Saturday, 12 January 2013

Vamp! I - Chapter 1

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

Hello, everyone! Here is the first chapter of Vamp!

As for the character name debate, thank you everyone for all your input! I didn't get a chance to reply to all the comments, but I've read them all and made what are hopefully the final decisions. Ferret is still Ferret, but I'm waiting for more suggestions for her name (whether you want to keep it that way or otherwise), so please make your voices heard!

Also, I will be working on a pdf of this volume. I'll do my best to post it at the same time as the final update.

In other news, volume 17 of Baccano (1711:Whitesmile) has just been released in Korea! It hasn't come in the mail yet, but rest assured that I will get to work on it as soon as I finish this volume of Vamp.




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Chapter 1: The Hunters Around the Coffin



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May 2004. On a ship on the German seas, in the vicinity of the Island of Growerth.



"Vampires, you see…"

A large man began. The people around him quietly gulped.

"They're not one, unified race. You've seen them in movies and books all the time. And 'course, some of you here have seen them in the flesh--though I guess even then, most of you haven't looked any of 'em in the eye."

The man took a deep breath, grinned, and continued.

"After all, it's our job to exterminate them before we get a look at their faces. The stronger it is, the more we take care to not look at it. When they're snoring away in their coffins, we drag the whole damned thing into the sunlight, and boom."

The man suddenly opened his fist, making a gesture like something exploding.

Several people among them chuckled and sighed.

"Even the stronger ones have a tendency to dislike daylight. There might be ones that don't even blink under the sun, but even they can't put up much of a fight against us. Am I right?"

The man smiled and presented a conclusion that was in some ways rather illogical.

"Vampires are weak. They don't live up to those things you see in movies and legends."



On this uncharacteristically balmy day on the North Sea, a group numbering at about a dozen was gathered on the deck of a car ferry. Though most of them were dressed like tourists, there was something out of the ordinary in the way they carried themselves.

"Well, I guess they're still one hell of a lot stronger than regular humans, but I'm saying that fighting a vampire's nothing compared to fighting, say, a shark."

The heavily-built man speaking at the centre of the group wore a military-style jacket. The countless scars over his face and arms were a testament to the battlefields he had haunted. His appearance made it seem that even more scars were hiding under his clothing, and his face was no less grizzled than the rest of his body.

"In other words, they are not one unified race. I'm not talking skin colour or anything on that level. Every country and region has a different vampire myth, and that's how things are in reality. Some of 'em can fly through the air, and others are slower than humans. Some can transform into bats, breathe fire, or hypnotize people by making eye contact. But I've never seen a single vampire who could do all of those things, like the ones in movies. I don't understand why, but just think of each vampire as being an entirely different species from another. That goes for their weaknesses, too. Some of 'em can cross running water just fine, and others are immune to crucifixes but scared of garlic, and so on. Staking 'em through the heart usually works, but some vampires are even immune to that."

The scarred man laughed, shook his head, and raised a finger into the air.

"One thing most of them have in common, though. They can't stand daylight. Some of 'em turn to ash before you can blink, and others are just weakened by the sun. But all we have to do is take advantage of that, and boom! The job's done. This is why our strategy is to get 'em in the daytime when they're still in their beds, and gently carry out their little bat-cradles. After that, we drive in about thirty or so stakes into the coffin and let her blow. That's how things work around here. Now, how many newbies have we got today?"

"Two, sir. We've got Val here--" A skinny, bespectacled man answered. A caucasian man who looked to be just over twenty years of age gave the others a light wave.

Cargilla, the scarred leader of the group, glanced at the newcomer and spoke, cutting off the bespectacled man.

"And then we have our Eater here."

"…That's correct." The bespectacled man mumbled, looking aside.

Standing there was a young woman of Asian descent. From her features, she was clearly not yet an adult--probably a teenager, who would not be out of place in a high school. She wore a white leather jacket, and her long hair was loosely tied behind her back.

This girl, whom Cargilla had referred to as an 'Eater', was sitting off to the side on her own, looking out at the sea. The waters were surprisingly gentle for the North Sea today as she stared into it without showing a hint of emotion.

She had been standing in the same position for many minutes now, her eerily pale skin exposed to the salty air. Cargilla snorted.

"Hmph. Striking one hell of a pose, eh? Pretty stuck-up for a freeloader."

It was then that the young man called Val hesitantly spoke up.

"What do you mean by 'freeloader', sir? And, uh… About that girl. What's an 'Eater'?"



Everyone tensed slightly at Val's question.

Cargilla scratched his head in annoyance and quietly spoke to the newcomer.

"Newbie. What's our job?"

"Huh? We're vampire exterminators, aren't we?"

"That's right." Cargilla nodded at Val's outlandish answer. "We're less mercenaries than healthcare workers. We ambush vampires during the day when they can't put up a fight, and take care of them nice and quick. And then we get our pay, whether it's from a relieved city or village council, a millionaire who's scared for his daughter's safety… Or a religious organization that people like them crawl to when they're in trouble. Right?"

"Right, sir."

These people were not part of any officially sanctioned group. They were a team that exterminated vampires for a living--not a secret society that worked in the shadows, but a group that put up ads on magazines and papers, and ran a website on the internet.

These people--the self-proclaimed 'Otherworld Welfare Inc., Branch 666', sold anti-vampire tools such as garlic spray, wooden stakes and hammer kits, and talismans written in chicken blood for Asian customers over the internet. Most people who browsed through their pages took it as a silly joke. But they had a surprisingly large customer base of people who bought their products for amusement. In the end, their sales earned them millions every year.

But from the perspective of these 'exterminators', their work in eliminating vampires was entirely serious. They did business like any other company, but they did not have a set base of operations, constantly moving from one place to another. It was as though they feared some sort of retaliation.

"Nobody in this entire world suspects us. If our ads were even a little bit realistic for 'em, we'd get complaints about fraud or false advertising, but put up a sign that says 'Vampire Extermination', and it actually works. Which is also the reason why we went for that infantile '666' subtitle."

Cargilla laughed, his white teeth showing between his lips.

"The people who come to us are the ones who get threatened by actual vampires. They get pointed to churches or the police or a hospital at best, and in the end they come to us because they have nowhere else to turn. A father saying, 'My daughter's eyes have gone dull, and there are two red spots on her neck', a child claiming to have witnessed his mother doing dirty things with a bat in the dead of night, or someone who finds themselves the only sane person left in their family."

Although they had never actually encountered such exaggerated cases before, Cargilla laughed self-deprecatingly.

"And the most important part of our business is getting as much money out of these poor desperate souls as we can. If the client is still a kid, we have to start by making the parents believe in vampires. If the family's poor, we convince the community. And if that doesn't work, the local church."

"Churches? I thought they already had people of their own for dealing with vampires." Val said. Cargilla wagged his index finger.

