Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Vamp! I - Chapter 2

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

That took a while, but it was worth it. Here is Chapter 2 of Vamp! Set aside some time, because it's a loooooooong update.

Also, there are more name spellings to talk about at the end of this update. I'm also looking for some clarification on vampire lore, so please take a stab at it!


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Chapter 2: The Vampires Around the Coffin



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Waldstein Castle rooftop.



Once the exterminators had departed, the only ones left in the majestic castle were the vampire viscount and the Japanese Eater.

As the sunlight shone on them brilliantly, Shizune stood with the setting sun at her back, her eyes fixed on the pool of blood on the roof.

[Ah, I thought it strange that there were no people going to and fro in the castle, but to think entry had been restricted all this time. How scrupulous of those good Saints.]

Despite the tension running through the air, the pool of blood continued to form letters at a consistent pace.

"Are you really Gerhardt von Waldstein?" Shizune asked for confirmation. The letters re-formed themselves confidently.

[Dear lady, you have the wrong man!]

"You just told me you were him earlier. Why are you denying it now?"

[It is most unfortunate that you could not respond to this jest in kind, young lady.]

This time, the letters were formed in midair as opposed to against the wall.

[Then… Presumably, what you had thrown at This One earlier was holy water and mercury, and perhaps salt or ashes of burnt wood. This One is terribly sorry to inform you that none of these substances will do This One any harm. Desiccants, perhaps, but salt and silver are no weaknesses of This One's.]

With a sidelong glance at the words floating in the air, Shizune reached behind her white leather jacket. For some odd reason, there were countless knives and forks holstered there like weaponry. It would not be surprising if an attack with something like a fruit knife were to be deflected on the rows of cutlery alone.

Drawing multiple forks at once, Shizune threw them towards the pool of blood as though shooting out bullets.

[Your efforts are wasted, young lady.]

Several knives tore through the joking words and drove themselves through the pool of blood. Naturally, they were not driven into the liquid itself--they had been nailed into the rooftop itself.

[Hm?]

The the viscount realized something only a moment later. The handles of the cutlery were unusually thick, looking more like they belonged on tools like chisels.

Not a second later, sparks flew from the tips of the forks. The pool of blood began to boil.

[A stun gun of some sort. Never did This One expect that these weapons of yours might have currents running through them.]

The words floating in the air addressed Shizune as though the vampire had been less than affected by the shock. The blood pooled on the rooftop slid away from the spots where the cutlery had been driven into, cutting its boiling short.

[Truly unfortunate, but This One is resistant to electric shocks as well. And to advise you further before you waste any more of your efforts, this body is also quite resistant to flames.]

"Thanks for the tip. For a monster, you're pretty considerate." Shizune said, glaring at the pool of blood that was twitching like an amoeba. "I've already eaten a few vampires that could turn into fog, but I've never seen one that could liquify itself."

Hearing this, the viscount formed yet more words in midair. The lines floating in the air twisted and bent like thin metal wire, forming new shapes.

[Ah, judging from the situation earlier, and your reaction time--which, in This One's humble opinion, surpasses even those of vampires'--This One must presume that you are an Eater [食鬼人], correct? Would this also mean that you are not affiliated with any religious exorcist groups?]

"…Thanks for taking the time to write out the kanji, too."

'Never thought he'd even write out the word "Eater" in Japanese.'

Shizune shrugged awkwardly, and drew even more knives and forks from her arsenal.

[And if you would allow This One to add: it seems you are under the mistaken impression that This One possesses an ability similar to that of others--namely, turning oneself into liquid form as they do with fog. But this is indeed This One's true form, and to extrapolate on this fact, This One cannot take a human form.]

Although Shizune was by no means obliged to continue reading the viscount's words, she found herself glancing at the letters of blood as she brainstormed her next course of action. The moment she took in the meaning behind the viscount's claim, she frowned and responded to him.

"…Then you don't have a human shape?"

[This is indeed This One's own body in the flesh. The very picture of a man in his prime, is it not?]

