༺ The Sanguine Letter ༻
If we thought of it that way, my mind reading could be compared to reading a book. I could simply skim what was currently being written through the character’s current thoughts or just flip through the pages from start to finish.
If I wanted to, I could read it completely, from start to finish. However, it would take too long and could also pose a risk to me.
Amitengrad, the capital of the State, was a monster that grew by devouring nearby cities. The explosive growth of the city pushed everything else outward.
People, houses, money, and even culture.
All of the things that were pushed out had their own stories to tell, and I had met plenty of interesting people while living there.
Yet as they said, there was always something greater than you could ever imagine. Within the great underground prison of Tantalus, there resided prisoners far beyond anything I had ever experienced.
The Dog King.
The Progenitor of Vampires.
And a Regressor.
Beings who could obliterate a city by themselves. Their books were extremely unique as befitting of their strength. Azzy’s book was akin to reading cave scripture out loud. I could read it, but I couldn’t make sense of it.
It was jumbled. She didn’t care about concepts like left or right, or why someone would ever not toss a ball. Those types of worries didn’t exist in her book. She never thought about them, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Maybe it is to be expected. Dogs certainly don’t think in the same logical manner that humans did. As long as I am a human, I would never be able to fully understand Azzy’s book.
I might be able to read her mood if I tried, but I could do that by just looking at her expression.
The vampire’s book was thick. As an ancient monster that had lived for over 1,200 years, the number of pages that exceeded a normal human’s by over a dozen times overwhelmed me. Even skimming it would be an ordeal.
Furthermore, it wasn’t only thick, but it was also packed full of crazy events. How she became a vampire, the history of discrimination, her time on the battlefield, her regime, her downfall, escape, and the time she spent sleeping… Judging from the names of the chapters, I couldn’t even dream of touching the rest of it. In addition to that, the style also changed according to the time period it was recorded in.
A historian might have fallen in love with it, but unfortunately, only I could read books of the mind.
And I am no historian.
Lastly, the Regressor.
Shei’s book didn’t fall under any of the aforementioned categories. The Regressor’s book… was a 14-long book series that shouldn’t exist.
Despite having met an end to her story, she continued on. Almost like a bad author dragging on a series, without any sign of it ending soon…
That was what got me confused.
I read it, but I couldn’t fully understand it.
She may live her current life, but all her experiences and strengths were from her previous lives. Her motives, enemies, and dreams were all already brought up in previous books.
Unfortunately for me, all I could read from her mind was the latest installment. The previous books didn’t exist in this world.
Imagine if you picked up the latest book of a series you have never read. You can’t really follow the story fully.
So, although I knew I would die in the future and the world would end, I couldn’t see the exact details. I could only predict it from her flashbacks or actions she had done in this life.
In order to find out, I needed to hear it from her own mouth…
Or force her to reminisce about her past.
“Ugh. Either way, I need to get close to the Regressor.”
Understanding my situation, I let out a sigh.
Not like it would change anything.
In a prison with nothing to do, people were naturally drawn to the field outside. I pushed open the steel bar doors and headed out into the field.
I was greeted by a peculiar sight.
“Tyrkanzyaka! I’ve come to meet you! Open the door!”
Shei was shouting in front of the underground armory with her arms stretched out.
The underground armory. It was a place meant to store the weapons that could subdue the prisoners in the case of a riot. It was made with three stages of security in order to access it.
Although in the case of Tantalus where they only kept prisoners they couldn’t handle, it stored something else. You could call it the strongest weapon of them all. Either way, it was a zone no normal prisoner should access. Execution was justified even for merely approaching it.
In front of the underground armory, the Regressor was performing some sort of peculiar ritual.
‘What’s she doing?’
I suddenly remembered that I had introduced myself as a warden.
‘Hmm. If I’m a warden, should I stop a prisoner from trying to get into the armory? I don’t want to lose my head though.’
The Regressor was like a terrorist—no, a mad scientist who performed experiments on the entire world. If things went haywire, she could always just move on to the next trial.
However, she would suspect me more if I didn’t perform my duties. If she believed me to be more of a variable than a warden, she may try to eliminate me.
‘Alright. Let’s stop her. She won’t actually kill me, right?’
I spoke out with an angry voice.
“Trainee Shei! Did you—”
「Tsk. He’s here. But I can’t let him stop me. If he does, I’ll have to get rid of him somehow…」
“D-Did you have a good night’s sleep? Good morning. It was my first time sleeping in a prison cell, but I slept well.”
Barely stopping myself, I started smiling as I approached her.
