༺ A Declaration of Silence ༻
The next day came.
Because I didn’t much rest due to being woken up in the middle of the night, I couldn’t wake up until Azzy was annoyed. To soothe her displeasure, I had to cook up a feast for her straight from the morning.
As I was leaving the cafeteria, having finished my meal first, I suddenly heard something like a scream from downstairs. I poked my head around the corner of the wall and found the Regressor facing off against yesterday’s intruder, Finlay.
Actually, “facing off” was too soft to describe the happening. Finlay’s right arm was already
cut off and lying beneath the Regressor’s sword.
“Tut-tut. No wonder they say a leopard can’t change its spots.”
Geez. She couldn’t give up her old habit and cut another arm again. I let out a big yawn as I walked over to them.
“Huam. Trainee Shei, why have you cut off someone’s arm again?”
Finlay looked shocked as he clutched his shoulder.
｢Again? Does he mean that this boy usually goes around cutting people’s arms? Surely not!｣
Surprisingly enough, reality tended to exceed imagination. Although she did try and fail in my case.
Hearing my remark, the arm-snipper frowned as she gave an excuse.
“It’s not my fault. A stranger came over all of a sudden and tried to touch me.”
“He must’ve asked for a handshake. Trainee Shei. Did you happen to make some kind of oath that requires you to force prosthetics onto people who ask for handshakes? Why are you so bent on cutting arms? Do you have a hobby of gathering limbs?”
“I’d never react like that to a handshake. Are you taking me for a psychopath?”
“Drat, how’d you know?”
The Regressor’s glare stung. If eyes could shoot lasers, she’d have lopped off my arm.
I hid my arms behind my back and hastily added an excuse.
“I mean, honestly. You tried to take my arm as well, Trainee Shei. Normal people wave their hand in hello upon meeting others, not swing a sword to cut arms.”
“It’s not like I did it without reason. That vampire… what was it again? ‘Why does a mere human possess Primordial Essence?’, that’s what he said. Then he tried to touch my chest.”
I finally understood what happened. Finlay must have sensed the sanguine energy of his noble Progenitor and snooped around the prison’s 1st floor. Then he met the Regressor and expressed anger at the likes of a human possessing the Progenitor’s blood.
Naturally, the high and prickly Regressor wouldn’t have simply let Finlay touch her. She promptly cut off his arm with her sword, and so the frightened intruder ended up in that sorry state, clutching his shoulder.
A very believable story, I’d say. I nodded in comprehension.
“Still, he’s Trainee Tyrkanzyaka’s guest.”
“That’s what came to mind and stopped me from cutting his neck off. Besides, that alone wouldn’t have killed him anyway.”
Such a mean person. She refrained because that wouldn’t have killed the man? The heck?
Being a kind and model citizen, I picked up the intruder’s fallen arm and returned it to his shoulder. As the severed parts grew close, blood came stretching out as they connected like magnets. Having regained his limb, Finlay rubbed his arm as he backed off hesitatingly.
｢W-What’s this? How can he speak so normally with a monster like that…!｣
He sure is being wary after losing an arm once… Talk about making a big deal over nothing.
Actually, I guess being wary was the right response, in human terms. I got confused for a moment there. I’ve been hanging around strange people too much these days…
My common sense was becoming distorted, what with encountering the undying’s limbs every time I visited the cafeteria, and giving heart massages to the vampire who came to me all the time.
I had to get a grip, lest I end up completely abnormal.
After pulling myself together, I spoke in a sensible tone.
“Still, please be careful from now on. Thank god it was a vampire this time. A normal human can’t even stick their arm back on, you know.”
“I don’t act this way toward ordinary people.”
“What was that? Did I mishear? Then did you try to cut my arm because I’m not human?”
“Ordinary, I said. How can you say that for a guy who deflects an invisible sword with his fingers?”
Hearing that, Finlay cast an astonished look at me.
｢He used his fingers to deflect that attack? That man who looks so utterly ordinary? Unbelievable. Then he wasn’t lying about being the Lord of Tantalus either!｣
It wasn’t my intention, but the misunderstandings started piling in real time. I saw more and more fear in the way Finlay looked at me… and I’m slightly enjoying it for some reason? A lofty noble of the night being so scared of a street magician. Now when would I ever get such treatment elsewhere? This was about as fun as the time I built a stone tower with rocks of assorted shapes.
But just as I figured I could keep the show going and wondered if there was anything else I could add, someone else joined us: Azzy.
Azzy lounged over after having her fill of breakfast. When she saw a stranger in front of her, the smile left her lips as she began to growl.
Finlay was bewildered by the sudden hostility coming from behind him.
