༺ A Monster Living in the Basement ༻
I came to that conclusion after careful consideration.
‘I’m pretty sure I’m totally screwed.’
The moment I took a step into the armory, I could feel a surge of regret washing over me. I would probably feel safer in a whale’s mouth. At least whales didn’t feed on human blood.
The land where a vampire had resided for several decades. The moment I took a step in, the blood that coursed through my body was no longer my own. I could feel my blood shifting to one side of my veins. The liquid that should be carrying my vitality kept attempting to derail.
This wasn’t something I could solve with reading minds. If the vampire wished for my death, the moment she set her sights on me… I’d dry up in an instant.
‘Is the Regressor alright? She must be under even more pressure than I am, given her sharp senses.’
「It’s an amazing amount of power. Just as strong as last time… But this is before ‘that event’ happened. Will she become more aggressive? Or more passive? Will she lend a hand before ‘that matter’ is resolved?」
‘What is “that event”? What is “that matter”? Could you have a flashback for me instead of just thinking about stuff only you know about?’
「Let’s not worry about it. I haven’t recovered the strength to fight against Tyrkazanka yet. If I die, I die.」
‘Alright, It’s been proven that it’s best to not get involved with the Regressor. She may have plenty of lives left, but I’m on my last one. “If I die, I die”? If you follow someone who thinks like that, even ten lives wouldn’t be enough.’
I turned around and headed for the door.
“Alright, I believe you were the one who had business to attend to, so I shall take my leave no—”
The steel doors slammed shut in front of my eyes. The red sigil flickered as if mocking my attempt to leave.
Seeing my expression, the Regressor chuckled.
“Sure. If you can, that is.”
The exit was gone as pitch-black darkness engulfed my body, it obscured my vision to the point of me being unable to even see my own body. I sighed as I followed the Regressor.
“What? I thought you were leaving.”
“Come to think of it, I’ll need to observe in order to verify why you needed to come to the armory. Let’s go together, shall we?”
Since we were here together, our fates were intertwined. The Regressor nodded. I clasped the wall, trying to navigate my way through the darkness. It was strangely slippery, and it required immense concentration to take even a single step.
‘Shit, there’s a staircase coming up. Will I end up tumbling all the way down if I slip? It’d be more suspicious than a simple mistake if a warden of the State slipped on the stairs. What’s Shei doing anyway?’
「Seven Colored Eyes, activate. Azure Eyes.」
The Regressor poked her eye with her finger. A glistening tear gathered in her eye and began to burn blue. Even in the ravenous darkness, the blue flame illuminated every nook and cranny.
「Azure Eyes, the fifth of the Seven Colored Eyes, perceives depth. It can even see through the darkness manifested by a vampire.」
‘What an array of skills. It feels really unfair compared to someone like me, whose only skill is reading minds.’
The ‘Azure Eyes’ could see the world as lines and surfaces, and while it couldn’t detect fast-moving objects, it can see the general layout of a location while in the dark. The Regressor shone her blue gaze everywhere. A stark ceiling and wall obscured her view. The only path was downwards. In her vision, a zig-zagged line headed downwards faintly appeared. It was the staircase.
Without the slightest bit of hesitation, the Regressor stepped onto the stairs. After taking a couple of steps, she glanced back at me.
「Now, let’s see if you can navigate the darkness.」
Thanks for looking my way.
I wasn’t aware of it until now, but I had already arrived right in front of the stairs. The step was half broken, if I had taken another step, I would have fallen down the stairs.
‘Phew, that’s a relief.’
I made sure not to step on the broken step. I heard a familiar tongue click in front of me.
「He even saw through the excessively thick darkness created by a vampire? I can’t see the limit of his skill. To think someone who looks so daft would be able to do so much…」
This was why people needed to experience being at the bottom. She spent so much time with extraordinary people like saints and swordmasters that she couldn’t judge regular people properly.
Regardless, the Regressor and I headed down side by side.
「Why’s he walking so close? It’s annoying.」
She was uncomfortable with our distance, but I kept sticking close. I was borrowing her vision right now, so I needed to be close to her to see my own feet—feeling as if I was being carried
After we arrived at the underground bunker, she looked around using her Azure Eyes.