‘I didn’t think she’d actually try to kill me. Alright, from now on, I’ll let her do whatever she wants.’
As I continued to watch her with a smile on my face, the Regressor scrunched up her face and turned away. Fortunately, she had the courtesy to not spit in my face.
‘Alright, thanks. Good morning to you too.’
After exchanging greetings to myself, I walked towards the closed-shut armory doors.
“Screaming in the middle of the morning? Just what the hell are you doing?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You want to meet the person inside?”
The Regressor clicked her tongue in frustration. It seemed that it was her way of saying yes.
“Why do you want to wake up someone sleeping so badly?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I can’t ask anything, huh?”
The Regressor was so wary of me that she didn’t try to take any actions while I was watching. It was quite annoying to deal with. Only the Regressor knew the answer to how the world would end or what exactly happened there. So, I needed the Regressor to think about the past while she was next to me.
However, with her current attitude, I doubted whether or not I would be able to get any information from her, even after a year.
‘Ugh. What to do…?’
I looked back in the direction of the armory.
Tantalus lacked weapons in its underground armory. Unlike other normal prisons, an outbreak was almost always impossible for the prisoners here. With no fear of the prisoners escaping, the facility didn’t allocate any weapons to subdue them. Instead, something else was placed inside.
The first vampire, the sinful beast, and the Queen of darkness.
The Progenitor, Tyrkanzyaka.
A palace and a prison for the vampire who refused light and slept deep underground.
This was the being that the Regressor was attempting to wake up right now. For me, the awakening of a being who feasted on human blood was not in my best interest. Especially since I was the only normal human around.
However, in the process of trying to get close to the Regressor, helping out with tasks like this would better our relationship.
What to do…
My hesitation was short-lived.
‘I’ll help Shei. The vampire won’t kill me. Now that everyone else is either dead or gone, I’m a precious commodity for the vampire. I doubt she would cut open the belly of the golden-egg-laying goose just to quench a moment of thirst. At worst, she’ll turn me into some half-dead drone to pump out blood for the rest of eternity.’
…It’s not the best future. But it’s better than dying.
Having made my decision, I made a proposition to the Regressor.
“Why don’t you break the doors down?”
“This door is under Tyrkanzyaka’s control.”
Looking in the direction she pointed, a glowing red bloodstain replaced the position where a keyhole should have been. I couldn’t read energies or auras, but even at a glance, I tell that it was something ominous.
“That blood engraving. As long as that stain glows red, the steel doors are akin to one of her familiars. It won’t open without her orders.”
“I’ll let it slide this time, so you can try to break it down if you want. Who knows? Maybe after a week, it’ll go down.”
“…It’s possible, but I don’t want to. I’m trying to ask Tyrkanzyaka for help, not to fight.”
‘Huh? I was just teasing her, but she can actually do it? Normal humans can’t slice through steel doors. This one in particular has a strength level of three and was strengthened by the State’s special alchemy. It wouldn’t budge even if it took a cannonball at point-blank range. But she’s claiming that she can break it down if she really wanted to? A human can break those doors if they really tried? At that point, it’s just rude to the person who designed it.’
“You have more common sense than I thought.”
“Obviously. Killing someone’s familiar is even ruder than breaking into their house.”
“Funny, coming from the person who tried to slice off my arm out of the blue.”
“Nothing. I was just mumbling.”
Ignoring the Regressor’s suspicion, I began to think.
‘The alchemic strength level of a typical bunker is level three. If I use “that” it might work. Should I try?’
I dug through my pocket to find the item. It was the bell I had used to train Azzy yesterday.
“What’s that for?”
“It’s a dog bell.”
It wasn’t too loud, but it would be clear to Azzy’s acute senses.
Normally, she would have ignored the sound of the bell. There were too many sounds in this world to pay so much attention to a single one.
However, Azzy spent the entire day training with the sound of this bell. That was why I kept ringing it as I played with her yesterday.
I raised the bell above my head and rattled it.
– Jingle, jingle.
As the clear chimes resonated from the bell, I heard barking from afar. Soon after, Azzy started scrambling down the side of the building to get to me.
She was actually running down the wall of the building. It was several times the rate at which she was falling. Tracks were left in the concrete walls as she pushed off them, indenting the stone. With a loud crash, she bounced off the floor immediately as she touched the ground towards me.
Almost like a rubber ball bouncing on the ground, her change in velocity was that drastic. If she had hit someone, they would undoubtedly die.
I rushed to rummage through my pocket to find the piece of meat I had prepared beforehand. Just before Azzy arrived, I managed to toss it toward the doors of the underground armory.
