༺ The Homunculus’ Dilemma – Revelations ༻
In a classroom on the 4th floor of Tantalus, the Regressor was preparing to revive the undying.
Even for an undying immortal, a curse that devoured the body was deadly in this place that was severed from Mother Earth’s connection. It was possible that the undying corpse golem, which had preyed on dozens of villages in the past, could reappear once again.
It was still a wonder where such many corpses had come from, but nevertheless, leaving the undying unattended to solve the mystery wasn’t an option.
Therefore, the Regressor decided to use the restorative items she had to break the curse inflicted on the undying’s arm and heal his body.
｢If, through my intervention, the undying were to open his eyes now, the timeline would deviate from its original history… but it’s already messed up as it is. It’s good enough that I’ve discovered how the undying became cursed.｣
Finding out how the undying and the vampire got involved was a significant gain in itself.
She could uncover more if she delved deeper… but at the moment, her thoughts were consumed by other inquiries.
｢Who is he exactly?｣
Even as she concocted a valuable healing potion, infusing it with the leaves of the World Tree based on a recipe she had acquired from the Divine Healer in a previous lifetime, uncertainties continued to nag at the Regressor’s mind.
｢He’s definitely hiding something. Deflecting Chun-aeng, seeing through my concealment, evading Finlay’s attacks so artfully. None of it takes ordinary skill. But…｣
Her intuition was whispering there was something more to the man. Something that eluded her grasp, even with her extensive experience spanning thirteen regressions.
｢How do I put it… Why… don’t I feel any pressure from him? He just seems like a weakling at first glance!｣
Hold up, time out.
A weakling? Even if it’s true, should you really put it like that?
｢He runs slow too. Sometimes he reacts so fast that even I can’t help getting the chills. But even then, his movements are sluggish enough to yawn at! And it’s not like he has great strength either. Or shown any swordsmanship. Even when he used the undying’s right arm, he just poked it around like a rapier, never properly swinging it!｣
Uhh? But I really put all my strength into that final swing against Finlay. One of his teeth even came out, didn’t it?
You saw the best swing of my life, and you’re saying I didn’t swing it right?
｢Arrrrgh. I’m about to go mad with curiosity. If only we had a duel, just once, then I’d know for sure! Or at least the opportunity to examine his bare body!｣
What the devil goes through her mind all the time?
I couldn’t hold back any longer. Before she got lost in even stranger thoughts, I rushed down the hallway and wrenched open the classroom door.
“Trainee Shei. Are you done getting ready?”
“Huh? Yeah, more or less.”
The Regressor gave a non-committal reply, looking me up and down. Her eyes narrowed as if that would help her see through my clothes.
｢A standard supply shirt… Mm. it really is impossible to examine his body over it… Damn Military State. They sure did an unnecessarily good job of making clothing packets.｣
You better be thankful that not all the people in the world can read minds. Otherwise, you would’ve been the first one to be locked up somewhere. It’s only ’cause I’m merciful
that I choose to move on despite hearing a thought like that…
｢My Piercing Sight can only see bones when used on humans… Imperious Gaze can’t see through things… So I guess the only way really left is to steal a glimpse with Farsight when he’s changing clothes or taking a bath…｣
I take that back. Not even I can overlook this, no sirree. It’s time I do some shock therapy before this voyeuristic Regressor’s ideas start flying out to space.
I barked at the Regressor who was still fixedly staring at me.
“Huh? What is it, so suddenly?”
I promptly covered my chest, hands on my shoulders, and shyly averted my gaze before continuing.
“Er, well. Could you please refrain from looking at me that way? It’s embarrassing. And your gaze alone makes me feel defiled.”
The Regressor’s head went slack. She was momentarily paralyzed, her mind grappling to make sense of what I was implying.
