༺ Dogs Are No Exception ༻
I called the vampire to stop her as she was about to head back. She shifted her parasol slightly, turning only her head to look at me.
“What is it?”
“It was merely the barkings of a dog. Don’t feel too hurt. I’ll help you.”
“Hurt? Well now. Putting that aside, what are you suggesting you can help with?”
It was better to simply keep a lid on the memories than to show half-hearted care. Tsk. This looked like a tough case to solve for the Regressor.
I immediately reached out to take the vampire’s hand. It was so small and slender I could probably hide it in my palm. I gently wrapped my hand around hers as she flinched.
“What are you doing?”
Holding your hand, obviously.
But I doubted that was the answer she wanted. She meant to rebuke me for rudely taking the hand of a lady. Though in this case, it was more of a madam.
Anyhow. Instead of giving an excuse here…
“Your hand is cool.”
“Yes. At just the right pleasant temperature, like stumbling upon the shade of a tree in summer. I bet it’d feel good to hold even for a long time.”
This could come off as rather cheesy. Regardless, I pulled the vampire’s hand while she was briefly speechless. She was capable of shaking me off, but her confusion was too great for that.
Meanwhile, my hand became a marker for her lost heart. She was pulled over helplessly. After that, I stretched out my other hand to Azzy. The dog-girl stopped warily eyeing the reapproaching vampire and turned to me.
“Little tyke1a small child, especially a cheeky or mischievous one.. Calm down. What are you, salt? It’s not like touching some water will kill you. Why are you so upset?”
“Ease up! Hand!”
Azzy immediately put up a paw. I tickled her chin with a chuckle while slowly pulling the vampire’s hand, an inch at a time. Azzy’s paw and the vampire’s hand came closer and closer.
｢He is not trying to have me and the Dog King touch, is he? What a childish thought.｣
The vampire froze upon realizing my intention. Her hand didn’t move. She was afraid of touching, but not for worry of being attacked.
Azzy was the king of dogs who only accepted humans, which was why the vampire had never been welcomed by any dog to this day. When she used to walk through villages, the animals would either bark wildly or flee yelping, after all. Her encounters with dogs always ended in one-sided rejection.
“It’s fine. Our dog doesn’t bite.”
I led her gently. The vampire hesitated a moment before letting her tension go as if to let me do as I liked. As for Azzy, well, she didn’t reject me. I pulled the paw and hand, drawing them closer, and laid them on top of one another.
Naturally, nothing dramatic happened just because they touched. The vampire didn’t shed tears of emotion, and Azzy didn’t bare her teeth. Setting aside the fact that vampires couldn’t cry and Azzy couldn’t bear hostility toward humans… What just happened was simply that trivial.
I pointed that out to the vampire.
“It’s an everyday occurrence for dogs to bark or avoid someone’s touch. Normally, a suspicious dog tends to bark first at a stranger, you know? So from now on, don’t give it too much meaning just because a dog gets a bit scared, talking about the Dog King being my enemy and I’m not human and whatnot.”
Then I turned to glare at Azzy, who was staring at me with wide eyes.
“You too, Azzy. You shouldn’t go barking at anyone. Bad girl! Do you know who this person is?!”
“You try and live long. Age is like dust and sticks all over you, okay? And sadly, it’s unavoidable. So how would she feel if you go barking just because her age shows in her beha— Ack! Why are you hitting me again!”
“It is the price of arrogance, you rude lout.”
The vampire snorted.
“You are many times cheekier than the Dog King and Shei. To begin with, you were wrong to assume I would be troubled over such a petty matter.”
“If you aren’t troubled then don’t hit me!”
“You do not choose your words, so why should I care for my behavior?”
This time, the vampire reached out and flicked my forehead with one of her little fingers. I felt a tap, but it didn’t hurt in the least. Just slightly cold, actually. The vampire withdrew her hand with a cheerful smile.
“And whatever you do, I have no intention of serving the Dog King. I am sure she will fly into a frenzy if she is with me alone. I refuse to enter a scuffle with her fiercely opposing me.”
“It’s not like I hoped for labor from you either, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka. Don’t you know me? Other things aside, I take manners to a whole new level as you’ve seen.”
