༺ A Horrid Puppet Show Starring the Progenitor – 7 ༻
The Regressor paused.
“Yes indeed. Just as undying flesh is poison to vampire blood, vampire blood is cursed to undying. Look. See how the flesh has hardened and turned ashen.”
“Oi! That’s not okay!”
“It’s fine. When it’s like this, you just need to peel off the hardened bits with a small skewer. That’ll get rid of the dirty outer layer and bring out the insides. Although there is the issue of it getting shorter…”
“I wasn’t talking about you! Uh! The undying won’t be okay, don’t you think?!”
｢And I wondered how the undying got cursed! It was you!｣
You’re right. Well this is how the situation turned out.
I scratched my head and replied.
“So full of complaints. Then what, should I not use this?”
“…I’m saying, let’s end it quickly before that arm is all worn out!”
“OK, got it. I’m going now. Open the way nice and wide, if you please.”
“Get lost already! Wavebreaker, Dragon Ascension!”
This time, she unleashed a vertical slash, and the gust created by Chun-aeng turned the world momentarily upside down. The ensuing tempest sent the dark knights hurtling through the air, breaking their vampiric bond of blood and shadow. Soon after, the Regressor’s subsequent magic struck them down.
“Skyblade Art, Thunderbird!”
Vivid golden lightning streaked through the air, etching wrinkles in the sky. Thin threads of energy resembling spiderwebs touched the bodies of the dark knights. In an instant, the threads merged into a single stream, transforming into a massive waterfall, igniting the blood of the knights.
The true body of the vampire might have withstood the impact, but not her creations. The dark knights turned to ashes in the shadowless sky, dispersing into the air.
“Well then, here I go! Clear the area properly for me will you!”
“You still haven’t gone?!”
The Regressor soared into the air, wielding her sword with a powerful leap. The resulting gust of wind swept away everything in its path. Her precise, refined attacks were so skillful that any enemy not directly in front of me was either blown away or forced to cower and endure the forceful blasts.
I swiftly crossed the open battlefield, protected by the Regressor’s supportive magic, Gentle Breeze. With the wind at my back, I propelled forward with ease, barely needing to touch the ground. The enveloping breeze granted me freedom of movement within the Regressor’s storm.
It was an awesome buff. Though it was just a gentle breeze, it bestowed upon me a liberating sensation that made me feel superhuman.
I mused the possibility of breaking my personal short-distance running record with this magic.
“Pick up the pace! Why are you taking it so easy?!”
The Regressor pressured me from behind. What felt like an uncontrollable speed to me was apparently slow enough to elicit a yawn from a certain somebody.
This is the fastest I can go. What am I supposed to do about it?
At that moment, Azzy flew in before me, slamming Ralion into the ground. Blood sprayed from the steed’s mangled flesh. Holding the advantage, Azzy bypassed the tender, yielding flesh that would burst on impact, opting instead to fiercely tear into Ralion’s hoof protected by a robust blood-steel horseshoe.
Despite Ralion’s writhing resistance, it proved futile against Azzy’s razor-sharp fangs. Thud. Its horseshoe clattered to the ground. Azzy continued to shake Ralion’s hoof several more times, before catching sight of the fallen horseshoe and swiftly tossing the steed away. Ralion crashed heavily onto the concrete floor.
Then Azzy and I met eyes. She tilted her head.
“Nice, you’re doing a good job.”
Azzy had been mercilessly pummeling the sanguine steed mere moments ago. The image of her, with vivid crimson blood staining her mouth, sent a shiver down my spine. But she smiled brightly upon catching sight of me. That put my heart at ease.
Azzy raised her chin slightly and barked.
“Well done! Azzy, get that red horse far away from here! Keep it as far from me as possible!”
Ralion was physically too strong, and I couldn’t read its mind because it was a horse. It was basically my natural enemy. But as long as Azzy did something about it, nothing could stop me.
Just as Azzy barked as if in understanding, Ralion came flying at her with its remaining hoof. She was struck away like a ball.