The Dog King chased after the piece of meat and slammed directly into the steel doors.
A grand vibration echoed throughout the prison. No bell could produce a sound as large as that. It felt as if we were within the body of a percussion instrument, I could feel the air itself vibrating. I also wasn’t quite sure about this, but I thought I felt the ground tilt a little.
Shocked, the Regressor grabbed me by my collar.
“What… do you think you’re doing?!”
“I told you! I need Tyrkanzyaka’s help!”
“Our doggy just happened to run into her doors by accident.”
And Azzy, who produced that impact…
“Yum, yum! Woof!”
…Was lost in her own world, happily chewing on the meat.
I took a glance at Azzy and then the doors.
“Hm. It was more than enough to destroy level three alchemic steel. But it looks like the stain’s enhancement far exceeded my expectations. It’s level four at the very least.”
Despite Azzy impacting the doors at max speed, she only left a footprint on it. Maybe if she had somehow gotten mad and punched it with her full paw strength, it would break. Unfortunately, there was no reason for the carefree Dog King to be mad at steel doors.
Now that I verified it wouldn’t work, I didn’t need Azzy anymore.
“You heard the bell. Good job. Now head back.”
After violently shaking her head, she wagged her tail and yipped beside me
“Woof! Let’s play!”
“But we played yesterday.”
“So let’s play more!”
‘Yesterday and today are two different things to her, huh? It’s a very positive way of thinking to not worry about the past.’
“I’m busy today. Go home.”
“No! Let’s play!”
Azzy pretended to gnaw at my calf, trying to show her frustration.
‘Does she think I’m the pet here, trying to boss me around? This is all the Regressor’s fault. I should have fixed her manners yesterday, but the Regressor prevented me from using the whip.’
I glared at Shei.
“Wh-What are you looking at me for?”
“Ugh. Don’t worry about it.”
I was the only one who looked out for the dog. Only I actually played with her.
However, unlike dogs, humans actually worried and improved by learning from the past. I had already prepared for a situation like this. I couldn’t let myself be some pitching machine like yesterday.
“Now, Azzy, sniff my hand.”
Azzy rubbed her nose on my outstretched hand. After making sure she could remember the scent of my entire hand, I pointed at the prison.
“Azzy, I’m sorry! I left the ball over there.”
“You remember the smell, right? Go find the ball for me. Then I’ll play with you.”
Without a shred of doubt, Azzy bursted off the floor toward the back of the prison. I grinned as she went further and further away.
‘Heh. I thoroughly washed the ball and hid it deep inside some concrete rubble. It’ll take ages even for the Dog King.’
I bought time. I turned back towards the Regressor.
“There’s a limit to brute force, I guess. Now, let’s look for different ways.”
‘Huh, she’s giving me that weird look again. As if she has a problem with me treating Azzy like a dog.’
The Regressor glanced at Azzy running far away before turning back to me with a confused expression.
“…When did you get so close to Azzy?”
“We’re not that close. It’s only been a day.”
“No way. She barely acknowledges me even though I’ve seen her for over a week…”
‘That’s because you keep trying to treat her like a human. Waving and asking a dog “How’s the weather today?” means nothing to them. You need to train them like me.’
Enough small talk.
For now, I needed to figure out how to get into the armory.
“Anyways, the doors won’t break with a dog missile, and if you don’t want to knock it down… we’ll need to make her open it.”
“I’ve tried everything. I’ve screamed and knocked, but she hasn’t responded.”
“Don’t worry. I know what to do.”
The Regressor raised her brows in disbelief. Putting her aside, I thought about when I had first arrived at Tantalus. At that moment, the vampire had briefly woken up from her slumber. I could faintly make out her thoughts.
Why did she wake up then? To give the new inmate a warm welcome?
There was only one answer.
“We need to offer her blood.”
Back then, when Azzy bit my ankle and pulled me, I bled from skidding on the hard floor. Just as water flowed downward and ripe apples fell from trees, Tyrkanzyaka absorbed the blood on the concrete.
Wait, didn’t she complain about the taste? What a picky eater, especially considering she had taken it from me.
Regardless of whether she woke up because it tasted bad, she did react to blood.
“We need to offer blood to awaken the vampire.”
As I proudly announced that, Shei scoffed as she thrust her finger at me.
“You think I haven’t thought about that? I already tried.”
Her fingers were still light and delicate, she had not yet swung the sword much in this life. I could see the thin wound already beginning to close up.
“I cut my finger and offered my blood, but she didn’t wake up. The blood was just swept inside.”
“Hah, you acted like you were smart, but I guess you don’t have anything else planned, do you?”