｢What is this? This ominous feeling?｣
He turned around and faced Azzy, the King of Dogs, who was baring her fangs, unlike her usual self. Something was bothering her because her cheeks twitched as she slowly walked over, glaring daggers at Finlay.
Azzy’s hair stood on end, as did everyone else’s. The growling of a beast had a paralyzing power to it. And facing that power head-on, Finlay was terrified.
｢A beastkin? Why is a beastkin growling at me? That aside, what in the world? This, more primal, blood-shaking fear…｣
His body trembled as Azzy’s growling became more and more intense.
But just as her feet twitched on the verge of leaping, I shouted at her.
“Bad girl, Azzy! Leave that thing be and come here!”
At my call, Azzy swerved her head to glance at me, then fixed wary eyes on Finlay while sidestepping to where I was. She stuck right to my side and pointed at the vampire as if telling on him.
“Woof. Woof-woof. Blood smell. Him. That thing.”
It seemed that a vampire who wasn’t at the level of the Progenitor slightly gave off the smell of blood. From Azzy’s perspective, it must look like a dead human walking around. It was only natural she reacted sensitively as she possessed a sense of smell that was hundreds of times better than humans.
Azzy kept glaring, her nerves taut. If I wasn’t there to mediate, she might have taken Finlay apart. I tickled her chin as I gave a reply.
“I know. That’s not a human. He just came to play.”
“Woof-woof. Woof. Not playing with him, not me.”
“He doesn’t want to play with you either, so hold back.”
What an opportune source of misunderstanding. I decided to exaggerate things a little, just to teach Finlay who was boss around here. I emphasized certain words while glancing at him.
“Since you’re the Dog King, you should uphold your dignity as a king. What are you thinking, reacting to every small fry like that.”
｢The Dog King!｣
Finlay’s jaws dropped upon realizing who Azzy was.
｢Is she truly the Dog King? The Beast King who is closest to mankind? The one who stood by humans to drive away the other races? He treats that King like a pet dog…! I knew he was no one ordinary!｣
He seemed quite misinformed because dogs were fundamentally pets. Even violent hounds would act cute in front of their owners. The Dog King was a dog, so she was a pet.
Someone might point out there are dogs that aren’t pets. Now those are what people call wolves.
Anyway. Maybe my nonchalant attitude affected her, but Azzy lost interest in Finlay and clung to me.
“Woof. What are we doing today? Food? Play ball? Other play?”
“No. I’m not playing today. Got something to do.”
Heheh. I had built up my false image enough. Now Finlay would be completely cowed, unable to make a squeak. He was surrounded by a swordsman who could cut off his arm in a single move, the Dog King who was the nemesis of vampires, and me, a man capable of freely handling the other two.
The man would probably never ignore my words in the future. He’d obey me, frightened by every little move I made. It just so happened I couldn’t be bothered to work, which made it the perfect time to get a nice vampire slave.
As I inwardly swore to exploit the blood out of Finlay, another person joined us.
“Everyone is gathered, how fortunate.”
A dark presence came through the doors of the underground. Undulating darkness slowly carried over a pitch-black coffin, on which the vampire was riding.
Seeing Azzy grow uncomfortable again, I kept a tight hold on her while greeting the vampire.
“Oh, good morning. I see you’ve woken early today.”
“Yes, good day. I have come just in time. Since you are all gathered here, I will not need to go looking for anyone.”
The vampire swept her gaze around everyone from her coffin before lifting her chin high and gathering her hands. We stopped talking and began to look at her.
Something about her small gestures and the way she gave everyone a look made us momentarily forget ourselves and stare at the vampire. It felt like she inherently knew how to command attention. Innate charisma, should I call it? She maintained a subtle presence even without having to act by calculation.
It was like how an incense candle burned. You wouldn’t notice it for some time, but its fragrance would reach you eventually. It was also like how music would halt conversations as people took a minute to appreciate it.
The vampire’s presence was faint yet commanding. Before we knew it, everyone was focusing on her lips and gestures.
“Woof-woof? Not playing?”
Like I always say, Azzy isn’t a person. She’s a dog.
Anyway. After grasping our attention, the vampire began to speak.
“News that must travel far requires many listeners. Hearken, Finlay. I shall answer your plea of yesternight.”
Her voice and tone were unchanged, no different from the usual, yet her words struck me like a queen’s decree.
Finlay fell to his knees, looking utterly impassioned.
“Yes! Your humble progeny Finlay is delightfully honored to hear your command, O Progenitor. Please allow me to listen!”
As both the Regressor and I watched the situation with bated breaths, the vampire gazed down at Finlay and handed a declaration.
“Yesternight, you begged me to permit war. Here is my answer to that.”
“I will gladly accept your word, whatever the decision!”
