༺ Officer of the Military State ༻
“Hello, Captain Abbey! Long time no see, right?”
The golem, entangled in shadows, raised its head in response. It looked terrible. Dozens of jet-black shadow whips were pulling at the golem’s body as if it was a toy. If it weren’t for the remarkable equilibrium created by the counterbalancing pull of the whips, the golem would have been torn apart.
Fire was the key to severing the shadows. I cast a standard flame spell on my finger and proceeded to cut off each shadow whip, one by one.
“Ahh, I’m sorry. I had to leave for some time, which was why I temporarily tied up your legs in case you fell from the cupboard… But isn’t it tied up more pretty than before? I wonder who kindly did this?”
Let’s see what kind of response I’ll get for my Azzy-talk.
As I reattached the golem’s speaker to its empty mouth, a disturbing noise started emitting from the other side.
“Woah, a golem’s grinding its teeth! Even though it doesn’t have any!”
The golem gnashed its teeth, emanating a palpable sense of intense resentment. But irreplaceable resources are precious, and permanent teeth are among them. As I waited a moment, the golem stopped its grinding and began speaking in a sporadic, disjointed voice.
『…I, will never forget… your actions.』
“Oh come on. I was just being considerate so you could stretch while I was gone.”
『Crikk… It’s because of that that I…』
Although it was amusing, the lack of being able to read its thoughts diminished the enjoyment. I decided to stop teasing and start getting to business.
“That’s why you shouldn’t have called on an officer straight away, just because I pried a little about a way to escape. Your lack of empathy led to this, you know.”
『…You attempted to ferret out an escape plan right before my eyes, and yet you shamelessly speak of empathy?』
“Nothing wrong with being curious. Didn’t you want a way out of the cupboard, Captain Abbey? I heard that’s why you tried to negotiate with Tyr… though you were a bit late.”
『Then we are the same. Neither you nor I were able to figure out an escape, after all.』
I don’t know if it’s thanks to her years as a signaller, but she just won’t lose a word. I can’t read her mind and she’s quite guarded. Could I even get anything out of her? Still, I may as well give it a go.
“Since you’re so unwilling to speak, I guess it’s something even a petty criminal like me might attempt?”
『Declaration: that is impossible. The abyss is not a place the likes of yourself can escape. It is advised to relinquish any futile hope.』
It sounded like both the truth and a threat simultaneously. Was the way to escape something like a riddle that could be solved so long as you knew the solution? Or was it a ruthless filter that simply weeded out the incapable?
I couldn’t tell, being unable to read the golem’s thoughts.
I couldn’t deny that conversing with the golem was fairly enjoyable. There was a certain satisfaction in relying on imagination and guesswork to get a read, since I couldn’t perceive its thoughts, let alone its expressions or gestures. It was like solving a crossword puzzle in the newspaper.
But Captain Abbey probably didn’t share the sentiment. To the signaller behind the golem, I was likely just one of the many vexing problems in her life.
『How on earth did you… manage to win over the Progenitor? The Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka was unfeeling to the extent that she did not even resist when being taken to the abyss. Yet she would act for your sake, a mere petty criminal.』
The golem merely nodded, seeming reluctant to lose its strong front.
With a sly grin, I answered gleefully.
“Not~ gonna tell~.”
“Haha, just kidding. I’ll tell you. When someone’s unfeeling… giving them feelings might be the answer! Hahaha!”
『…You have such high-level humor. Soaring with the seniors!』
Sometimes, people won’t believe the truth, no matter how it’s told. I really made her heart feel again, you know?
Well, nothing can be done about it if you refuse to believe. It’s your side that loses out.
“Don’t you think that even without something like that, spending a few months together in isolation would foster friendship? Just like us?”
『That is a self-contradicting counterexample. Regardless, I understand.』
Seemingly convinced that I wouldn’t divulge any more information, the golem obligingly withdrew its questions. It then rose on its legs, looking down at me as it spoke.
『Request: please guide this unit to Lieutenant Colonel Callis.』
“Lieutenant Colonel Callis? The newly arrived real warden?”
『Newly arrived warden…?』
The golem sounded briefly puzzled, then nodded as if understanding.
『Colonel Callis is not a… Well, you may consider her as such. There is hardly any difference.』
“Hardly any difference? So the colonel is a fake like me?”
It was a casual remark, but the golem erupted with an outburst.
『Mind what you compare! Lieutenant Colonel Callis is a distinguished graduate of the advanced military academy, unlike you, a level 0 citizen! For you it is impersonation, but for the Colonel it is an assignment!』
“Come on, no need to get so upset, is there?”
