༺ The Sanguine Alliance ༻
Now that we were done eating, I had to do the dishes. This was so unfair.
The dog king ate most of my food, so why did I have to do all the dishes alone? What kind of world is this? What terrible lands are these?
Oh right, I live in the Military State. I forgot this place was a poor excuse for a country.
As Azzy was lazing around on the ground, yawning, I finished cleaning the kitchen. She didn’t even react to my hard work. At least her dishes were mostly clean thanks to her licking them.
「I guess he is human. He ate after all.」
Right on time, I heard a thought from the corridor outside the kitchen. The Regressor pressed herself against the wall as she peeked into the kitchen. I grimaced as I read her thoughts.
What? You thought I wasn’t human? You?
Hey. If normal people train hard enough, they can use magic or imbue energy into their swords, or harden their bodies.
Some people could precisely observe others, guessing one’s thoughts through their expressions and mannerisms. Not as well as I do, of course.
But no matter how hard one tries, a human can never turn back time. It’s preposterous to think you, of all people, would doubt other people’s humanity.
「…Why does Azzy hang out with such a vulgar man like that? They ate together, so she must’ve opened up her heart to him. Could I also…?」
The Regressor revealed her presence with a cough as she came into the kitchen. She locked eyes with Azzy, and with a slightly higher tone of voice than usual, she greeted the Dog King. It was very awkward to watch.
“H-Hey, Azzy. Did you enjoy your meal?”
They say that the laziest creature in the world was a well-fed dog. Azzy merely wagged her tail in response to the greeting as she lazed around the floor. The Regressor appeared to be dejected.
「She… didn’t even react. Is it because I’m dressed like a man? No, she likes that man. Just what did he do…?」
‘Fetch. Fucking fetch. You saw it too! Play some fetch with her before you go speculating about my secrets. I swear, all the people who claim to love dogs don’t actually want to be responsible for the less fun parts of raising a dog. If you want to get close, play with her!’
‘I can’t ignore her, so I should at least say hi.’
I turned away from the sink and greeted the Regressor.
“Good morning, Trainee Shei. Have you eaten breakfast yet?”
I realized that there was still some stew left in the pot. If she hadn’t eaten yet, I should offer her some of the stew. Otherwise, it’d look as if I was mocking her.
A single cooked can of beans was enough to feed a family of four for an entire day. Unfortunately, some pig ate most of it, so there was barely any left. To think I would need to give that away…
Nonetheless, it was probably a good idea to get on her good side. So I offered the Regressor some stew.
“If you haven’t eaten yet, would you like some of my specialty canned bean stew?”
“Don’t worry about me. I get food on my own.”
“What? The cafeteria’s the only place with food. Have you been smuggling rations from here?”
“I’ve got something for myself.”
Refusing to elaborate, the Regressor shot a disgusted look at the beans.
「Canned beans… I don’t ever want to eat those beans again unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve eaten so many of them already. Thank god I obtained the Bountiful Table, a treasure that makes me a full meal every day. It only works for one person, but I can secure food for myself.」
After I had read her mind, I realized that the poor person being mocked here was me.
I had spent my morning wrestling over shitty beans with a dog, but she apparently had some treasure that made her a full meal every day.
I may be a mind reader, but the human mind still fascinates me to this very day. Technically, I should hate Azzy more, who was actively stealing my food. But for some reason, just knowing that the Regressor had nothing to worry about made me more upset than before. God, I hope she loses it and starves.
Is this the selfishness of a man?
The bowl I was washing looked even more pathetic now. All I had was some beans in a dingy bowl. Before I ate, I felt like I had the whole world in the palm of my hand. Now, I felt insignificant.
“Are you done with the dishes yet? Finish up and get ready.”
While I was staring into space, the Regressor spurred me to hurry up.
“Get ready for what?”
“Obviously, to meet with Tyrkanzyaka. We need to learn bloodcraft.”
“Why do I need to learn bloodcraft?”
