༺ Living Upright ༻
I could feel the Regressor knitting her brows at me.
Chill out, sheesh. It’s just a simulation.
Azzy, on the other hand, couldn’t feel anything wrong as she replied honestly.
“Woof? Gonna play with me? Play ball! Let’s play!”
Crap, no. That’ll wear me out.
I quickly diverted the subject.
“No-No. I’m the kind, weak, and good-natured Mr. Chap. Aren’t you a cutie?”
“Woof! Thanks! You, uh, look not tasty!”
“Do you like tasty things?”
“Yup! I like tasty things!”
“Yeah? Cute kids deserve candy. Want this old chap to give you one?”
“Candy? Woof? You can eat?”
“Oh yeah. You can eat it. It’s a magic marble with a fresh scent and a fruity taste that gets sweeter the more you eat it. Every time you lick it, your mouth will be filled with new layers of ecstasy.”
Saliva burst from Azzy’s glands. Excited by the mere imagination of candy, she spun in circles on the spot, crying out to me.
“Woof! Wanna eat! Wanna eat!”
“Now, then how about you and I go there, that shady place no one can see? I’ll give you candy if you follow me.”
“Woof! Let’s go!”
“Kehuehuehue. Come along. Mr. Chap will teach you something that’ll feel good…”
“Woof-woof! Feel good! I like!”
As I moved Mr. Chap, Azzy came along, spinning round and round the puppet in joy. She was going to follow him anywhere without the slightest suspicion.
The Regressor stopped watching and grabbed Chun-aeng.
“Skyblade Art, Kicking Wind.”
A blast of thinly compressed wind shot toward Mr. Chap like a blade. I jerked my hand away hastily upon reading her mind, but because of his strings, Mr. Chap moved a beat late.
The Ki blade struck the puppet, thwarting his attempt to take Azzy away, cruelly destroying his joints into scattering pieces. His broken limbs hung on his strings, swinging pathetically.
“Ahh! Mr. Chaaaap!”
My marionette! I had barely managed to string it together out of the broken golem! I sweated so hard to make it!
Azzy looked down at Mr. Chap in dismay. It was heartbreaking how she poked at the puppet as if he might get up again.
I swiveled my head around with a contorted scowl.
“What are you doing!”
The Regressor looked calm even after committing the crime of vandalism and obstruction of official duty.
“What do you think? I punished a criminal who was trying to lure a child with candy.”
“Don’t over-immerse yourself! Isn’t this just a simulation?! I was only trying to teach a lesson through Azzy!”
“Then you should’ve kept the creepiness down! I can’t help acting when you laugh like that!”
“What about Mr. Chap’s laugh? Where else can you find such innocent laughter?!”
Enraged, I tossed Mr. Chap away.
“Mr. Chap had lost his young child, which was why he found joy in sharing candy with children. He was just a good-hearted man! Azzy reminded him of his daughter, which was why he offered her candy out of habit!”
“You said it’s a simulation! Don’t go putting weird settings in a simulation!”
“Murderer! You off’d the father after his daughter, how cold and heartless you are! Has the vampire sucked all the warm blood out of you?!”
The vampire interjected quietly.
“I have never drunk blood from Shei. Although I did take some of which he spilled during training.”
“Then perhaps this violence is inherent! This barbarity that won’t tolerate even a simulation! There’s no need to even see any further!”
I snatched up the chalk stick and wrote Shei’s name, then drew a large X over it. As for the reason, I wrote “excessive barbarity, aggression, and lack of patience”.
“Huh? Are you mad? Are you perhaps unable to control your anger? Do you want to use violence even when the law still stands and morals are alive? Then you fail to pass!”
After pincering her with my logic, I casually put away the shattered puppet. But since Azzy was still sad about the candy, I chucked her one of Chap’s ribs.
I then turned around and continued explaining the lesson.
“But on the other hand, you mustn’t follow someone like this even if they mean no ill will. None of you are mind readers, so it’s impossible to know their intentions, right? You risk harm to yourself by following along, so you must never accept such requests. But that doesn’t mean you should suddenly slice them up like Trainee Shei. That’s a bit wrong.”
Crunch. I heard the sound of steel being crushed from the other side as I talked. Azzy had bitten down, lightly, on Mr. Chap’s ribs. I wasn’t sure why that made a crunching noise.
I turned to Azzy, who had just realized what she did and spat out the deformed metal with a disappointed face.
I turned back around.
“Of course, it doesn’t matter if you’re physically capable of chewing steel. It happens to be the reason I’m not saying anything to Azzy.”
The Regressor crossed her arms and sat like a delinquent.
｢Now that the stupid puppet is broken, I guess he’ll finish up quickly?｣
As if that’ll happen.
I immediately went out to the hallway, picked up the thing I had prepared, and came back inside. What I brought was a mannequin I had made from the skeleton of the combat suit the Regressor had destroyed the other day. I had drawn a face on its visor for lack of one.
I thumped the mannequin with eyes and thick lips of lines.
“Anyhow. Since Mr. Chap can’t be used now, let’s use the mannequin I brought just in case this happened, Mr. Manne. He’s a young man with charming dimples on his cheeks.”
｢Is he insane for real…?｣
“Now, this time Trainee Shei will try! Will Mr. Manne be able to keep his right arm safe from him?!”
｢Do you really take me for a psycho?! Fine, I’ll show you!｣
The Regressor huffed angrily and walked in front of me. Seeing that as a positive attitude, I shook the mannequin’s hand and greeted her.
“I sense a good aura about you. Do you know the way?”
“The way? What rubbish is that?”
