༺ Why Do You Disobey the Natural Flow of Time? ༻
Taking my place, the vampire spoke sternly.
「Before I teach you bloodcraft, I will assess your abilities.」
As if she had been expecting it, the Regressor gripped Chun-aeng’s hilt. The blade seemingly howled as the Regressor unsheathed its edge, eager to demonstrate its strength. When the Regressor swung at the air, a clear sound permeated through the darkness.
The Regressor swung her blade back and forth.
“My blade is… special. It’ll be hard to gauge my true strength with this. Do you want me to use something else?”
「It doesn’t matter. What you wield is a part of what makes you so special.」
“If you say so. So, what do you want me to do?”
The coffin’s lid slid open. A white hand broke through the darkness, its fingertips aimed towards the ground. And then, a black droplet fell.
The shadow, darker than night itself, began to grow as though it was a sapling. As plants developed through sunlight and air, the black orb found its sustenance from the darkness around it. The wavering shadow quickly manifested itself into the shape of a knight in pitch-black armor.
「It is an echo of the past.」
Neither I nor the Regressor were really curious, but the vampire continued her explanation.
「An echo of a knight I met before… The dark knight who reaped hundreds of lives. I called him forth from his blood and weaved his plating from the shadows. Your task is to face him.」
“Can I destroy him?”
「If you are capable.」
The vampire continued to talk, sounding rather prideful of her creation.
「However, it will not be so simple. It may be an echo of the past, but it shares the same blood of the original knight. His armor that I’ve made from the shadows bears a toughness harder than steel. He is as close to perfect—」
The darkness was suddenly cleaved in two. Along the trail of the blade, the world was split. It was a swing that cut through space itself. The Aerial Blossom was a pair of scissors that severed the world. Even the black mist, supposedly stronger than steel, gave way to the Regressor’s lone strike.
She said earlier that she could cut light itself. I don’t doubt it anymore. After all, she had no trouble cutting the darkness.
The vampire expressed amusement as she witnessed the swordsmanship. However, her real thoughts showed a little more shock than that.
「Huh…? Even if he wields a special sword… A single strike? That echo should’ve been almost impenetrable to anyone besides paladins…」
‘You’re surprised, aren’t you?’
The creation of the knight wasn’t the true extent of the vampire’s power, but it should’ve been more than enough for a skinny ‘boy’ like the Regressor. She had recreated the once-infamous black knight, and the Regressor had taken it out in a single strike.
「At that age? Has there been some gigantic development to humanity while I was asleep…?」
I hope you don’t take her as the standard. The Regressor has gathered all kinds of secrets and abilities over the numerous lives she’s lived. Even if she hasn’t regained her true power, some of it is still intact. And to add on to that, she has that ridiculous blade.
It’s not that humanity made large developments. She stole humanity’s future for herself.
The vampire quelled her surprise.
「You don’t even seem to be twenty years old yet. Your talent is quite impressive. For someone of your caliber, you would be more than capable of forging your own path.」
“Well? I’m not too talented. I just got lucky and found some secrets that quickly let me get stronger. There are plenty of people in the world with more talent than I have. I’m nothing more than a copycat who follows their tracks, imitating their journeys.”
The Regressor meant what she said. To her, who walked amongst monsters every life, any weakness was a reminder of her inferiority.
It may have sounded like she was being overly modest, or even boasting, but she was truly nothing compared to the enemies she had to face.
「You really are too modest.」
“It’s not modesty. Look.”
The Regressor pointed the blade at me. I almost jumped in surprise.
Fuck. Why does she need to point at people with a weapon? Does she have no manners? Considering the fact that people think even pointing a finger at a person can be rude, a sword is completely out of the question.
The Regressor smirked at my response.
“Even he deflected my strike.”
「That blade of yours?」
“Yeah. This Chun-aeng. With a single finger too.”
‘Well, it’s true… but I don’t think I could do it again even if I tried.’
「If he deflected this boy’s strike with a single finger, he must be at least several stages stronger. Is that normal for youngsters these days? Can children cut steel now?」
‘The Regressor… And now me, who has been placed above the Regressor. The vampire made the mistake of overestimating the average of the entire world after looking at the wrong samples.’
Don’t calculate the average based off the Regressor! How will everyone else feel? You need to apologize to the majority of the world that you just deemed less than average!
And especially me! My score is too inflated!
「When he said bloodcraft was outdated, was he not just being rude…? Has time really pushed the world that far ahead?」
After having unintentionally induced another misconception…
“…So, I’ll try my best to learn.”