At my irritated retort, the Regressor shrugged.
“Because Tyrkanzyaka said so?”
“Fuck. If it weren’t for how old she was, I would…”
After I tossed the cleaned bowl to the side, I shook the water off my hands. The Regressor seemed curious about my behavior.
“It’s an opportunity to gain that power without becoming a vampire. It’d be beneficial for you too.”
“So what? It’ll take me forever to learn. And even if I do, it’s just a worse version of a vampire’s natural abilities.”
It was an art that the Progenitor had only mastered centuries after she became immortal. Especially, since it required you to control your own blood. If you messed up, you might die. It was an art meant for people who had tons of time or extra lives lying around.
Like a certain Regressor, for example.
In the first place, my goal was to survive, not to get stronger. Getting stronger wouldn’t particularly help me out here.
“I don’t really want to get stronger.”
I murmured without thinking about what I was saying, but the Regressor must have heard me.
「…He doesn’t seem like he’s lying. I thought soldiers of the State valued strength above anything else. What’s up with him?」
I regretted saying it, but I couldn’t take it back. The Regressor started thinking as she observed me while I left the room.
「I don’t know anything about him… He acts so frail and vulgar compared to his strength, and he seems to dislike authority… He doesn’t treat Azzy like a human being, but still treats her nicely enough for her to like him…」
After a moment of thinking, Shei came to her own conclusion.
「I think he may be a soldier who resisted the orders of the State. He must’ve been sent here as a form of demotion. He’s definitely at least an officer. Otherwise, his strength and attitude don’t make sense.」
Occasionally, a thought came up every time I interacted with the Regressor. That woman really needed to be thankful for the fact that she had multiple lives.
「I haven’t tried to change the State ever since I demolished the country on my eighth run. Maybe he’s the key to infiltrating the State and discovering any secrets they hold!」
‘Never mind. If she can destroy a country by herself, she’s fine. More importantly, she was able to destroy the Military State? Could I do something similar if I figured out how she did it? I’d love to try fucking up this shit country.’
As I was about to dig deeper into the Regressor’s thoughts, a strange groan broke my concentration.
I flinched at the sudden thought and stared at the direction it had come from. The Regressor looked at me, puzzled at my sudden movement. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The thought I just heard.
It wasn’t the Regressors nor Azzy’s. It was a faded consciousness that I couldn’t recognize at all.
‘Did I mishear it? No, somewhere around here… there has to be another person.’
“What? Why’d you just freeze up?”
“No, I just… thought there was someone else.”
The faded thought cut off.
Did they die? Or did they go to sleep?
It bothered me, but without the thoughts to guide me, I doubted I could find the source. However, the vampire needed to be taken care of first. I put my mind off of the unknown thought and came out into the garden with the Regressor.
Tantalus was a dark place. Even the rays of the sun, which traveled millions of kilometers to get to Earth, faded in front of Mother Earth’s unyielding wrath. The abyss… a bottomless pit. One that didn’t even have a defined depth. Light may get through the tiniest of holes, but it couldn’t surpass infinite depth.
Therefore, Tantalus needed to supply its own light. Remarkably, humans were able to develop a method to create lit planes with mana. They could replace God’s grace with human ingenuity.
In the courtyard of Tantalus, the spotlights didn’t search for people toward the L-shaped building or yard, and its light, while low, illuminated everything fairly evenly. However, the moment one stepped outside these safe zones, the spotlights would chase them down viciously.
Tantalus lacked the troops to chase escapees, and it lacked any place for them to escape, the State seemed intent on taking away as much freedom from the prisoners as they possibly could. As if they were emphasizing that they would never be able to leave.
“Where is Tyrkanzyaka… Oh.”
The land that the spotlights were supposed to control. Tyrkanzyaka was resting there.
Actually, I wasn’t sure if she was lying down because all I could make out in the dark was that ominous crimson cross.