The sanguine steed barely regained its balance and let out a brief whinny before chasing after Azzy, completely ignoring my presence. The sound of hooves pounding against the concrete faded into the distance within seconds.
Left alone, I muttered to myself.
“That’s not how I meant for you to do it…”
In any case, it was a relief that Ralion didn’t seem intent on coming after me. I continued to move on.
On one side, a house-sized horse and dog in human shape were fighting, while on the other, knights in black appeared in endless waves, only to be blasted away by the Regressor’s wind. It was a transcendent battle that seemed to be millions of years removed from the ordinary.
I managed to dash through the midst of it all, threading the needle between the chaos. There was only one thought on my mind as I watched a dark knight vanish into small bits before my eyes: Yeah.. I don’t belong here, no way. From endlessly resurrecting dark knights to a steed of blood, a king of dogs, a Regressor, and a vampire progenitor… I was too ordinary to stand on a battlefield like this.
My train of thought was broken by Finlay. He pointed at me, roaring.
Then the vampire, her eyes unfocused, raised her hand. Dark knights emerged from all sides, throwing themselves to block my path.
I mused quietly at the sight.
“On second thought, why shouldn’t I be here with him around?”
I am still better than Finlay, aren’t I? Mhm.
I nodded to myself as I pulled out my skewer and scratched the surface of the undying’s arm. Its sharp point dug between the hardened flesh, splitting it apart. I scraped off the peeling bits and flicked them.
The black, discolored flesh struck the dark knights in fragments. These bits of flesh that had hardened enough made for good bullets. Their cursed effects had the dark knights staggering.
The arm had shortened significantly as I covered the distance. Deciding to be a little more conservative with my ammo, I continued running at a swift pace.
“Tsk. It’s my fault for teaching that old lady the latest entertainment, entirely on me. Yep. I should’ve been more careful, knowing how common it is for old folks to over-indulge in their whims during their golden years.”
I was an ordinary guy. Forget unique magic, I could only use universal spells like the average Joe. I had nothing as fancy as Qi Art either. My only skill was the dexterity to shuffle cards perfectly. In short, I was capable of doing what everyone else could do.
Was this my price to pay for fiddling with a lady’s heart, hoping to gain some favor and forge a connection? Tsk-tsk. This was why people had to live with their given lot in life. My crime was forgetting my lot just because I was in the abyss.
“In the end, people like me are easily replaceable. The things I do, the words I say, even the kindness I give are ultimately ubiquitous.”
I couldn’t suppress a sigh at the renewed realization of how pathetic I was.
As I pressed on steadily, I soon found myself nearing Finlay and the vampire. I gripped the undying’s right arm firmly and walked toward them.
“Still, gotta survive first, right? Even Joes do their best to live.”
The closer I approached, the clearer I could read my opponents’ thoughts. I sensed Finlay’s hostility toward me, the vampire’s hazy mind, and even the blood linking them.
I took aim between them, muttering calmly under my breath.
“So I’ll kill you with my all.”
“As if I would die so easily!!”
Finlay clasped his hand once again, and veins all over his body began to bloat; his forehead, neck, chest, and arms. The blood he failed to control stirred, throbbing hideously under his skin. This happened because he was too busy manipulating the Progenitor.
In comparison, the vampire looked utterly at peace aside from her veins protruding slightly. She merely gazed down at the rest, unfeeling and unfocused.
As I stepped in front of Finlay, he screamed at me.
“You bastard!! How dare you presume to approach! I shall squash you!”
“Wait there, garlic pickles. I’ll sink you in a drum of concrete.”
It’d be quite a spectacle to encase him in garlic concrete and roll him into the sea. I’d probably be happy till I die after seeing that.
The undying’s right arm, which had turned overall dark, was starting to reach its limit. It had become a fight against time. So I started running, taking a big swing with the arm.
The dark knight legion regenerated to no end from the floor, the air, and pools of blood, but they were powerless. Makeshift weapons of vampiric power couldn’t stop the undying’s right arm. Blood Aura might’ve changed things, but that red energy lost its light in front of the sun.