Shizune was put on edge by the act of conversing with a silent pool of blood, but her brain continued pumping adrenaline through her body, allowing her to quickly adjust to this unfamiliar situation.

Taking a moment to observe the full form of the pool of blood, she addressed the letters in the air once more.

"I see… You're unusual, but I'm not interested in any of that."

Shizune spun the table knife she was holding, and decided to play along with the viscount.

"Though I am interested in finding out how you'll taste."

[My word, what boldness for a young lady!]

The letters were laughing.

They did not create any sound that suggested this, but the letters were trembling slightly in a way that told Shizune that he was chuckling as he spoke. Or, to be specific, her brain forcibly understood this.

The archaic form of speech the vampire used made it almost feel as though she was speaking to a fellow Japanese. As she found herself being drawn into the viscount's pace, Shizune realized that the vampire before her was rather unusual for one of its kind.

All kinds of vampires existed in this world.

Some could turn wholly invisible. Others could synchronize with sand, teleport, create copies of itself, or control fire. It was a range of abilities one might expect to find in a pulp ninja novel, but these powers actually belonged to some of the more unusual vampires she had encountered in the past.

And despite the fact that she had personally eaten such vampires, the self-proclaimed viscount before her was somehow different from the others she had faced. It was not his abilities or appearance that set him apart, but the obscured-but-present scent of humanity in him.

Normally, Shizune would not have given such thoughts any consideration. But things were different today.

The pool of blood did not falter for even a moment, continuing to form more words in midair.

[However, This One must say that--]

"Stop talking in the third person. Are you making fun of me?" Shizune demanded, spinning her knife once more.

It was a rather fantastic scene to behold, but neither party seemed to be having much trouble in communicating with one another.

[Ah, my apologies! I'd thought that I had reached some level of proficiency with the Japanese language, but I am afraid some of the finer nuances of the art still manage to escape Th--ah, apologies--One(ware[])(1).]

"Try again."

[Then We(chin [])(2)--]

"You're doing that on purpose, aren't you?"

Narrowing her already sharp eyes, Shizune fixed her grip on the knife she was spinning. Noticing this, the viscount hurriedly rearranged himself.

[Pardon my rudeness, most beautiful lady! I was merely compelled to jest by your astonishing radiance. I am doing everything in my power to prove that you intend no aggression to my person, but it does not seem to be working.]

"Thanks for the compliment, but I'm not letting you off that easily."

If the compliment had been from anyone else, Shizune might have been able to appreciate it. But she felt nothing at the comment from the vampire, her enemy. Taking his words as provocation, Shizune slowly went silent.

Vampires were her enemy, responsible for her family's death. This was the first time she had conversed so long with one of his kind, despite the unconventional medium of their communication.

Perhaps the vampire's form, more slime than humanoid, had led her to unconsciously lower her guard.

'But vampires are vampires. The ones who slaughtered my family. They stole my happiness. And now, they're my prey.'

Shizune calmly began to unleash her bloodlust.

The viscount, keeping up with the change in atmosphere, formed a new set of words in the air.

[Wait a moment! I have neither duty, motivation, nor time to face you today. And if you have the power to defeat me at all, then I do not believe eating my body will enhance your abilities any further.]

"That doesn't matter. The fact that you're a vampire is reason enough for me."

[I ask that you listen to what I have to say. I do not drink blood, I do not murder anyone on this island, and I do not impose my will upon those who live here. And above all, how could I possibly sink my fangs into a lady's neck with a body like this?]

The viscount's form had indeed aroused Shizune's curiosity. Even if vampires who did not have to drink blood existed, how could this particular being derive any sort of energy?

But even if the viscount was telling the truth, it meant nothing to Shizune.

"Whether you're good or evil has nothing to do with the fact that I'm going to devour you."

Shizune's bloodlust did not abate in the least. The pool of blood quietly replied.

[Is this because of some duty? For example... have you been hired to murder me?]

Shizune glanced at him and shook her head.

"No, this is personal."