"Maybe they do. There's gotta be more people than we'll ever know doing this kind of work. Governments included. I bet Russia and the States might already have a vampire or two in their possession, doing experiments on 'em. But that's none of our business. Same with churches. There might be other groups like us who would rather work for free, but there's no way they'd ever be able to take on all that work. That's how many vampires there are in this world."

"And people still treat vampires like a myth, huh?"

"Not necessarily. There's quite a few people who believe in vampires, even though they're skeptical about UFOs and ghosts. And like I said before, they all have a range of differences. Some don't even drink blood. They're vampires in name only. There're idiots in South America that only drink blood from livestock and end up getting mistaken for aliens."

The newcomer looked slightly confused. Cargilla spoke before the younger man could even ask his question.

"But none of that matters in the end. Do they drink human blood or not? Frankly, doesn't matter if the vampire's actually on the side of humans or if he's a good guy or whatever. What's important is that we kill 'em and get paid."

"But doesn't it bother you, sir?"

"That's why we kill 'em in broad daylight. And why we don't look at their faces. Some vampires look like the hottest women in the world or innocent children. Now imagine if one of those looked you in the eye and said 'I'm not your enemy, please trust me'. Whether they're telling the truth or not, you'll always get a couple of idiots who actually believe that. That's why we blow them to bits before they can tell us if they're good or evil."

"That's pretty brutal."

"And say that it really was a good vampire we're after. The fact that someone reported its hiding hole to us means that it's been doing something already. There might not have been any victims yet, but the moment the locals get scared and call us, it's over."

Cargilla lit a cheap cigar and looked up at the clear blue sky.

There was neither excitement nor sympathy in his eyes. He was speaking as a businessman, nothing more.

"Just like this time." He concluded. But Val spoke up to continue the conversation.

"Uh, I don't know if that answers my question."

"Huh? What question?" Cargilla replied, looking as though he had honestly forgotten. The newcomer repeated himself, embarrassed.

"Sir, that Asian girl! What in the world is she?"

Cargilla's eyes opened at the reminder. He exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke.

"Oh. Of course. Of course. Sorry 'bout that. I completely forgot." He breathed in the cigar smoke, taking in the shaking of the ferry. "Our job is to hunt vampires for pay, but not everyone works for the same purpose. Once in a blue moon you come across someone who's not doing this for their faith or duty or sense of justice. That girl there is one of the best of 'em. See, she's an Eater. And we work with people like her sometimes."

Cargilla stopped, expelled the smoke from his lungs, and continued.

"Name says it all, doesn't it? They eat vampires."



"…What?"

The newcomer looked around in confusion. But his dozen or so co-workers looked away, and several glared at the girl with disgust.

"It's like some sort of black magic. They're a bunch of crazies. They tear out the vampire's neck before it can get to theirs."

"What does that mean, sir?"

Cargilla's answer was simple and true.

"They devour the vampire's flesh, drink their blood, kill them, then mix in their ashes with water and drink it. They're trying to gain the power of vampires while remaining human."

Val took about five seconds to process this new information. He looked at the girl with a slightly different expression.

"Is that even possible?"

"Who knows? I've tried it with ashes before, but never worked for me. I guess blood must work best, but how could anyone get a hold of vampire blood without waking it up, in broad daylight? In the sun, they'll turn to ash instantly. In the shade, they'll fight back. But that girl over there's a bit of a celebrity in our line of work. Can't turn into bats or wolves, but in terms of raw power and reaction time she's literally vampire-level. You'll see once you see her in action. You won't be able to disbelieve by then."

A tinge of hatred and fear rose to Cargilla's eyes.

"Listen up, newbie. That doesn't mean I dislike that power of hers. I'm damn scared because she somehow managed to drink a vampire's blood before it got turned to ash. Some say that she made a deal with a vampire to drink its blood by dragging thirty of people like us into a trap."

It was still possible for her to have taken blood by force from a vampire who was only weakened by sunlight, but Cargilla did not seem to be satisfied with that conclusion.

"If you want an easier way to get a vampire's power, just let one of them turn you. If you're not tainted yet, you should be all good. But Eaters are different. Fouled. Trying to gain all of a vampire's powers, but none of their weaknesses. If Vampire Hunters actually existed, they wouldn't be dhampyrs like in those legends. They'd be people like her--quick-thinking, underhanded, and determined to the point of annoyance."

He dragged his cigar against the deck and extinguished it.

"Just like vampires." He concluded.



When their mission had been first confirmed, a lone girl came to their recruitment location, asking to join them.

They were in the middle of a great flat wasteland. The one road in sight led straight to the horizon. There was nothing but a small drive-thru building and a parked van around them.

Cargilla, sitting in the driver's seat of the nondescript van, looked at the girl outside as though examining a specimen.

He could tell at a glance that she was of Asian descent. Her figure was rather full to be called a 'girl' still--her arms and legs were lean but muscular, reminiscent of a feline in top form. Under her thin white jacket she wore only a tank top.

Normally Cargilla might have gone for a catcall, but there was a hint of youth still in the girl's face, and she was staring straight at him while suppressing some sort of emotion. The incongruity of her appearance compelled Cargilla to think twice about treating her as a woman--of course, she was a bit too young age-wise for him anyway.

The strange girl spoke first in clumsy English.

"Um… Once more. Killing Growerth Island vampire? I want to help."

Initially he thought it a joke and thought to get out of the car to shoo the girl away.

"Hey, Missy. Where'd you hear about us? You hack our website or something? I know we're not really in a position to consider anything a joke or anything, but this ain't a sightseeing trip… wha-?"

"I know."

The girl's voice came from behind him.

When he had stepped off the driver's seat, she had unmistakably been in front of the car. But by the time he realized it, the girl had disappeared behind him.

Her mature, monotone voice sounded almost like that of a killer reading an execution order. Fear ran through his veins.

"I know. I came because I know."

'Is she a vampire?!'

But naturally, it was still daytime. The sun was blazing hard enough to make his skin tingle. And as far as Cargilla knew, no vampires were unaffected by the sun. Some legends spoke of vampires immune to daylight, but every vampire he had encountered so far avoided it like the plague and lived in the shadows.

"You can't take legends at face value."

He had said this before. And when a subordinate asked, "What if we end up fighting one that's immune to sunlight?", he replied, "Then we all get hypnotized, turned into zombies, or get our blood sucked out and get turned into freeze-dried food.".

Vampires like that, however, did not exist. And even if they did, he was certain that vampires of that caliber would not bother with a group like his--not that he had any intention of facing one. Creatures like that were better left to some secret police or a hidden organization from the Vatican, he thought.

They were merely running a business aimed at a niche. They would not expand their market, merely exterminating vampires that were weak to sunlight, and receiving pay in return. This was how they lived.

But one existence that went completely against this philosophy of his had appeared before him and disappeared behind his back.

