༺ A Horrid Puppet Show Starring the Progenitor – 2 ༻
What will I do?
I was unsure of how to explain this… No, before that, I wasn’t sure how to express the gloom in my chest.
I wiped my face with a hand, muttering to myself.
“I definitely warned you, Tyrkanzyaka. When a stranger approaches with sweet words, be cautious, for they may be trying to take something from you.”
I had taught, showed, acted, and even made fun of her. Clearly, none of it had any effect.
She wouldn’t have shown her heart to Finlay otherwise.
“Don’t give your heart away, you can never get what you want by magic. I emphasized it so many times yet this is what happens.”
It confused the Regressor to see me keep on talking alone.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This is why you shouldn’t volunteer to be a teacher. Haah. This is tiring. What does she think I worked so hard for until now? What becomes of my efforts when a trainee goes astray like this?”
“You make it sound like you’re an actual teacher. So, what the hell is it?”
She rudely dismissed my words and kept prying. So I sighed deeply and flatly relayed the truth I had read from Finlay’s mind.
“It seems Trainee Tyrkanzyaka has fallen into the Homunculus’ Dilemma.”
Fallen into the Homunculus’ Dilemma. This phrase held a symbolic meaning to those versed in magic. It referred to people who tried to change themselves by borrowing the power of magic, only to end up as miserable as a mere homunculus. In other words, it was the same as saying they had become a puppet under someone’s control.
The Regressor immediately understood my words and was astonished.
“Whaat? By who? It can’t be?”
“Finlay. He has dominated Trainee Tyrkanzyaka. And thanks to that, he can now wield her power.”
She didn’t believe it.
“How is that possible? Lower-ranking vampires can’t beat those of higher rank because of the huge gap in their ability to control blood through bloodcraft! And against the Progenitor of all vampires? She’d be able to rip his limbs apart with just a finger snap!”
“But that’s what happened. It looks like Trainee Tyrkanzyaka let her guard down.”
“The gap can’t be narrowed by something like carelessness!”
“I wonder about that. It was to the point that she exposed her heart in front of me, and even asked you, Trainee Shei, to strike her with lightning. Don’t you think that level of carelessness is more than enough?”
She got dominated due to her lack of vigilance. That was the reality.
The Regressor, unable to find fault in my reasoning, took a more objective view of the situation.
“Right, I guess that does explain everything. If Tyrkanzyakan really intended to leave, she would’ve at least given us a word about it. But why? Against a small fry like him…?”
She fell into thought with a confused face and steadily recalled yesterday’s events. Tyrkanzyaka mentioned wanting a freely beating heart and asked to be hit with lightning. Then the Regressor had told her to ask me about the Homunculus’ Dilemma.
After remembering up to that point, she started glowering at me.
“You told Tyrkanzyaka about the Homunculus’ Dilemma yesterday, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Thanks to a certain someone’s instigation. The guy could’ve just explained it herself since he knew. Don’t know why he keeps shifting trouble on me.”
Unable to refute me, the Regressor clicked her tongue and changed the subject.
“Did you really tell her properly? If she heard the story, Tyrkanzyaka would never have become so foolhardy.”
“I did tell her properly. But it looks like our expectations were a little off.”
The Homunculus’ Dilemma was naturally a warning. A solemn warning against changing your body with magic, unless you wanted to suffer the terrible fate of becoming a collection of dismantled parts to be used as materials.
“For ordinary humans, the idea of their bodies being dismantled and used as materials is a terrifying concept, isn’t it?”
The vampire, however, had shown herself to act against common sense on several occasions. I knew this, but at the same time, I didn’t know. I could read everything from thoughts to memories, yet not I even I was capable of completely deciphering the vampire, a being that had lived through 1200 years. It was probably why I was a bit late in my realization.
“But do you think Trainee Tyrkanzyaka would have also felt fear or a vague aversion after listening to that urban legend? Or, would she have simply mused upon it as another option?”
No wonder she didn’t react much when I told her the story yesterday. I should’ve known then.
“It’s possible Trainee Tyrkanzyaka took it not as a taboo… but as a way to make her heart beat again.”
The Regressor’s face froze. The vampire had cut open her chest to receive an electric shock, and when that wasn’t enough, she asked to be struck by a spell of lightning. To her, something like the Homunculus’ Dilemma wasn’t a repulsive taboo… it was basically a roundabout refusal.
“I didn’t know… at all.”
The Regressor’s voice trembled.
“Then is it because of me? Is it my fault that Tyrkanzyaka allowed her heart to Finlay?”
Your fault? What nonsense is that? If your advice is to blame, then what does that make me? I failed to predict this situation even though I could read minds in real-time.
“I disagree. It’s not your fault, Trainee Shei.”
I’m not responsible, so, you’re not responsible either. Let’s pardon ourselves, yeah?
“And neither is it mine. How could we have known that Trainee Tyrkanzyaka’s desire for a thumping heart was so great? Honestly speaking, this is her fault from start to finish. Really, is she a granny with dementia or what? Talk about face-checking every danger around her. She would’ve long died if not for being immortal.”
I playfully comforted the Regressor, and that moved her a little for a moment. Warm consolation was rare for her, after all.
But just as I was about to relax…
Tension returned to the Regressor’s eyes as she drove off sweet solace and stopped herself from growing weak, sharpening her mind.
“How do you know all this?”
Ahaha. How keen. Well I read Finlay’s memories. From the lie he uttered yesterday, and how the vampire took her heart out despite his obvious deception. Read it all so clearly.
But since I couldn’t say the truth, I held my index finger to my mouth.
“It’s a secret.”
