༺ Fortune Comes to the Merry ༻
The concrete ground quaffed the blood of the fallen, and the endless darkness claimed the souls of the unfortunate. In the accursed abyss which even the benevolent Mother Earth couldn’t forgive, her foolish children failed to stop themselves from committing yet another sin.
The knight who yearned to mark his name on a page of history ultimately crossed the great divide with the four youths who followed him.
But flowing time washed away everything like a great river, flattening the ups and downs of life into the everyday ordinary. The deaths of yesterday sunk into the depths of unknown insignificance, and I found myself in the same routine as ever.
Mm. It felt like I hadn’t heard that alarm tone in a long while.
I reached out, tossing and turning, and Azzy rubbed her nose over my hand and arm, barking repeatedly. When I didn’t budge despite her efforts, she even bit me softly.
“Ahh, alright. I get it.”
I took a long stretch, petted my alarm clock as a reward, washed my face with today’s allotment of water, then used the neighboring room’s water to wash my hair. How refreshing. I would’ve wished for nothing more if there was some warm sunlight and cool wind here.
I slotted my warden uniform packet into my bio-receptor, letting the stiff yet unobstructive suit cover my body. After instantly changing clothes, I stuffed my pocket with a few items and set out. Azzy followed closely by my side.
“Let’s have breakfast and go for a walk.”
“We’ve got new rations from yesterday on the menu, some fresh, clean—”
“Canned beans stew. You okay with that?”
I was relieved by her response. Maybe dogs had poor memory? She didn’t mind the same menu as yesterday. So I decided to keep feeding Azzy beans from now on.
Once we had our fill, it was time to move on to the next schedule.
I came out into the yard. Azzy followed with twinkling eyes, thinking it might be time to play ball.
Not today, silly mutt. You should be satisfied after playing that much yesterday. Are you just that insatiable or did you forget already? Can’t your memory kick in at times like this only?
I pushed away Azzy, who kept trotting in front of me with an expectant look on her face.
“Don’t interfere. There’s incredibly hard work waiting for me today.”
“I have to wake up a certain slumberous elder with foul sleeping habits.”
I grimly headed for the underground armory where the vampire was staying. The place had a sinister vibe that was almost visible to the eye. I gulped nervously, then went up to the armory’s metal doors, banging them.
“Trainee Tyrkanzyaka! Wake up! The sun is high up!”
Azzy looked up at the sky, puzzled. From the abyss, nothing remotely resembling the sun could be seen. The dog-girl tilted her head in confusion.
Who cares? I’m sure the sun’s high up outside. If you want to refute me, then call the sun over.
I used my hands and feet to keep on banging the armory doors.
“Wake up! How long are you going to stay sleeping?! Snoring even when the Resistance invades from above, snoring even when this place is at risk of collapsing. Come on, is dying once the end of everything? Does labor end or taxes go away when you die? If you can move your body, you should think of contributing to society even a—!”
“What is all this fuss first thing in the morning?”
The doors of the underground armory opened slowly as I was banging them.
“Such a disrespectful lad. Since you came as a guest, should you not wait for the master to get ready?”
“Get ready? You’ll be in your coffin anywa—”
I shut my mouth upon seeing the vampire appear through the doors. I had naturally assumed her voice would be ringing out of her coffin, yet she was looking different from usual.
“Uh, so you were awake.”
The floating imperial juniper coffin was almost tediously the same as usual, except the vampire was sitting on top of it with her legs gathered demurely. She also had her hair pinned up using an antique hairpin and a parasol slightly propped on her shoulder, giving me the impression of looking at an elegant princess of an old dynasty. The jet-black parasol formed of darkness seemed to have no weight, shaking like a willow leaf in the vampire’s slender fingers.
As for her attire, she wore an old-fashioned long trailing dress. The sleeves were so large that they slightly showed her white skin through the gaps. It was a style that implied wealth through an extravagant use of cloth. The State would be appalled by the sight, but people actually did dress like that in the past.