[Ah, you do indeed seem to be driven by a great resolution of will… Vengeance, I presume?]

Shizune looked uncomfortable for a moment, before shooting back with an irrelevant question.

"Why do you go to the trouble of adding in ellipses? And it's not like you even have to write out all your 'Ah's, either."

However, the viscount's response to her rude tone was unchangingly polite.

[Ah, excuse me. My goodness, not again… I am sincerely apologetic, young lady. To me, the act of creating these letters and words feels no different from the act of speaking. Instead of the sensation of a voice escaping my mouth, whatever comes up in my mind becomes these letters of blood you see before you. It seems that my brain--ah, perhaps I should call it a soul, in my case--is converting my words into letters for my convenience. They say that if a human was to wear a pair of glasses that show the world upside-down for three days, his brain would adjust to the new way of sight by the end of that period. It works in much the same way for myself.]

Shizune found herself raising an eyebrow at that statement.

"A vampire like you…? A soul? Don't make me laugh."

There was silence.

The viscount's form froze in place. A quiet wind blew between him and the quiet Shizune.

After a moment, the viscount began to write in a fashion that made it seem as though he was choosing his words very carefully.

[…Hahaha. You say that we vampires are soulless creatures? Not an entirely unfounded belief, and in one sense absolutely true.] The viscount said meaningfully, continuing before Shizune could interrupt. [How much do you know about vampires? I grant you that you must have acquired a great deal of knowledge about our abilities and characteristics. But have you never thought it strange that each individual could possess abilities and weaknesses so different from the next?]

'Never.'

To Shizune, vampires were prey--nothing but targets of her gluttony, and earlier, vengeance. In the early years of her time as an Eater, when she was driven by revenge alone, she had strived to learn as many weaknesses as she possibly could. But by the time she had gotten strong enough to defeat a vampire in single combat, she no longer cared. There were many reasons for her disinterest, but one of them was the fact that she no longer needed to know a given vampire's weakness in order to overpower it.

At this point, a vampire's weaknesses were nothing more than an agent of efficiency by which she could conclude her battles faster. She never made the effort to look into them any more than necessary, nor did she ever intend to do so.

But it was not as though the words of the pool of blood before her were entirely uninteresting to her. In fact, they aroused her curiosity so much that she almost wanted to start asking questions of him. She never would have been swayed this much if the vampire had been writing in English, but seeing her native language again softened her heart.

If she was still stuck in the mindset of revenge, Shizune would never have given the slightest attention to the viscount's claims, nor would she have had the composure to do so.

But now, this topic of discussion was not entirely without favour towards her.

Being an Eater, who ate the flesh and blood of vampires to absorb their power, not knowing anything about her prey meant she would never be able to properly express the kind of being she was in words.

She closed her eyes for a moment in thought, then spun her knife around once more and holstered it behind her jacket.

"…Talk. I might even save you for later if you manage to entertain me."

[Thank you for your consideration, good lady.]



<=>



In the darkness.



What kind of vampires were my real parents?

Father would always say, [They were the most admirable of vampires. I am proud to count myself among their friends, and I promise you that you may carry yourself with that same pride for having been born their son]. But he never told me anything specific about them.

Why was I born a vampire? I don't dislike the fact that I am one, but I've always wondered.

Father taught me all sorts of things about vampires. Apparently there are countless varieties around the world, and about half of us don't even need to drink people's blood to live. Father is one of them. But that was only after he took on that liquid form he has now.

I'm the type that needs to drink blood regularly to survive.

Whether it's from a human or an animal, I need the blood of a living creature, or else I lose my strength. It's a separate need from hunger. It's not like I'm affected physically, but if I go for a long time without blood--months at a time--it starts to feel like my consciousness is growing further from my body.

Some vampires have a shorter cycle of hunger than others. I've heard that some of them have to drink at least one person's worth a day. Though those types usually get hunted down by humans quickly.