The vampire who hated light kept to a place where only darkness lingered. Normally, the spotlights should be chasing after her for leaving the designated zone, but they continued on as normal. It was as if the spotlights were scared of the ominous aura and pretending not to notice her.
“…I guess we’re headed there?”
“The spotlights are really bright, so I don’t know if I want to…”
“What, do you want me to slice the light rays?”
I didn’t even want to know how that would work. I hesitantly made my way over to the coffin that was waiting for us.
When my foot touched the edge of the spotlight zone, I clenched my eyes shut in anticipation for the blinding light that would soon follow.
However, the lights never appeared. They pretended to ignore me as well, and continued to illuminate random places.
Huh? What’s up with that?
「I have blocked your sights.」
A dark voice resonated across the abyss. I didn’t need to explain whose voice it was. Using the darkness to lift herself up, Tyrkanzyaka continued to speak.
「I dislike the light, and those things are even more of a nuisance than the sun itself. I assume you two feel the same way.」
I nodded in agreement.
“Yes. Do as you please. We can see fine as long as there is a dim light. We should let you decide the brightness since we’re more flexible.”
「I feel… strangely insulted. I feel as if I am being treated as a senile old woman whose eyes are growing dim…」
After I listened to her thoughts, I wasn’t sure what to do.
Why is she so defensive about that? I mean, I do think she’s a senile old grandma, and also that her eyesight may not be the best, but I’ve been really polite so far!
The vampire glared at me in silence before continuing to speak.
「Anyhow, this lesson will be extremely harsh. To control blood, you need to lose blood. You will put your lives at risk while you learn.」
Droplets of blood began to trickle through the crack of the coffin as if foreshadowing our fate.
「But do you still wish to continue? Would you like to overcome this hardship?」
It was a strange offer, like one you would hear about from old legends in the woods around a campfire. The test that the Progenitor inflicted on foolish mortals.
Without any hesitation, the Regressor nodded.
For someone who had died and revived thirteen times, the fear of facing the Progenitor of Vampires wasn’t much. Even whilst observing the wavering shadows and quaking blood, the Regressor remained as expressionless as ever. The vampire was satisfied with her response.
「This boy has some guts. He’ll be fun to teach.」
Then, the vampire turned to look at me.
「What about you?」
Hmmm. What do I want to do?
I couldn’t see the vampire’s expression because she was still in the dark coffin. The darkness she gathered around it was so thick that I could barely make out the outline, despite only being five steps away.
Most people wouldn’t be able to figure out the vampire’s intentions without even being able to see her expression. But I could read her thoughts.
「A disciple does everything their master says. I shall make him do all kinds of strenuous things.」
And the vampire had her sights set on making me as miserable as possible.
「I’ll show your insolent mind what the meaning of respect is. You treated me like some hag, so you shall see how a hag handles her students.」
Even her way of thinking was very old-fashioned. She only wanted to teach me so she could mess with me.
Is she childish for being so petty or mature for not having crushed me to pulp on the spot?
I didn’t plan on learning bloodcraft, and this only reinforced my opinion. I shook my head.
“I have no intention of learning bloodcraft.”
The vampire was shocked. She seemed so surprised by my refusal that even her voice was trembling.
「You don’t want to learn…? Despite my offer to bestow my teachings…?」
「I have had only a handful of disciples in my life. It’s a rare opportunity to learn from someone like me. You really don’t want to learn bloodcraft?」
She asked again and again in disbelief. I really didn’t need it. I scratched my head and gave her a more detailed response.
“Just to let you know, we got rid of the master-disciple thing even before the Military State was founded. That system was causing way too much trouble.”
“What do you mean, why? It’s because there were many cases of disciples being treated like slaves. They would uphold their masters like kings and queens for years, and all they would get in return was some shitty martial art or magic. Master-disciple arguments caused so many lawsuits that countries ended up banning the whole thing due to how many problems it caused. That’s some ancient bogus from the Mien Empire over a thousand years ago.”
The vampire laughed in disbelief. With significant anger this time, she muttered out a threat.