If she really was a vampire, who could move at such speeds even under the sun, he was finished. Cargilla reached this conclusion, barely managing to suppress his scream but unable to stop the cold sweat streaming down his body.

"I will help, not get in the way. Let me go too." The girl said emotionlessly. It took Cargilla all the courage he ever had to respond.

"Who-who are you. What do you want."

The girl's response was monotone, but it clearly held back a greater power inside.

"Kijima Shizune. Japanese. Sixteen years old."

And her final descriptor answered Cargilla's questions.

"Eater."



<=>



She could hear the fearful voices and feel the gazes of the others as she listened to the sound of the waves.

Shizune Kijima closed her eyes.

'Do they think I can't hear them? Or are they doing this on purpose?

'No… I guess most people couldn't hear this well. Normal humans couldn't do that. But I can hear it because I'm different. I can hear things I don't need to hear--things I don't want to hear.'

The girl in white leather made up her mind to ignore her allies' chatter. Val, who had been smoothly sweet-talking her before they boarded the ferry, was now whispering about her in a hushed voice.

Of course, Shizune had ignored him entirely earlier, and she felt no great loss in continuing to do so. She also knew that her fellow employees--no, exterminators--were also avoiding her. But that did not impede her determination in the slightest.

'I chose this path of my own will. I have no regrets.'

Shizune's reason for killing vampires was simple but firm.

Revenge. That was how it all began.

The vampire appeared before her back when she had still been living in a small village in the mountains of Hokuriku.

Having been entirely ignorant, unprepared, and uninterested in vampires up to that point, its arrival signalled the beginning of an end for her.

It started with two little problems. Two little puncture wounds.

Two little puncture wounds on her little brother's neck.

It was the start of the night when everything had been stolen from her.



That night, a forest fire ravaged the little village, leaving behind twenty-two charred corpses. The incident left Japan shaken for about a month. And nothing happened afterwards.

The autopsy reports showed that the victims had all been killed before their bodies were burned. Gossip magazines had wasted no time in making comparisons to the Tsuyama Massacre(1), but the lack of a clear cause of death meant that no one could know if the deaths were even homicides or suicides. The case was left to disappear in uncertainty.

The ten-year old girl who had narrowly avoided the tragedy also went missing, as though in an attempt to avoid media attention. She was now on her way to the island of Growerth on a ferry.



What she wanted at the moment she resolved to hunt vampires was, simply, power.

Having chosen the path of an Eater, Shizune was more than used to solitude. Her allies' coldness to her did not particularly bother her. She merely disliked having to listen to their voices.

She could not stand hearing others talk about her with fear, disgust, or sometimes sympathy and pity, despite not knowing a thing about her.

'If only people didn't have voices and languages. If only we could only communicate with actions…'

It had been over six years now since she first drank the blood of a vampire.

The quickest way to gain power--power to annihilate vampires--was to become an Eater.

In the six years since, she had devoured the flesh of over a hundred vampires, drinking their blood and even their ashes.

For her first few kills, she had to take them by surprise or receive help from others, but by the time she had eaten ten or so vampires, her own strength was enough.

She would corner her target with raw power and sink her teeth into their arms and legs. The victim would be mortified by her--the human--and her superhuman feats of strength, and their shock would soon give way to fear.

Those fleeting moments were precisely what Shizune lived for. They were the light of her life and the greatest pleasure permitted to her.

When she first felt joy at this sight, she came to a realization: The moment she accepted vengeance as pleasure, she had lost her humanity.

Shizune watched the vampire before her, dissolving to ash under the moonlight with a stake through its chest. For a moment she tasted despair, but she brought a hand to her face, a slight grin forming, and realized something else.

The expression on the vampire's face--of fear, despair, shock, and the question--"Why me?".

It was the very expression Shizune had worn on her face the night her life was turned upside-down.



She killed many vampires. She annihilated them.

As many and many and many as there were.

She did not go after vampires recklessly. Shizune chose her targets carefully, making sure to select ones she knew for certain that she could defeat. Savouring each and every meal as she continued to build up strength and experience.

Revenge was no longer her motivation. She was being controlled by a great invisible force.

'No, that's not it. There is no invisible power on high. I control myself. The force that propels me is right here.'

She continued to slay vampires one after another in order to remain herself, she thought, trying to justify her actions.

But as she took joy in slaughtering her prey, the fact of her self-told lie came back to the surface.

As life went on, Shizune eventually stopped thinking about it. She knew that, no matter what conclusion she reached, she would never stop.

'I am a monster. Of course people are going to avoid me.' she thought, and allowed her thoughts to wander back to the other exterminators, disdain clear in her mind.

'I know what it's like. So I can excuse myself. I have the right to think this way, looking down on myself and hating me. But who do they think they are? Talking behind my back with nothing but assumptions backing them up. They don't know anything about me. They get lucky with their targets and think they're strong. It's like guessing answers in a multiple choice question. And they still lord it over as if they know everything.'

Deciding that there was no use in complaining about her problems, Shizune turned her attention back to the sea.

The air was calm, but the waves below surged back and forth.

And in the distance, at the centre of the horizon before the ferry, a small dot appeared.

The little shape soon spread over the horizon, becoming a mountain surrounded by green.

A rather sizeable city soon became visible along the foot of the mountain. Shizune's superhuman sense of sight allowed her to spot a certain structure amidst the scenery.

Waldstein Castle. Said to have been named after its master, it had been renovated in its entirety, and a save for a small section, it had been designated a tourist attraction. That small section was where Shizune and the exterminators had their business.

Remembering the reason she was going to this island, Shizune quietly began to renew her focus.



<=>



The ferry made port on the island. Tourists and their luggage left the ship one after another.

"Perfect weather today. Looks like we'll be done before sunset." Cargilla said. The bespectacled man, who seemed to be his second-in-command, spoke up.

"Sir, we also have to speak with the client directly."

"We're splitting up. You take a few people to see the client, and contact me by radio if anything goes wrong."

"What about you, sir?"

"Can't speak a lick of German. But it shouldn't be a problem for a native speaker like you, eh? I'm counting on you."

The subordinate nodded, and left the group with two exterminators in tow. Their group had brought along two station wagons and a small car for the job. The bespectacled man went to the car, and began to leave the port with his two companions.

He then caught a glimpse of the crewmen unloading some of the cargo.

"…? Those boxes seem a bit large for tourists to be lugging around. Is someone moving here, I wonder?"

The bespectacled man's car quietly drove along the smoothly paved road, past the hulking workmen carrying bed-sized cargo.

After watching his subordinate leave, Cargilla looked over the sight of the port town and gave his verdict.

"Strange."

"What do you mean?" Val the newcomer asked curiously.

Whether he was conscious of Val's curiosity or not, Cargilla continued as though speaking to himself.

