It was cold and dark in the dimly lit dungeon. Putrid smell and human odor lingered in the air, making the place extremely nauseating.
The walls of the dungeon were plagued with algae and moss. Along every few meters of the wall was a burning sconce that sizzled and crackled. Due to poor ventilation, low oxygen levels and incomplete combustion, the sconces emitted black smoke and casted rows of silhouettes on the floor. The silhouettes were distorted and terrifying to look at.
Drip. Drip. Water droplets condensed at the top of the dungeon and fell continuously, landing on the crown of a dungeon guard. Bit by bit, the icy, cold droplets moistened the guard's hair and cheek, eventually trickling down his neck. However, the standing guard dared not move the slightest bit. All his muscles were stiff, and he stood rooted to the ground like a dragoon's spear, trying his best to breathe normally. But he could not help casting furtive glances at the dungeon's entrance.
At the entrance, clad in simple royal attire, a young man around 15 to 16 years of age stepped into the dungeon expressionlessly. Behind him was the chief guard of the dungeon, looking timid and scared as he accompanied the young man. His face was all smiles, but his eyes were filled with fear and unease.
The chief guard could not help the fear. The young man was the king's youngest son. After the eldest prince, he was the next successor in line. If the prince were to be slightly displeased with the guard, he could execute him at any time.
At the thought of this, the chief guard felt even more nervous, and his expression stiffened.
Richard didn't care about the chief guard's expression. It had been 15 years since he had come to this world, which resembled the Middle Ages. With his exceptional mental capacities, he had already gotten used to his current role and status. He knew what to do to achieve his goals successfully and seek answers to that ultimate question he kept in his heart.
Tap, tap, tap.
Step by step, Richard walked into the dungeon. He looked at the chief guard and said, "I told you to lead a team to capture wizards, or people who know about magic or supernatural powers for my research. You took on this mission twice, but you did not succeed and brought in some ugly farmers to make up the numbers. This is the third time. Are you sure you've really captured the right people? My patience is running out."
"Your Highness, this time…" The chief guard was already sweating profusely, and his Adam's apple quivered. He spoke with a stiff voice, "This time, I promise that I've captured them."
"How's the situation with the soldiers' compensation then?" Richard asked.
"Oh?" The chief guard was stunned. "Compensation? What compensation?"
Richard frowned. "Don't tell me you've pocketed the compensation for the injured and dead soldiers? Well, if you've really done that, I admire you a little for your bravery."
"I didn't!" The chief guard's eyes widened, and he came to his senses. He stammered, "Your- Your Highness, there were no casualties."
"Oh? No casualties? None of your soldiers got injured when capturing supernatural people?"
"Right, there were none," said the chief guard seriously.
"Uh, alright," Richard said. He could already guess some things. He sighed and said, "Tell me who you have captured this time."
"Yes, Your Highness." The chief guard calmed himself down and replied seriously, "We arrested a total of four people this time. A white-faced demon, a halfling, a vampire and a—"
Tap, tap, tap.
Some time later, Richard stopped before a prison cell situated deep in the dungeons, and he narrowed his eyes at the figure inside. The prisoner's face looked abnormally white and lacking of color. It was very odd and horrifying. He was sitting on the floor, seeming terrified as he glanced at Richard.
The chief guard's voice spoke, as he was afraid that Richard could not tell, "Your Highness, this is the white-faced demon that we've captured. Look."
Richard merely took a glance, and then he continued walking.
The chief guard was surprised. He did not know why Richard seemed disinterested. Nevertheless, he caught up with him timidly.
Soon after, Richard stopped a second time. Beside him was another cell with a strange figure shrunk in the corner. His face was full of wrinkles, and he looked like he was at least 50 years old. However, he was less than a meter tall and looked like a child. There was a strange and mysterious sensation at the sight of him.
The chief guard explained, "Your Highness, this is the halfling—"
Before he could finish his words, Richard shook his head and moved forward again, though he soon paused in his tracks once more.
In the third cell was a monster-like human. He had a pale appearance. His face, neck, hands and exposed skin were full of red spots. Some of his skin had already decomposed. His mouth was slightly open, and his teeth seemed strange, with an uncanny bloody color that sent chills down one's back.