It was a kind of vitality drawn from the body, and without it, the soldiers of shadow were practically dolls. With the absence of circulating power, they couldn’t withstand the undying’s curse.
Crack. The shadow of a once-promising knight crumbled in an instant. We could’ve had an exhilarating battle if he had possessed real armaments, but unfortunately, he only had a slipshod weapon of magic. The shadow met his end, his shield broken and chest impaled by a certain somebody’s right arm.
“Is that all, Finlay?”
About ten steps remained between me and the vampire. With the spell Gentle Breeze helping me, I could cover that distance in three strides.
Finlay grew urgent.
｢As long as that sun is up, I can’t use the empowering Blood Aura of the dark knights! And a legion without Blood Aura can’t stop him. However!｣
“O Progenitor!! Lend me strength!!”
Finlay mustered his bloodcraft. Instead of borrowing familiars like before, he received Blood Aura to wield on his own. Within moments, a surge of Blood Aura, a hundredfold more potent than his original power, converged within Finlay’s being. The veins of his body began to rupture, yet he remained unperturbed.
“This is the Progenitor’s power! Take this, peasant!”
Dozens of crimson spears materialized in the air, aimed at my shoulders, abdomen, and legs. Most of them were meant to immobilize. The spears were capable of dealing a fatal blow, but their trajectories were too simple. Naturally…
｢It is a trick! The real attack is the whip I secretly sent behind him!!｣
How obvious. I could predict him before even reading his mind. It would have been better if he had devoted his full attention to each spear, preventing me from dodging. His attempts at trickery were futile.
A crimson whip approached from a blind spot behind me as the red spears soared toward me. Dealing with it was simple. I deflected the spears with the undying’s right arm and evaded the whip by twisting my body.
I only needed to focus on the whip, and it struck nothing.
｢He evaded without even looking? Well then!｣
His hands infused with red energy, Finlay held his arms downward, expanding the shadows around him.
｢I’ll bore a hole in your foot!｣
Oh, now this is novel.
I twisted my stepping foot out of sync and a blade of shadow shot out of the spot I would have stepped on. Avoiding the ambush, I moved with a drunken stagger, deliberately mismatching the rhythm and distance of my strides. Each time I did so, the blades conjured by Finlay sliced through nothing but empty air.
｢How did he! Then, I’ll use the entire ground!｣
Thousands, tens of thousands of blades materialized at Finlay’s command. He was attempting to transform the entire area into a sea of blades.
As if that’s gonna work.
I hunched slightly and grazed the ground with the undying’s right arm. Sst. Every time the edge of the arm scraped the ground, its hardened flesh stretched out, devouring the shadows. Before the blades even touched me, the very realm of shadows shattered.
Hardly any distance remained between us. Trapped in a corner, Finley hastily erected a barrier of blood. He had no more plans left. Just the thought of stopping me.
“Why! Why doesn’t it hit?!”
A wave of blood washed over me, but all that did was obscure his vision. I cleaved through the wave using the undying’s right arm. If I had been facing water with a sword, I would’ve simply been swept away. But the vampire controlled blood, and I just happened to have an earthener’s arm.
The blood that touched the arm instantly turned hard and black, and I shouldered my way through the tainted tide. The Gentle Breeze protecting me prevented any blood from staining my body.
Finlay was appalled. I looked into his eyes as I kept running.
“Curious why nothing’s hitting me?”
He’d be disappointed to know, which was why I had to tell him. I pulled in the undying’s right arm for a big swing and gave him the answer.
“Because you’re the one carrying out the attacks! It was so damned obvious I couldn’t get hit!”
“You… mortal… scum…!”
“Haha! You’re no noble, neither in ability nor character! I wager even a mosquito has more capacity than you!”
“I’ll kill y—”
Fool. Even reacting to my words was a waste of time.
