༺ Mind the Fine Print ༻
Tyrkanzyaka’s lips froze before she could say anything. The golem—though naturally unable to display emotion—awaited her response expectantly.
After a moment of internal struggle, she finally asked a question.
“What did you say?”
『He is a criminal, stripped of rights, brought here to atone for his crimes. He was arrested in Amitengrad for fraud and gambling, and a military judge swiftly sentenced him to labor in Tantalus. Contrary to your belief, he is not a Military State warden!』
“Then, all he did… Does this mean his actions had nothing to do with your country?”
『Affirmative. Whatever he did, deceiving you, that was not the true intention of the Military State. It was merely the unrestrained actions of a deranged criminal!』
A criminal? Yet the uniform suited him quite well…
Tyrkanzyaka remained unfazed despite hearing the astonishing truth. After all, she herself had once been something that sent shivers through the world, something beyond a criminal.
The warden’s deception didn’t bother her. In fact, she was simply happy.
“You speak truthfully?”
『Affirmative. Truthfully and without any falsehood.』
“So, what of him addressing me as a trainee?”
『It was part of a ploy to improve his chances of survival, however slight, by impersonating the Military State.』
“Then, you are saying that he was thrown down here without any obligation. Correct?”
『He did have a duty to labor. Though it is questionable whether a criminal like him had any interest in labor other than making his own meals.』
Despite the insulting remark, Tyrkanzyaka found her spirits lifting. She knew now. The warden had given her heart back at the risk of his own life. Simply, purely, out of goodwill.
She chuckled, a mix of guilt and joy tightening her chest. Simultaneously, delight coursed through her, racing through her veins and encircling her heart and lungs, forming a joyful cry that surged from her choked throat to the crown of her head.
Her face warmed briefly. Warmth brought vitality, and vitality brought motion. The once rigid corners of her lips softened, curving gently as they let out a giggle that grew into laughter.
『…What is so amusing?』
Tyrkanzyaka beamed happily, then wiped the expression off her face.
“So then, his disappearance would neither be a problem nor a cause for regret for the country known as the Military State.”
“Good. Taking him under my wing should pose no problem whatsoever.”
“I see his efforts were not driven by the virtues of the Military State. Furthermore, he confessed to being an orphan, so he is bound to no allegiance. I owe no payment to take him then.”
Just as the golem began to feel perplexed, sensing something off, Tyrkanzyaka abruptly posed a question.
“However, I am curious about something.”
Wearing a serene look, Tyrkanzyaka elegantly rested her chin on her cupped hand as she gazed at the golem.
“The two of you were together not long ago, when Finlay fell in here. He was carrying you affectionately on his back, like siblings.”
『Siblings?! Negative, absolutely negative! I do not consider a man like him my elder brother!』
Tyrkanzyaka blinked in surprise at the hysterical retort.
“It was merely a figure of speech. Nevertheless, he did help you as well, so why would he suddenly restrain you? There must be a reason behind it.”
The golem wanted to evade the question, but Tyrkanzyaka persisted in her pursuit of an answer.
“I can simply ask him to uncover the truth of this matter. Be out with it. If you refuse to answer even something like this, then how can I trust you to exchange questions and answers?”
Actually, the man in question had become a half-wit and couldn’t answer anything, so only the golem could tell her. The golem was unaware of this fact due to being bound and trapped in the cupboard.
At Tyrkanzyaka’s insistence, the golem answered obediently.
『He attempted to pry a way of escape out of the abyss from me.』
It became apparent that the man was bluffing when he previously spoke of sending Finlay outside. She added another interesting truth to her memory.
『I explicitly warned him against such behavior, but he defied my authority in discontent. He damaged the loudspeaker of this golem unit and imprisoned me here, preventing me from monitoring the interior of Tantalus.』
“Is that all? Mere discontent led him to such a response, despite the good relationship between you two until now?”
Tyrkanzyaka posed her question in a leisurely manner. The golem seemed hesitant, but soon realized the futility and responded truthfully.
『…The Military State always prepares replacements for all of its parts.』
“Replacements. It seems you are not necessarily speaking of objects.”
『Affirmative. I had not taken any specific precautions thus far, taking into account the unique nature of the abyss and his cooperative attitude as a laborer. But since I have now confirmed a mutinous intent within him…』
From where the Military State stood, he was like litmus paper, a warning signal that turned red to warn of any lurking danger. The litmus had lasted long enough. Now the State wouldn’t hesitate to deploy personnel to the abyss. And if the litmus showed any suspicious movement, there was even less reason to delay.
“Well, well. I see how it is. He sensed trouble and chose to defy your side.”
Having understood how things were going, Tyrkanzyaka nodded casually.
The golem continued speaking hurriedly.
『A man of no qualification has disturbed you until now, but rest assured, such occurrences will not repeat. Even Military State could not foresee his impulsive behavior.』
It was an excuse to save face, but from Tyrkanzyaka’s standpoint, it was a welcomed turn of events. She had received only favors and was feeling indebted to the State, yet they alleviated that burden on their own.
“Do as you will. I shan’t care even if something else were to come. In exchange.”
Rather, Tyrkanzyaka was grateful for the State sending the man as a laborer. She glanced at the cafeteria table with the look of someone who had stumbled upon treasure.
“I will make sure to retrieve what your side has forsaken.”
The golem seemed confused.
『All items within Tantalus are the property of the Military State. Should you desire an exchange or purchase, you must obtain permission from the governing authorities.』
『It seems that disclosing his identity did not affect you particularly.』
“Hardly. I was quite surprised indeed. I merely listened quietly for there is much I am unaware of.”
The fact that someone else was a criminal held no significance for Tyrkanzyaka, though she might react differently in Shei’s case. She silently contemplated whether that was the reason behind the note advising Shei not to visit the cafeteria.