As the vampire took a step forward on her coffin, the huge steel doors of the armory swung wide to both sides as if receiving a VIP, its bright red engraving shining. The vampire left the underground armory in a lofty but dreadfully slow—perhaps deliberately lengthy—manner, and the doors shut behind her with a thud. The vampire muttered a complaint on her coffin.
“It has been so noisy recently that it is impossible to fall asleep. How is it worse now with only three left compared to when there were over a hundred? All that screaming, louder than a pig being butchered, is insufferable. Goodness.”
“Wow. Were you going to keep dozing if I didn’t wake you? It’s still not enough after sleeping that much? And here I thought you’d start to get sick of it and escape after a few centuries of slumber.”
“… Nevermind. It was my fault for arguing with you.”
The vampire shot me a sidelong glance before driving her coffin forward.
“Why did you come out of the coffin?”
“Once a woman has decided to wake up, she must dress. Is that not common?”
The vampire answered my question with a pointed attitude, for some reason, and whipped her head around to sharply glare at me.
“Or what. Do you have a problem with my dressing up?”
｢Go on, just try and say I am making a fool of myself like yesterday again.｣
What’s with the sudden hostility? Oh, It can’t be… Is she sulking about what I said the other day?
Hmm. Do I have to read her? It’s a bother to mind-read in the morning, but I guess it can’t be helped.
I clenched and relaxed my fists a few times, then focused on reading the vampire’s thoughts.
｢It has always been imperative for the well-mannered to groom one’s appearance before showing it. He wets his hair and puts on a uniform every day himself, yet he only finds fault with me..! The last time I was swept up in his unfair remarks and failed to retort, but today is a different story. I shall teach this cheeky lad a lesson!｣
Wow. So she was holding a grudge over yesterday until now? Why is she so narrow-minded for someone so old? I guess she has no worries about getting Alzheimer’s with that memory.
Although I didn’t know why she had grown so indignant, her pickled resentment had ripened into something completely different, and I knew quarreling at a time like this would lead to big trouble.
Deciding to soothe her a little, I answered in the warmest, sincerest tone I could manage.
“No? Why would I have a problem with you dressing up? It’s only a feast for my eyes.”
“You scoundrel, dressing neatly is basic manners regardless of culture yet—What?”
“I’m just another human, so of course I much prefer seeing a pretty person dressed up over a wooden coffin floating around. The colorful hairpin and clothes look great with your fair complexion, like fine art on white paper. I can see why legends say vampires possess bewitching powers. It wasn’t without reason.”
“All the people in the world must be envious because you’re a vampire who lives forever young and immortal, and not even time can make your looks fade. Maybe it’s for the world to keep staying in that coffin, so that envy will be gone from the hearts of women, and men will not flaunt their vanity.”
The vampire had fumed through the entirety of yesterday while adorning herself. Coming out of her coffin meant she seriously intended on being active from now on. The way she dressed and had her hair up was an expression of her determination.
And something prepared over a long time with a lot of emotion required a fitting reward, or else it would all come back as resentment to bite me.
Hearing my compliments—they were tempered through my swindling days in the back alleys—the vampire tilted her parasol slightly.
“H-Hmph. You are good at lip service, I will give you that.”
“I admit it’s flattery, but I wasn’t lying. If you’ve observed my usual behavior, you’ll know I’m the kind who treats every word with sincerity. So much so that I can’t speak falsely.”
“But you said I was being a fool yesterday…”
“Only because it was an urgent situation. I didn’t say you weren’t beautiful. I’m not sure if you know, but false reporting is considered the biggest sin in the State, and suggesting that Trainee Tyrkanzyaka isn’t beautiful would clearly fall under that category.”
Good. The vampire finally shut her mouth. She went far away, not turning her head and hiding her face with the parasol, but my mind-reading showed she was quite pleased. In addition, her impression of me improved a little.
Phew. Since that crisis was out of the way, it was time to go pick up the Regressor.
The Regressor lived on the prison’s 1st floor.
If someone asked me why the great time traveler still stayed in that narrow, stuffy part of the prison despite the lack of wardens or other inmates, I’d tell them to have a look down and around—the Regressor had “cut” the walls of ten neighboring cells including her own.