｢…What kind of bull is that? Why’s he blushing? And what’s with that creepy posture? What? He’s embarrassed? Feels defiled by my gaze? I just wanted to take a peek at his… Huh? Wait. Did I seem too obvious, maybe…?｣
Piecing together the bits of context and connecting them to her situation and my words, the Regressor finally realized the true meaning behind what I said. She flew into a shouting rage.
“What nonsense are you spouting?!”
“You just looked at my body! From head to toe, with those lecherous eyes intent on stripping me if given the chance!”
“I didn’t look at you with lecherous eyes!”
“The part about stripping is true then? People of the world, look here! Trainee Shei wants to undress me!”
I set off running as I yelled for the world to hear, and even though she didn’t really get the situation, the Regressor chased me instinctively, like a cat on a rat hunt.
“No! Don’t come! Somebody help!”
“Stop saying misleading things!”
Seeing that I didn’t stop shouting, the Regressor clenched her jaw and closed the distance, gripping Chun-aeng.
｢There’s no helping it! First I’ll sever the air to seal all the sound, then I’ll deal with him!｣
Why you dastardly! How can you be so unfair, resorting to strength during an honest and honorable propaganda campaign? Won’t I lose if you take up the sword?
I came to a sudden stop mid-chase and spun around. The Regressor also quickly hit the brakes. She almost ran into my chest while trying to slash through the air.
“Oh come on, don’t overreact to a prank, Trainee Shei. I’ll take you seriously, you know?”
“…What? So suddenly?”
“You didn’t really want to take a peek at an unimpressive body like mine, right? Even you have basic principles, after all.”
“Even if you do like men.”
The Regressor shrieked at that.
I tilted my head confusedly.
“Huh? Didn’t you say that the other time? And then you washed Azzy, didn’t you?”
The Regressor had unwittingly ensnared herself in a peculiar persona. Unable to deny my words, she replied vaguely instead.
“No, I don’t mean it’s wrong! I mean that I don’t like you! To me you’re…! Yeah! No different from a toilet seat!”
“…I mean, that’s quite suggestive in many ways.”
“Not that way! As in you’re that filthy! Darn it, how am I supposed to put it?!”
｢A passerby? That makes it seem like I care about him! A pebble on a roadside? But there are no pebbles in the abyss!｣
“Uh, maybe it doesn’t matter what you liken me to?”
“Anyway, you’re something worthless!”
“Oh yes, absolutely. Then shall we return to the classroom first? We should revive Mr. Rasch. We owe a debt for borrowing his arm, right?”
“We? You’re the one who used it!”
I soothed the huffing Regressor and we made our way back to the classroom. It wasn’t until she saw the bubbling restorative potion in the large cauldron that the bewildered Regressor finally recalled what she intended to do.
“Oh, right! Where’s the undying’s right arm?”
I handed her the box filled with undying’s flesh. The Regressor grimaced upon seeing its contents.
“Yeugh, gross. I bet he’s the first undying ever to suffer something like this.”
“He’ll be able to regenerate, right?”
“It’s possible. As long as the curse is lifted, and earthen essence is provided, it should naturally reattach… though I can’t be sure how long that’ll take.”
The Regressor took the box and placed it beside the cauldron she was working on.
Suddenly, she searched the surroundings for something.
“What about Tyrkanzyaka? Didn’t she want to pick this up?”
“Trainee Tyrkanzyaka went back to the underground armory.”
“Really? Is she tired? Then again, I guess she would be.”
“That aside, Trainee Shei, I have a favor to ask.”
The Regressor seemed puzzled at that.
“You, a favor? What is it?”
“If you’d take this.”
I handed over a folded note I had written.
“I intend to be away for some time, so read it when I’m g—”
Before I finished speaking, the Regressor had already opened the note and was about to read the first sentence. Appearing slightly sorry, she looked between me and the note, grumbling softly.
“It’s because you talk too slow. You should’ve warned me before I started reading.”
“Maybe you just have too hasty a personality? Well, it’s nothing big, so you may as well keep reading.”