What, so she’s not a warden? Then why’d she come all the way to Tantalus?
『Lieutenant Colonel Callis came here for the role of overseeing logistics and inspecting the facilities. 』
『The original plan was to monitor the area around Tantalus and verify the distribution of supplies. However, there seems to have been some error as she ended up bringing the supplies down to Tantalus herself.』
I gave a large blink of surprise at that.
“Eh? Really? She dropped down by mistake?”
『Correction: it was an error, not a mistake.』
“Same thing. Well, turns out she’s a real airhead compared to how meticulous she looks.”
『Negative! I repeat, Lieutenant Colonel Callis entered Tantalus due to an error! The Colonel is someone who established a remarkable military record shortly after commissioning and became a field officer. She is not one to make such a minor mistake!』
The golem held onto the officer’s dignity until the end before continuing.
『In any case, high command is fully aware of the current situation and is discussing how to handle it. Until further instructions are handed down, consider Lieutenant Colonel Callis as the chief warden and follow her orders.』
I replied mildly with a smile. Things were becoming more interesting than I expected.
Because the officer came here with specific intent… not by mistake or error.
It looked like I had to get a proper read on her mind.
『…I do not know what you are plotting again, but it will no longer be easy. Unlike this unit, Lieutenant Colonel Callis possesses considerable power herself. Your impersonation is also no longer possible.』
The golem issued a low warning upon seeing my smile.
Seriously, it’s so unfair for a model prisoner like me. The officer’s the one plotting, yet I’m the one who gets all the suspicion.
In any case, I tucked Captain Abbey into my side and began trudging down the corridors. On one side of the fourth floor were the laborers’ quarters, while various essential facilities such as the cafeteria, laundry room, supply room, and classrooms were located on the opposite side. And far in the distance, beyond some broken iron bars, stood the largest door: the warden’s office.
Regardless of their minor offenses, the laborers were still prisoners. To prevent them from escaping during the night, there used to be a large lock on the iron bars leading to the stairs on the fourth floor. Although they were destroyed in the previous chaos, their remains still lingered.
As I crossed over the broken bars and made for the warden’s office, a dark knight suddenly emerged from my shadow.
[Hu. The soldier of the Military State is in that direction.]
The knight spoke with Tyr’s voice, filled with concern.
“It’s okay, Tyr. I’m just going to have a little chat.”
[Be cautious. I know not how strong she is. Even if her abilities amount to only a quarter of Shei’s, the dark knight I concealed in your shadow will not stand a chance. Even buying time will be difficult.]
If a mere colonel were a quarter as strong as the regressor, the State would’ve long conquered the world. I waved my hand to indicate that everything would be fine.
“It’s alright I tell you. Don’t follow me. Who knows what she’ll do if frightened.”
[I understand. I have faith in your judgment. Nevertheless, take caution.]
With that said, the dark knight disappeared back into my shadow. Setting aside Tyr’s concerns, I proceeded toward the warden’s office.
I leaned close to the firmly closed door and called out.
As soon as I got permission, I promptly opened the door and stepped inside.
As the warden’s office wasn’t intended for habitation, there was only a single sofa, a chair, and a desk. Tantalus wasn’t designed with the assumption of having a warden in the first place.
The officer had scattered various belongings and documents all over the empty space. Among them, I noticed the remnants of a broken golem, which suggested she had also visited the control center outside.
The officer had been busy cleaning for quite some time. When she looked at me, her face twisted.
｢Tsk. Such menial work should have been assigned to the laborer. Why did the Progenitor defend a minor criminal like him?｣
Whew. What a relief I almost ended up carrying those things up and down the 4th floor.
Praising myself again for making the right connection, I held out the golem I had been carrying at my side.
“Here you go.”
“This is Captain Abbey. Say hello.”
『Protocol dictates that I salute first. Release me.』
As I carefully placed the struggling golem on the ground, it stood at attention, extending its palm in salute to the officer.
『Hail to the Military State. I am Signaller Captain Abbey, responsible for the monitoring of and communications within Tantalus.』
The golem was only one-third the size of a human, but its salute was perfect. Its earnest effort to salute with that small body seemed cute even.
But apparently, I was the only one who felt that way as I heard the officer click her tongue.
｢Signallers. The lucky born chosen to become captains without any talent or effort, solely due to their magical aptitude… Tsk. Even here, there is a fake officer.｣
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