The Regressor’s magic boosted me forward, and I thrashed Finlay with the undying’s right arm. The undying’s prided biceps collided heavily with his face. Both parts that made contact turned black. Finlay was sent reeling miserably by the impact. Two teeth popped out of his mouth.
Taking him down wasn’t the end of everything, though. Everything happened because of the vampire. I had to wake her up.
Turning my back on the fallen Finlay, I ran toward the vampire. I heard Finlay howl in despair.
He swung his arms, and Blood Aura surged forth from his hands. Unleashing his power, he went as far as abandoning his defense to block my path yet again. I witnessed the emergence of new dark knights—alongside whips of blood, crimson marks of vampiric influence, thorns of darkness— as a fog enveloped the world before me.
All of them turned against me and the undying’s right arm, seeking to thwart the earthener’s flesh that tainted the essence of bloodfiends.
｢As long as I pry that thing off him! He can never stop my invincible forces! A mere sword swinger amounts to nothing without the earthener’s right arm!!｣
No one could blame them for feeling threatened by the sight of me swinging the undying’s right arm left and right, “tainting” the dark knights. The immortal legion should have risen again, yet they lost strength and collapsed.
The undying’s arm was certainly a deadly poison against vampires, and as such, Finlay must have deemed it the greatest and only danger that needed to be dealt with.
“Shake it off him!”
Quantity mattered more than anything to stop the undying’s arm from contaminating their blood with curses. There was no only way than to crush it with huge weight. So Finlay strenuously scrounged together every last bit of Blood Aura in him to keep me, or more accurately the undying’s right arm, at bay. He tried with everything in his power.
I knew it was worth making the arm stand out. Thanks to that, he didn’t care about the card in my left hand. A wave of crimson blood swept over me, or should I say my weapon, the earthener’s right arm, sending it bouncing high away.
It was the misdirection of a lifetime. As their attention fixated on the soaring arm, the others momentarily lost sight of me.
｢Blast it! Where’s the warden?!｣
By the time Finlay turned around, I had already discarded my weapon and was charging at the vampire, a card clenched in my hand. Seeing this, his eyes brimmed with triumph.
｢Idiot! Do you think I left the Progenitor without any measures in place?!｣
My card slid past my wrist, transforming into a skewer. The sword-like protrusion gleamed ominously as it aimed for the vampire’s chest, targeting the crack from which dark-red energy streamed.
｢That is a storm of bloodcraft! Not of my power, but the power of the Progenitor gone rampant! It’ll be impossible to even approach with a mere weapo—!｣
At that moment, Finlay saw something. Something of a familiar red hanging on the tip of my skewer.
Iron is the most important component of blood, capable of both spilling and producing blood. These two elements have been intertwined since the days of the Iron Age, so much so that some would put them together and refer to them as “iron blood”.
Throughout history, their relationship has deepened. Some even practiced sorcerous rituals by feeding blood to iron weapons. In some cases, doctors had patients lick rusty iron due to blood deficiencies. The scent of blood and metal belonged together in the wind. As such, alchemy which involved the fusion of blood and iron was regarded as the basis of its science.
I myself possessed some experience in utilizing somewhat precious materials for basic alchemy.
“I hid it in my card, intending to sneak it out someday, you know. Didn’t think I’d use it like this.”
Aiming for her chest, which was still open to maintain the link of vampiric domination, I thrust my Essence-infused skewer forward.
I felt resistance. The surging Blood Aura was trying to push my hand away. However, I had done this dozens of times already. I navigated through the vampire’s chest as if moving off a map. My skewer easily reached her heart as if it had found its natural place.
Thump. My skewer resonated with an artificial tremor, a forced heartbeat orchestrated by Finlay. Its unpleasant regularity resembled that of a low-quality metronome. It was an imitation, an insolent curse designed to control his maker.
“Trainee Tyrkanzyaka, you raised quite a ruckus in your sleep. That’s enough dreaming now. It’s time to wake up.”
I drove the skewer into the core of the curse, channeling mana from every fiber of my being, more than I had ever used before in the abyss. Then I uttered the incantation on the tip of my tongue.
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