｢The heck? I thought it was something super important, giving me a note and all.｣
The Regressor shot a sharp look at me before reading the rest of the note.
｢Feed Azzy three meals a day. Heal the undying. And please note, don’t ever open the underground armory until someone comes out…?｣
That was all to the note. She waved it about, throwing me a question.
“What does the last one mean?”
“Ahh. Exactly as it says. An incredibly important ritual will take place in there, so you must never open the door or disturb the process.”
“… You said Tyrkanzyaka is in there right now.”
“What kind of ritual is it?”
“A ritual of reviving the heart.”
“And who’s performing that?”
The Regressor nodded slightly with a hum. Then next second, she abruptly launched into an interrogation.
“What are you up to?”
I knew she wouldn’t just move on. Saw that coming. The Regressor’s meddling was within expectations. She wouldn’t just stand by and leave me and the vampire in a secluded place by ourselves.
But that aside, there could be no disturbance allowed during the ritual, so I needed someone to keep any possible intruders away. Persuading the Regressor was absolutely necessary.
Having no choice, I began in a low tone.
“Trainee Shei. What would you do if I said I was going to make Trainee Tyrkanzyaka’s heart beat again?”
“I’d declare you a fraud, you fraudster.”
As I expected, the Regressor reacted skeptically.
“Because of that Dilemma?”
“…Why ask if you know? You should also know about it. All vampires are homunculi, and the most famous kind at that. They endure their existence, defying death and simulating life through the Progenitor’s blood.”
“That’s why they are bound by various restrictions. Like being unable to defy their bloodline or being incapable of casting any spells not of blood magic.”
Hearing my effortless answer, the Regressor cast a puzzled look at me.
“You know that, yet you made such a proposal to Tyrkanzyaka? Are you serious or just fooling around? At this point, I’m not sure what you’re really after.”
“I happen to truly wish for Trainee Tyrkanzyaka’s revival.”
“It’s that attitude of yours that confuses me. How can I bring myself to believe you?”
｢…Though I say that, he never did anything while touching Tyrkanzyaka’s heart all those times. In fact, he warned her about the danger of the act and protected her from Finlay… He probably doesn’t have bad intentions. If he did, he would’ve made a move before Finlay.｣
The Regressor remained on edge, perhaps due to her nature, but her wariness toward me was minimal. It appeared that standing together against Finlay had a positive impact on her.
Withdrawing her hostility, the Regressor told me the facts she knew in an ambiguous attitude, as if she herself wasn’t sure if she was persuading or informing me.
“The moment someone defies death by magic… it’s over. There’s no going back. Ever. And once the miraculous force that sustains their life expires, their body will succumb to a delayed demise… They will crumble into dust and vanish, without any chance for recovery or resurrection. Because with the magic of others, saving themselves becomes an impossibility…”
“Yes. That’s the thing.”
The Regressor emphasized the impossibility with her words, and she made a good point. Because her words contained the very clue to success.
“The Homunculus’ Dilemma. It reveals the truth that saving yourself with the magic of others is impossible.”
The Regressor looked confused.
“Why repeat what we all know?”
“As with all old sayings, there is advice hidden in the warning.”
“To beware of magic, isn’t it?”
“Haha. No, that’s not it. What good would dilemmas or proverbs be if everyone in the world thought as simply as you, Trainee Shei?”
“… Are you asking for a fight?”
Of course not. I’d lose.
I raised a finger, continuing with emphasis.
“You can’t save yourself with the magic of others. In other words, you’re the only one who can save yourself.”
“Well isn’t that obvious?”
“Now, let me tell you one more thing.”
Raising another finger, I smiled casually.
“Among the countless vampires, there is one of them who isn’t a homunculus. An individual who brought their dying body back to life. Not by the power of others, but by their own. Who might that be?”
While she might not know everything, the Regressor knew how to extract even the most unfamiliar knowledge.
