༺ A Horrid Puppet Show Starring the Progenitor – 3 ༻
In the lightless outskirts of Tantalus, the prison forsaken by heaven and earth, sinister and malevolent things stirred. Things that didn’t dare to stand before the gods. Their presence was evident, but the veil of darkness perfectly concealed their sin and, naturally, their appearance.
This was why, despite committing the grave sin of manipulating the Progenitor, Finlay could still roam freely. If he were not in the abyss, if there was even a single person to discover his crime, he would’ve been beheaded in an instant.
｢It’s fine. I can pay for this sin later with my life. As long as I manage to guide her to the Duchy, the Progenitor will surely understand us.｣
Finlay gazed at the vampire, feeling a sense of guilt that was imprinted in his blood. She was sitting on her coffin with hazy eyes without the parasol she always held. She looked even more lifeless than usual with her arms slack.
This impression might be due to her utterly pale complexion, the surrounding ominous darkness, or perhaps the large, scarred crack in her chest. Crimson energy fluctuated from the crack, seeming as if it was trying to get in, and at the same time, trying to get out.
“O Progenitor, pray forgive my insolence.”
Finlay wrapped that leaking blood energy around his hand and clutched it powerfully, shouting loud enough to make his voice ring through the darkness.
“O Progenitor! Let the sanguine steed obey my will!”
Finlay’s bloodcraft squeezed the vampire’s heart. Thump. Blood stirred violently. The vampire’s veins on her neck protruded as her life essence flowed to her head. Then, her hazy eyes sparked with clarity, albeit for a moment. Her mind didn’t fully awake, yet it executed the short command that was conveyed.
However, the sanguine steed merely snorted disdainfully instead of obeying. Finlay dropped his arm in disappointment. Even though he had taken control of the Progenitor, the greatest power currently at her disposal, the sanguine steed Ralion, didn’t show any reaction to him.
Finlay shook his head, muttering to himself.
“Was the command unacceptable? Or is it that it cannot understand? Hoo…”
He released the blood energy from his hand. And the next second, Finlay felt death brush his face—the sanguine steed’s red hooves fell over his head. Its hooves had reduced countless humans to minced meat before, and now it was coming for him with decisive swiftness. Fwoomph. It was too heavy to be called wind. The mere wind pressure was enough to force Finlay to his knees and fall to the ground.
The sanguine steed was the size of a house. Its hoof was big enough to cover Finlay’s whole body, and there wasn’t a single gap in its blood-smelted horseshoe. If it fell just 50 cm more, Finlay would turn into a handful of blood and disappear.
It was possible for him to regenerate over a long time of effort, but that was wishful thinking. The Progenitor could regain her senses in the meantime, put a stop to Finlay’s life, and retrieve his blood.
“G-Grrk. I see. The Progenitor’s command, has already been delivered…”
Finlay didn’t die. The reason was simple: Ralion didn’t finish stomping down with its hoof. Finlay knelt in the thin gap between the great hoof and the hard concrete. He mumbled to the sanguine steed.
“So eager to kill me for daring to control the Progenitor. But you cannot. Because that is the Progenitor’s command, even if it isn’t her true will!”
The steed snorted again.
“Good! That is enough. For so long as I control the Progenitor, you will ultimately obey my command! Kehahaha!”
Ralion huffed in disgust as it turned away and walked toward the invisible darkness. as if declaring it wouldn’t put up with the sight of Finlay anymore. The clopping of hooves faded into the dark. It was only after the sounds were gone that Finlay managed to relax.
After witnessing the sanguine steed’s tremendous power, he newly realized how reckless he had been. The stallion of bloody hooves possessed overwhelming size, weight, and strength, and was capable of defeating an army alone. But for all its might, even Ralion submitted to the Progenitor in body and mind.
The Progenitor’s power was domination. She could spread her blood everywhere and control what it touched, and create powerful familiars. Finlay was holding the reins to that colossal power, a power that was beyond him. And those who chanced upon something so overwhelming would show one of two reactions: fear or delight.
Finlay was the latter.
“Kehehe. Kehahaha! I, I have obtained the power of a god!”
The Progenitor’s constricting influence over his blood was slumbering quietly because she herself had withdrawn it. While she was in that state, Finlay controlled her heart using bloodcraft, and to him, that meant he was practically possessing the Progenitor’s abilities.
“The Progenitor must have acknowledged me. Approved of my purpose, surely! Otherwise, it would be impossible for me to wield her strength!”
Suddenly, as he was rejoicing in the intoxication of utter omnipotence, the vampire looked up.
Finlay gasped in shock. Had the Progenitor regained her senses? Nerves strained taught, he called out to her.
“O, O Progenitor?”
Her eyes were fixed on a certain spot. Finlay’s gaze trembled anxiously as he followed her line of sight. Then he laughed incredulously.
“Did I not warn you? Do you truly not care for your life?”
There stood the Regressor, holding a red sphere in her hand, and behind her, me. I had a large bundle slung on my back.
As I focused my mind, I started hearing thoughts loud and clear. Only Finlay’s thoughts, of course. The vampire’s condition was similar to that of being half-asleep, so I couldn’t get a good read on her.
Lack of consciousness meant a lack of thoughts. Memories, too. It was like trying to read a book under dim lighting, like being in a state of vague recollection, only able to faintly recall stories told by another. The possibility of waking her without direct contact seemed remote.
Good. That’s enough mind-reading.
I looked slightly down to throw a question at the Regressor, who was shooting daggers at Finlay.
“Did you see?”