Within the bunker was a long hallway with a large room to the side. In the case of an emergency, you were meant to hide in that small room and wait for help. In this case, a guest was already there.
The Regressor glared at the misty shadows that watched us from within the room. A horse tall enough to reach the ceiling was staring at us.
「Is it her familiar? I thought she had lost most of them during the war… but Sanguine Horse Ralion seems fine.」
‘What the hell was she using the armory for? Why is a horse that large taking up the whole bunker? More so, why does a familiar get a better room than me? Where are my human rights?’
After tossing the sanguine horse a quick glance, the Regressor began walking again. I quickly followed after her.
At the end of the long hallway, a peculiar door stood out.
The State, which prioritized function over form, did not ever integrate art into its doors or walls. A door was for opening and closing an area, and walls were to divide the area. Any more than that was considered a luxury. Maybe you could hang a picture on the door, but something as inefficient as engraving art into the wall itself was considered a sin.
However, it appeared that even the State wished to gain the favor of the god known as the Progenitor of Vampires.
The door, cast from steel, was engraved with a mural that was worthy of a biblical excerpt. The walls had angels blowing horns painted onto them. With the horns pointed at the door, they felt as if they were ready to punish whoever opened the door.
Although the underground armory was dark, I could make out the door and walls clearly, as well as the sculptures and murals you would typically see at a church
Because in this darkness, the holy works of art were slathered with glowing red blood.
Facing them, I slowly turned my head back to the Regressor.
“…Hey, Trainee Shei.”
“What is it?”
“Should we head back?”
“Are you scared or something?”
The Regressor looked puzzled at my honest answer.
‘This is way too scary, you know. I’d have preferred not being able to see it at all. If the Sanctum had been notified of this, they would have immediately declared it blasphemy and dispatched their inquisitors. But if they heard who did it, they would immediately cancel their orders. The inquisitors would end up as mere blood offerings.’
That was what the Progenitor to all vampires signified. Regardless of how strong you were, the Progenitor deserved to be feared.
The Regressor stared at me.
“You’re more fearful than I would have expected.”
“That’s why I’m still alive till now. Fear of danger is essential to survival.”
「Maybe that’s why I died thirteen times.」
‘Oh, that’s right. You don’t mind dying.’
The realization made me resentful.
“You call her a granny despite fearing her?”
“Is she not one?”
“Ugh. I won’t even bother.”
The Regressor marched forward and placed her palm on the door. Although she didn’t push on it, the door easily swung open, as if it were the gaping jaws of a beast awaiting its prey.
“Oh, bloody Mother Earth.”
It was inevitable. If we had already been eaten, the mouth probably wasn’t too different from going down the throat. Without a choice, I followed the Regressor into the final room before the door slammed shut. A torch, somewhat outdated compared to the modern lights and electricity, hung on the walls. It was hand-carved from stone and had a unique shape, like an inverted birdcage. With the intricacy that went into chiseling each detail, I could almost expect a phoenix to rise out of the flames while spreading its wings.
Blood-red flames thirsted for the sky and roared upwards. However, the flames were short-lived. This was the lowest place in the world; an underground floor in the abyss. It was too harsh of a place to fly to the skies. The corpse of light dissipated as it touched the ceiling.
Ironically, light had its meaning in being able to fade. The fragmented embers birthed red shadows, lighting up the walls.
Thanks to the embers, I was able to see what the room looked like.
The room was not just red because of the flames. Blood. Several thousand liters of it coated the room. It was slathered on the ceiling, the walls, and the ground. As if the room was a living, beating heart, pulsing with blood.
However, despite all the blood, I couldn’t smell any of it. The smell of blood fell under her control as well. Unless she allowed me to, I wouldn’t be able to smell the scent of blood.
「For what reason have you come to meet me?」
A black wooden coffin was in the center of the room. A treasure crafted with precious juniper and carefully coated in lacquer, and engraved with a winged red cross. A voice echoed from within it.
My blood raced. The blood that should be dedicating itself to preserve my life was ready to run out to greet its new master.
Overwhelming power. Faced with it, the Regressor…
“Tyrkanzyaka, I’ve come to offer you a deal.”
…She firmly stood her ground and boldly asked.
“Teach me bloodcraft.”
