༺ Heartbeat ༻
What is the biggest feature that separates day and night? Naturally, that is the presence or absence of light. Light illuminates the world and provides the ability to distinguish the objects in front of you in this thorny world.
We can tell nothing without light. Even if death comes right before us, we may lean toward it like an innocent three-year-old.
There is no courage when facing the unknown, only fear. When stepping through the darkness, it isn’t courage that prevents the invisible fangs of danger from biting your neck, merely good fortune. The ordinary who perceive this instinctively avoid the dark, taking a lesson from the reckless who do not return from it.
Thus, the night was always a concept to be wary of, for the unknown is fear and dread itself.
Humans built houses and lit fires to drive away the darkness and protect themselves, filling their surroundings with familiar things to stay their fright.
So when someone broke into my room during the night, I hysterically sprang up from bed to light the bedside lamp. Who would sneak in here without a sound? Into my room of all places? I was sure whoever it was had bad intentions…
But against my assumption, the intruder I found was utterly unexpected. It was a beautiful girl of a white complexion. Or more accurately, her skin seemed to have no color. A pale face, toneless silver hair, an icy expression, and an unmoving chest. She gave a sickly impression, lacking several elements of life.
The girl bore an air of classic, aristocratic elegance, yet her appearance was young compared to her mysterious atmosphere. However, the discrepancy didn’t seem to originate from immaturity. It was more as if she had been deprived of growth at some point.
Was she a ghost? Her hair and limbs were so thin, it looked like she may break at a mere touch. It made me hesitate to approach her. I felt a sense of teetering peril as if I were watching white porcelain about to fall to the floor.
But that anxiety was, in itself, an attraction. When will it fall? How will it break? How beautiful will the redness permeating the broken shards be? That was the sort of breathless, thrilling, immoral impulse she made me feel.
The blood in my whole body was drawn to her. My mind grew far. I felt a giddiness similar to falling. I reached out subconsciously, and—
I read her mind.
It’s the vampire. Why is she here? It can’t be…
“Have you finally come to butcher the goose that lays golden eggs?”
Her red eyes, glowing even in the dark, filled with puzzlement.
“Where did that come from?”
“Were you so hungry? But if you’ll just think about it for a second. This is an exceedingly foolish choice. There is only about 5L of blood flowing through my body. That’s all you can get by taking me now. But I can make more blood every single day, and if I squeeze myself to the extreme, I can provide about 300mL of blood each week. After 17 weeks, approximately 120 days, you’ll have profited from sparing me. Remember this. Become a monster of interest rates. For centenarians like you, compound interest is absolutely the way to go…”
Here I was, imparting forbidden knowledge to a vampire who would live forever so long as the world didn’t go to hell. Have I given rise to a monstrosity…?
The vampire went silent at my Azzy-speak for a moment, looking down at me.
“Have you cleared your head?”
“Yes. Talking helped to return my senses.”
“Indeed. I may have a seat, yes?”
As I nodded, the vampire conjured a black chair out of thin air and seated herself. I sat on the bed and rubbed my face a few times. I felt no animosity or hunger from her. It seemed I wasn’t destined to die tonight.
I hoped no one thought too strangely of me taking fright. A vampire coming quietly in the middle of the night? Wasn’t that one of the world’s biggest three horrors followed by tigers and smallpox? It was a relief the vampire had no intention of harming me. Otherwise, I would’ve been sucked dry like a coconut fallen off its tree.
“What brings you to my room so late?”
I asked a question to read her thoughts, but there was no need for that as the vampire answered honestly.
“Indeed. I came to discuss something important with you. I admit it was rather impatient of me, but I felt there would be no opportunity past this night…”
The vampire paused to take a look around, then she covered her face slightly with her parasol and lowered her head.
“I called you from outside, but you simply would not wake up. So I had no choice but to come inside… Why do you sleep so soundly? You made me enter myself.”
｢It is unimaginable for a woman to sneak into a man’s room in the night.｣
I wished she would realize she was a vampire before she was a woman. It was terrifying. My heart was beating in alarm like I had encountered a natural predator. I was the victim, so why was she acting as if she lost anything…?
Whatever. I took the chance to give a wicked laugh and stick out my tongue.
“Heheheh. Coming to me secretly in the night must mean you’re resolved… Did you miss me so much? Very well. I shall handle you as you want…”
“Do not mess around. I am serious.”
Her red eyes flashed with displeasure. She broke in at night, yet she didn’t even let me joke. How unfair.
But the age difference between us was even more unfair. I waved the white flag and swiftly changed the topic.
“It’s because you keep trailing off. You came here so late in such a hurry when you’re usually so laid-back. Why are you just sitting there clammed up and twisting your hair?”
“Well… It is rather sudden of me to say this. That is to say, I have an important request for you.”
“Come on. I’m just a human and can’t read your thoughts, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka. I can’t tell if you don’t say it.”
