༺ A Horrid Puppet Show Starring the Progenitor ༻
People are always under temptation. There’s no need to even verify this statement because humans undergo a tribulation every morning.
Whether to enjoy a few more minutes of happiness in your cozy bed and warm blankets, or to shake those off and stand before the scary world.
When humans fall asleep every night, they’re fated for the harsh trial they’ll inevitably face tomorrow morning. Most make it through the trial and progress forward in the unforgiving world. Although they do it not out of courage, but because they can’t live otherwise. Still, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a victory in itself.
Take pride, o humans, for you are beings who conquer the battle against morning. Well, I suppose it’d be a bit different for vampires who can sleep in a coffin for 300 years on end, but anyway. This is how humans are.
The State’s alarm clock—or the volunteer substitute, King of Dogs Azzy—removed the need for that trial. These things that forced people to wake up deprived even the right to take the test. They coarsely pruned other options to force a single path on me.
It’s convenient, that’s for sure. Efficient. But there’s no anguished contemplation. No introspection through painstaking thought, and furthermore, no growth.
Get lost, dog. What are you, the King of Roosters? Why do you covet my right to sophistication? I’m going to stay under my soft blankets and think a little more, then obtain a late victory. So scram!
“Alright. I’m sorry! I’ll get up!”
Damn it. Totally ineffective.
I washed my face and fixed my hair with some water as usual, then slotted in my warden uniform packet. The tight uniform enveloped my body. It was very comfortable compared to its appearance, as it was with all clothing packets, but I had one complaint; it was hard to hide anything in the sleeves because they were so narrow. It took a magician of my caliber to hide a card in there. Other magicians would feel handcuffed.
I hid my card in my sleeve like always with idle thoughts and left the room. But just then…
I looked at Azzy, and she turned her big eyes to me. I tilted my head, and she followed suit.
“Odd. Didn’t you growl just now?”
“Really? Or not I guess.”
I did feel like I heard something.
How odd. Maybe Finlay was nearby? Ah, well. It’s probably no deal.
I prepared breakfast with yesterday’s leftovers. While Azzy ate with relish, I finished a moderate meal and strolled down to the yard.
“Now, what shall I do today… Hmm, there’s not much to do. It’d be nice to rip off some alchemic gold from Trainee Shei using a lesson.”
I decided to gently tempt the vampire by saying there was a crucial lesson today, fill her with expectations, and pretend to pull back due to an issue. The Regressor would then probably open her wallet voluntarily.
The vampire’s art collection was pricey, but the downside was that it couldn’t be used right away. With that taken into account, alchemic gold was the best after all. Especially considering that alchemic gold was the immediate currency.
Fufu. I’m gonna rip off a bunch of gold and get a new deck of cards. One that’s all alchemizable, of course.
And so I walked along planning the scam of the day. Suddenly, though, I heard a strange thought from one side of the yard again.
What the? Did the Regressor de-limb Finlay again?
Curious, I headed over and…
“I thought you would be coming, Warden.”
I found the Regressor and Finlay facing each other, which reminded me of the first day Finlay came. Only, their attitudes were completely opposite compared to that time.
Finlay was sitting on a chair with a confident expression. Two dark knights, formed of undulating darkness, were standing at attention to his sides like bodyguards. As for the Regressor, she had her arms crossed with a disgruntled face as usual.
I grew puzzled.
“What’s the fuss this time? Did Trainee Shei cut off someone’s arm or something?”
The Regressor shot me a glance and answered bluntly.
Not yet, huh. Mm.
Finlay scoffed at the Regressor’s implication.
“Wielding a sword beyond your worth has made you arrogant… Although that ends today.”
What the? Did he have a death wish? It was routine for the Regressor to go after arms but utterly expected for Finlay to be acting so proud. She could slice him up into bits of vampire sushi if she felt like it. What was making him confident?
Feeling curious, I focused my mind to read Finlay’s thoughts, which were coming from outside, and discovered what he had done last night.
Wow. I didn’t know he was a fraudster who’s frauder than yours truly.
The fraudster held his chin up, which was oddly annoying because it looked like he was copying the vampire.
“I do not like you. But since the Progenitor appears to be quite fond of you and that brat, I shall leave a message.”
As if he had become a spokesman, he made an arrogant announcement to me and the Regressor.
“The Progenitor will leave for the surface with me.”
“I am neither asking for permission nor understanding. This is a notice. The Progenitor’s will is firm, and you two will not be able to stop her.”