Father told me, [The act of sucking blood is not quite so simple as drinking someone's blood. It is an act of sharing your very soul. Relic, my son, should you choose the path of intermingling with humans, you must never think of drinking blood as an act of 'taking'. Remember that, by sucking someone's blood, you are sharing your life and soul with them]. But to be honest, that's not easy. In the end, I'm just acting on my desire to drink someone's blood.

When I sink my fangs into someone's neck and suck out their blood, I get the feeling that something is escaping my body and is being drained into the person I'm biting. I think if I try to focus on that sensation more and practice, I'll eventually be able to impose control over someone, or even turn them. Although I've never actually tried.

Turning someone--to drag a human being, different from me, into the world of vampires… In popular movies and novels, it's as easy as spreading a plague. Entire villages get turned overnight. According to Father, I have the power to do that myself. He says that, physically speaking, I'm as close as anyone can get to those vampires you see in movies.

I can turn any human I choose into a vampire. Ferret said it was like helping the human 'evolve' or something, but I honestly don't feel that way.

How could you call it evolution when the newer form has so many more weaknesses?

According to Father's knowledge, about 80% of vampires are weak against sunlight. The weakest of them can't so much as twitch while the sun's still up, and apparently many of them get killed by humans during the day.

I can just barely move during the day, but that's only indoors. I'd probably disintegrate to ashes if sunlight hits me, and my powers weaken significantly after the rooster's first crow.

I hate the smell of garlic, and I can't stand purified salt or silver. I'd probably die if someone drove a stake through my heart. I might be able to revive from my ashes with someone's help, or with centuries' worth of effort, but I'm too scared to even think of trying.

I can't enter running water. I can cross it on ships and airplanes, but I can't go into it physically.

A vampire's energy apparently leaks out into water. It's possible to absorb it back from still pools, but you can't get it back from a flowing stream.

That means that I can't shower--I have to bathe. Thankfully I don't sweat too much or get messy easily, but on days I get covered with sand or something, I honestly don't know what to do.

I guess about the one thing that I'm fine with is crucifixes. But then again, almost no vampires are weak against them. Although a lot of us are weak against the powers of the believers who wield them…



I can do most of the things people might expect from a vampire. Other than those weaknesses, I can survive anything. I can turn into a flock of bats, control familiars, turn into fog, hide in shadows, move things telekinetically, and hypnotize people with a single look. And as for less well-known powers, I can turn into a snake or a swarm of mosquitoes. Although I almost never do that because it never gets a good reaction.

I think I'm physically stronger than other kids my age, but to be honest, I've never actually tested that or anything.

My body is still growing. I eat food like humans do. But once I hit twenty or so, I'll stop aging completely.

But I still don't like the fact that I have so many weaknesses. Whenever I want to wash my hands I have to pour water into a basin. If I put my hands under a tap, they'll burn like I'm holding them in a kiln.

And as for sunlight--although I've heard that a lot of humans started going without it since computers and the internet became popular--I prefer the outdoors. I can't stand it. This might sound a bit cheesy, but I wish I could play soccer with all the other kids my age. We don't have any fields with lighting equipment on Growerth. …Well, I guess that's just an excuse. It's painful, not being able to walk under sunlight. People might think it's just like reversing your sense of day and night, but it's not like humans turn to ash when they step out in the middle of the night, is it?

Well, getting back on topic… In other words, the balance between my strengths and weaknesses isn't that great. I don't really mind because I've been this way since the day I was born, but if a human were to turn into a vampire, I'm sure they'd be surprised at all the weaknesses they'll have to live with.

In that sense, I'm really jealous of my sister.



Ferret is my total opposite. She has no vampiric weaknesses at all. She's completely fine under sunlight. She can eat garlic, take showers, and swim in rivers and oceans. She tries not to do that in front of me so I won't have to feel bad, although it's not like I mind.

She's not affected by silver, and crucifixes go without saying. No one's ever tried, but she might even be able to survive a stake to the heart.

But Ferret doesn't have most of the powers I have. She can regenerate quickly, but she doesn't have any other abilities. She can't turn into bats or fog, she can't communicate with mice and bats, she can't move things with her mind, and she can't hypnotize people.