「If that is so…」
「I, too, shall try my hardest so this boy can defeat that insolent brat over there.」
…The vampire decided to give it her all.
Tyrkanzyaka extended her finger towards Shei. The tip of her finger developed a slight crack. From the newly formed opening, red blood began to flow. It was a little different from the blood that the vampire typically controlled.
The blood was normally controlled by the vampire through her authority as the Progenitor glistened and wavered with a deep red magical energy, as if it was ready to infect the world.
However, the blood that the vampire was releasing now was just like any normal blood… it was to the point where it felt strange.
The blood shone a normal shade of red, not emitting energy, with a slight scent of iron. It seemed to propose the hypothesis that the same blood flowed in vampires as the rest of humanity. However, its aura was large enough to fill up all of Tantalus. Even the darkness itself seemed to be retreating in awe.
The string of blood slowly flew towards the Regressor and circled around her.
「With great strength comes great sacrifice. However, you have more than enough potential to compensate for that.」
「My original blood.」
The original blood of the Progenitor.
If one were to present this to the church, they would instantly receive the position of a paladin and be showered with the highest of blessings.
If one were to offer it to another vampire, they would promise great fortune and power.
And if one was willing to take a bigger risk, they could put the blood within themselves. If they were to successfully eliminate the hyenas that lusted for the blood of the Progenitor, an extra seat would be added to the Table of Twelve Elders.
In any case, it was something that could completely change a person’s life.
“What’s this for? Do you want me to become a vampire? I don’t really know if I want to do that.”
Facing such a treasure, the Regressor—past being uninterested—had an expression of dislike on her face.
The vampire was shocked once more.
「But it’s… my original blood…? The blood that shook the world with merely its existence? He doesn’t want it at all?」
With a quivering voice, the vampire continued, trying her best to hide her emotions.
「…No. I do not wish to make you a vampire either. I cannot make the same mistake again.」
「I shall engrave the original blood onto your heart. The blood of a predator. With it, your instincts in controlling blood would become honed to their maximum potential.」
“Oh, like that? Then sure!”
The Regressor spread her arms wide open. It was clear that she wasn’t interested in the blood itself, but was willing to use it as a supplement to aid her in getting stronger.
The vampire was upset by how little the Regressor had wanted her blood.
「It was originally supposed to be just a test. If he had wanted to become a vampire, he would not have been worthy of receiving my teachings… But I did not expect such a cold-hearted response. Are vampires no longer idolized by humans?」
The vampire stretched out her hand. The original blood headed to the Regressor’s chest and formed a red gear-shaped symbol above her heart.
「…If you do end up mastering bloodcraft, you should be able to remove my blood yourself. You can return it to me then.」
“Alright. You sound a little tired though. Did giving me that blood tire you out that much?”
「…I am alright. Do not worry…」
「But it was my original blood… Have vampires been pushed out of the center of the stage already? I guess I have been asleep for three hundred years…」
It was a cold-hearted world. The vampire sighed, dejected at the idea.
「Now I shall bestow upon you my teachings.」
While the vampire was explaining things to the Regressor, I stayed somewhat close to them. The reason was simple. The original blood. The blood heralded in legends for the last thousand years. The blood that could afford me a fortune… The blood that would allow me to live like royalty for the rest of my life. That blood that had engraved itself onto the Regressor. It was a tattoo more valuable than gold.
However, I had already refused to become the vampire’s disciple. I couldn’t even dream of asking her for her original blood. She wouldn’t have given it to me in the first place. That much was clear after reading her thoughts. She only used it so that the Regressor would be able to master bloodcraft because I had aggravated her.
‘Tsk. The vampire was overthinking things. If she wanted me under her wing, all she needed was to give me some original blood as well. If she had ordered me to kneel, I would’ve bowed down and licked her feet like a dog.’
However, I still had a chance. The vampire was still confused from the passage of time during her long slumber. As evident by her thoughts, she was still adjusting to the current world.
And if that were the case?
Maybe, if I talk things through well, I might get something.
「Hm…? What are you trying to do? Did you not say that you were uninterested?」
I withstood her hostile gaze. For some reason, she seemed to have taken a dislike towards me.
“I am an official of the Military State, and Tantalus is a place of disciplinary correction. I have a responsibility to oversee the actions of the trainees.”
「Observe for my sake? Someone like you will oversee me?」
“Responsibility doesn’t always fall in line with one’s ability, as you know. As much as I trust in you, I still have a duty to watch and observe what you are doing.”
