༺ The Hearts of Others ༻
When you achieve something, you deserve an appropriate reward. This proposition isn’t limited to large systems like schools, societies, or countries. Rather, in narrower contexts such as relationships between individuals, rewards hold even greater significance.
After exercising, you should take sufficient rest. A tired body requires nourishment, for it craves sugar upon experiencing fatigue from prolonged labor. If one person has helped another, it is essential to provide a positive response to satisfy their sense of fulfillment. A reward system such as this strengthens the body, mind, and human relationships.
And that’s why I had to reward Azzy.
“Well then. It’s barbecue party time.”
Azzy’s eyes sparkled as she wagged her tail so hard that she blew the fire and smoke from the barbecue toward me. I bet she could go flying if she wagged just a bit faster.
I speared a piece of meat with my skewer. It went in effortlessly, which showed the meat was fully cooked. It had been soaked in water for a long time to increase its volume, making it somewhat half-boiled. But since I wasn’t the one eating it anyway, I didn’t care.
I grabbed the broad piece of meat with my skewer and twirled it above my head.
Azzy lowered her posture with eager eyes, filled with anticipation. A droplet of saliva dripped from her gaping mouth.
I pulled my arm into its limit and hurled the meat into the distance.
“Take this! Custom Meat Disc!”
“Woof! Woo-woo-woof! Woof!”
The meat disc soared through the air, exuding overwhelming flavor and a tantalizing appearance. Azzy’s eyes gleamed with excitement as she chased after the meat. Snatching the flying morsel from the air, she gleefully tore into it with a grin.
This was what I called a playtime meal, combining play and feast. It was, undoubtedly, the most wonderful reward for Azzy she had ever experienced.
While I didn’t usually go to such lengths, a dog who fought against a vampire on my behalf deserved the right to enjoy meat.
Placing the next chunk of meat on the grill, I gave her a loud reminder.
“You have to be good from now on too!”
The simple yet sufficient reward made Azzy happy. I could hear her laughter even from where I stood. Dogs really were such good friends. Even after her existential battle against the sanguine steed, all it took were a few chunks of meat to make her happy.
I chuckled. Then suddenly, I realized something was amiss.
“Odd. I worked hard myself and got good results. Why don’t I have any rewards?”
I clearly knew that achievements called for rewards, so why was I the only one not getting any? I knew best, more than anybody, about the necessity of rewards, yet I was the one doing the rewarding…?
Something about this is unfair. Something, somehow…
“Woof-woof-woof! Tasty! Woof-woof-woof!”
Azzy had devoured all the meat before I knew it. She came over with a wagging tail. While the meat was cooking, I petted her, murmuring.
“Azzy. Gimme some praise.”
“You, you’re nice! Give me meat!”
“Don’t think of getting meals with praises now. Gimme some praise from the heart. The sincere kind.”
In response, Azzy put her paws to her hips, straightened her chest, and gave a loud proclamation.
“You, you’re nice!”
“Right. It was my mistake to expect metaphors, idioms, or something metaphysical from you. Thanks anyway.”
“And you still think of getting fed.”
I skewered a piece of meat again and sent it flying. Azzy promptly ran off, leaving me behind. I see how it is. You’re just an ignorant beast, so you only need to care about your own share, eh?
But just as I was starting to feel a twinge of annoyance at Azzy’s carefree attitude, for the umpteenth time, someone called out to me.
“Is something wrong?”
The need for rewards applies in negative directions as well, though we call it punishment.
The vampire had caused chaos by letting herself be controlled by the mere likes of Finlay, so she faced my stern anger and received a punishment to rectify the destruction she caused.
As a result, the vampire had been busy excavating the broken concrete ground and collecting the flesh of the devastated undying’s right arm. Since her vampire’s power couldn’t touch the undying, she had to pick up each piece manually, using her own hands for once in a long time.
Lifting the box full of the undying’s arm, or rather the flesh that had composed it, the vampire spoke to me.
“By the way, you are the one who destroyed the earthener’s arm, no?”
“Why! Don’t you know the importance of collaboration? Besides, if it weren’t for all your dark knights, would the undying’s arm have been damaged so badly, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka? So, the responsibility lies on both sides. Especially on you, reckless lady!”
How dare she try to pass the blame onto me? No way that’s gonna work. At my fierce accusation, the vampire lowered her gaze and spoke in a subdued voice.
“I did not mean to shirk responsibility. However, if I were also held responsible for this wretched mess of flesh, scraped off and scattered everywhere by a certain somebody, that would feel rather unfair.”
