༺ Amnesiac ༻
Thump, thump. An unfamiliar sound echoed through the serene room. It was a gentle, delicate rhythm reminiscent of the chirping of a newborn bird, barely audible even with focused ears. It was a primal melody of the heart, a distinctive variation of a regular pulse that gave rise to a singular rhythm of life.
Tyrkanzyaka opened her eyes within that cadence and jerked her torso upright, startled like a child who had overslept. She stared into the darkness, her gaze vacant, before bewilderedly reaching out to feel her face and body.
“When did I… fall asleep?”
Tyrkanzyaka was certain she had been fully awake, at least until the middle of the ritual. She had observed the warden, sitting with his eyes tightly closed. He was clearly doing something, but despite her extensive experiences, she couldn’t discern what it was.
And so, Tyrkanzyaka had remained motionless and continued to observe. Waiting was something she had grown accustomed to. Without that patience, she wouldn’t have been able to endure such long years.
There were instances when she would silently gaze at the moonlit sky all night long for no particular reason. And there were times when she would bury herself underground to slumber for nearly a hundred years. Spending mere hours or days merely observing someone’s face was a task she found unchallenging. Moreover, scrutinizing every contour of his face wasn’t so boring either.
But at some point, the warden abruptly broke free from his deathly stillness. Tyrkanzyaka was momentarily puzzled by his unexpected movement as his hand gradually reached toward the card in her possession. His fingers made contact with the card, then touched her body, and in that very instant, she succumbed to unconsciousness.
Tyrkanzyaka didn’t know how long she slept. What roused her from it was the sensation of rhythmic heartbeats within her body. It was akin to the footsteps of a wanderer returning home from a long journey, an unfamiliarity that seamlessly melded into the surrounding scenery before she even realized it.
As soon as she became aware of this, Tyrkanzyaka swiftly brought her palms to her chest. Feeling the subdued pulsation within, she soon let out an astonished exclamation.
“This is… unbelievable.”
Her heart was beating. There was no doubt about it. None. Its tempo was neither sluggish nor mechanical but rather felt so natural that Tyrkanzyaka herself hadn’t initially noticed it. Simultaneously, it carried a nostalgic essence that evoked memories of a distant past.
It wasn’t a fleeting spark of sensation like when her heart had been shocked into temporary life. No, this was undoubtedly a thumping that belonged to her, a pulsing that resonated from the past and would persist into the future. Tyrkanzyaka instinctively knew this to be true.
“Goodness. To think he would really do it… But how in the world?”
Tyrkanzyaka examined her own condition. As an unparalleled master of bloodcraft, she could manipulate every single drop of blood within her being. She traced the subtle shifts within her body, being cautious not to harm her heart.
To an ordinary individual, the changes in her would have gone unnoticed. However, Tyrkanzyaka had refined her bloodcraft over 1200 years, reaching a level where she could even animate blood beyond her own physical form. Swiftly, she discerned what had occurred, yet found herself overwhelmed by a flood of questions.
“Blood… craft? He is not even a vampire. How? I clearly remember only teaching Shei…”
Bloodcraft wasn’t an impossible skill to acquire with sufficient effort. In life, Tyrkanzyaka herself had mastered it on her own, and even Shei had learned it effortlessly within a few weeks.
In its essence, bloodcraft was a form of Qi Art rooted in theory. But no matter how far an individual progressed in their mastery of bloodcraft, it was typically limited to the control of blood within one’s own body.
Aware of this limitation, Shei primarily focused on using bloodcraft to staunch bleeding or fortify her own body. Unless an individual underwent an awakening akin to Tyrkanzyaka’s enlightenment—which was a combination of talent, coincidence, and experience—attempting to employ bloodcraft to manipulate the bodies of others was nearly impossible.
Yet the warden had done just that to Tyrkanzyaka. And of all things, he had changed…
“What I cast aside… the things I sacrificed long ago to survive…”
The things she had to relinquish in order to live. The memories she had banished to the recesses of her mind for near eternity.
Time had caused those memories to age and recede so far that she later forgot their very existence. Yet, all those remnants had been contained within the card nestled inside her chest. Like a beloved, weathered diary tucked away in a corner of a chest of drawers, or a treasure chest buried deep in the earth, safeguarding precious memories.
Nostalgia washed over Tyrkanzyaka, evoking a faint, distant fragrance. Tears welled up in her eyes—tears that Tyrkanzyaka herself had undoubtedly lost. Weeping with a blend of joy and wistfulness, she called out in a voice choked with tears.