"It might have been an indirect request, but we basically have the mayor asking us to exterminate a vampire. If things've gone that far, then there'd be rumours all over the streets. But this place is too energetic. Too peaceful."

"Maybe the rumours are there, but no one believes in them. Or maybe only the mayor and his middleman know about it…"

"…No. Judging from experience, where they're vampires, there's always something like an omen, or a strange atmosphere. Whether or not it's a tourist destination, whenever there's rumours floating around, people always get suspicious of big groups of visitors like ours. But…"

Cargilla observed the harbour once more, and shook his head in defeat.

"…It's just too quiet."

Just before he stepped into his station wagon, the leader of the exterminators looked over the town and mumbled to himself.

"It's in an even better state than most places that don't have vampires…"

The two station wagons and the cars of every passenger that had been aboard the ferry eventually disappeared.

Standing before the cargo that had been transported to the basement of the harbour office, a pair of workers began whispering to one another.

"Anyway, it's a real honour, isn't it?"

"What is?"

"I can't believe I've been entrusted with transporting Viscount Waldstein's family!"

The basement was dark, lit only by a fluorescent light. However, the room looked less like a storage chamber and more like a high-class sitting room. The cargo that had been brought here all bore the name of one particular owner, and each had been wrapped with the utmost care.

"I feel like I'm not worthy, you know? They could've just had their familiars do it. So… what the heck happened to 'em all? Those maids in green, the baobhan sith(2), right? All those maids! Can you believe it?"

Of the cargo, only two pieces had been unpackaged--a pair of small coffins. One of the workers, standing before them, complained wearily.

"I hear they're cleaning up after the trip. The two of 'em just wanted to come back earlier."

"So they can't stand waiting in line like the rest of us, eh? Kids are kids." The worker laughed.

At that very moment, a small voice escaped one of the coffins.

"It is truly disappointing."

The voice was unmistakably young and female, tinged with crystalline beauty.

"Since when has it been permitted for the people of this island to mock their masters?"

The workmen froze. One of the coffins was open.

The moment they heard the voice, the men nervously turned their gazes towards the coffins. But they never noticed the lid opening.

"To think that plebeian lowborns would dare to insult my Honoured Brother."

Rage and disgust were clear in her tone. And by the time these words reached their ears, a girl was standing before them.

She was wearing a mainly black gothic-style dress. Her eyes, so sharp they could not be human, glared at the men.

Of course, she had neither stopped the flow of time nor teleported to her current location. The men had merely been so terrified that their minds were playing tricks on them. Adding fuel to the fire was the girl's graceful movement, fluid and lacking in excess.

"…!"

"…Y-y-you're… a-awake--"

As the men grasped for words, the girl unleashed her tranquil fury upon them.

"Were you counting on the sunlight to protect your secrecy? I now understand exactly how you speak of us when we are not present."

"N-not at all, milady! We weren't-"

"Hold your ignoble tongue, you wretch!"

The girl's sudden burst of anger left the men petrified, as though her words themselves were a magic spell. Although it was a comically out-of-place line in this day and age, the girl's eyes, possessed of a superhuman glint, would not allow it to be taken as such.

The men's knees trembled as their fear reached its peak. But suddenly--



"Hwaaaaaa…"



It was a yawn laid-back enough to shatter a thousand years' worth of fear.

The workmen felt as though the frozen atmosphere of the room had melted instantly, and realized that the yawn had come from the second coffin.

At the same time, they also realized that the girl was holding her hands up to their throats with a look that could kill.

"----!"

Letting out a soundless scream, the men broke out into cold sweat. The girl's hands were small and childlike, but the men had instinctively noticed the bloodlust with which they were held at their necks. If not for the yawn, their lives would have been already lost.

The girl lowered her hands just as a voice carried out from the second coffin. It was a boy's voice, laid-back and gentle in a sharp contrast to the girl.

"Hello. Oh, thank you so much for carrying us all the way here."

"Uh…"

The workmen gaped in confusion. The boy in the coffin, however, seemed not to have heard them. He continued nonchalantly.

"We can take care of ourselves. You can get back to work now."

The voice from inside the closed coffin was calm and sincere, not a hint of ridicule hidden in its tone.

Although it took a few moments, the workmen regained their senses and fled through the doorway to the staircase, looking as though they had just been granted salvation itself.

Left behind were the brother in the coffin and the quiet sister.

It felt as though the silence would last forever. But the sister--Ferret von Waldstein--monotonously criticized her brother.

"…Honoured Brother, that was much too merciful an act."

The voice from the coffin was pretending as though nothing was wrong.

"What do you mean?"

"Honoured Brother, of all the bald-faced lies to tell, turning a blind eye to the babbling of those lowborns… Those of our bloodline have no need to breathe. What reason is there for you to yawn?!"

"Who cares? It's not like our bloodline has any power anyway."

"Honoured Brother, I am ashamed!" Ferret cried. Her voice echoed back and forth through the basement. The air itself began to ring.

But the voice of the brother within the coffin--Relic--did not stumble in the slightest.

"If you think I'm doing something wrong, then go ahead and speak your mind. Even if it means disagreeing with me. Remember? I just want you to be yourself."

Just as the brother refused to falter, the sister refused to bow to his wish.

"And I have made my answer known. I shall exercise that freedom and choose to remain at your side this way, Honoured Brother."

"So the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, huh? …I wonder how Father would solve this."

"Father has nothing to do with this matter!" Ferret raised her voice at Relic's half-joking tone.

Relic's coffin was still closed shut, but Ferret could see her chuckling brother's face clearly--it was not that she could see through objects, but that she was able to predict her brother's actions and expressions to a certain degree.

Relic snickered just as his sister expected and quieted down.

"I'm going to sleep a little longer. We have a lot of people to see once the sun goes down…"

Ferret could hear the excitement in Relic's voice. She looked away from his coffin for the first time and sighed.

"You mean to say that you wish to see your human childhood friend. Her name was Hilda, was it not?"

Relic was not so unfazed this time.

"…Are you trying to get back at me or something? You've known Hilda for as long as I have."

"That is not my intention. It is no concern of mine should Honoured Brother feel affection towards a human girl. The matter of whether you feel guilt about the partaking of human blood, whether that matter leads you to believe that a vampire could never be joined with a human in love, and whether that leads you to fear confessing your feelings towards Hilda or not have absolutely nothing to do with me."

"W-watch it! I could make a whole movie out of my problems. You can't just sum it all up that quickly!" Relic stammered, having lost his lead in the conversation. There was a thud from the coffin, making it clear that he had just hit his head on the inside of the lid.

Ferret smiled and continued to corner her brother, her intonation refusing to give away any hint of emotion.

"I understand. I understand everything there is to know about you, Honoured Brother. How you never once allowed yourself to take the blood of a human by force. How you only drank blood on rare occasions, and only with consent. And how you would never attempt to impose control over the human!"