But, Ferret can go without drinking blood. She could if she wanted to, and she could probably control someone by biting them, to a certain extent, but… I don't think she'd be able to turn someone.

That's how we're like mirror images of one another. Our personalities are different, too.

I really love my sister, but sometimes I wonder:

What in the world are we?

Not just vampires. I feel like we're abnormal even for our kind.

Me, born with most vampiric characteristics, and Ferret, born with no weaknesses. Who were our parents? Do our physical powers and strengths mean something special?

I've wondered about this once in a while, but I never brought it up to Father. It feels like if I tell him, I'll lose the happiness we have together now.

I might end up resenting myself for being so curious to know. I might end up hating my own little sister.

That's what scares me.



The basement of the harbour office.



Hearing the footsteps descending the stairs, the vampire siblings opened their eyes in unison.

'Was I dreaming?'

Still feeling drowsy, Relic began to put his thoughts in order.

Of the girls he had met in Japan, he got along best with the older girl he met in Yokohama that final day. He ended up telling her all kinds of things he never would have said normally.

'I never got to drink her blood, but I bet it would have been delicious.'

Falling into his memories for a moment, Relic focused again on his hearing.

He could hear two sets of footsteps. They did not seem to be the two workmen Ferret had threatened earlier.

Quietly focusing on the reality before him, Relic began comparing the sound of the footsteps to those in his memories.

The sounds matched up with his memories like sets of fingerprints--they were identical to those of a pair of siblings, like himself and Ferret but with a few differences.

The voice that echoed from the staircase confirmed his suspicions.

"…See? I told you! Relic and Ferret must be here!"

'Is that Hilda?'

Relic tensed unnecessarily at the sound of his childhood friend's voice. He did not hear anything from the second set of footsteps, but Hilda was likely accompanied by her brother Mihail.

'How did they find us? We were going to go see them ourselves!'

Relic's heart, normally quiet and sluggish, began beating at nearly human speed. Even vampires who did not need to breathe had a heartbeat, because their bodies still needed a supply of nutrients and energy.

They were just like humans in that their heartbeat quickened when the were excited. Relic's thoughts floundered further as he scrambled to figure out how he should greet his approaching childhood friend.

'Argh, this isn't good. If Mihail's here too, Ferret's going to go crazy.'

Relic wondered if he should open the lid of his coffin to avoid such a situation. But,

"Ferre--"

The moment he thought he heard an excitable male voice, Relic heard Ferret's coffin lid slam open, and the sound of someone being smacked mercilessly.

He had an idea of what was going on outside.

Hilda's older brother Mihail had probably attempted to leap into Ferret's coffin and had been rewarded with a punch.

Mihail comically spun into the wall.

"Mihail!"

Naturally, the one calling his name was not Ferret, but Mihail's sister Hilda.

'I wish my sister would call me by name, too.' Relic thought to himself, as he listened to Ferret's desperate attempt to hold back her outrage.

"You…! I-impudent…!"

Though she lashed out at Mihail, who was still rolling on the floor, her girlish voice took away much of the dignity from her words.

"Your voice is pretty even when you're angry, Ferret."

Although his jaw and back must have been in pain, Mihail got up exuberantly and flashed a smile at Ferret.

It was clear that Ferret had been holding back when she punched Mihail. His neck would have done a 180 if she had gone all-out against him.

Whether or not he understood this, Mihail got up and extended a hand to her.

"Welcome back, Ferret! You must've been so lonely without me. But don't worry! Everything's going to be all right now!"

"How…"

Ferret trailed off, driven to silence by Mihail's boldness.

Relic snickered quietly from inside his coffin as he listened to the commotion outside.

'Mihail hasn't changed a bit, huh. I guess that's only natural, since it's only been a year.'

After a good laugh, Relic made up his mind and opened his eyes, slowly pushing up the lid of his coffin.

The fluorescent light seeped into his eyes, nearly blinding him. But the light was suddenly cut off.

Relic pushed the lid open all the way. The shadow blocking the light greeted him.