Naturally, her mind was flooded with questions. How had he unearthed those memories and traces of the past within her body, all of which she had been compelled to forget? How had he managed to compress them into a single card and impart them to her? How was he able to use bloodcraft, an art she hadn’t even taught him?
All these inquiries piqued her curiosity… but they were of secondary importance.
“Thank you. I am unsure how I can repay this favor… But simply name it.”
Tyrkanzyaka beamed radiantly, her eyes welling with tears. Tears that were once lost from her.
“Whatever I have to offer, I will give it. Just tell me.”
However, the warden seemed to be dozing off, his head hanging low in exhaustion. Tyrkanzyaka was inclined to let him sleep as he was, but there was no decent bed around this place, so she knew he wouldn’t find proper rest.
Keeping this in mind, she reached out to rouse him and touched his shoulder, prompting him to lift his head and meet Tyrkanzyaka’s gaze with eyes that lacked focus.
Tyrkanzyaka awaited his next words, ready to wholeheartedly embrace any request he might make. Such was the value of the precious gift he had bestowed upon her.
“Who… are you?”
But Tyrkanzyaka’s fond sentiment didn’t last long. Not even she could avoid being petrified by the question he uttered.
* * *
Shei had been keeping a vigil over the underground armory for several sleepless days. It had already been three days since the warden mentioned performing some kind of ritual involving Tyrkanzyaka.
Since that day, the sturdy steel doors of the armory had remained closed, not making a single sound. The construction was entirely made of steel, rendering it impossible for Shei to see through it. All she could do was wait outside, wondering when the doors would finally open.
‘What the hell is he doing? He wouldn’t be up to any funny business…?’
Shei shook her head, trying to dismiss her unfounded thoughts. After all, vampires had no desires other than their thirst for blood and their loyalty to their maker. Moreover, the warden hadn’t exhibited any suspicious behavior thus far. She was simply jumping to conclusions.
But in all honesty, the warden bore a significant portion of the blame for Shei’s escalating suspicions. Just what sort of ritual was it for him to behave in such a secretive manner?
‘Tsk…! At least give a more detailed explanation if you’re gonna be in there for a whole three days! I couldn’t even sleep properly out of curiosity!’
Just as she was blaming the warden for something to do, having no way to vent her frustration…
Azzy came over with a ball in her mouth.
While the regressor stood guard in the yard, keeping watch over the closed armory doors, the restless Azzy had taken her behavior as a sign of playtime. She had often approached Shei for a game of ball. And wanting to foster a positive rapport with Azzy, Shei would always oblige her request.
However, the manner and outcome of their play sessions varied slightly from the warden’s usual approach.
Holding the ball in one hand, Shei gripped Chun-aeng with the other.
“Skyblade Art, Gentle Breeze.”
Before Azzy could react, Shei swung Chun-aeng and sent the ball soaring through the air. Caught in a gust of magical wind, the ball darted around, traversing the yard in all directions.
Having gained a moment to relax, Shei redirected her gaze toward the sealed armory doors. But Azzy showed no interest in chasing the ball. Instead, she sat down and tapped the ground near Shei’s feet.
Her attention returned to Azzy.
“Azzy? What is it?”
Azzy shouted with a dissatisfied face.
“Woof! You, don’t play! Only I play!”
“Woof-woof! Woof-woof-woof! You, no fun!”
“No, no, hang on.”
It was evident that Azzy’s dissatisfaction had built up considerably. Previously, she would play by herself before departing quietly, but this time, it seemed she wasn’t going to let it slide. Despite the Dog King’s typically unwavering fondness for humans, she barked persistently at Shei.
Faced with the King’s discontent, Shei struggled to find an appropriate response.
“No, I. Uh, wanted to take it a bit easy.”
Had she mistakenly assumed that dealing with the Dog King would be a breeze due to her affinity for humans? It appeared her way of doing things wouldn’t work. Shei sighed and summoned the ball, causing it to ride the wind back to land in her hand.
“Alright. I’ll throw it by hand from now on, no tricks. Will that make you happy?”
“Ruff! No! Ruff-ruff!”
Azzy let out a loud bark and swiftly turned away from Shei. Rejected by the Dog King, known for her benevolence, Shei could only watch Azzy’s retreating figure with a dumb expression. She ran a hand through her hair, muttering to herself in frustration.
“…Argh. I don’t get it. Just how did that guy get along so well with Azzy?”
Reluctantly, Shei couldn’t help but harbor a secret hope that the warden would return. He was the sole person capable of unraveling the myriad of questions on her mind and resolving the predicament at hand.
And deep down, though she would never admit it, she might have developed a slight fondness for the man.
But then, as soon as that notion crossed her mind, the armory doors swung open.