"…"

Relic's coffin remained silent. Ferret's frustration subsided quickly, and she looked away as though what she was about to say did indeed hurt her as much as it would him. She had already realized how far she had gone with her accusations, but there was no turning back at this point.

"And… that all of this was because you could never forget Hilda."

"…Is that all you wanted to say, Ferret?"

Relic's reply was so calm and clear that Ferret trembled for a moment.

An indescribable silence came over the siblings, the coffin lying between them.

How much time had passed? Relic was the first to break the silence.

"Zzz…"

He was breathing softly, almost exaggerated in the childishness of the sound.

Ferret was dumbstruck by the display, but only for a moment. A stubborn look came over her face as she raised her voice again.

"Honoured Brother, I have said this already--a true vampire such as yourself has no need to breathe."

"…Uh… snore… zzz…"

The exaggerated breathing continued. Ferret angrily stepped back into her own coffin.

"Hmph! I shall care no longer!"

She turned her back towards her brother and shut the lid of her own coffin.

The sea breeze blew through the basement room, now truly enveloped in silence.



<=>



Growerth was by no means a small island. It was a prominently large isle in Germany, with a moderately successful tourism industry.

Several cities were on the island, upon which was everything from streets resembling the Middle Ages to modern-day civic centres and hotels. Of course, there were no skyscrapers on the island--five-storey hotels were about as tall as they went. And yet not a single room was vacant during the busy tourist season. Old buildings by the large streets that had been renovated into hotels were also quite popular with visitors.

It was not currently that season, so the island's current population mostly consisted of local residents. But there was still nothing unusual about just over a dozen men and women visiting for a so-called company outing. No one paid any mind to Cargilla and the others, spread out between two station wagons.

As for their large luggage, which contained all sorts of tools for their trade, they snuck it past by claiming that they contained camping gear. No one closely inspected the interiors of the station wagons and the car, leaving the exterminators in awe of Growerth's lax security.

"I guess I shouldn't be complaining about a stroke of luck like that."

Their clients this time were a married couple living on the island. They had immigrated to Germany from Britain about ten years ago. According to them, the first several years on Growerth were nothing out of the ordinary. But one day, they realized something frightening about the world around them.



There were vampires living on this island.

These were not vaguely mysterious creatures or supposed poltergeists. They were vampires in the flesh, their forms clearly real and physical.

It was absurd to think they could exist. In some ways, the existence of ghosts or aliens would have been easier to believe.

At first, the couple themselves must have been the least willing to believe. Though Growerth was an isolated island, how could they have expected creatures from B-movies to be hiding in plain view?

"How'd they contact us?"

Cargilla asked the man in the passenger seat, turning the steering wheel.

"It seems they consulted the mayor in secret. The mayor was the one who acted as the mediator. He also knew about vampires, so he contacted us through a referral. On the surface, the couple is our client, but the mayor's the one who took care of most of the pay. …Didn't you read the report, sir?"

Cargilla shrugged.

"I skipped that part. All I care about is where we can find our target's crib. That's all that matters."

"Again with that irresponsible… Sir, doing some research ahead of time will make things safer for us. Don't you remember that time we almost ended up blowing up a very human vampire geek?"

"That's ancient history." Cargilla chuckled, and glanced up at the rear-view mirror.

The Eater girl was on the station wagon following behind them.

He could not see Shizune in either the driver's seat or the passenger seat next to it. She had probably curled up somewhere at the back of the vehicle. And judging from the petrified state of the other exterminators in that station wagon, they did not seem to be speaking to her at all.

'Ah, well. I guess they can't do much when there's a girl like that around.'

If she were a little more friendly, she might have been able to strike up a conversation with some of her fellow employees. People tended to avoid Eaters on principle, but the biggest reason for her solitude was her own taciturn attitude.

If nothing else, it was a relief that she did not say anything to look down on the fellow exterminators, but no one had any way of knowing what was going on in her head.

'Damn it. I've got all the money and connections in the world, but…'

Making meaningless comparisons in his mind, Cargilla turned his attention to the mountains that they were driving into.

Smaller hills rose up around them, covered in deciduous trees. And at the top of the mountain before them was a castle straight out of the Middle ages.

It rose into the air majestically, as though it was reigning over the city, its people, and even the ships sailing the nearby waters.

"No wonder it's a tourist attraction."

"Waldstein Castle--apparently it was inhabited by an aristocrat by the name of Waldstein in the Middle Ages."

As they drew closer, the majesty of the castle spread out over them, making it seem as though the air itself was getting heavier.

"It's one amazing place, I'll give them that much. Were the Waldsteins that powerful a family?"

"I'm not certain. There aren't many records left of them today. Though I suppose that can't be helped, seeing as they lived on a backwater island that only recently became a tourist destination."

"Doesn't that make you wonder why they had a castle this big on a backwater island?"

Cold sweat finally began to run down Cargilla's back. He could feel it in his bones--there was something different about this mission. Alarm bells were going off in his head, but he justified the chill with the presence of the Eater and tried to remain calm.

"It is a tourist attraction, but there are areas of the castle that have been cordoned off for cultural preservation purposes-" One man began, but Cargilla interrupted him loudly.

"I told you, I read that part of the report. That area is where our target is. All right, everyone! Charge!"

Sadly enough, no one responded with battle cries or cheers.

"You bastards have no concept of timing, do you?"



<=>



A bedroom in Waldstein Castle.



"…The hell."

Cargilla and the others had infiltrated the castle, along with all their extermination gear.

"That was way too easy."

It had been a minute since they stormed the castle. They were now looking down on a white coffin.



A little earlier.

As the exterminators disembarked from their vehicles, they came face-to-face with the kind of castle they might have seen in storybooks.

Though it was supposedly a tourist attraction, there was no entry fee and no security measures to speak of. They had free rein to go wherever they pleased. Naturally, there was no sign-in desk of any sort. It was as though the castle was just there, with beautiful gardens surrounding it.

According to the mayor, he had restricted entry to the castle under pretence of renovation work. True to his word, the exterminators did not notice any presence in the castle other than those of themselves.

However, the sheer scale of the castle overwhelmed their senses. The exterminators were overcome by a fear like nothing they had experienced on earlier missions.

The vampires they had terminated thus far generally lived in huts on the outskirts of settlements, old manors, mills, or caves in the mountainside. More unusual haunts included apartments, underground parking lots, and abandoned factories, but this was the first time in the history of the company that their target was resting in such a blatantly stereotypical location.

But what truly chilled them to the bone was that when they stepped into the cordoned-off area of the castle, further towards the back, they found a large white coffin in the first room they peeked into.



"Now what, boss?"

"…As if I need to tell you…"

Unable to hide his confusion, Cargilla quietly approached the coffin.

The other exterminators looked equally bemused, wondering if this was some sort of a trap or a large-scale prank by their clients, who might have even roped in their mayor into the act.