｢Aha. It seems the manners I know have all but disappeared these days. I thought these youngsters were especially rude, but I suppose it is understandable if the times have changed.｣
Now what sort of ridiculous misunderstanding was that? Me, rude? How odd. Was there anyone else in the world who abided by the seniority system as much as I did?
“Anyway. To sum up everyone’s position, it goes as follows, yes? To start off, I need to wash Azzy. Trainee Shei doesn’t approve of dirty men, except for himself, washing her. Trainee Tyrkanzyaka says, sort out the issue yourselves. Is that right?”
“Woof! Me! I don’t! Want to wash!”
“You shut up!”
“Everybody listen carefully. This is the secret to solving the entire situation in an instant.”
I began speaking my thoughts with grim resolve.
“Now, first. I will wash Azzy… partially.”
I carried on explaining to answer the question in their minds.
“I wanted to wash her entirely, but it can’t be helped with Trainee Shei opposing. Instead, I’ll do a hard scrubbing of Azzy’s hands, feet, and hair… every part with fur. So hard as to leave no more room for shedding or dirt.”
My biggest, immediate goal was to get rid of Azzy’s fur and grime. So long as that was guaranteed, I could give up the rest.
“Next, Trainee Shei can touch up Azzy as he wants and wash the rest of her. I shall turn a blind eye to some degree of relieving personal desires. Go about it as you will. Unlike you, my goal is purely hygiene and cleanliness. So as long as you use enough water and soap, I won’t care much about whatever you do with Azzy. Though I do find you rather detestable for it.”
“Don’t slander me! I have no thoughts of doing anything to Azzy either!”
I ignored the Regressor’s protest and continued.
“And I ask that Trainee Tyrkanzyaka supervise Trainee Shei and me from a neutral perspective. Putting me aside, you don’t know what Trainee Shei will do with his head full of degenerate ideas.”
“I told you I won’t do anything!”
“Well it can’t be helped. Because apparently, according to your words, a man gets lusty the moment he lays a hand on a woman’s body, regardless of will or personality. I want to be nice so I’ll give up and pass the opportunity to you instead.”
“Will you stop defaming me?! I…!”
Enraged by the continued teasing, the Regressor shot up and burst out in a scream.
“I like men!”
Well sure, you’re a woman.
But unlike me, the vampire was astonished.
“W-what? A man, men?”
The vampire’s eyes snapped wide open at the shocking sight of a man she somewhat regarded as a disciple coming out. She was so surprised that she instinctively clutched her head despite having no high blood pressure.
After swaying for a moment, she waved her hand in understanding.
“It, it is fine. The world is wide, and times have changed. It can happen I am sure.”
“N-no, wait. Tyrkanzyaka. This is.”
“I understand, I do. However… Could you stay away for a while?”
Shunned by the vampire in the end, the Regressor looked dumb for a moment before glaring at me, huffing and puffing. She blew herself up, so I didn’t know she was eyeing me like I was her nemesis.
In any case, no one rejected my suggestion.
“Woof! Woof-woof! Me! I don’t wanna wash!”
Yes, no one at all. 3:0. The suggestion passed unanimously. Azzy kept barking something, but dogs had no voting rights. If she didn’t like it, then she could go change the law and get an ID card. Of course, if she brought a dog tag for ID, that would call for immediate roasting.
Having gained public support, I commenced washing Azzy at once.
Azzy stretched her arms out with all her might, turning her head like she didn’t even want to see it happen. It looked like she wanted to get rid of her soap-bubbly paws if it were possible.
Regardless, I uncompromisingly doused her paws with water and scrubbed them with laundry detergent. Every time I did that, Azzy shut her eyes and whimpered like she was experiencing a nightmare.
“Whew, look at the filth coming off. It’s chilling to think you went around with these paws until now.”
Murky water mixed with golden fur flowed into the drain and disappeared. I could only be grateful for Mother Earth accepting even dirty water like this.
Azzy was a dog. While she wore the shell of a human, her body had the characteristics of a dog. She didn’t shed a drop of sweat from her whole body overall, but due to the sweat glands on the soles of her paws and feet, they grew wet in no time when she started running hard. The sweat, fur, and dirt blending was what resulted in an indescribable mess.
I practically raked out Azzy’s squishy paws. When she wriggled her paws from the tickling sensation, I forced them straight and kept at it. It was closer to laundering or cleansing rather than washing. The labor made me sweat like a horse, but I could never give this up if only for the hygiene in Tantalus.
