༺ A Horrid Puppet Show Starring the Progenitor – 4 ༻
My taunt made Finlay’s eyes nearly pop out of his head.
He screamed vehemently, the veins in his neck bulging. The darkness rippled in response to his rage. Legions upon legions of shadow-born warriors stirred beyond the light.
“I shall teach you precisely why we are named nobles of the nigh—!”
At that moment, the Regressor hurled the sphere in her hand, sending it flying across the air of Tantalus.
What she threw was a volcanic tear, a red sphere that contained the fire of the earth. It emanated an enormous presence despite still being closed, stealing the eyes of everyone present.
By the time her opponent realized, it was too late. The Regressor took a wide stance once the volcanic tear was high up enough. She pulled her shoulders in, aiming Chun-aeng at the treasure that contained the flames of the earth’s core. Then she unleashed a strike.
“Skyblade Art, Daybreak.”
Whiff. A light and short sound, like a breeze, penetrated Tantalus. Something cut cleanly through the air at an angle—it was her invisible sword.
The sword shot diagonally and pierced the center of the flying volcanic tear, leaving a red glowing mark in the darkness. In an instant, flames burst forth from the crack in the red sphere of immensely condensed energy.
It was like a fire that could set stars alight. Although darker than the sun, its intensity was powerful enough to illuminate this small area.
The Regressor sneered confidently.
“The abyss is a bit dark, isn’t it?”
The volcanic tear is a bomb that explodes when injected with mana, but when mana is inserted in a certain pattern, it results in a delayed explosion. What did this mean?
“So I made a pseudo-sun. Not a State-made imitation like those artificial lights, but a real flame that illuminates the world!”
A second later, a small sun dawned in the abyss. It had always been dark since its creation, yet there was light now. The vampire’s blood lost its colors upon being touched by the descending light. The rising red radiance burned all the dark red blood energy, as if asserting the right to possess color.
Stellar flames are the nemesis of vampires, for it doesn’t tolerate anything that dares to shine red beneath itself.
And that rule applied to Finlay. His skin became deformed and gradually darkened as if bruised. If his Progenitor was not nearby, he would’ve crumbled to black ashes.
The Progenitor instinctively drew darkness to block the light, but that alone turned the situation in our favor; our surroundings brightened as the darkness withdrew. The nobles of the night were nobles no longer.
The Regressor spun Chun-aeng, which glowed red, in her hand as she started talking.
“Tyrkanzyaka lost partly because humanity grew stronger… but the biggest reason is that she was studied for more than a thousand years. She was always considered the first of Calamities to human society, after all.”
“Krrgh! Such cowardice!”
“Cowardice? Hmph. Better than a vile wretch who tries to control someone’s heart in their weak moment.”
Trapped in a predicament, Finlay cried out from behind a black fog.
“O Progenitor! That sphere!”
Following his cry, the vampire reached out, creating a giant hand of blood and darkness. The hand stretched forward as if it were an extension of her. When its fingertips touched the small sun, she grasped her hand, and the hand of blood followed suit, grasping the sun.
The hand was set on fire and began to fall apart.
“It’s futile. Not even Tyrkanzyaka herself has completely overcome the sun. With your pathetic control, it’s impossible to squeeze that much power out of her.”
Left with no other choice, Finlay desperately gathered darkness to hide his body. He gasped in pain after finally gaining some breathing space.
“Urgh, how could you, when you possess Primordial Essence! Are you trying to betray the Progenitor after receiving her blessing? Gaaah!”
“Huh? I received a favor, so I should repay it. By pounding parasites like you into oblivion.”
Having driven Finlay to the limit, the Regressor advanced toward the two vampires hiding in the darkness, away from the sunlight.
“Primordial Essence! You possess Essence, yet you dare to bring the sun… Essence?”
“Now, I’ll finish it quick. It’ll only take a second…”
But just as she confidently set foot in the domain of darkness…
“Haha! Yes, you bear Primordial Essence in your body, do you not?!”
Behind the darkness, the hiding Finlay chuckled softly, sounding unbelievably thrilled for someone who was groaning in pain earlier.
The Regressor frowned at his reaction.
｢He should have no more means to resist left. What’s the big deal about Primordial Essence?｣
“It appears you do not know what it means to possess Primordial Essence, brat.”
Finlay laughed unnaturally as he continued in a shouting voice.
“That blood is a mighty power, and at the same time, the most powerful shackle! Great power comes with a great price. You must have accepted the blood to grow stronger, but that will be the cause of your downfall!”
｢Primordial Essence, it’s still inside me! And that blood is…!｣
Realizing something, the Regressor hastily made a cut on her finger using Chun-aeng, and simultaneously attempted to draw out the Essence remaining in her, utilizing bloodcraft to the limit. But it had already spread to every corner in her body. She still lacked the proficiency in bloodcraft to pick out the Essence from her blood.
In that regard, Finlay was far faster. He gripped the Progenitor’s heart.
“O Progenitor, may you stop that man’s heart!”
Again, the vampire’s torso shook weakly as she reached out a hand. The Regressor’s face tightened with urgency. The amount of blood flowing from her finger increased… but just before the Primordial Essence came out, the vampire grasped empty air.
Just as I saw that, I heard something being squeezed beside me along with a high-pitched scream. The Regressor’s chest caved in disturbing before going back to normal. Blood spurted from her mouth and her slender body swayed heavily…
Eh, hold on. Regressor? I’ll be screwed without you though…?
I rushed over to support the Regressor.