But one person among them--Shizune--looked on from a distance, darkly glaring at the white coffin.

Cargilla and the others cautiously inspected it, but they could not find any sign of damage. There were, strangely enough, many shoe prints on the lid of the coffin, but Cargilla noticed something even more unnerving and yelled.

"…What is this? Woodworking glue?"

Something like rosin was filling the gap between the lid and the base of the coffin. It was translucent, like some sort of superglue, and looked as though it was there to seal off the coffin entirely, preventing even a drop of water from escaping it.

Not only was the lid stuck to the base, the coffin itself was quite sturdy. They would need more than a crowbar to open something like this.

"…What's going on here?" One of the exterminators asked nervously. But Cargilla naturally did not have a witty comeback prepared.

Val anxiously looked up at their pensive leader and hesitantly spoke up.

"Is it really a vampire in there? What if the couple or the mayor committed a murder or something and they're trying to frame us for it?"

"We've confirmed all the facts surrounding this job. Besides, if they have any brains they'd dump the corpse somewhere in the mountains instead of dragging in a rowdy bunch like us. And if they're just toying with us, well… We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We'll squeeze out every last penny from the clients and the mayor both."

"This is hopeless…" Val muttered, looking around. Suddenly, Shizune spoke up from behind him.

"Here."

"Huh?"

The Eater had opened her mouth for the first time since coming to the island.

She did not seem to be very confident in anything but her native tongue, stringing words together to make her ideas known.

"Here inside. The vampire. I feel it."

The exterminators gulped. They had come to this place because they had known the vampire was here, but Shizune's confirmation made the air feel heavier than ever.

"…So you can sense vampires, eh? How can you tell? They don't even breathe."

"Don't believe me? Fine."

Shizune responded to Cargilla's retort with disdain and silence. She them resumed glaring at the coffin, laying behind several exterminators, as though she were sending it a silent challenge.

'Damn. That's cold. The only thing female about her is that pretty face and her boobs.'

Tossing out insults in his head, Cargilla got to work.

"As for our demolition location… Right. We can go out that door and out onto the balcony--no. Maybe the rooftop terrace is a better idea. As long as we can get somewhere with some nice sunlight."



The exterminators dragged the coffin outside with a practiced hand, though there was something clumsy about them this time. They had gone through this procedure many times before, but things were off today. Though they might have been able to overcome one peculiarity, there was just too much this time that bothered them.

The Japanese Eater that suddenly appeared before them before the mission.

The eerily peaceful streets.

The majestic castle frequented by tourists, the kind of place in which no normal vampire would choose to rest.

And the white coffin, laid out before them as though prepared by a thoughtful host.

"This has got to be a trap-"

"Shut it!" Cargilla roared at the newbie, but he soon realized that he was just trying to calm his own anxiety--leading him to feel even worse than before.



When he first received an extermination assignment from the boss of the company, he had not believed that he was capable of killing vampires, nor that vampires existed to begin with. This was why he had been able to nonchalantly drag out the coffin from the designated location, drive explosive-laden stakes through it, and blow it up under sunlight.

The creature exposed to the desert sun writhed where it lay, covered in wooden splinters and shrapnel. It soon stiffened like a pillar of salt and scattered into ash without even igniting.

The first thought that ran through his head was a panicked, 'A person?!'. It was then followed by the terror of realizing that the creature was not human. Afterwards came the satisfaction of watching it dissolve before his eyes.

'I killed--no, exterminated it. That inhuman creature.'

By the time the fact hit him, he was laughing.

A creature that should have rightly been stronger than himself--the kind of monster straight out of movies and legends had been helplessly reduced to dust because he had attacked it in its sleep.

He had never realized that the act of extermination could be this satisfying.

It was surprisingly easy to destroy those creatures. During the day they could bang on the coffin or kick it as hard as they could, but the vampires would not wake. Things were different at night, but they were not so foolish as to expend such needless effort.

Vampires had no official records to speak of. they would receive thanks for slaying them, but the law would never be a factor. The explosives they used were just enough for one coffin and a person, so the blast was never a problem unless there were other residences in very close quarters--rather unlikely, as vampires seldom resided in largely populated areas.

The more vampires they exterminated, the more they fell to the pleasure.

Naturally, very few people who chose this path were completely sane. Most had done mercenary work like Cargilla had before fleeing, had rejected a normal life, or were punks who had neither talent nor drive.

Whenever they were recruiting new exterminators, they received two kinds of applicants. Fanatics obsessed with the occult, and people willing to do anything for money. Obviously, they would hire those who fit the latter category.

The exterminators were unnerved by Shizune, but perhaps at the core they were not so different from one another.

The greatest difference between them, however, would be the caliber of vampires they had faced in the past. Their attitudes served as testament to their experiences.

Cargilla was daunted by the unfamiliar situation before him, but Shizune remained guarded--not at all different from her usual demeanour. She was focused and ready, prepared to react to any little change that could befall them.

The bedroom was directly connected to the rooftop terrace. As six exterminators dragged the coffin upstairs, several of them began whispering nervously.

"Hey, doesn't this coffin feel… weird?"

"…Yeah. Like something's rolling inside it."

"I feel like we're moving a fish tank or something…"

Something about this coffin disturbed them, but they could not drop it midway through.

By the time they brought it out into the sunlight, they seemed to be even more terrified of the contents of the coffin than usual.

"Tch. What are you, pansies? Hey, start the camcorder." Cargilla said.

One of the exterminators set up an old Handycam. With a mechanical whirr, the tape inside began rolling.

The footage they would shoot would be used for reference purposes and as proof that they had indeed exterminated the target.

Noting the start of the recording out of the corner of his eye, Cargilla slowly reached down towards his walkie-talkie.

"It's me. How're things on your end?" He asked calmly. The second-in-command, who had gone to see the clients, replied.

[No problems to report, sir. We have the couple here as well as the mayor. Apparently he's off work today.]

"About the vampire's abilities. The client say anything else?"

[Nothing, sir. The mayor says it's weak against sunlight like other vampires.]

"I see. Then I'm counting on you to negotiate our fees, as usual."

With a command that made it difficult to believe that he was a businessman, Cargilla quietly turned towards the coffin.

It was glowing brilliantly in the sunlight. Inscribed in red on the lid were the words 'Gerhardt von Waldstein'.



Forty-five seconds later, dozens of wooden stakes were fired and driven into the coffin.



<=>



The stakes, each the size of a child's forearm, were fired at the coffin in silence.

The gear they had unloaded from the station wagons were straight out of a third-rate sci-fi film.

The weapon, a messy fusion of a spear gun and a bazooka, looked ostentatious enough to belong on a stage fighting giant monsters.

The exterminators set up a simple battle formation around the coffin on the rooftop terrace.

Of course, their formation was rough and messy, each member positioned only to make sure they were not in each other's line of fire.