I imagined I looked sacred indeed, wordlessly wiping away all kinds of grime. Surely the Regressor would reflect on herself for accusing me of being impure. See how utterly non-sexual my touches are and how I indifferently work purely for cleanliness…
“… How obscene.”
Hold up. What did I just hear?
I raised my head and found the vampire covering her eyes with one hand as if she couldn’t bear to watch.
“Groping a moaning lass in such a lewd manner. It is shameful. What is it if not obscene?”
It had slipped my mind that the vampire was a geezer with the ethics of 12 centuries ago. To her, a man and a woman simply holding hands equaled obscenity!
“Uh, putting aside why holding hands is obscene, she’s a dog, you know?”
“That is why I am trying to simply watch instead of punishing you. However, what is obscene is still obscene… Such indecency. It seems Shei did not worry for nothing.”
At this rate, she would be saying interlocking fingers was the same as embracing. I ignored her and focused on laundering Azzy.
But as I washed her, every time my soapy fingers dug into her thick fur or between the gaps of her paws…
I had to listen to all kinds of disapproving noises.
It was miserable. I just wanted to live clean, yet I had to be called obscene for washing a dog’s limbs. I wouldn’t be so aggrieved if I had really done something vulgar. It would probably be less sad to be harassed by a mother-in-law for being bad at house chores.
“No wonder they say normality among abnormality is abnormal…”
I lamented my situation while washing Azzy’s paws. Yet for some reason, the Regressor and the vampire nodded as if empathizing with what I said. They were driving me insane.
* * *
｢That man. He’s skilled at handling Azzy and Tyrkanzyaka.｣
The Dog King’s paws were lathered with soap, and now she was having her hair rinsed. Even with her head tilted back and a towel on her forehead, she was pressing her eyes and lips shut, afraid of water splashing.
As for the vampire, she was fiddling with her hair and muttering, “How indecent,” and whatnot.
The Regressor watched them quietly, falling into thought.
｢Azzy and Tyrkanzyaka fundamentally don’t hate humans. They can’t exist without humans, after all. But.｣
In her previous life cycle, the vampire led the Forces of Blood and marched toward Sanctum. There she was fated for defeat… The Regressor was a step ahead in dispersing the rally of the vampires and making them her allies, but she failed to resolve their old grudges.
Azzy became a monster who tore apart humans with her claws and fangs. The Regressor wasn’t able to confirm her last moment, but she had most likely died somewhere on the battlefield. At the time, the Regressor had cut down countless animals, beastkin, and the mastermind behind the conflict.
It was, by common sense, an inconceivable change compared to how Azzy and the vampire were like now.
｢What in the world happened to them in my previous regression? No.｣
The Regressor’s eyes shifted to the man washing Azzy. His speech was too light to be a warden and it was hard to consider him powerful, yet the man was unfathomable. He was an outsider who appeared in Tantalus out of nowhere, and when the prison collapsed, he was the only one who was gone.
｢That man. What the heck did he do to these two?｣
The Regressor couldn’t be certain because she didn’t know the future. She had come chasing the past, but history changed the moment she entered this place.
｢My original intention was to remove all unexpected factors, but he was stronger than expected. I changed the plan to keep a steady eye on the things he did, but… because of my intervention, it’s too late to tell whether this was how things were meant to be. The deviation is too big. Now all I can do is weave in the clues from before the regression.｣
The Regressor’s eyes descended from the rooftop with the water tank, the highest place in Tantalus. Her thoughts reached the being who was still keeping quiet on the floors below.
｢The witness who watched everything within Tantalus… the undying. When will he open his eyes? I might be able to figure out something if I can match the truth he knows with the time he wakes.｣
The lather on Azzy’s body disappeared with a few dousings of water. Her glossy tawny fur shone even in the dim light. After the man wiped her down somewhat, she shook herself off. The remaining water in her fur flew everywhere, soaking the man. He got angry.
It was an idyllic scene. The vampire was stable in mind, and Azzy was healthy. If the days continued like this, the former Fragments of the Apocalypse would walk out of Tantalus looking as peaceful as they were now…
It was impossible, but still, she hoped.
* * *
The Regressor withdrew from her thoughts, and so did I. My eyes fell dark.
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- 1a small child, especially a cheeky or mischievous one.