“Uh? Wait! Trainee Shei! You can’t fall!”
“Agh, hrgh. This, is…!”
“You’ve got to scold Trainee Tyrkanzyaka on my behalf! I’m at a disadvantage against her, affinity-wise!”
“Should you, be saying that to someone… in this state…?!”
Thankfully, the Regressor didn’t die; she had protected her heart by using her bloodcraft and Qi Art.
The ultimate defense Qi Art, Heavenly Counter Domain, guaranteed the normal functioning of the body regardless of the situation. Although her heart stopped momentarily, the Regressor could move her whole body as usual, and the same went for her heart.
“I held on…! But…”
She straightened herself, panting for breath. Her eyes hadn’t lost the fight in them, but the body didn’t always follow the mind. She staggered again, clutching her chest and gritting her teeth.
“It’s impossible… to extract the Primordial Essence… right away…!”
“What? Then what about Trainee Tyrkanzyaka?”
“Hang in there somehow…! 3 minutes, I just need 3 minutes…!”
“Me, hang in there?”
I mean, forget 3 minutes, the vampire could cook me in 3 seconds if she wanted. The silver lining, though, was that she couldn’t make quick reactions due to being controlled by Finlay, and with her sense of self so dim, her hostility toward us was faint. My guess was that the vampire couldn’t exert even ten percent of her full strength in her current condition.
That was because of Finlay’s incompetence. I had no way of measuring the vampire’s power, but Finlay? His power was limited. He took control over the Progenitor using bloodcraft, but that was far more difficult than controlling a marionette. He had to force the heart to circulate blood, and wake a small part of her dazed mind to relay commands. And this was made only barely possible after the vampire withdrew her power to boot.
“Is it impossible to wield Primordial Essence… as a retainer…? Even though I am controlling the Progenitor…!”
Finlay suffered pain similar to the Regressor; his heart nearly burst from the recoil of trying to wield Primordial Essence. But he was a vampire, unlike the Regressor. Pain aside, he wouldn’t die from an exploded heart.
“Keke. It’s fine. I have an abundance of ways to kill you lot. Do you mortals know of the Progenitor’s epithets?”
Finlay held out his hand, and one by one, unknown things began to crawl into existence beyond the range of the light.
They were dark knights, countless in number, armed with darkness-made weapons and armor of black.
“Knightbane. The very first of the Progenitor’s epithets. No matter how outstanding or renowned, knights only amount to sword swingers. All those who came before the Progenitor were swept away to death by her ocean of blood.”
Tromp, tromp. Tromp, tromp. There was no end to them. Where had so many dark knights come from? It was to the point I wondered if they were made out of thin air.
The knights were black all over, making it seem as if they were forged from a mold. Upon a closer look, however, I could tell a subtle difference in their hands, the weapons they held, their height, body shape, the way they walked, and even the width of their steps. They emerged in organized rank and file, but they were all different beings.
“Because, the Progenitor herself is a legion.”
Finlay pointed to the dark knights lined up in front of him. Although they couldn’t exert Blood Aura due to the volcanic tear shining high up, even without their crimson vitality of blazing blood, they could easily destroy a city with their numbers.
Finlay put on airs as if he possessed this power.
“Well then, sword swinger. Can you best a legion in combat?”
That was impossible. Finlay gestured with his hand, convinced of victory, and the thousands of dark knights took a step toward us. In comparison, we were only two. One weakened Regressor, and one guy who was powerless to begin with.
“Krgh…! With that many…!”
Worry flickered in the Regressor’s eyes. Although she still hadn’t curbed the energies rampaging inside her, she tried to get up, reeling.
“Keep sitting for a minute.”
I kicked her behind the knees and made her fall again. She let out another shrill scream.
Then I rubbed my chin, pretending to think. Amidst wheezing breaths, she spoke to me by my feet.
“You… can’t, win…”
“Indeed, I won’t be able to win. That’s why…”
Forget facing the legion, just three of those dark knights would end me. Yet I was supposed to win against that number? It was out of the question in the first place. Therefore, my course of action was already set.
I turned to the Regressor to convey my decision.
“I’ll sound the call, okay?”
The Regressor had hesitated to use this method, worried that the vampire might be physically smashed apart. But I knew better.
I rummaged through my pocket. It was too easy to find what I wanted since it didn’t contain much.
“Well then. See this here? This… is going to kill you.”
I took out a bell. A small chime bell. The one I used to call Azzy to meals.
I held the bell high in one hand and shook it from side to side. Dingle-dingle. A clear, small, and delicate chime ensued. But the sound was soon buried under Finlay’s hysterical laughter.
“Hahaha! What do you intend by ringing a bell? Is it some kind of divine bell? How futile!”
He mocked me loudly.
“Garlic pickles, was it? Why don’t I give you a taste of your own medicine?! You will be hung upside down and drained of blood! I will destroy you where you stand, along with that bel—”
Finlay’s voice ceased abruptly. As if he had witnessed death, he turned his neck stiffly toward the source of the growl.
I shrugged and called out to the newcomer.
“Now, Azzy. That bad guy is bullying us.”
The sound of a chime bell was feeble amidst the sinister darkness and chilling splashing of blood, but it was loud enough for the Dog King to hear.
Her twitching cheeks stretched to their limits as she bared all her teeth. Every inch of her stood on end, hair and tail, as if bristling with thorns. She glared at Finlay with pure animosity. Gone was the warm brightness from her face.
Azzy the King of Dogs stepped forward, radiating wrath.
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