"Welcome back, Relic!"

Standing before him was the human girl named Hilda. Relic bowed his head for a moment at the sight of his childhood friend's face, then laughed sheepishly and responded to her smile with one of his own.

"I missed you."



<=>



The outskirts of Rukram City, on the island of Growerth



"Is this really okay?"

Cargilla and the others had retreated from the castle, having accomplished nothing. Val mumbled uncomfortably as they sat in their station wagons.

"'Course it is! Listen up, our clients and the mayor were the ones who told us it was weak against daylight. There shouldn't be a problem here. We destroyed the coffin under the sun, so we've done our job."

They had arrived at a small manor in the forest, a little ways from the city. It was the clients' home. The exterminators all got off the station wagons.

The house stood in beautiful harmony with the trees in the forest. It was rather small for a manor, but if the report about the manor housing a family of four was true, the home looked almost too big for them.

"Is this really going to get us any money?"

"…Normally we'd bring back the vampire's ashes or the bite mark on the victim's neck would disappear as proof. But we should be fine as long as we have that video. We have records about their dealing with us, so worst case scenario, we can tell 'em we'll sell their info to the media if they don't pay up."

"That's basically extortion--Gah!"

Val received another punch to the nose for his comment.

The series of unusual events seemed to have left Cargilla rather rattled. Normally he would at least contact the head office, but this time he was driven solely by the desire to leave this island as soon as possible.

In fact, he did not even really care about the money--he just wanted to join up with his second-in-command's team and escape Growerth.

"I called 'em on the radio before we came here, so everything should be fine. But…"

Worrying that the client might confuse him for a burglar because of his appearance, Cargilla pressed the doorbell.

Seconds passed. A caucasian couple opened the door.

"Oh… You would be Mr. Cargilla… from the extermination team?"

The wife asked hesitantly. Cargilla forced himself to put on the kind of smile that Val the newbie had never seen before.

"Good day, ma'am! We're just coming back from taking care of your pest problem."



"Oh my goodness… Thank you so much!"

The exterminators were led into the parlour. They had filled the room and were forced to remain standing. Cargilla had insisted that the others stay outside in the cars, but the couple insisted that they thank every member of the team.

Cargilla would have much preferred to forget their thanks and leave, but he was not skilled enough to turn them down and eventually surrendered, bringing everyone inside.

"I smell a trap here, sir. This has got to be a trap!" Val whispered until the end, but Cargilla snorted.

"It's fine. We can leave those bloody letters to the Eater! And even if this couple is working for those letters, this is the middle of the day. One sunlight bomb is all we need."

"But that viscount or whatever was totally fine."

"Uh…"

"I seriously don't like how things are going. Don't you think maybe there's a whole swarm of vampires who aren't weak to sunlight?"

The newbie was making a valid point. But Cargilla was here on a mission. He couldn't back out now.

"I'll keep an eye out. And if you're right, we're going to run like hell." Cargilla said, shaking his head.

'H-how'd this guy ever become a leader?!' Val wondered, and positioned himself close to the exit.

Cargilla had been given leadership because of the vast amount of experience he had. But in the end, he only had experience in facing off against small fry. He had never been involved in such an unusual situation before.

"Sir." Cargilla's second-in-command, who had arrived earlier, spoke up. "I don't know why you're so on edge right now, but if there's something going on… would you like three of us to go and start the cars outside?"

"Y-yeah! Great! I might just be paranoid here, but go make sure we can get outta here as soon as we need to."

"Right, sir."

The second-in-command and the two others still had no idea about the self-proclaimed viscount. They left the manor, looking very confused about Cargilla's state. Sending them off, Cargilla desperately swallowed the truth and put on a fake smile once more.



Doing his best to keep his sweaty palms concealed, Cargilla made small talk with the couple. He wanted to end the discussion as soon as possible, but he was not so well versed in conversation that he could lead the topic in the direction he wanted.

"We were terrified. The vampire had its sights on our children."

"Of course."