She activated the Seven Colored eyes. In her left, the Crimson Eyes of heat detection, and in her right, the Indigo Eyes of farsight. The Regressor saw through the darkness and growled through clenched teeth.
“That bastard, he’s hiding Tyrkanzyaka’s dark knights in his shadow…”
“Fortunately, it appears Ralion doesn’t acknowledge Finlay.”
“I doubt that makes it our side. Better not to trust.”
As soon as she was done speaking, the glow of the Seven Colored Eyes vanished and her eyes turned black again. She pressed her eyes for a moment, seeming tired.
“Are you okay?”
“It’s no problem. If I just press it for a second…”
When she took her hand away, the sharp gleam had returned to her gaze. I turned my attention forward again and asked a question.
“Go as planned?”
We took a step out of the area illuminated by the daytime lights and into the darkness, which almost seemed to move. This sinister darkness was a creature in itself, a mist of the night that guarded all vampires. It was impossible to see through its concealing shroud with the naked eye. In the middle of it, Finlay greeted us with his arms spread wide.
“I had told you not to come. Are your ears clogged, or do you have no regard for your life?”
The Regressor retorted with a snort.
“You’re the one with no regard for your life. Crazy, aren’t you? What else but a reckless fool would think of controlling the Progenitor?”
“It isn’t control! I have merely sought the Progenitor’s understanding temporarily to send her back to where she must be.”
“Yeah right. You don’t even ask her opinion and force her to act. Isn’t that control?”
“What do you think you know?!”
Finlay screamed hysterically. The Regressor frowned at his abrupt, bipolar-esque change in attitude.
“The Progenitor desired this!”
“What bull is that?”
“If the Progenitor had not allowed it, would I ever have obtained her heart?! Whether it be gaining this power or becoming her temporary agent! All of it is practically according to her will!”
I glimpsed at Finlay the madness of someone drunk on power. He was engulfed by a fierce frenzy that defied his vampiric nature as he shrieked on, spewing blood instead of spittle.
“So my will is the Progenitor’s will! I hoped for the Progenitor to head to the surface, and so she decided to go up! Your interfering is tantamount to opposing her!! If you are servants of the Progenitor, bow your heads and send her off. If you are enemies of the Progenitor, then be swept away by the unstoppable sea of blood and perish! Make your choice, peasants!”
There was neither logic nor reason to his words, so much so that I could hardly think this was coming from a cold-hearted vampire.
The Regressor raised a finger to her head and twirled it around.
“The guy’s gone totally insane.”
“Don’t you think it’s because he’s bonkers that he did something as crazy as trying to control Trainee Tyrkanzyaka?”
“And his bloodcraft is already at the limit, thanks to his lunacy. His blood control over his own body has become unstable. It looks like he went off and sold his cold heart somewhere.”
Finlay was so deliriously high that he kept shouting on his own whether we listened or not. Even though he was his only listener, he didn’t seem to care at all.
“Hoo. We’ll end up dying of old age first if we wait for him to stop. Shall we begin?”
The Regressor nodded, and I cleared my throat. Meanwhile, Finlay’s jarring voice continued to echo in the dark.
“I shall climb to the surface and seek vengeance upon those cunning whores of Sanctum! I shall blaspheme their god and reclaim our old glory! Kehahahaha!”
“Hot damn. No wonder they say getting older makes you talkative. Ramble much?”
I heaved a long sigh and interrupted while he was taking a breath. As you’d expect of someone being emotional, Finlay fired a lethal glare at me.
“Warden! I didn’t like you from the start! How dare you!”
“Man! Keep it down for a sec! I get that it’s hard to keep a demented old lady beside you, but I got a lot to say myself, y’know?”
It was pleasing to look at machines that were easy to handle or toys that worked simply. Their predictable mechanics gave a sense of stability. And to me, a fanatic like Finlay was like a simple machine. I only had to poke his trigger to get the reaction I wanted.
“You dare, call the P-Progenitor… What insolence!”
“Tyrkanzyaka? Even her name is tacky! Did she deliberately choose it to make it hard to call? And not to mention, she got fooled like an idiot by a retainer under another retainer who’s also under another retainer! Who taught her to end up like that?”
The Regressor couldn’t help interjecting.
“It’s you. Stupid.”
“Oh dear! It was me! I’m too ashamed to stay as a warden!”
While I angrily insulted the vampire, Finlay could only gape with big eyes. He was rendered momentarily speechless from astonishment.
Good. He was pretty much ready to listen to me now.
“And you, Finlay. You’ve failed to realize something important, being as stupid as your Progenitor. Do you really believe it’s possible to escape by flying? When you’re trapped in the abyss?”
I started guffawing at that point, long and loud enough for the whole abyss to hear.
Then I stopped and continued speaking.
“Well, it’s not.”
The truth I had painstakingly discovered wasn’t something to give away easily, but I decided not to be stingy.
“The abyss is a land of never-ending descent. What does that mean in summary? It means the coordinates of space are meaningless. You can’t get anywhere by just falling or going up, moron. If it were possible to reach the surface by simply crawling up, then you could reach the bottom by simply falling. But—uh-oh, this is the abyss and it has no bottom. What do you think this means?”
The preparations were almost over. The Regressor had infused the red sphere in her hand with half of her mana. Now she was casting a simple enchantment over it.
Once I confirmed that, I started getting ready to end the talk.
“Want to know?”
Finlay nodded reflexively. His eyes could accurately find me even in this darkness.
Good, then I’ll make sure you see properly.
“The answer’s in here.”
I raised a finger, tapped the side of my head, and finished with a cold smile.
“So take it out if you can, you degenerate.”
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