While I certainly did feel a slight prick of conscience, there were many others in the world who deserved to feel the prick more than me. So I grew infinitely self-assured.
“You’re fussing about some minor injustice? Do you know how unfair it is for me right now? I worked my body to the breaking point, yet all I get is dealing with the aftermath! I’m the one cooking but I can’t eat all I want and even have to do the dishes!”
“Is that so frustrating?”
“Of course! What did I do wrong in that incident? I simply worked despite having made no mistakes, and yet there are no rewards for it! Heck, no one even praises me!”
Eh? Say what?
While I stood there with my mouth agape at the sudden praise, the vampire continued speaking, staring at me.
“Thank you. You all did truly well. Your efforts stopped me from making an even greater mistake. It is all thanks to you dears.”
If it made people feel good to get such abrupt praise, they wouldn’t have come up with the saying “fishing for compliments”.
I responded with a stern expression.
“First it’s the dog flattering me for food, and now this. What are you after, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka?”
“Do you view me as so materialistic? I was being completely sincere. What is the problem with saying thank you?”
“Of course you should be thankful, that’s a given. I saved you from almost ending up puppeteered by some ignorant fool.”
“I gave you the praise you seemed to crave, and all I hear is dissatisfaction. Then, what do you suggest for me to do?”
“Show it through your actions. If you were really being sincere, trainee, then I suppose you won’t need electric massages anymore. Right?”
As I tried to turn away, the vampire hastily grabbed my arm. She hesitated a moment before speaking, avoiding my cold gaze.
“…I did not say it was unneeded.”
“Wow. This is real addiction.”
“Addiction? No poison can affect my body. I merely desire a beating heart, even for a second. That is all. So if you would allow just a bit…”
“Continuing to desire something that ruins your body is what we call addiction, you know? It’s ‘because’ you’re unaware of the poison that you shamefully got controlled by a retainer. Why is someone who is living just fine so dying to get their heart beating?”
At my continued blunt attitude, the vampire grew restless and shot a resentful look at me.
“It is because of you, is it not?”
What’s this now? It was so absurd that I couldn’t even say anything. It had to be some sort of late April Fool’s joke.
I did regretfully admit it was my fault for teaching the old lady a stimulating pastime, just for laughs, but considering the actual harm I suffered, I had every right to point the blame! But coming from you, that’s ingratitude!
The vampire held my arm tightly, still seeming to have more to say.
“My heart does not beat. Any emotion I feel quickly fades away. Thus, my desires, feelings, and memories are all washed out like dull colors. Even at this moment that I spend with all of you.”
Azzy gently trotted over with a mouthful of meat. But upon seeing the vampire, she simply sat on the spot and began tearing into her leftovers.
The vampire watched Azzy with a faraway, reminiscing look in her eyes.
“I need no food for I suffer no hunger, so smell and taste cannot bring me happiness. Even if a sumptuous feast were right before me, I could not rejoice like the King of Dogs.”
“But you enjoy the taste of blood, don’t you?”
“Is that what you really thought? Taste is a metaphor. I merely seek the ‘closest’ blood, for blood that is of similar nature to mine provides satisfaction.”
The vampire lightly reprimanded me before looking into the distance again.
Despite her infamous reputation, the vampire defied the world’s rumors and revealed herself to be kind-hearted. While her personality certainly played a role, there was an additional, undeniable reason.
Usually, humans become more lenient towards things that cannot harm them.
To be precise, they become numb.
The vampire was naturally immune to physical pain and emotional pain. Even if someone stabbed her with knives and spears, and spat hateful curses in death, she could brush it all off, like the echoing melody of a nightingale from the previous night.
Was this cruel for her? No, humans had to be grateful for it.
If the Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka didn’t have the sensitivity to find beauty even in the everyday mundane, if she weren’t the kind of girl who could indulge in contemplating while appreciating the tranquil starlight…
Then humanity would have had to face a vampire queen manifold colder and more ruthless than in the present.
“Even when Finlay resented me, I did not mind. Ending his life only felt like tidying up an old drawer. It has always been this way, and always will be. I hold a certain fondness for you, but even if you were to meet a sudden demise, I would not flinch. A fleeting pang of sorrow would cross my thoughts, and then I would turn away.”
Back it up now.
Sure I get it’s a metaphor, but why are you killing me off? Talk about scary. I’m okay with you not flinching, so do you mind saving me?
The vampire didn’t know she had unwittingly scared me. She clasped her hands, holding her parasol, meekly to her chest.