Cargilla had been so focused on leaving the island that he failed to notice two terrifying facts.

One was that the couple had accepted his claim of the vampire's extermination too easily. The other was the fact that the mayor that his second-in-command mentioned meeting alongside the couple was nowhere to be seen.

"We've been very troubled by this 'viscount' for the past ten years. At first we were hired to homeschool the two children."

"Right… …Huh?"

'What's this woman talking about? Huh?'

This was when he finally realized that something was off.

'They've known the viscount for ten years? Didn't the report say something else? And if they've known him that long, they'd already know that he's immune to sunlight. Shit… And now that I think about it, where's that mayor who told us he was weak against sunlight in the first place?'

"We were both teachers back when we lived in Britain. So he asked us to give the vampire children a junior school-level education."

'Wait, what? Vampire children? No one's mentioned them before!'

Alarm bells were going off in Cargilla's head. He glanced back at the other exterminators, but they were all looking around at one another, their faces rigid. Val was already positioning himself towards the door.

"Uh, wait, what do you mean, 'vampire children'? We only heard about the one vampire…"

"That's right. We never told you about them. The mayor said we shouldn't. The children left the island about a year ago, and we intended to get rid of that viscount while they were away. But that's when the mayor came, and… oh, yes. The viscount is quite popular with the people of this island. Much more than any mayor…"

'Huh? What's this woman saying?'

"Oh? Didn't we mention this before? Most of the humans on this island know. It's practically public knowledge among the people here. The vampires, I mean. About the viscount and the countless vampires around him. The vampire children left on a journey without a destination. Along with all the familiars in their castle. The mayor calls the viscount a count. Our two children are absolutely lovely. The vampire children are twins--a boy and a girl. The mayor is very young. He's already in his thirties, but he doesn't look a day over twenty. The viscount's familiars include werewolves, witches, and vampire women in green, and they might be able to overpower a small country's army. The vampire children are very quick to learn. If they could join in with human children, I'm sure they could attend excellent universities."

Logic began to drain from the woman's words. Sentences followed after one another without a clear connection. She continued eerily like a broken doll. Now that Cargilla thought about it, the wife was the only one who had been speaking for some time. The husband was merely watching, a smile plastered over his face.

"Have a nice day, ma'am."

At this point, his sense of caution overpowered his devotion to his job. Cargilla got off his seat without even feigning politeness. The other exterminators seemed to have also come to the same conclusion, heading for the doors one after another.

"Oh my, it's getting late. Looks like I'll have to turn on the lights." The woman said, oblivious to the exterminators' movement, and reached over to the light switch.

The lights came on in the room. At the same time, the shutters in the house loudly began to close by themselves.

"WHOAAAAAAAA!"

The exterminators rushed towards the doors like a wave of water. But Val stood at the doorway.

For some reason, his arms were wide open, as though he was blocking their way.

"Come on, kid! We're getting outta here!"

"The hell's wrong with you, newbie?! Hurry up and get outta the way!"

With a battle cry, the exterminators attempted to tackle Val out of the way.



However, they were knocked back by an invisible force, being hurled towards the other exterminators and falling to the floor.

"O-oy. Newbie?" Cargilla gaped, coming to the scene a second later.

"Sorry about that. I might have overdone it a little."

The newbie's nervous tone was nowhere to be found. He was now speaking to them with sympathy, as though he was looking down upon lesser creatures.

"Man, how the hell did you get to be leader? Who tries to finish the job without even talking to the client? Honestly… You have no idea how badly you messed up my amazing plan."

Several people tried to ignore him and leave, but they were obstructed by an invisible force. In contrast to their fear and confusion, Val showed off an air of composure only granted to those with superiority.

"Jeez, boss. You were actually right, you know? What was it now… Yes, it's true that most vampires are weakened by daylight. But the ones who let you find their coffins are the weaklings. Real weaklings. Lowest of the lowest of the lowest of the low."

Val began to give a simple explanation about vampires, in a tone straight out of a practiced skit.