Actually, I could tell. I just read her mind. In fact, I did feel like this would happen from the moment I attempted heart resuscitation earlier in the day. Because even after a thousand years, the vampire still yearned for her inanimate heart and the life that was stolen from her.
And as I expected, the vampire made her decision and looked straight at me. Her red eyes were burning hot with the passion of a human who had caught a strand of hope. It felt just as if I were looking at a novice who got a good hand in a gambling game.
“It is about the heart. Using that method today, you made a heart start beating again.”
“I also have a heart that has stopped in my body. A brazier broken from the long absence of fire.”
The heart of a vampire didn’t beat, it only allowed blood to pass through its suspended veins. To them, a heart was merely a source where their flowing blood gathered. So how does their blood move? What is the principle by which the red liquid in them, the source of life, trickled forth…?
The answer was surprisingly simple: bloodcraft. The vampire’s technique of controlling blood which the regressor had wanted to learn. Through this art, they directly controlled every drop and strand of blood and spread it throughout their body, pushing it between all their muscles and flesh. Blood completely bent to their will, which allowed them to move even without a beating heart.
That was the reason vampires could live despite being dead.
“Could you resurrect that brazier, with your flame?”
That was why a vampire’s heart remained still and unbeating while their blood flowed proudly regardless, as naturally as river water. The concept of intense, pumping blood was non-existence to these beings. They didn’t feel excitement or sorrow. Even if they did feel such emotions, their body would be utterly unaffected.
“Please. I wish to have a heart that beats on its own… and die as a living person.”
Their face didn’t flush, their veins didn’t bulge, their vision didn’t narrow, and their eyes didn’t redden or shed tears. Tension didn’t make their limbs tremble, and sorrow couldn’t overwhelm them. Be it excitement or sorrow, all of it ended as a flickering thought within the mind. Emotions unaccompanied by hormones didn’t last.
Over the past thousand years, some have admired vampires. They envied the flesh of the eternally young and undying, and even their cold rationality. The only emotion allowed to a vampire was reverence for their maker.
Yet as their progenitor, Tyrkanzyaka had never enjoyed such treatment. It was why she came to me while carrying a millennial long yearning, a hollow regret that couldn’t be felt in her chest.
As I gazed wordlessly at her, the vampire smiled sadly.
“… A little ugly, am I not? Despite already living for over a thousand years, you may wonder what regrets I have, shamelessly desiring more life when I have existed for so much longer than others.”
I shrugged at that.
“Nah. The fact that you have lived up to the present won’t devalue your will to keep living.”
The vampire gaped slightly at my surprisingly kind reply.
“I thought you would have made fun of me. How unexpected.”
“Now when did I ever make fun of you, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka? I always treated you with consideration. You won’t find anyone else like me who works so hard to respect the elderly.”
“… Am I mistaken? Am I still being teased?”
No wonder she seemed oddly bothered whenever I touched the subject of age. She must’ve been feeling ashamed of continuing to live.
The vampire lowered her eyes, murmuring.
“I fear not death, for I have already died once. Neither am I afraid of pain, for I have suffered in every manner of way across the ages. However, the experience, emotion, and pain I feel through this body… are filtered concepts, observed through slow-flowing blood. All those years gone by feel so fabricated, and the horror of it—”
The vampire suddenly grabbed my arm. Her cold hand clung to me like I was her last lifeline. There was little strength in her grip, but I couldn’t bring myself to shake her off. The vampire begged me in a voice of cold grief.
“I will do anything. Please. Bring back my heart.”
Drat, this is bad.
A faint expectation seeping from faded hope, a dream that came to an end, an innocence lost.
All these factors were elements that drove a magician insane. Seeing her craving for hope that she didn’t believe in herself made me want to surprise her no matter what. It was a magician’s duty to invoke fantasy, after all.
I repeated her words.
“You’ll do anything?”
“Indeed. It is a precious dream of a thousand years. There is nothing I would not do.”
I got up from my bed, and the vampire’s gaze followed me. Sitting on a chair, her head only came up to my waist. I tidied up the bed, then slapped the hard mattress before giving her an order.
“Bare your chest and lie down here.”
Her eyes flinched as if she never predicted such a response.
“Lie down, with my chest bare? That is…”
“Didn’t you say you’d do anything?”
That attitude, that look in her eyes, that face of someone who had found hope in desperation. It was familiar. My mouth watered as if I had spotted a tasty meal.
My senses as a back-alley card player were shouting that I had caught a sucker who had drawn a lucky hand and was ready to raise the bidding under my lead. An easy mark I could fleece the non-living daylights out of.
My reputation as a gambler would cry if I let a lamb like this go.
“You have to lie down to get started. Now, come on.”
I ordered her in an adamant tone, but the vampire only shrank back, her white fingers clenched in hesitation. Then moments later, as if determined, she got up while holding the neck of her clothes.
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