「Responsibility and ability… I guess that could be a form of chivalry in these times. If he says so, I guess it is understandable.」
The vampire seemed to accept my explanation filled with false confidence.
Who knew claiming to be from the Military State would help out so much?
Despite that, the vampire still had some qualms.
「However, I am in the middle of teaching a disciple. The secrets of such crafts need to be shared privately, do they not?」
“Just how long ago are you talking about? These days, a single teacher teaches as many as fifty students. A different teacher is chosen for each subject ranging from combat and magic to strategy. Students themselves pick the classes they want to take and learn together in public environments.”
「Lies. What idiot would share their precious secrets so easily?」
“The State. The country collects and controls all knowledge. They sort it out and distribute it to the people for no cost.”
All knowledge was power—be it swordsmanship, magic, or strategy. At least, that was how it had been in the vampire’s times. There was a reason why the system of masters and disciples existed. The master was clearly above the disciple, and the disciple would work like a slave for the master, hoping that they could gain some of the former’s knowledge one day.
Yet, to think of a time when such secrets would be open to everyone, the vampire couldn’t even close her mouth at the revelation.
“Students also have many teachers. They go to private academies and take classes from top of the line, State-managed schools. The teachers don’t think badly of them for doing so either. It’s now the age of enlightenment. Knowledge is no longer transferred secretly. It awaits objective judgement, open to the rest of the world.”
The vampire asked the Regressor if I was telling the truth.
「Shei, is that true?」
“Yep. It’s the sole good thing the Military State has done.”
After staring at the vampire, who was still in shock because of the change brought about by time, the Regressor turned back to me with a pout.
“It’s not like you need to listen to that bastard. He’s just worried we might be plotting something.”
「No, if the world has chosen its path, then I too must conform. Resistance to that flow is meaningless. I should not stop him from watching us.」
The Regressor’s face soured. After throwing her a light, teasing grin, I settled down nearby, ready to see if I could gain anything from their training.
The vampire continued her lesson after giving me permission to stay and watch.
「…So, blood is life. It gives you energy as it flows through your body and allows you to draw out your power. You need to become aware of every single drop of blood in your body. You need to be able to sense where every vein flows.」
The session continued with the vampire’s droning voice. I’d have fallen asleep already, but the sight of the Regressor completely focused on the vampire’s words made me think otherwise.
‘Does this even help? She sounds like she’s just talking out of her ass. Should I try concentrating too?’
I focused on Tyrkanzyaka’s words and the thoughts that formed the words.
「You have so many powers hidden in your body. Understanding your body is the first step to wielding that power. Feel the pulsing hot streams that branch out throughout your body.」
‘I am a mind reader. Nobody is capable of understanding the words of people better than me. Even the worst teachers can be the best references to me because I understand the intention behind the words. All I require is for the teacher to be knowledgeable in their own field.’
I closed my eyes and concentrated. I could feel the beating sensation of my heart and the pulsing of my arteries.
‘I can feel it! Is this the power of blood?’
「Blood is like a river. Rivers may seem like they flow elegantly, but water seeps into even the tiniest holes within the earth. The water the earth absorbs would moisturize the soil and eventually make its way back to the ocean. What you need to feel is not the river that everyone can easily feel. The blood that seeps into every part of your body. You need to understand that power.」
‘Or, maybe not. Well, even if I am a great learner, things such as talent and compatibility certainly exists. It’s not like someone can do everything they read in a book. It’s not like I’m an idiot or anything either. Bloodcraft just isn’t for me. Good thing I didn’t learn it. The most I would’ve been able to do is stop a cut from bleeding anyway.’
「The biggest obstacle to bloodcraft is the heart. The heart is what binds your soul to the world, and yet, under normal circumstances, it moves blood regardless of your intentions. That is why… only the dead can truly master bloodcraft.」
The Regressor seemed to realize something.
“So that’s why vampires are considered undead.”
「Indeed. Vampires learn to move their bodies solely through bloodcraft. In order to become a vampire, you need to die. You made the right choice in refusing my offer. Your beating heart is proof of your existence as well as the essential ingredient in going even beyond. The heart after all, is a privilege of the living…」
As if she was reminiscing about something, the vampire paused briefly between her words.
「I lost myself for a second. Moving on, in order to learn bloodcraft, you need to control your heart. You need to make it stop momentarily or cause it to beat even faster. Do you understand?」
“Vaguely. You’re asking me to control the pace of my heart when I can control my blood a little, right?”