“Dear me, rubbish?!
“Do you truly not know the way?!”
｢I dare you to keep going.｣
The Regressor crossed her arms and glared at me over the mannequin. Regardless, I opened the mannequin’s arms exaggeratedly like in a cheap puppet show.
“All things have their way. It is the path we must naturally walk, and also the sign that points to the goal we must reach. It is not only for humans. From time immemorial, it has been said that Heaven, Earth, and Man form harmony.
“Mother Gaia shows humans limitless mercy, cutting her own flesh to bestow all kinds of gifts. We drink Mother Earth’s milk, consume her fruits, and carve her flesh to create diverse things. That led us to prosperity.”
“But Father Sky God does not tolerate the violation of boundaries. He takes our creations through rain, wind, floods, and lightning.”
Listeners tended to lose focus when a story grew long, yet the Regressor suddenly started listening seriously.
Oi, I’m just pulling things out of my ass. Why are you being so focused?
｢Why is he saying this all of a sudden? Is there a hidden meaning to his words? Since I can’t be sure, I should listen for now.｣
The girl had a loose screw in her head like the others. She was berating me a minute ago, yet now she wanted to hear me out. More fickle than the weather in summer, I say. Even a mind reader like me couldn’t dare to predict her.
I sighed inwardly and continued.
“And so humans came to love our Mother and fear our Father. Put another way, we can view it as humans making light of Her while paying respect to Him. This is the way of Heaven, Earth, and Man. The sky, land, and the path of humans in between.”
“O one of open ears, one who melts all things like water, my meeting with you must be Heaven’s will. But the world is full of falsehoods and deceptions. People only see each other as prey. That is why I cannot trust you untested, and I resent myself for it. First, for the sake of trust, will you hand me a gold coin?”
The Regressor took out one alchemic gold coin from her Pocket and readily handed it over. I snatched it using the mannequin’s right hand before flipping its body.
“Heheh! Fool! Falling for such pretentious words! I’ll make good use of this gold! Think of it as a life lesson!”
The steel mannequin then sauntered off under my puppeteering.
Then the Regressor indifferently swung Chun-aeng, instantly slicing off the arm of the mannequin which was about five steps away. It dropped the gold coin.
I hastily caught the coin and scolded the Regressor.
“I say, Trainee Shei. What are you thinking, indiscriminately cutting off his arm?”
“Who cares? It’s fake.”
“These days, I’m getting worried that you might simply do the same even against a real person. And why is it always the right arm? Did you have a grudge against right arms in your previous life?”
“Whatever. Put your hand back. Return my gold.”
Failing at sneaking the coin into my pocket, I had no choice but to return it to her. It pained me as much as if my heart were being wrenched out.
I sadly watched the Regressor put the gold coin in her Pocket while continuing to explain.
“Well, despite what I said, Trainee Shei’s response wasn’t wrong. Although cutting off an arm was a bit harsh.”
“I did it because it’s a dummy. I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“The Heaven and Earth know that’s a lie. If you wanna refute that, then say it to Finlay’s and my face. He lost his arm, and I nearly ended up the same.”
After retorting with actual proof, I turned to the vampire.
“Anyway. There are cases where people approach in good faith, like Mr. Chap, and cases where people try to take advantage of you, like Mr. Manne. It’s always hard to distinguish true kindness because fraudsters cunningly disguise themselves as good.”
“Indeed. The inexperienced tend to always fear others.”
Upon hearing the vampire’s casual reply and reading the sense of superiority beneath her tone, I paused to shoot a flat look at her.
“So that means you have enough experience, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka, so you can tell apart good intentions and disguised malignance?”
“Not all, I suppose, but enough.”
“I have met countless people over the centuries and experienced even more things than that. What use would that experience be if I cannot even see through others?”
Woah, back it up a little. Your self-assessment is strange.
The vampire interpreted my silence as affirmation, and that got her acting slightly haughty.
“The puppet asked for company, and the mannequin requested money. I may not know the intentions of strangers, but an evil-doer will surely try to steal something from me. By understanding this point, I can avoid being controlled by others.”
She wasn’t wrong, but sometimes, the authenticity of a message could be diminished by the speaker themselves.
No matter how I wrapped my head around it, the vampire was no more than a lucky sheep.
How can she see herself this way? Who does she think I held this lesson for today?
I decided this couldn’t go on.
“Then would you like to try it out once?”
“A test, is it. I am not in a position to be tested by someone, but I am curious. How will you test me?”
“I’ll continue what I did with Azzy and Trainee Shei. Let’s see if you respond well.”
“It appears you have no doll now. What will you use?”
“I still have a doll I’m best at handling. One that doesn’t even need strings.”
I walked slowly before the vampire, who simply watched with curiosity. Once I closed the distance in a natural manner, I lowered my head, pinched the tip of her parasol, and raised it. Beneath the parasol, I saw her red eyes that contrasted with her white skin.
I let out a small sigh of pure reverence.
“I cannot believe it, oh my god.”
The vampire frowned at my utterance. But just before she reacted with displeasure, I quickly got down on one knee.
“Seeing you today, I have finally realized why gems are so rare in the world. How could any remain after God used them all to create the doll that you are?”
“With your skin made of white jade and your hair weaved entirely of white gold, it is like all the white gems in the world are gathered here. Ahh, such blinding magnificence. Perhaps it is the nature of those who seek the exquisite to willingly walk into fire, so bewitched by its light. I dare to beg of you this: will you allow me to breathe the fragrance of beauty by your side?”
The Regressor’s jaw dropped.
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