‘Asking her out of the blue to teach you a skill…’
The vampire may have been fazed, but she didn’t show it. She had gotten used to it. After all, in her millennia of existence, there had been thousands of people who had approached her in search of something. The ability to control blood. After hearing the name for the first time in a long while, Tyrkanzyaka quietly replied.
「Do you wish to be my servant?」
Accepting the blood of the Progenitor would turn you into a vampire, and naturally, gain the power to control blood . There had been countless people who coveted her blood over the ages. Feeling a bit bored, the vampire asked the Regressor if she was just another one of those people.
However, the Regressor had no intention of becoming a vampire. Instead, she wanted something deeper—more fundamental.
“No, I don’t want to gain it that way. Teach me what you learned before you became a vampire.”
For a split second, the vampire’s emotions surged. Deep confusion emanated from the coffin. All the blood in the room drew close, waiting to pounce.
Still, she was a vampire that had lived for over a thousand years. It took much more to make her blood boil. The vampire composed herself before replying.
「How did you find out about that?」
The Regressor turned to face the vampire with a thought that only a Regressor could have.
「You told me yourself in a previous life.」
With a faint smile, the Regressor momentarily basked in her memories.
Before Tyrkanzyaka became a vampire, she was a normal girl who had the ability to control blood. So many people had preserved their lives due to the little girl helping out her father, who was the local doctor. As a human, all she could do was stop blood from flowing, but that was enough to make people smile.
The vampire from Shei’s previous life told her this and advised the Regressor to learn from her… before dying a solitary death.
The flashback ended. I ran a hand through my hair, feeling as if I had just been yanked from the depths of the sea.
‘So this is a flashback. It was extremely short and fragmented, but it’s an improvement.’
I’ve read a few of the Regressor’s memories, and I’ve gotten some information about the ‘Calamity’,. A calamity was coming. A calamity, so powerful that even Tyrkanzyaka would be unable to defeat it.
「I’ll ask again. How did you find out about that?」
“If you teach me, I might let you know.”
A short pause, followed by deep thoughts. Thousands of emotions and grievances passed by. All of a sudden, the vampire’s focus shifted to me.
「You, what do you think?」
‘What, me? I made sure to stay quiet. Why would she single me out?
I stuttered out a reply.
“Do as you please, Elder.”
‘Huh? My blood just pulsed, did I offend her?’
I rushed to resolve the situation.
“Since our positions come before age here, I’ll address you as a trainee. However, since your age is, uh, well… impressive, and the State doesn’t wish to enact harsh restrictions on the elderly… I believe the same. As long as you don’t think about leaving the facility, you are free to do as you please. If you want to keep resting here, that’s also fine.”
Something dark grazed my cheek. A tiny slit opened up. Clutching its freedom, blood gushed its way out of the wound, fluttering to the vampire like a butterfly.
I couldn’t even see it. I didn’t try to dodge as there was no intention to kill, but nothing would have changed even if I tried.
Feeling my hairs stand up, I took a deep breath and stopped talking.
A faint but clearly angry voice came from within the coffin.
「…I’m old, so I should just stay inside?」
“No, not particularly. If you just did as you had been doing all this time.-”
The black lid opened. Just like its exterior, the coffin’s interior was also filled with pitch-black darkness. Parting the darkness, a white and delicate hand emerged. My blood, which was flying across the room, perched on the back of her hand. It sucked in the red droplets, like rain on scorched land.
I felt a slight sense of disgust from the vampire who harvested my blood.
「…As expected, even your blood is tasteless. It’s the complete opposite of my preferences. You really have no redeeming qualities…」
However, because of it, the coffin stood up. It pushed itself up into the wavering darkness and faced me and the Regressor.
「I usually only prey on the blood of virgins. The blood of boys like you… I typically use as material.」
The inside of the coffin remained dark. With only a pale, lifeless hand poking out, a new ball of blood flew in. It was the Regressor’s blood that was used to open the door.
Soaking her hand in the blood, she continued speaking.
「But your blood is alright. That’s a first… for a man. To think I would voluntarily drink a man’s blood…」
‘That’s because the Regressor is female…’
Even with such a terrible attempt at cross-dressing, the vampire didn’t even consider the possibility of the Regressor being female. Shei clenched her fists, rejoicing that her disguise was perfect.
The vampire continued.