「You’re a fast learner. Remember, the heart is the root of your existence. It moves your blood, purifies it, and draws magic energy from its very essence. It is the core of your body, so always…」
‘Moves blood, purifies, and draws out magic…? Wait. That’s not right.’
“Hold on, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka.”
I stood up. The vampire seemed annoyed at my disruption.
「…What is it?」
“Sorry, but the heart isn’t the magic core.”
It was probably because she was from older times.
“Most vampires turned their hearts into their magical cores, so you may think that’s the norm. However, using the heart is actually extremely inefficient and dangerous. Additionally, in order to properly use the heart as a magical core, you need to calm down your breathing as well. These days, people make their magical cores elsewhere.”
“That was how it used to be, but ever since the magical revolution four centuries ago, people stopped doing that. We have found ways to draw out magic without linking it directly to an organ in our bodies. This is the most basic lesson you learn in middle school these days, so it’d be useful to have some knowledge about it… Oh, sorry. Did I interrupt too much? You can continue.”
‘Phew. Another good deed done. With that, she’ll probably be much fonder of me—’
「Is he actually crazy?」
Contrary to my beliefs, the Regressor was glaring daggers at me.
‘Huh? What happened? I just corrected a mistake.’
「You think I don’t know that? Why would you interrupt someone in the middle of their explanation without waiting to listen to the whole thing?」
It was infuriating to see the Regressor acting as if she was the sensible one. It was a given that you should always correct mistakes. The vampire was ancient after all. It was best if we could communicate to our elders properly.
Trying her best to ignore me, the vampire continued speaking.
「Even if the heart stops, the blood inside must continue to flow. Blood that stays still pools and rots. Blood that makes its way through the body eventually loses its magic… I mean, this is in the case that the heart is the magical core. Moreover, impure blood purifies itself at the heart, so it is imperative that blood constantly flows to prevent the tainting of your internal body.」
“Hold on. Actually, it’s not at the heart. It’s in the lungs.”
There were a lot of holes in her knowledge probably because of how old-fashioned she was.
This would undoubtedly cause problems if you tried to interpret it directly.
“Actually, what people considered impure blood was just blood that lacked oxygen. Oxygen is inhaled into our body and burns the energy we have to keep our body moving. This process isn’t a matter of purity, but rather consider it more like a fire burning. Just as a burning log stops burning when you cover it with a blanket, the fire of the body stops burning if you close the passageway to the lungs. That’s called dying.”
「W-Wait, that’s how it works? I never knew that…」
‘I get why the vampire wouldn’t know, but how do you not know this? You learn this in middle school. …Oh, wait. You’re an orphan. You didn’t go to middle school. My bad. Then… is it possible that I am the most educated person in Tantalus right now?’
The thought made me feel a little better about myself.
“Anyways, now that you know. You may continue your—AAAAAHHHHH!”
A surge of goosebumps raced across my skin, warning me of impending danger. Without hesitation, I immediately leaped to the side. Moments later, the sanguine steed’s hoof obliterated the ground I was standing on.
The concrete floor shattered as though it was glass. Chunks of stone hammered my back.
The horse trampled the floor once again, as if it were disappointed that it missed. The concrete ground gave way like sand each time the hooves reached it. I screamed out.
“Hey! I almost died!”
「Stop making such a fuss!」
“I’m not making a fuss! Any normal person would’ve been annihilated from that attack!”
「Good thing you are not any normal person, then.」
‘If I couldn’t read minds, you’d have been a murderer! Murder is a death sentence here, you know?!’
「Yes! I am old! I have never been able to fit in with the rest of the world! So what?!」
“Huh? When have I ever said you’re old?”
「Like that! Your attitude! You think of me as some ancient crone!」
“I never said that!”
「So you’ve thought so?」
Oopsie. She caught on.
She appeared to have caught on to the fact that I had become aware of her realization.
Blood boiled. I felt an ineffable emotion surge up from the vampire’s heart.
‘W-Wait. Is this emotion that I sense now… perhaps…?’
I asked carefully.
“A-Are you perhaps slightly angr—AAAAAHHHHH!”
A crimson orb hurtled towards me with great speed. I rolled along the floor in an attempt to dodge it. After narrowly missing by a hair’s breadth, the orb decimated the concrete floor behind me.
「You think you would be any different? You were just lucky that you were born in such nice times! Should I make you a vampire? Do you want me to trap you in my immortal display case that nobody will visit for the rest of your life?」
The attacks continued. Multiple crimson orbs were hurled at me. They didn’t have any desire to kill. The emotion attached to them was as though the progenitor was a child throwing around her toys.