Throughout thirteen regressions, she stumbled upon knowledge that transcended the boundaries of imagination. Consequently, she had cultivated a disposition of initially embracing new information, as long as it held coherence, regardless of its incredibility.
“The first vampire, Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka?”
Correct, here’s a reward.
I proceeded to give the Regressor round of applause for getting it right.
“Oh very well done. That’s correct.”
“Since she saved herself when faced with death, it’s possible to be resurrected…? Yeah, I can see how it’s not an impossibility. You can reverse your own power, but it’ll still belong to you…”
Her thoughtful murmurs were short-lived. After briefly contemplating the idea with a grim expression, the Regressor eventually shut her eyes and shook her head.
“But although it may not be impossible, it’ll be challenging to the point of being nearly impossible. Even if her power is reversed, her point of return disappeared 1,200 years ago. Not to mention, Tyrkanzyaka’s ability lies in bloodcraft. Through it, she gained so many things—too many to be counted—and exerted control and dominance. The boundaries between herself and the world have blurred to the extent that even removing the heart presents no issues. So for her…”
Death is the thinning of the boundaries between yourself and the world.
Of the things that had to die, the Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka was closest to death. She was the Queen of Blood, who spilled her blood across the world to expand her retinue, reigning over all that was soaked in crimson. There was likely no life form that came closer to the brink of conceptual death than her.
So for the Progenitor… the journey toward resurrection was longer than that of any other being in the world.
“It won’t work.”
Anyone would view the situation with pessimism, not just the Regressor who had been through Apocalyse and back. Virtually impossible. That’s how people would judge our plan. But me?
“I’m going to try. So in the meantime, please guard the doors. Let no one in.”
“…Be my guest.”
The Regressor was about to nod and move on, but then another question popped into her head.
“By the way, how did you figure out something like this?”
｢Even I couldn’t think of it, yet a mere State warden who isn’t even a mage…?｣
What, do you consider yourself the center of the universe? Just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean nobody else does. Like a soul trapped in the valley of ignorance… I’ll reshape that personality of yours.
I reminisced about the past and chose to mimic one of the most exasperating expressions I had encountered before. I scratched the side of my head, sneering.
“Er, it’s knowledge reserved for the top student in secondary military school. An elementary school graduate wouldn’t know. Even experiencing death twice won’t provide the answer.”
The Regressor flared up, just as I expected, so I quickly ran away. But since she was working on the cauldron, she merely growled and didn’t come after me.
Figuring I did enough to convince her, I made to leave the classroom through the back door, waving goodbye.
“I’m guessing it’ll take about a day or two. Please keep a good lookout during that time. Oh, and don’t look too hard at the note!”
“Tsk. Get it done quickly!”
I closed the door behind me and headed for the underground armory, where the vampire would be waiting.
* * *
｢If Finlay had come in the previous life cycle, would he have succeeded or failed? It’s completely uncharted territory from here on… But Finlay and the warden were at odds. And seeing how things eventually ended up in a war, the warden must have failed. Hmph, I somehow knew he wasn’t reliable.｣
｢So then, is his attempt to resurrect Tyrkanzyaka a solution borne of a growing sense of crisis, after what happened with Finlay? It’s probably impossible… but yeah, it’s definitely not 0%. There’s a chance.｣
｢If, as highly unlikely as it may be… if it’s made possible on the off chance, I should be able to win over Tyrkanzyaka a bit faster from the next life cycles. Guess I’ll watch and believe.｣
｢…But what did he mean, telling me not to look too hard at the note? Ugh, again with the riddles. Huh? A pressed mark? … No way, did he actually…?!｣
｢Fathomsight, activate. I can make out hidden writing from the marks now. Why go to such lengths with something so pointless…? Argh. May as well read it first. “Don’t go to the cafeteria, don’t disturb me even if my condition becomes strange after everything’s over, and if by any chance supplies arrive, use them for me…?”｣
｢The heck? What in the world is he scheming?｣
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