The Regressor crossed her arms as she teased me. My failure seemed to have made her happier.
‘Why is she happy that a plan to get inside failed? If the blood was absorbed past the doors, Tyrkanzyaka can undoubtedly “sense” blood. But a little drop wasn’t enough to wake her up. To vampires, absorbing blood was done unconsciously, just as breathing was to humans.’
Well, that leaves us with only one option.
“Let’s write in blood.”
When it came to the Dog King, the sound of metal clashing against metal was a meaningless noise. However, after ringing the bell each time we played fetch and giving her treats, the ringing began to evoke positive emotions.
Quite a poetic expression.
But in reality, it was plain training.
The same logic could be applied to the vampire. She would absorb blood normally, but she would undoubtedly notice if the blood formed a word.
“It’s clear that Trainee Tyrkanzyaka can sense blood. However, typical blood lacks meaning, so she just absorbs it without thinking. If we write words in blood, we’ll be able to at least see if she wants to meet us or not.”
「I-It makes sense… He’s not so dumb after all.」
‘I wish you’d give compliments out loud instead of just clicking your tongue at me.’
“Alright, I’ll try it.”
Shei clutched the air behind her head. It was only then that she began to imagine her weapon floating behind her head.
‘I was wondering where she kept it, but she just levitates it in the air using her mana.’
It was such an unconscious act that I didn’t even notice it with my mind reading. I thought she was unarmed, but she had her weapon besides her at all times.
‘She did that unconsciously? Although Chun-aeng is a weightless sword, it still requires precise control. That’s not a level achievable by talent alone. It’s an instinct gained by carrying a single sword for several years or decades. Just how many cycles had she experienced holding the Aerial Blossom? I’ll need to be careful from now on. Her empty hands aren’t as they seem.’
As I had that thought—
The sword was drawn into a horizontal arc. In its path was the edge of the Regressor’s finger. With extreme control, she barely grazed the surface of her finger.
A barely visible cut formed on her slender white finger, and red began to bubble out of it. Soon after, blood began to rush out like an open tap; to the point where I was worried that she would suffer from anemia.
It was a sickening sight to watch, but I was completely calm.
It was because the Regressor didn’t even feel any pain from the wound. I was overwhelmed by the strange calmness.
“What should I write?”
As if she were holding a brush, she raised her finger and asked. I could see the droplets flowing from her finger.
“Write down what I say. G, R…”
The Regressor carefully made sure to not let the loose droplets interfere with her strokes.
“G, R, A, N…”
“G, R, A, N, N, Y—”
When the Regressor realized what she had written, she whipped her head back up.
“Yes. ‘Granny, it’s time to wake up.’ Write that.”
“Hold on, what are you trying to pull here?”
“What do you mean? I’m just trying to wake up an elderly grandma.”
It appeared the Regressor was not very familiar with Tyrkanzyaka. Maybe she didn’t have a chance to meet her in her previous lives. I tried my best to explain it to her.
“Tyrkanzyaka is a trainee who is over 1,200 years old. Especially back during her time, how you treated the elderly was a very important value to have. It’s only appropriate to treat her with the necessary respect.”
“No! What kind of woman would enjoy being treated like an old hag?!”
‘What are you talking about? A woman who’s lived 1,200 years isn’t just an old hag. Their an ancient relic. They’ve lived longer than most countries. You really think someone like that would dwell on such things?’
At that moment—
A dark, deep voice rumbled as the steel doors opened with the clean echos of metal. Pitch black darkness waved past the doors.
The searchlights that lit up Tantalus made up most of the light here. Since the lights were focused on certain areas, places without them were rather dark. However, the darkness in the armoury was different from just a simple absence of light.
It was a darkness that seemed to suck in light. Nevertheless, I could see a shade of blood red glistening within. It was dark, yet red as blood at the same time. An irony incomprehensible by common sense.
Yet the monster that resided within defies common sense.
Days, months, years, centuries…
Legends and history. The harvester of all the deaths that faded from history. The condensed culmination of the history of blood coiled beyond the darkness.
Before mentioning strength, it was a matter of mythology.
She was mentioned in fairy tales and took up an entire page of a history book, the woman who became a legend.
The Progenitor, Tyrkanzyaka.
Goosebumps appeared throughout my body. The monster inside the armoury had survived over a thousand years on human blood alone. That darkness had single-handily waged war against the Sanctum.
As I was questioning my decision to wake her from her slumber…
「Come on in.」
The sturdy steel doors swung wide open, revealing a shining mark of blood that gazed down upon me and the Regressor.