「It is bloodcraft. The art, the authority that birthed me into this immortal being. You dare treat it as some… paltry trick?」
“No, no, I wasn’t talking about bloodcraft. I never said bloodcraft was outdated. I was talking about the master-disciple thing. Also…”
I wasn’t sure whether I should continue, but I had no other choice. I didn’t want to put myself on a leash just to keep her happy.
Maybe if the leash had a shining golden collar, I would try it on, but a tattered collar made a thousand years ago didn’t seem worth it.
I decided to give my honest opinion.
“Bloodcraft isn’t garbage… but, like, it’s kind of really old, isn’t it?”
The tremor that shook Tantalus probably wasn’t just my imagination. Blood boiled. The vampire’s rage was beginning to manifest itself in reality. I was tempted to dropdown to my knees and beg her to accept me as her disciple. Just so I could escape this pressure.
But in that case, the only future I had was one of endless training. Just tending to the vampire’s needs without any free time.
Actually, the lifestyle wasn’t too different from the situation I was in right now. The bigger issue was that she would continually ‘test’ me during her teachings.
If I were to reveal how weak I was through the training… my bloated image would lose all its air and deflate. The image I had constructed with false bravado would disappear.
It would reveal that I was just a normal person.
While it was a fact, it was one that I could never reveal. In order to prevent the death prophesied through the Regressor’s memories, I required authority.
Even if it meant risking my life.
Whether she liked it or not, vampires were ancient. Of course, the elderly say that they didn’t like being treated like old people, but you couldn’t exactly talk to them like you would to your friends. Thankfully, her maturity was befitting of her age, so even if she got a little angry; she wouldn’t swing her sword without any provocation, unlike a certain someone I knew.
I added to what I said.
“I mean, it’s an amazing art for you, who has practiced it for over a thousand years. But the technique itself is already a thousand years old.”
「So… you continue to mock my—」
“No, I wasn’t criticizing you for it. I just meant that it is quite outdated in this day and age.”
「Wait… Are you saying bloodcraft is rubbish?」
Something devoured the space above my shoulder. I slowly turned my head over to look.
The sanguine horse was blowing steam from its nostrils, while glaring at me. I wasn’t quite sure what it was chewing on, but I was pretty sure I knew what it wanted to chew on. The sanguine horse glared as it spat on the concrete ground.
The concrete floor where his saliva landed began to melt.
‘Oh, I was wondering. I guess I really can’t read a familiar’s mind…’
「Leave him be, Ralion.」
The steed’s hooves shook the ground. The red hooves were clearly etched into the concrete, almost like a letter getting sealed with an ink stamp.
‘Hm. This may be more than I can handle. Maybe I made a bad choice?’
「Alright. Then you may just stand there and observe. Don’t think you can change your mind if you regret it later.」
‘If I say I don’t want to watch, will she actually kill me? Alright, I should just accept this.’
The upset vampire tore her gaze away from me and looked back at the Regressor. The large coffin slid smoothly across the ground, stopping right in front of Shei.
「Boy. What is your name?」
“My name is Shei.”
「Alright, Shei. Shall you follow my teachings? The process may be painful, but the end shall be extravagant. I shall teach you wholeheartedly, so are you doubtless in your desire to learn?」
The Regressor didn’t even reconsider. Even if she died, she could just try it again. She shrugged before responding.
“Of course, I’ll swear on it. However…”
The Regressor added a few conditions.
“I’ve picked up a lot of things from all kinds of places, so I can’t be the pure successor you desire.”
「No matter. Just swear to one thing.」
“If it’s something I can do, sure. What is it?”
Blood drops bubbled in the air. The bloated orb morphed into the shape of a hand pointing straight at me.
「That you will crush that insolent brat!」
The Regressor grinned.
“I was already planning on it.”
‘Huh? Me? Why all of a sudden?’
I blinked at the fact that I had just become the common enemy of the two women, I could only watch as the two women united.