The thick concrete walls, with iron plates added to prevent prisoners from escaping, were cut into squares like assembled furniture and piled high on one side of the prison floor. She used the widened space as both her residence and training hall.
In fact, it was safe to say the entire 1st floor was the Regressor’s home, and she seemed to think that way herself too. From the moment we stepped into the 1st floor, her sharp vigilance turned toward us.
“Huh? Tyrkanzyaka? Azzy? And…”
The Regressor eased up upon confirming who her visitors were. Then she frowned at the sight of me though, which was unfair. What did I do?
“Why did you come here?”
“I need to have a long talk with you today. Follow me.”
“I’m busy. Got something to do.”
“For crying out loud. You’re terrible at going along with others. I bet you were definitely a loner outside.”
“… What did you just say?”
The Regressor paused in the middle of returning to her room and stuck her face out, burning with hostility. I feigned innocence after bringing her back with that one remark.
“I was saying I have an important announcement to make, so attend my seminar and listen, Trainee Shei.”
“I have something important for you to hear, so listen carefully. I’ve got—no time—for that.”
｢I’ve been practicing the sword since last night after grasping a sense of bloodcraft. He’s such a bother…｣
Her efforts were commendable, but none of my concern. I raised my chin and dropped a line that might intrigue the Regressor.
“I was going to tell you about the structure of Tantalus. You don’t need that either?”
“The structure of… Tantalus?”
As I predicted, the Regressor cupped her chin and fell into deep thought, piqued by this new “knowledge” she didn’t know.
｢I know that something happens in Tantalus, but I’m still not clear on things like structure or secrets. If I can find out how Tantalus is built, could I also figure out why she comes?｣
The Regressor had unearthed a great amount of knowledge and secrets over her thirteen cycles of life. There were probably few who knew more than she did regarding the events to come, and what was hidden beneath the surface of this world.
Not even I could tell perfectly with my mind-reading due to the nature of regression, but I did know this was the first life cycle she came to Tantalus before its collapse. In short, I guessed she wouldn’t know of Tantalus’ structure, which I found out after the Resistance’s attack, and I was spot on the mark.
I realized the Regressor had already made up her mind despite her apparent hesitance, so I turned around on the spot.
“Well, if a horse doesn’t want to drink… Then if you’ll excuse me.”
She fell for it.
Thanks Gamma, or Wikrol I should say. You may be dead, but I’ll make good use of what you learned. A man leaves knowledge even in death. Isn’t that right?
“I’ll get prepared, so wait.”
The Regressor entered an area separated by cloth.
Just then, Azzy, who was scampering around in curiosity, suddenly rushed towards me and dropped something she was holding in her mouth. It was a round bead made of magic-infused crystal, transparent and swirling with strange light from the inside.
“What, you want to play ball? But that doesn’t mean you should pick up someone else’s belonging without permission.”
And she had to bring something that obviously looked fancy, didn’t she?
I carefully picked up the bead and examined it all over, wondering what kind of item it was. It seemed to contain quite a lot of mana inside. Was it expensive? Or dangerous?
“Oh, that. It’s a bomb.”
Turned out it was both!
I hastily chucked the bead far away.
The bead flew down the prison hallway while I ran to a nearby corner and hid behind the wall. Damn it, what’s the idea of leaving a bomb somewhere a dog can pick up! Explosives should be managed thoro—
Hold on. Dog?
I peeked over the wall in doubt, and just in time, I saw Azzy catching the falling bead with perfect posture. She had dashed over there before I knew it.
Something dawned on me then. If she catches that, then won’t she…?
As I was gaping at the sight, Azzy met my eyes.
“N-no. Don’t go! Don’t fetch! Don’t come!”
Terrified, I tried to kick off into a run, but Azzy had already arrived in front of me by the time I half-raised myself up.
She put down the bead by my feet, her eyes lit with life, and the bomb she dropped touched the floor before I even had time to react. I wildly stretched out my hands as I fell to my knees, like a man who believed he could block an explosion with his limbs.
The bomb touched down with a clunk, and…
I heard the Regressor snicker.
“Pft, pahah. Idiot!”