“I shall retain silence.”
Finlay neither showed disappointment nor lament. He merely accepted the outcome with a lowered head.
He must’ve fallen down here in anticipation of a glorious crusade. The best future he pictured was returning to the surface with the Progenitor, while the worst was becoming lost to the abyss. To reach the best-case scenario, Finlay had braced himself for the worst as he took the fall.
But even though his hope was shattered, he didn’t seem disappointed in the least. In fact…
“I will accept! Thank you for giving an answer!”
He was simply thrilled to be given an answer alone. There was no need to persuade vampires of lower ranking or be considerate of them. Just as no river flowed from bottom to top, there was nothing a retainer could do against their maker. They could only plead to hear an opinion.
“In light of your admirable efforts in coming here, I shall elaborate a little.”
The vampire glanced at me and the Regressor as she added a slight explanation. I realized she wasn’t explaining for Finlay but for us.
“I have never forbidden Valdamir, that boy, from waging war. I have never forced my will on my children in the first place. War shall occur wholly of their own decision and responsibility. I am already vanished from history. Unless they need me, I shall not become their symbol of my own accord.”
“As you decree.”
“As such, even if everything is prepared, I shall not be the one to commence bloodshed. This is my will.”
“As you decree.”
“If you accept, then return to the surface. This is not a place for you to come.”
The vampire gave her verdict. But this time Finlay showed a different attitude to his previous humble obedience.
“Forgive me, O Progenitor, but I cannot accept that command.”
“Why is that?”
It was impossible for a vampire to defy the Progenitor. If a retainer said they couldn’t do something, it wasn’t a matter of will, but a matter of ability. That being the case, the vampire asked for the reason instead of reproaching Finlay.
Finlay slammed his head to the ground, crying out to her.
“I beg your forgiveness! But it is irrelevant to my will. I have no means of leaving the abyss! That is why I am shamefully unable to fulfill your command, O Progenitor. May you take my life instead!”
“No means of leaving…? Did you not prepare a way?”
“There was none from the beginning!”
｢It is common knowledge that going back up is harder than coming down, but nevertheless, not even preparing a way to return to the surface? Now that is a little curious. What in Gaia happened outside for him to look for me in the abyss with no way out?｣
The vampire’s contemplation lasted long, but that wasn’t enough to solve her question. Her curiosity soared, but having already made a decision, she was afraid further inquiry would shake her determination. So she asked no more.
“Be still. This is the territory of the Military State, and they have sent an individual as overseer. He may be able to take you out. Let us see.”
Instead, she turned to me. The vampire named me and spoke in an almost commanding tone.
“Warden. Finlay must not have committed a crime that warrants imprisonment. It is a mistake and accident that he came here. I hope for you to return him to the surface.”
Eh? Me? Wait. What? You want that intruder returned safe and sound? And you want me to do it?
“Who else here but you?”
The vampire gazed at me like it was only natural. Facing that look, I felt cold sweat run down my back.
I mean, forget being a warden or whatever, I was actually imprisoned myself, you know?
“Since the country called the Military State is the master of this place, you must surely know the way to leave. I request that you let Finlay go.”
No really, if I knew the way to get out, I would’ve tried it before anyone else. I wouldn’t have stayed locked up here until now.
“I am Tyrkanzyaka the Progenitor, the only remaining sin of the Calamities that has inherited the name of Kanzyaka, the monster that will devour the world. Peerless knights have spilled their blood before me, and countless heroes fell in their quest to take my life. Though I may have fallen into ruin and taken shelter in the abyss, I hardly think my current state overshadows my past.”
“Fallen into ruin?! O Progenitor, that is ridiculous! Every vampire on the surface holds you in adoration! To suggest such a thing is…!”
Why in blazes was she asking me for a way out? I was starting to see no way out of this situation.
But that aside, did Finlay really prepare nothing to escape? Then wasn’t there no reason to spare that nuisance?
“… You are not answering. Are you troubled? If you are that disinclined, then allow me to ask a personal favor. Return him to the surface, please.”
The reason I couldn’t answer was that I was incapable of hearing out her request. Sensing the crisis I was in, I set the cogs in my head spinning.
Meanwhile, the vampire presumed my silence was a refusal and made a declaration in a low voice.
“If you refuse, then I intend to take Finlay back myself. The abyss may be infinite, but my time is also eternal. Darkness is my realm. Surely I will reach the surface if I continue to climb. However, once Finlay is returned, I do not think I will take the trouble of coming back to this place.”
Finlay jerked his head up, while the Regressor’s face turned rigid with shock. Her words meant only one thing: she wouldn’t come back from the surface. In other words, she was going to break out unless I listened to her demand.