The Progenitor’s will? More like his will.
As I sneered inside, the Regressor expressed doubt, not knowing what was going on.
“What are you saying? Tyrkanzyaka said she had no intention of—”
“You boor! Do not presume to speak the Progenitor’s name!”
The Regressor felt a surge of anger, but she managed to keep a rational head and not draw Chun-aeng. Finlay gazed at us with satisfaction as we kept quiet.
“Yes. A long time ago, the Progenitor did say that. But she has changed her mind now. To climb to the surface for our kindred and look after them.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Look at the dark knights by my side. This is the power of the Progenitor. If she did not will it, then how else would I be accompanied by dark knights who wield Blood Aura?”
The two knights, shrouded in a red aura, stomped their feet in unison as if to affirm his words. It was an attempt to be threatening, but the Regressor didn’t bat an eye.
“I’ll be the judge of that after I meet Tyrkanzyaka myself. Lead the way.”
The edged look in her eyes suggested she would instantly cut anything standing in her way, but Finlay didn’t avoid her gaze.
“Did you not hear me? The Progenitor is getting ready to go up.”
“I should be asking you. I’ll hear it from her mouth before judging, so lead the way.”
The air was charged with tension as the Regressor’s gaze turned murderous. In response, Blood Aura billowed from the dark knights. The situation was volatile.
Just as Chun-aeng slowly stopped spinning like a compass, and the dark knights reached for their arms behind their backs…
“Wait, Trainee Shei.”
I intervened. I stuck out a deterring hand in front of the Regressor, then pointed at Finlay, who was still sitting still.
“That’s a puppet made of blood and darkness.”
The Regressor frowned at that.
“Yes. The real him is controlling the puppet outside this building.”
Shortly after my revelation, Finlay’s body swelled into darkness. His puppet, which instantly turned into black shadow, pulled a wide grin.
『Quite perceptive, Warden. How did you know?』
Read your thoughts. The ones I’m hearing from outside the building right now.
Since I couldn’t tell him the truth, I gave a quick evasive answer.
“Cowards all act the same, you see. A coward like you would never show his real self in front of us, don’t you think?”
The shadow burst into mad, gaping laughter.
『Hah, arrogant. So arrogant. A mere peasant blustering in faith of his trifling power…』
Despite what he said, however, he thought differently in his mind.
｢He saw through the puppet made of the Progenitor’s power? He certainly is no common man…! Hah, fine. Indeed, avoiding combat would be better, even if I have the Progenitor’s aid…!｣
The thoughts I heard from beyond the wall grew farther and farther away. Finlay had been using his vampiric darkness to observe the situation in hiding, but the moment I exposed the puppet, he fled at full speed.
Turns out he wasn’t just a coward. He was a lily-livered dastard.
The puppet’s shape distorted the further its owner fled. Its skin melted, flesh warped, and darkness seeped from its cracks. Finlay’s puppet no longer looked like a puppet, let alone a human, as it spoke in a bizarre voice.
『But, behold. This puppet itself which perfectly mimicked me is proof of the Progenitor’s power. Do you now believe that my will is the Progenitor’s will, brat?』
There was nothing the Regressor could do but nod. Not even she was capable of sensing that the puppet wasn’t the real Finlay, after all.
The Regressor’s expression grew vexed.
“Tsk. Clearly, it’s a power beyond the likes of you.”
『If you understand, then that makes things easy. We ask only one thing.』
Even as Finlay ran far away, the puppet firmly uttered his last message.
『Do not hinder our escape. Comply, and we will not kill—』
Slash! The Regressor severed the puppet at the waist before it could finish. It folded over as smoke seeped from the cut. The dark knights responded to losing the puppet, but she swung Chun-aeng and beheaded them in a single breath. The moment their black helmets hit the floor, the knights turned to black smoke and disappeared.
With the vampire gone, silence fell in the yard. The Regressor sheathed her sword and glared at the still-dispersing smoke, her eyes burning with hostility.
“I need to go see Tyrkanzyaka. Meet her in person and hear what’s going on.”
｢If Tyrkanzyaka seriously confronts me, I won’t be able to beat her alone. It’ll end in mutual death at best. But…｣
Mutual death meant victory for the Regressor since she could still go on to the next life cycle. She just had to seek a better future using the information gained from this life.
Having made her resolve, the Regressor shifted her gaze to me.
“What will you do?”
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