"Your- Your Highness." Obviously nervous, the chief guard pointed at the third prisoner and said, "This is the vampire. You have to be very careful not to get hurt."
"Ha," Richard spoke coldly.
"Your Highness- You—"
Richard said, "An albino, a dwarf and a man with porphyria. Are these the so-called white-faced demon, halfling and vampire that you've captured?"
"Do you know anything about biology? Oh right, I forgot, there is no biology to speak of in the Middle Ages. But this is not a good reason! If you use your brain, you should know. If they truly were a white-faced demon, a halfling and a vampire, would you have been able to capture them that easily? You should have known when the soldiers captured them without incurring any injuries. Have you not learned your lesson from the past two failures?"
"Let's talk about the vampire. Have you seen him turning into a bat like in the legends? Or can he fly?"
The chief guard trembled as he mustered the courage to say, "Your Highness, no, I haven't seen this evil vampire turn into a bat and fly, but his skin cannot be exposed to sunlight. It decomposes as soon as it does. He's like that now because he was under the sun on the journey here."
"He was drinking blood when our men went to capture him. Also, he hates garlic very much. If he's not a vampire, what is he? He's undoubtedly a vampire!"
"And yet, he is only a man with porphyria," Richard said expressionlessly.
"Oh?" The chief guard was in a daze.
"In other words, he's just a sick person. Everything about his behavior are symptoms of his illness. Though they are very similar to how a vampire would behave… He is not a vampire."
"W- Why?" The chief guard had a puzzled expression.
"Are you sure you want to listen to the logical explanation?" Richard asked.
"Alright, I'll explain it to you," said Richard. "Porphyria is also called hematoporphyria. When producing heme, the substance that pigments blood red, your body cells fail to change certain chemicals—porphyrins and porphyrin precursors—in your body into heme. This is due to a deficiency or inactivity of a specific enzyme in the enzymatic activity. When these porphyrins build up in the body, they negatively affect the skin or nervous system. It can be congenital or acquired. However, given this era's medical standards, well, this illness is incurable. It is barely impossible to survive and, if you do, you will end up in this horrid state."
"What?" The chief guard still looked very confused.
"Let's put it in another way." Richard elaborated, "The human blood is made up of many components, and one of them is called heme. Normally, the body uses iron and porphyrin, with a specific enzyme as a catalyst, to form heme.
"However, some people lack the enzyme, and this hinders the production of heme, leaving high levels of a substance called porphyrin in the body. And this porphyrin is very sensitive to light. It is harmless in the dark, but once it is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet rays will activate and transform it into a kind of 'meat-eating' toxin, causing large red spots, cold sores and even skin decomposition.
"The mouth suffers as well. Your gums fester, exposing the roots, and this is why the teeth seem extremely long. They gradually turn purplish-brown because of the accumulation of porphyrins.
"At the same time, since the body doesn't produce heme and, by extension, normal blood, people with porphyria suffer from serious anemia. He will need to rely on blood from external sources to live. An intravenous transfusion is a good solution, but given this world's current technology, that can't be done at all. People with this illness can only opt for another method—drinking blood. Heme is a very strong component. It can endure all sorts of gastric juices, enter the digestive system, and then be absorbed by the small intestines.
"The reason why they hate garlic is also very simple. This is because the allicin in garlic has a very strong antibacterial effect. Due to their body's unique situation, intaking garlic induces and aggravates their symptoms. They also hate being poked with silver items, because silver has a very strong antibacterial effect too.
"Anyway, you have to understand something: a vampire is a vampire, and a person with porphyria is a person with porphyria. They might seem like the same but are in fact completely different! I'm asking you to find real vampires, wizards and magical things, not sick people. Understand?
"When you captured these people, did you not suspect anything when you faced no resistance, or death, and only got wails and cries? Oh, or did you think that it would work so long you complete the task superficially? This has already happened twice, and now this is the third time. My patience is really running out—"
"Your Highness, I…" Consumed by terror, the chief guard was already at a loss for words. He had heard that the prince had many cruel methods for punishment. If the prince were to get angry…
Richard did not dawdle with the chief guard further. He moved forward to the deepest part of the dungeon and said, "You said that you captured four people and that the last one is a real wizard. Fine. I'll see if he's a true or fake one."