And I smiled, my expression clear and serene. The Regressor’s face darkened. She glared at me and grit her teeth, as apprehensive as a beast facing an enemy.
Oh come on, after I gave you such a friendly smile? The heck? What did I do?
“…Fine. I’ll overlook that secret. So then…”
The Regressor proceeded to demand an answer, looking ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.
“What’s your plan? To look on? Cooperate? Or, oppose?”
I wasn’t sure about that. If it were possible to escape using the vampire’s power, I might have worked with Finlay. In fact, I would’ve wheedled the vampire into climbing out even before that.
But I knew it wasn’t possible to escape so simply. I had obtained a clue by disassembling Finlay’s bracelet and grew convinced after questioning the golem. To get out, I needed something aside from the ability to fly. This meant…
“Finlay will fail to escape. It’s not possible that way, after all.”
Being immortal vampires, they could steadily keep flying with patience, but even that had its limits. As they went up, they would eventually realize the impossibility of reaching the surface by that method.
“They’ll come back to us once they realize they’re wrong. Which would be quite embarrassing for all of us, right? Imagine shouting goodbye and farewell, only for them to return because they don’t know the way out. It’ll be awkward for everyone. We got enough bad vibes down here already, and that’s gonna make it worse.”
“So, the bottom line?”
I wasn’t capable of sending Finlay out, but he wouldn’t believe it if told him. And even if the vampires confirmed the truth by various means, they wouldn’t let me off for fooling them.
In short, we were destined for conflict. I figured it was necessary to kill Finlay if I wanted to live.
“I’m cheerful by nature, so I abhor awkwardness in the air. I’ll have to keep Finlay here, even if it means capturing and killing him.”
I proffered a hand to the Regressor with a grin.
“Let’s cooperate, Trainee Shei. To take Finlay down.”
“Hmph. Do you think I’d ever cooperate with a shady guy like you?”
What, why’s she so harsh when I’m being so helpful and smiling all nice? You’re actually the King of Hedgehogs, aren’t you?
The Regressor dusted off her clothes, ignoring my awkward attempt at a handshake.
“We only happen to have the same goal. Just don’t get in my way.”
“Whichever way works for me. You’re so dependable.”
“Well you’re not for me. Not one bit.”
｢It’s better than having him as an enemy, but I can’t trust him completely. I should keep the mindset of fighting alone.｣
Oh, that’s a good resolve ’cause you do have to fight on your own. I got no ability to fight vampires, so you need to win this by yourself. It’ll be a disaster if I’m left alone.
Watching the Regressor prepare herself for a solo fight, I threw a furtive question.
“Do you have a plan?”
“…Hoo. I guess there’s no reason to hide it.”
She raised her finger and focused hard. Blood seeped out of her finger and came together like a bead, rolling on her fingertip.
“Bloodcraft is a universal ability to vampires. But no matter how able he is, Finlay is only a neonate. Not an elder, not even an ancilla. The connection of his power has to be loose. That being the case…”
The Regressor shook her finger, and the bead of blood exploded in the air. The impact was comparable to a small bomb. Amidst the scattering blood, she continued explaining confidently.
“I’ll apply a shock to Tyrkanzyaka using my bloodcraft. My power is primal bloodcraft. It’s not part of Tyrkanzyaka’s power. If I provoke her using an extrinsic force, her instinct will react, if only to repel it.”
Her head was a tad rotten, but she wasn’t the Regressor for show. The plan was solid. Enough to deserve a passing grade.
I figured it wasn’t necessary to hold back on compliments at moments like this.
“Nice. That’s a fantastic plan.”
The Regressor snorted at that.
“Hmph. Don’t just spout empty words. I want you to give me ranged support.”
“I don’t really have a means for that, though.”
She fixed a flat gaze on me.
What, why? You think ranged support is the only thing I lack? I actually got no melee support either! Tada!!
“Then cast some magic from behind.”
“But the best I can use are level 0 spells, you know?”
Didn’t you see me use magic last time? And my pathetic mana capacity too.
The Regressor scrunched up her face at the reminder.
“Tsk, what. You were just a swordsman? A swordsman without any powers is the worst match-up against Tyrkanzyaka!”
Nope, I’m just a card shark. I hardly ever tried using swords too. The kitchen knife I use for cooking makes up my entire history in that field.
“Then why don’t you deal with Tyrkanzyaka’s familiar! I’ll take care of the rest!”
｢He really is totally undependable! Hmph, but it’s fine. I can do it alone. I managed it in my previous life cycle, after all!｣
For a moment, the Regressor recalled something that happened in a previous cycle. In the great war of the past, she had stormed the headquarters of the army of immortals that confronted Sanctum.
Back then, she encountered the Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka, whose eyes were crimson with a thirst for bloody vengeance.
｢I’m weaker and don’t have much means available compared to then, but that’s the same for Tyrkanzyaka. Actually, it’s worse for her. She doesn’t have the elders and ancillae of the Duchy of Mist to protect her, does she? Ralion. As long as I can somehow be careful around that horse, I can wake Tyrkanzyaka.｣
The short reminiscence ended. Finishing her mental calculations, the Regressor firmed her resolve and resumed speaking.
“I need to prepare.”
“What an astounding coincidence. I also happen to need some preparation.”
“Let’s meet here in one minute. We’re going to defeat Finlay and save Tyrkanzyaka.”
The Regressor didn’t even wait for my reply, striding back to her room to take out the tools to face the vampires.
Hmm. I truthfully had nothing to prepare, but still, I figured I should at least go through the motions. So I scratched my head and went upstairs to fetch what little gear I had.
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