow… I did it. This is one of the biggest achievements in my life.’
Wait, back to the point.
The regressor sprang back, once again raising her blade. The level of caution was completely different from before as if she were about to face off against a deadly enemy.
‘Crazy bitch. Why the hell are you so afraid? Shouldn’t I be the one who’s afraid? I was just attacked out of nowhere.’
“…I messed up.”
‘No shit you did. I almost died.’
She continued to glare at me like a nervous cat that was backed into a corner.
“A warden sent to Tantalus would obviously have combat abilities necessary for the position… I apologize for underestimating you.”
“Aren’t you apologizing for the wrong thing?”
‘I’m thankful that she thinks highly of me, but this isn’t good. If I get marked as her “enemy”, my life in every timeline will be threatened. …Fuck. It’s so unfair and enraging that I was attacked out of nowhere, but we have to work things out here. We’re going to be stuck in the same prison for a couple more months.’
So, no matter how much I wanted to punch her in the face, I needed to head towards a positive relationship.
“You shouldn’t be apologizing for looking down on me. Instead, apologize for attacking someone out of the blue! Do you lack basic manners?!”
The regressor frowned at the sudden lecture. I shook my head, pretending to be disheartened by her reaction.
“I understand your suspicion. After all, something terrible happened just a few days ago… A riot led to a massacre in the facility. No wonder you lost faith in the State. Your lack of trust is part of my responsibility as an official who serves the country.”
「I never trusted the State in the first place. Who would trust a country like this?」
‘I don’t either! Just go along with it!’
I Interrupted her thoughts.
“That does not justify your aggression towards me! What do you expect us to think of you when you display such hostile behavior towards someone who came to help?”
“Came… to help?”
The Dog King had just retrieved the ball and dropped it by my feet. She was wagging her tail, waiting for me to throw the ball again.
‘Ugh, you’re interrupting my speech.’
I aimed the orb directly at the prison this time.
As the joyous dog-girl chased after the high-flying ball, I turned my attention back to the regressor.
“You all followed orders and did not escape the facility. They say the purest light emerges from within the darkness. Despite the chaos, you have all retained your morals. As a result, the higher-ups of the State have taken an interest in the progress of your rehabilitation.”
「Well, the Dog King was waiting for the ‘promise’, and the vampire was just sleeping. As for me, I just had some business to take care of in the abyss.」
‘She always has an excuse, huh?! Just accept it. Accept what I’m saying, for Christ’s sake!’
She loved playing devil’s advocate. People like that would take any opportunity they received to come up with some way to counter anything other people would say. I didn’t give the regressor an opportunity to come up with a rebuttal.
“That is why I have been deployed! In order to support your re-education, the State has sent me!”
It wasn’t a complete lie. I was supposed to do manual labor here and the State did technically send me here. Although, what they were looking for was a worker whose life they could disregard.
‘But if I focus on talking about myself…’
“So I expect great things from everyone! Just trust me and follow my teachings, trainees!”
‘…It would make them think that I’m someone of greater importance than I actually am. And if everyone believes it…’
「I can’t make sense of this guy.」
‘…I will truly become someone worth mentioning.’
The Dog King approached me once more with the orb. No matter how far I tried to throw it, she would easily retrieve it. I just kicked the orb as hard as I could this time. My toes stung from the impact, but the orb went further than before. The Dog King panted as she chased after the ball again.
「That manner in which he treats the Dog King… and his ease in deflecting Chun-aeng… I can’t judge his strength at all. As of now… I don’t think I can take him on…」
‘Yeah, you wouldn’t be able to grasp my strength. A strength that’s as insignificant as an insect. It’s the life of a rat that you would never be able to imagine. The strong can never understand the weak. However, I know everything you’re thinking.’
Whatever it took, I succeeded. I clenched my fist in joy.
Humans still had animalistic instincts. If they faced the unknown, they would remain wary and afraid. Just as knowledge was power, the lack of it was a weakness. Staying away from the unknown was the fundamental law of survival.
‘She won’t attack me so abruptly like before.’
However, things would never proceed with such an attitude. I needed to stay on a neutral footing, at the very least. Putting on a soft smile, I held my hand out towards the regressor.
She flinched, almost cutting through my arm with the Aerial Blossom. If she had used more pressure on it, my arm would’ve been sliced like butter.
Yet, if I panicked here, I would display my weakness that could possibly be exploited. I pretended to be relaxed as I offered her a handshake.
“For good future relations, let’s shake on it, shall we?”
She glanced back and forth between my face and my outstretched hand before turning away.
“…Hah. Who knows what might be in your palm.”
“Hm? Weren’t you the one who attacked me? It’s strange that the person who swung their sword is acting like they’re the victim.”
Thanks to the regressor, I—who would normally only be able to read people’s minds—had just successfully read the future. Just like a prophet.
I would have inevitably perished had I not seen the future. But it’s different now.
They say that the future is shy, and it hides itself when seen.
Hopefully, it would never come back from hiding. I didn’t need a shy-but-feisty future to deal with when it might end up killing me.
“Then let’s perform introductions. You can call me the warden.”
I rapped my knuckle against my sternum as I introduced myself.
‘I’ll survive at any cost. Even if it means fooling fate itself.’
The regressor who had been so tense until now tossed her blade into the air before answering to my request.
At the same time, her inner monologue was whispered into my ears.
「I’ll observe him for now. At worst, I’ll just move onto the next run.」
Thankfully, she had decided to just observe.
People who had lives to spare thought differently, I guess.
Despite thinking that I was a threat, she was willing to observe. Such was the flaw of someone who had too much leisure. Shei raised her brow as she concluded her thoughts.
「…It worries me to stay in the same facility as a frivolous man, but I doubt the others would give in easily.」
‘What does she think of me? We have a literal dog and a corpse that’s been dead for a thousand years. Does she think I’d be interested in something like that? I’m not some gross pervert. I have normal tastes fit for a normal human.’
「And my crossdressing is perfect. I look perfectly like a guy, so it’ll be fine!」
Huh. I see.
‘I need to live with a regressor who believes she’s passing herself off as a man for several months. This is going to be a pain.’
Mumbling within, I tried my best to maintain my smile.