｢Did he just get scared? But that’s a volcanic tear. It’s a bomb that never explodes unless charged with high-purity mana in a specific pattern!｣
The bead rolled and bumped into my foot without any change whatsoever. I blankly picked it up, and glanced at the bead and the Regressor alternatively. Seeing the stupefied look on my face, she couldn’t help bursting into laughter.
“Pff-haha! Of all the assumptions to make! There’s no way I’d leave something dangerous lying anywhere!”
“… You said it was a bomb.”
“It is. But it’ll never blow up unless I try to detonate it.”
“If it’s a bomb then it’s dangerous, what are you on about?! Did living in the abyss make you drop your common sense into the depths as well? Put that thing away right now!”
“Pft. I get it, I get it.”
The Regressor giggled as she picked up the bead. Azzy looked at her with anticipating eyes, but she merely put the bead into her extra-dimensional pocket. Azzy glared at the Regressor with the expression of a dog-girl whose toy was stolen.
I clicked my tongue as I got to my feet, feeling uncomfortable; it felt like I had tasted the limit of mind-reading.
I couldn’t read the Regressor’s memories of her past cycles, not before she recollected them. That was why I was slow to respond to things that happened related to the Regressor. It was hard to predict what came next too. I was greatly proud of myself when it came to my mind-reading, but this was the first ordeal that tested that pride.
Actually, it wasn’t even an ordeal. The Regressor was honestly a bit beyond normal standards, wasn’t she? It was worth praising that my mind-reading worked so faithfully against someone like her. My power wasn’t lacking, no. The world was just too harsh.
Anyway. Since we had all gathered, I figured we should go. It was foolish to say anything more after spoiling my image.
I relied on mind-reading to check what was going on behind me as I wordlessly walked toward the 4th-floor control center.
On the way, the vampire put a hand to her mouth, smiling slightly.
“That was some fair amusement, getting to see that lad act so dramatically. But no matter how frivolous he is, I am rather disappointed to see him flee in such an unsightly manner. It is but a mere bomb.”
“I wonder about that. Judging by his reaction, he probably had an idea of the bomb’s power. It’ll lay waste to everything in a 3km radius when it goes off, you see.”
“It, it is that powerful? Is it not meant to be used for the likes of fireworks?”
“Because it’ll be useless without that much destructive force. Pft. Anyway, I got to see something funny thanks to that. So funny that I want to save it in my mind.”
The vampire stared at the oddly cheerful Regressor for a moment.
“It was my first time seeing you laugh.”
“Mm? Well, a person can laugh sometimes.”
“It was nice to see. Why not try smiling occasionally, then?”
The Regressor suddenly shut her lips and touched her mouth. Her face showed the shock of someone who had remembered something she had long forgotten.
She had always tried to become stronger and strove to gain even a line of more knowledge. There were still countless powers and secrets sleeping in this world, and every minute and second of the Regressor’s time was spent in a struggle to obtain those things. It was to the point that even after coming to this closed-off abyss, she didn’t slack in swinging her sword and gaining strength.
For her, the emotional luxury of laughing was too unfamiliar.
｢How long, no, how many cycles has it been since I last smiled?｣
The Regressor rubbed her lips repeatedly, thrown off by the foreign sensation of mirth, like a breeze out of place, and her longing for the emotions she used to feel so long ago.
We marched in silence for a while.
Then, the vampire, who was sitting comfortably on her floating coffin, began to move her body to and fro, seeming bothered by something. Each time she moved, her silver hair swishing under her hairpin shone in the light and her loose-fitting dress fluttered.
But the Regressor was too deep in thought to react in any way. In the end, the vampire grew impatient and called on her silly side. She fidgeted with her hair, beginning to speak.
“Hem-hem. Shei. Do you notice anything different?”
“Oh, right. Tyrkanzyaka. I realized something about bloodcraft during the battle yesterday, and I need advice on it. Could you give me some time once that guy’s finished talking?”
“… Yes, I shall. It is good news that there has been progress.”
Crestfallen, the vampire slumped her shoulders and looked between me and the Regressor, as if comparing us.
Haah. Seriously. I’m getting embarrassed by her antics. Next time, I think I’ll just hold off complimenting her.
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