The problem was that the things Tyrkanzyaka was tossing around, were not toys. Toys would just sting if you get hit by them, but these crimson orbs would mean certain death at a single touch.
‘I’ll actually die at this rate. I need to draw her attention somehow, but how?’
「If you are so smart, why don’t you teach her yourself?!」
At my exclamation, the barrage of attacks momentarily ceased. Relieved at the sudden respite, I raised my body back up.
“Trainee Tyrkanzyaka. I have seen your social potential that exists deep within.”
「Are those your final words?」
‘I’ll really die if I chicken out of here.’
I ignored the vampire and continued to explain.
“What really matters in rehabilitation is the desire to live and integrate with other people in a society. I see that desire is prevalent within you. That is definitely an ideal that matches the flow of current times.”
‘First thing’s first…’
I spat out random words I had glimpsed from the vampire’s mind.
Hopefully one of them would calm her down.
「Mesh with the times?」
Thankfully, she calmed herself down and began listening more carefully to my words.
“So, I’ve come to a conclusion today. That you all have the potential of reintegrating back to society.”
「…And who are you to judge that?」
“You are all currently being held in the re-education facility, Tantalus. You are all trainees, and I am your trainer. I lead all of you in this small society.”
The vampire probably didn’t even know about the re-education part of this facility. I pointed towards myself with my thumb.
“I shall teach you all! Teach all of you how to fulfill that desire to live normally so that you may all become respected members of society again!”
‘So please don’t kill me.’
Hiding my true thoughts, I finished my speech.
The vampire lowered her hand. The dozens of crimson orbs that had been floating in midair, all dropped to the ground. The orbs that had destroyed the concrete floor so easily, melted back into blood and seeped into the ground.
‘Phew. I’m alive!’
As I was about to bask in my relief, the vampire muttered under her breath.
「I wondered what you might say, but it was just words you would not be able to take responsibility for.」
‘How’d she know?’
A depressed voice crawled out from within the coffin.
It was the voice that had given up hope many times. The type of hope that this time would be different.
「I am a vampire. A predator who lives off of human blood. Humans either avoid me in fear or wish to be me. Regardless of my desire, our very existence can never mesh properly. A wolf cannot live in a herd of sheep, can it?」
‘The way she keeps making metaphors really reminds me of old people. Wolves and sheep, huh? So what if she’s a wolf? There’s barely any wolves around these days.’
But she’d freak out again if I mentioned that, so I decided to respond with another metaphor of my own.
“Of course, they can.”
「That is something easier said than done.」
“Should I show you proof?”
「Try it if you will.」
The vampire thought in a rather pessimistic manner.
Reading that thought, I pulled out the bell from my pocket and rang it.
Now, with a familiar roar, something burst through the second floor kitchen window and ran outside.
After having torn through the steel bars of the windows like candy, Azzy landed on the floor and dashed towards me.
“This here is a wolf that can live with a herd of sheep.”
Azzy skidded to a stop next to me. With a mouthful of saliva, she looked at me with anticipation in her eyes.
I extended my arm and petted her head. With a satisfactory bark, Azzy closed her eyes as she enjoyed my touch.
“Dogs used to be wolves. Even the dogs that are raised to ward off wolves from livestock used to be wolves a long time ago. But sheep are not scared of dogs. Dogs do not eat sheep either. Well, they might gnaw on a sheep bone the farmer tosses them from time to time, but that’s about it.”
Both predators and prey could change. Beasts have become tamed by humans. Dogs, for example, is a case where an entire species was tamed.
The vampire was now lost in her thoughts. It didn’t seem like she’d respond for some time.
‘Now’s the time.’
“Woof? Food, where?”
“I’ll give it to you in a bit. Let’s head to the kitchen.”
“Didn’t you eat earlier? And you want to eat again already? Are you sure you’re not the Pig King?”
“Bark! No! Not pig!”
Dogs and pigs, what’s the difference anyway? But because of how strongly Azzy responded, I needed to let her have her way here.
“A-Alright, alright. Don’t bite me!”
Naturally leaving the scene, I headed back to the building with Azzy, leaving the vampire alone with the Regressor.
After I was decently far away, I heard the Regressor’s thoughts at maximum range.
「He left me alone to deal with her after causing this entire mess?!」
‘Oops, she caught on. Let’s run.’
I sprinted towards the building with Azzy trailing behind.
Meanwhile, the black coffin floated in place unflinchingly.