“However, it is only in that fleeting instant when your finger touches my heart that I can perceive the emotions coursing through my body. In that moment, my body becomes simultaneously mine and not mine. My heart beats fervently, independently, while my lungs draw breath without requirement. The lifetime of coldness residing within my chest would yield to warmth.”
Even as she cradled her chest with her hands, all she could feel was coldness. The vampire spread her hands and cast a lonely gaze downward.
And then, our eyes met once more. Her blood-red gaze penetrated me from head to toe as she conveyed her thoughts with serene composure. Then she revealed her wish through both her voice and her mind.
Her long-awaited hope emerged from the abyssal depths of darkness, where the sky remained unseen, and even the earth had forsaken.
I was terrified.
She sure put it in romantically. The emotions in her words were so fervent that I hardly believed they were coming from a vampire who bore a motionless heart. Even I fell for it for a moment there.
But I had the ability to mind-read. Upon reading the true cruel meaning behind her words, I grew shocked. Become her heart? By that, she literally meant for me to become an external, attachable heart that came with a zapping finger to stick in her chest whenever she liked!
“Come to think of it, I still do not know your nam—”
I swiftly cut her off before she threw anything else at me. The conversation halted as if severed by a knife. For a second, resentment filled her eyes.
“Have you still not learned your lesson after all that happened? I’m telling you now, you’ll end up in more big trouble, going around giving your heart to anyone.”
“So you can do it then.”
“No, like I said. How do you trust me? What if I just brainwashed you out of nowhere? What then?”
I had put on a show of resistance, intending to deliver a firm rejection, but the vampire’s response was far from what I expected.
“If it is you, I do not mind.”
Her calm statement puzzled me to such an extent that even with my mind-reading ability, I became dazed and needed to make another attempt to understand her.
I focused on her thoughts again, figuring she had learned how to joke before I knew it.
｢If I am to trust someone anyway, if I must place myself on the scales, then I would rather entrust myself to the side that appeals to my heart.｣
I mean, was she in her right mind? I’d never come across someone so gullible.
There’s a limit to everything. Just as even heartless gamblers didn’t bother to take the allowances of little kids, I would feel sorry to take advantage of such naivety.
So I firmly rejected the vampire’s plea.
“But I mind. I don’t want to become someone’s heart, even if that someone is a trainee.”
The vampire showed great disappointment at my uncompromising rejection.
However, even such woe was fleeting. Her disappointment quickly vanished, followed by resignation. She wasn’t giving up. Her feelings brushed past her as if riding the current of a river that swept everything away.
It was at times like these that I hated mind reading. I had to push her away, just let her go. But gazing at her, I became infected with regret.
“But still, you won’t give up on your heart, right?”
The vampire fell silent at that. Silence doesn’t necessarily guarantee affirmation, but if weighed on a balance, it definitely leans toward agreement. I supposed she wouldn’t do anything as stupid as entrusting her heart to someone like Finlay. But I predicted she’d go around doing something only slightly less dumb.
Hoo. seriously. I wiped my forehead and let out a sigh.
“Then I guess it’s better I do it.”
“Did you just say, you would do it? Then…”
Her face lit up like a blossoming flower. This made it clear. With her being so easy to read, it was possible she might fall for some other fraudster’s hook, line, and sinker… literally.
Left with no choice, I reached out and grabbed the vampire’s hand.
“The reason hope keeps slipping through your fingers isn’t that your hands, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka, are unreasonably large, nor because hope is tiny and delicate.”
Now she didn’t even scold me for outright holding her hand. Talk about danger awareness. She disregarded basic rudeness just because I grew a little on her.
I put her small and cold fingers together one by one, from her pinky to her thumb.
“It’s simply that you didn’t put enough strength between your fingers.”
What we needed was desperate desire. I firmly stuck her fingers together and pushed them against the vampire’s chest. She looked at me with anticipating eyes.
Hoo. I really, really didn’t intend to do this.
“I’m not your heart, trainee. I don’t want to be one either. Because I don’t want to beat tirelessly every moment, I won’t beat if I don’t feel like it, and most of the time, I’ll be away from you.”
Not even I could turn away after hearing out someone’s wish from so close. Just as a seer is bound by the future, destined to be consumed by it, a mind reader can’t be free from the emotions of others.
“Instead, I’ll show you how that heart can start beating again.”
You can rate this series here.
Advanced chapters one genesistls.com
Illustrаtiоnѕ on our ԁiscоrԁ – discord.gg/genesistls