As the conversation continued to veer off course, the golem regained control and redirected it.
『… I will change the question. Please provide a briefing on the events that unfolded during the four days this unit was restrained, with a specific focus on the vampire intruder.』
That was nothing difficult, so Tyrkanzyaka provided a simple summary, excluding the details about being put under control. The golem had no need to know about that.
“Finlay tried to persuade me for a certain goal, and in my interest, I was half won over. But the other children were bent on stopping me, you see. After careful consideration, I had a change of heart. However, Finlay strongly criticized them and initiated a fight. He spent all his strength, and ended up taking his final breath.”
『Is that all?』
It wasn’t all, naturally. But deeming any further disclosure unnecessary, Tyrkanzyaka responded with feigned anger.
“I have elaborated enough. What more must I explain? Do I not provide enough explanation simply by still being here?”
The golem promptly agreed, not necessarily due to complete trust in Tyrkanzyaka’s account, but because her presence itself was the most important information. And despite the golem’s unwavering adherence to its principles, lingering resentment had not entirely dissipated. It emphasized one thing.
『In consideration of your smooth cooperation thus far, I will warn you once again: do not trust that man. He is a pest of the Military State, involved in fraud and gambling.』
Tyrkanzyaka nearly uttered “It’s already too late,” but she managed to swallow the words down. She responded vaguely instead.
“That is for me to decide. Oh, and on another note.”
The past was the past. Whether her benefactor was a criminal, whatever Finlay was after, what did any of it matter?
Tyrkanzyaka had a more crucial question in mind, something that could have a far bigger impact on the future.
“Do you, by chance, know how to cook with the ingredients remaining here?”
The golem nodded.
『Affirmative. As a Military State signaller, I am familiar with the 99 State Signature Series Recipes that can be made with canned beans.』
『Negative. It is common. Signallers frequently undertake long-term missions in remote areas, which provides us with ample opportunities to acquire such knowledge. That is the only reason I know.』
For all its modesty, there was an unmistakable sense of pride in the golem’s tone. It was even enthusiastic enough to take the initiative in making a suggestion.
『Please lower this unit from the cupboard. Words alone may lead to errors, so allow me to demonstrate with the expertise of a skilled instructor.』
Tyrkanzyaka waved her hand, causing darkness to flow and grab hold of the golem’s whole body.
But as she was about to take the golem out, she suddenly thought about her benefactor sitting at the table. Considering how the golem disapproved of him, who knew how it would react to witnessing his current condition?
With another wave of her hand, Tyrkanzyaka summoned a thin veil of darkness that obscured his figure like mist. The darkness would shield against the light and render him invisible to the golem’s eyes.
But in doing so, she lost focus on the golem’s side and almost dropped it. Her bloodcraft didn’t work as naturally as before.
Hanging on to the darkness, the golem raised its head stiffly and reprimanded the vampire.
『Please be careful with your handling. Any further damage to this unit will be dangerous.』
The warning could be considered reasonable, and it certainly would have been effective against her benefactor. But it failed to draw any empathy from Tyrkanzyaka, who was out of sync with the prevailing era.
“Why must a golem be treated with such excessive care? Durability is one of the few advantages they possess. You overreact, I say.”
Tyrkanzyaka wasn’t one to take kindly to being scolded by a mere golem. Her knowledge of these constructs was limited to the primitive mud golem, leading her to believe that golems were meant to be easily broken. Besides, even humans were no more than manipulable dolls to her, so the idea of a golem talking back was inconceivable.
Sensing threat in her words, the golem added a hasty explanation.
『This golem unit is a synchro-type. It is currently severely damaged, and any further distortion to its frame could render syncing impossible. Moreover, as the unit is synchronized with my body, any impact it experiences could affect my own well-being.』
“Safety of the operator is the only remaining other advantage, yet even that is lacking? Then why use such a thing in the first place?”
Tyrkanzyaka’s gaze turned cold.
The Military State’s latest synchro-type golem had to prove its worth in front of a vampire of pre-12th-century origin.
The golem moved a finger independently from the others at a time. Tyrkanzyaka watched with fascination as the golem showcased its tricks.
In addition, the golem rotated its arm in a wide circle as if stretching. Its range of motion was considerably limited compared to that of an actual human, but for a golem, it displayed remarkably delicate movements.
“Without synchronization, it is impossible to achieve such natural control from such a distance. And while I can adjust the sensitivity, that function is unfortunately broken at this moment.”
“How intriguing. Then are you moving exactly like the golem right now?”
『Affirmative. The synchronization will be lost if I do not replicate the movements, so it is dangerous if the golem is subjected to excessive impact.』
Tyrkanzyaka nodded, impressed by the State of the art toy. Then she suddenly asked something else.
“So, when you were in that unseemly state with your legs stretched out earlier…?”
The golem froze.
The voice over the loudspeaker was quivering.
The golem’s forced splits was obviously a mischievous prank. The person behind the golem had to perform the same movement if only to synchronize with the thing.
“It must have been painful. Why did you needlessly maintain synchronization?”
『I did not constantly maintain the position. I disconnected for mealtimes or other tasks, after all. And…』
The golem spoke without a trace of hesitation on this matter.
『I did it because it is my duty to observe Tantalus and report its happenings.』
Tyrkanzyaka didn’t press further; that statement was enough for her to understand. Hence, she chose to look past the golem’s impertinence.
Now that the golem had gained recognition for its existence, it could finally spare a glance elsewhere. It spoke while surveying its surroundings.
『I have impaired visibility. The cafeteria appears unusually darker.』
“How can it be bright with me here?”
The mere fact that she was Tyrkanzyaka was enough to elicit a nod. The golem accepted her words without further question.
『Understood. Let us proceed to the storage for now.』