「Fine. I will teach it to you.」
「…Having a guest after so long has tired me. Take your leave now.」
After saying that, the vampire closed the lid of her coffin. Having gotten the answer she wanted, the Regressor desperately resisted the desire to jump up and down in joy.
「I did it! I didn’t think it’d go so smoothly!」
Attempting to suppress her excitement, the Regressor carefully asked again.
“When are we starting? I’d like to start as soon as possible.”
「Then… let’s start when the next moon begins to wane.」
That meant in about a month. Obviously, the Regressor refused to wait that long.
“What? That’s too late. Let’s start tomorrow.”
「What’s the hurry? It makes little difference whether we start now or next month…」
“There’s a huge difference!”
「Have some patience. The cycle of the moon waxing and waning is the Goddess of the Night slowly opening and closing her eyes, and only then can one observe things properly.」
‘They’re quarreling again. I need to step up to diffuse the situation.’
I blocked the Regressor, ready to give a sermon.
“A month may be a long time to you, but it’s only a second for Trainee Tyrkanzyaka, who has lived for over 1,200 years. Please be more considerate of who you’re speaking to! Time may seem fair to all, but it’s more subjective than any quantity in the world. Tyrkanzyaka is—”
“…Shouldn’t you be more considerate about the other person?”
‘Hm? About what? I’m giving her as much consideration as I can. Why else would I treat her this way with so much emphasis on her age?’
While we were arguing, a slow voice came from the coffin.
「…So, I’m slow to act because I’m too old?」
“I mean, I didn’t mean anything rude. I was just teaching this brat the difference in wisdom that comes from age.”
「Alright. Let’s start tomorrow then.」
Keeping her eyes on me, the vampire pointed to me and said one more thing.
「Both of you.」
‘Wait, why me?’
As I was about to retort—
「Now, go away.」
The world fell apart. That was the only way to describe it. The Regressor and I moved backward. No, it wasn’t us that moved. The walls, the ground, the door, the corridor, the ceiling, the room, the stairwell—everything in our surroundings moved forward. The world slid right past us as if we were watching the river flow downstream. A dark liquid retraced the steps that we took.
Before we knew it, we were at the entrance of the armory. Without having taken a step. With a resounding ‘Boom’, the now-closed steel door brought us back to reality.
I felt as if I had just escaped the jaws of a tiger.
Quite literally, the armory… was like being inside the vampire’s body. She had just spat us out.
The Regressor, who seemed as if she was used to it, patted her clothes off.
“Heh. You look out of it. Scared?”
‘I merely just discovered that an insanely terrifying monster was actually an irrationally terrifying monster.’
When I answered, the Regressor smirked.
“Let me give you some advice. Don’t mention Tyrkanzyaka’s age in front of her. That’s how you treat a lady properly.”
The Regressor continued to scowl and headed off. I stared at her in disbelief at her attitude.
‘I didn’t act that way because I didn’t know how to treat a lady.’
Well, whatever. I don’t feel the need to reply.
Brushing off my clothes, I stretched my body.
‘Ugh. My back is killing me from all the stress. Let’s go and sleep early tonight. I’ll check the cafeteria for any leftover cans of food…’
As I was about to head off as well—
I heard a noise that I shouldn’t have heard. I slowly turned my head.
There sat a dog who had chased my scent and dug through mountains of rubble for the sole purpose of playing fetch—Azzy.
No way, there’s no fucking way…
The ball rolled to my foot. Azzy wagged her tail as she nudged the ball with her nose.
The meaning was clear.
‘Toss the ball, human.’
I attempted an immense act of diplomacy that transcended species and asked for a compromise, from a man to a dog.
“I-I’m a little tired today. So how about we… uh…”
“…Push it… back a little…?”
– Smack, smack.
Azzy waved her forearms, showing her frustration. The winds it generated shook the hems of my clothes. As her paws got closer, it seemed to be a threat, trying to get me to throw the ball.
‘Just when did she even learn the word “promise”? Who the hell taught a dog something as useless as a promise? Even if she breaks a promise, I can’t get anything from her. But if I don’t uphold my side… she can get whatever she wants from me.’
I sighed looking up at the unobservable sky.
“Sorry, shoulder. I’ll try to finish in 250 throws today.”
I gripped the ball.
I never thought I’d hate to see a dog smile.