"All right! Fire fire fire! Shoot your anxiety away!"

As Cargilla shouted orders, the exterminators' fingers moved expertly. It was as though they had come to their own resolutions, forgetting their fear from only moments ago.

With a watery but explosive roar, strange objects were fired from the barrels of he outlandish guns.

They were long cylinders covered in silver. The moment the cylinders hit the coffin, there was a dry-sounding explosion as the metal cylinder trembled.

The cylinders soon fell away like spent shell casings, leaving behind white stakes where they had been earlier. The explosion was likely for boring a hole through the coffin, and the cylinder would eject the stake into the opening.

In the end, the coffin was looking very much like a porcupine.

Cargilla raised an arm to signal the others to hold fire.

After several seconds of silence, a gust of wind from the mountaintops swept in. An explosion enveloped the white coffin.



Shizune Kijima looked on with eyes wide and muttered to herself.

"Incredible…"

Her utterance, spoken in Japanese, gave away a hint of both shock and admiration.

"To think they'd think of filling stakes with explosives…"

It was oddly nostalgic, like watching the death of a monster on a tokusatsu(3) show from Japan.

Shizune's cold facade had been finally broken, emotion showing on her face for the first time.

"I've never seen anyone use so much force in an extermination…"

It was akin to using a nuclear bomb to kill a single alien. Shizune shook her head, a half-smile formed on her lips.

'Where do I even start?'

Until not too long ago, she had looked upon these exterminators who avoided her with disdain. But the moment this scene unfolded before her, she began to feel incredible pity towards them.

The nagging feeling was always there. The team's planning was much too haphazard for a group who did this work for a living. The commander had no leadership skills to speak of. Their gear was ostentatious but absurd, even to the eyes of a vampire hunter.

The only reason this group had survived thus far was because they had been lucky enough to face only the weakest of vampires. Pushovers who weren't worth their name, allowing their coffins to be found despite being fatally weak against sunlight. The only thing she could commend this team for was their ability to sneak in equipment like this through customs and their guts for being able to carry out this kind of work.

This was how they had survived thus far, ignored by any vampire worth his salt.

Shizune's guess was the same as Cargilla's, but she quietly shook her head.

This must have been the extermination team's modus operandi for quite some time now.

"All right. We got it! Not even a scrap of bone!"

"Maybe we used a bit too much firepower. There's blood everywhere."

Shizune felt yet another twinge of pity for the exterminators as she watched their nonchalant chatter.

'Sooner or later all that joking's going to turn into screaming.'

She knew exactly what kind of a fate was about to befall them. She had a perfect grasp on the situation.

The powerful aura she had sensed earlier was bubbling up at an alarming rate.

"Oy, Camera Guy! You get all that?!"

Cargilla waved at the exterminator with the camera and smiled triumphantly.

'That was easy. Nothing out of the ordinary.'

Liberated from the tension of the mission, he used the momentum of his newfound freedom to show his underlings a bright grin.

His eyes then wandered to Shizune, leaning agains the wall separating the bedroom from the terrace.

Cargilla's unease at her presence seemed to have evaporated. He spoke to her in a joking tone.

"Sorry if you wanted that one rare, Missy. Better lick off all that blood splatter before it evaporates, now…" He began, but froze.

By the time he realized it, the world around him was silent. The other exterminators were gaping as though seeing fiction come to life.



[Danke!]



These were the words written across the stone floor.

Each and every letter was about the size of a sheet of newspaper. The words meant 'thank you' in German.

The reason the exterminators had frozen was not because the letters had not been there earlier, nor was it because the letters were rotating so that they could be read from every angle.

What terrified them was the fact that the letters were a frighteningly bright crimson, and that they were formed out of the blood that had burst forth from the exploded coffin.

The letters were not comprised of all the blood from the coffin. The rest was gathered in a neat pool at a slight distance from the letters. There was likely enough blood altogether to fill over half the coffin.

Cargilla stared, wide-eyed. Shizune did the same, albeit with a more serious look.

And as though having confirmed that all eyes were on itself, the letters crawled along the floor like mercury and suddenly changed to a new set of letters.



[Thanks!]



[Merci!]



[Benefacis.]



[谢谢!]



[Grazie!]



[ありがとう!]



[Спасибо.]



[…..]



[…]



As the exterminators looked on in confusion, the letters of blood continued shifting forms.

They were all words expressing gratitude, but the exterminators were not so relaxed as to do anything but turn to Cargilla in search of salvation.

"D-don't let your guard down, you bastards! Shit! Is this a trap after all?! The main body must be hiding in the shadows somewhere! Get away from the blood and keep your guard up!"

And just as his voice reached the ears of everyone on the terrace, the letters of blood combined with the rest of the blood, squirming like a living creature, and began moving towards the great wall between the terrace and the bedroom.

The blood seemed to pool between the wall and the floor for a moment, before defying gravity and climbing up the wall. The exterminators watched, frozen in shock as it laid out a long sentence in English.

[My apologies. As I note that the leader of your group speaks perfect English, I shall also continue in that very language!]

The blood from the coffin formed letters of an elegant handwriting on the wall. The supernatural display left the exterminators lost for words, but the blood ignored their shock and used the great white wall as a canvas to create words upon it with its own body.

[Thank you! You have my sincere gratitude. No words of thanks could ever be enough to quell my appreciation! I'd have expired if I had been trapped in that dark coffin much longer! Thank you for this most blessed chance to see sunlight once more, Lord God! Devil! And you good Saints, who have freed me from this coffin of mine!]

The blood even made sure to use exclamation marks in its quest to make its gratitude known. Cargilla and the others had no idea why the blood was calling them Saints, but perhaps it was referring to the fragments of the stakes that were lying on the floor.

Realizing the situation they were in, Cargilla mustered all the gall he could and roared at his fellow exterminators.

"Shit, this is bad! The main body must be around somewhere! Find the body controlling all this blood!"

And as though in an attempt to correct him, the letters of blood on the wall changed form once again.

[What is this, my dear friends? I am right 'here', am I not? This blood is myself, in the flesh! I am the blood, and this blood is all of me!]

The letters of blood emphasized their autonomy, taking care to use even apostrophes and commas.

"What…?"

As Cargilla gaped in shock, the letters of blood added an explanation.

[Whether you believe me or not, if you wish to communicate with this body of mine, I'm afraid you will have to speak up. I consider it most unfortunate that I have no telepathic abilities.]

"What is this… No one said anything about this. The hell…?"

Cargilla looked back at his underlings as though asking for help. The pride with which he had carried himself in the immediate aftermath of the explosion was nowhere to be found. He was laughing weakly, his tone at uncertain at best and foolish at worst.

[Ah, please. I am willing to answer any questions, so don't hesitate to ask. My name is Gerhardt von Waldstein! I am a viscount, the former lord of this island of Growerth, and currently a vampire living in hiding!]

"A vampire…"

[But it could only have been that you good Saints knew of this beforehand that you have driven wooden stakes into my coffin. Is it not? From the state of the coffin, I surmise that the stakes you used were not merely what they appeared, but in any event, I am I deed a vampire. Please put yourselves at ease. I understand that this form of mine is nothing natural, but there is no need to delve much further in that direction.]

"…"

The exterminators looked around at one another, unsure as to how they should reply to the red letters.

Noting the silence, the self-proclaimed viscount by the name of Gerhardt collapsed the letters on the wall, and wrote up another page's worth of words on it once more.

[I suppose an expression of thanks is in order. If the valuables in our castle sanctum will satisfy you, then please help yourselves! Though my humble abode may not rival the spectacle of Hohenzollern Castle, graced by His Imperial Majesty himself, I guarantee that I am more than their match in grace. Antiques, paintings, whatever may strike your fancy is yours! But of course, it would be much too boorish to express my thanks only by the gift of material goods. This good deed shall be repaid with another, if you please, so call on me should you ever find yourselves in need of assistance!]

The dramatically archaic way of speech made it seem to Cargilla and the others that the letters were speaking in a haughty tone. As they slowly went over the meaning of these words, the exterminators looked around at one another, at a loss.

However, one person among them refused to be silenced.

The Asian girl stepped forward. The words on the wall trembled as though observing her.

"You are Gerhardt von Waldstein, correct?"

[Yes, indeed.]

Shizune's 'You' was enough to tell the Viscount that the young woman was Japanese. The actions that followed were exceedingly quick; changing the rest of his words into Japanese, he wrote out another set of words on the lower left section of the wall, right before her.

[Ah, a beautiful young lady hailing from Japan, presumably. You alone seem to be unfazed by this body. So what is it that you seek? This One would like to assure you, This One shall do whatever is in This One's power to assist you.]

The moment these words came up on the wall, Shizune quietly looked up.

From the looks of her face, it seemed somewhat like she was holding back great anger and rage. But more than that was apparent a sense of expectation and excitement about the lifeform before her.

But aside from that expectant look, her face was devoid of emotion. It was empty, as though she did not look to derive any enjoyment from her expectation.

[Hm…]

As the Viscount converted even his exclamations into Japanese, Shizune uttered five words.

"I want to eat you."



The moment she spoke, she disappeared from sight.

"Wha-"

In the second it took for Cargilla to draw breath, Shizune had leapt up into the air.

For a moment it looked at though she had clung onto the wall, but in the next she launched herself forward. Her fingers were grasping the edge of the castle rooftop.

"Um… Wh-what was that, sir? …A monster?"

The newbie Val's eyes were even wider than when he had first witnessed the letters of blood. He was already beyond anxiety or nervousness, now on the verge of full-on terror.

"Which one, the blood, or the girl?"

Val thought for a moment, and mumbled.

"…I wonder."

The others seemed to have only now noticed that Shizune was gone, looking around wildly to catch a glimpse of her.

Shizune herself, meanwhile, oriented herself downwards like a spider. Taking three test tubes from her side, she lobbed them at the pool of blood and the letters on the wall underneath her.

As the test tubes fell, they hit a protrusion near the middle of the wall and broke. From each spilled out a different substance--two of them were liquids, and the last some sort of a white powder.

The pool of blood underneath expertly avoided the substances that scattered randomly from overhead. The blood underneath the shower of liquid and powder escaped only the precise areas hit by the substances. It was rather like watching water spill over a drop of wax on a piece of paper.

Several of the exterminators looked at the liquid substances. One of them was clear, with no scent or fumes to speak of.

The other was a mysterious substance that shone silvery-white. It retained a circular form on the section of rooftop it had landed on, trembling slightly like a drop of water on a raincoat.

"Liquid silver…?" One of the exterminators wondered. The letters on the wall squirmed once more, expressing its astonishment.

[My goodness, is the young lady perchance going by the myth that vampires are weakened by silver? Not an entirely untrue story, but I would like to advise you that liquid silver is in fact mercury, a different element altogether.]

"Try telling her…"

[Oh? Was the young lady not one of you good Saints? Please pardon the error. I meant nothing by it.]

A moment after the apology was written out, the pool of blood suddenly rose up.

The mass of blood twisted and churned like a whirlpool, then leapt onto the roof, flying over Shizune's head.

The moment one end of the twister touched the surface of the roof, it pulled in the rest of its body as though it were a root drawing in everything like a spring.

Shizune also followed after it and threw herself onto the roof.



"Huh?"

The exterminators were all rooted to their spots, struck dumb by the scene that had unfolded before them. But Val soon broke their silence.

"Uh, so the blood and the girl both disappeared. What do we do now?"

His awkward question snapped the others back to reality one by one.

Before them was a pristine white stone wall.

Behind them was a white coffin, smashed to pieces.

Cargilla looked back and forth between them, then turned to the exterminator with the Handycam.

"How much did you get?"

"All of it, sir…"

"Get rid of that second half."

"Huh?" The cameraman blurted, confused. Cargilla twisted his lips into a grin, though the rest of his face did not join in the smile.

"Just cut it off at the part where we blew up the coffin. We'll hand that video over to the client. We're leaving this island before sundown, even if it means leaving with chump change. Any objections?"

The exterminators looked around at one another once more, then waiting for Cargilla.

"No objections, then. All right. Let's get outta--let's go."

Cargilla left the castle quicker than anyone, his underlings following after him. Remembering the terrifying scene from earlier, he shivered and silently thanked the exterminators for following without a fuss.

He was truly grateful for the fact that no one had said 'Let's follow after it!'.

'Damn. Good thing these bastards have no sense of timing.'

"Uh, maybe we should go help heaaaarghh…"

Cargilla slammed the back of his hand into Val's face before he could finish his sentence.

"You say something?"

"…Nothinggg, sirrr…"



-----



Continued in Chapter 2.



-----



(1) The Tsuyama Massacre took place in 1938 in the rural village of Kaio in Okayama, Japan. It was an incident in which a young man brutally murdered thirty villagers after cutting the power to the village.
(2) The baobhan sith is a type of female vampire in Scottish mythology. They tend to dress in green and seduce young travelers.
(3) Tokusatsu is a type of live-action show in Japan that uses a great deal of special effects. Giant monster shows like Gojira and the Kamen Rider series are considered tokusatsu.

3 comments:

  1. I just can't tell how much I love you now!
    I seriously can't !
    I'll be finishing my exams next week then it'll be Vamp! time for me ^___^
    thank u so much for your effort ! and I mean it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks for another great chapter, I can't wait to read this book

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are amazing!!

    I really do love the work you´r doing with the Baccano! serie. And now with Vamp!! Keep it going! Maybe you dont get any refund for this hard work but you already have a bunch of fangrils/boys looking forward all your updates!! xDD

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