"Listen, boss. Really strong vampires would never get reported. In fact, no one would even notice them. The citizens, the people living around them, none of them will ever figure it out. Isn't that what it means for a vampire to impose control?"

"Who… the hell… are you?" Cargilla hissed, his voice growing faint by the second. Val shook his head and snickered.

"I. Told. You. I've been telling you all this time. You never know if there might be vampires who're totally immune to sunlight."

'Can't be. No way…'

Cargilla's suspicions were basically confirmed at this point, but he could not bring himself to believe them. He did not want to believe them.

It was not because he had faith in the new exterminator. It was because acknowledging that fact meant acknowledging the peril his life was in.

But Val mercilessly let the truth become known.

"A vampire who's immune to sunlight. That's right, like me."

Val's body suddenly inflated like a balloon.

"Let me introduce myself again. You see, there's something like a gathering of vampires in the world. And I'm a newbie there, too. Valdred, at your service. Please call me Vaaaaaa--"

The rest of his sentence was interrupted by the sudden inflation of his neck.

It was like watching a plant grow in fast motion. Flesh erupted from inside Val's swaying body, swallowing up his clothes and created new fabric on the surface of his body.

"Hey… Hold it. You're not a vampire! There's no way in hell you are!" Cargilla cried, unable to accept the outlandish scene unfolding before his eyes.

Appearing before the exterminators was the form of a gigantic man, his face covered by a beard that made him look much like a barbarian.

The giant, who was formerly Val, addressed Cargilla and the others in an entirely different tone.

"S'ppose I should take care 'a you lot."



The exterminators began running back the way they came back in utter confusion. Their not-so-small stock of weaponry was still back in the cars. Cargilla had concealed a handgun in his clothing just in case, but as soon as he drew it out, an invisible force took hold of it and drew it into the giant's hand.

"Shit…"

Just as Cargilla turned aside, a loud noise echoed through the manor.

'The doorbell! The others must be here to see what's going on!'

Clinging to that ray of hope, Cargilla turned towards the door. The giant also did the same, slowly and without caring for his gun.

But was the addition of three men going to turn the tide for him? Cargilla was uncertain for a moment, before coming to a realization.

'Wait. The others were here for ages before we arrived. So how'd they not notice something was off about the couple?'

As his emotions fluctuated dramatically, Cargilla found his fear rearing its head once more.

He ignored the bell (even if he wanted to get to the door, the giant was blocking it) and turned around to head for the back door. At that precise moment, the fear that had been quietly pushing down at his shoulders took material form.

The other exterminators, who should have left before him, were all lying collapsed in the hallway.

Some were clutching at their chests, and others were lying completely still. Defeat. There was no other word for it.

Taking a sharp breath, Cargilla realized that his world was twisting around into itself. He no longer had any idea if he was awake or dreaming.

But as his mind began falling into hallucination, he noticed something unusual. Although he didn't exactly have the ease of mind to closely ponder the incongruity, it nagged at him irresistibly.

'Isn't this hall a little… foggy?'

The moment he thought this, the thin layer of fog over the interior of the house flowed behind him at an alarming rate. The interior of the house cleared in an instant.

Cargilla had no idea what was happening. And from behind him came a voice that could not have been more out of place in a situation like this.

"Ahaha! Tee hee hee! Isn't this funny? Isn't this great, hottie? Waaaaait… now that I look at you, you're not that young at all! Should I just call you an old man?"

Cargilla's mind was snapped back to reality by the girlish voice. He hurriedly turned around and found himself face-to-face with a girl in garish clothing. He was certain that there was no one standing there until just a moment ago. It was as though she had materialized out of thin air.

The upper half of her face was coloured like a certain country's flag. She was wearing a red triangle-shaped hat, rather like the one worn by Santa Claus.

Her outlandish costume made her look much like a jester, but she carried herself in a much more sinister fashion than one might expect from an entertainer.

Cargilla awkwardly looked around in an attempt to understand his situation. But the jester laughed mechanically.

"Ahaha! I bet you're waiting for the guys who went outside earlier! That's it! They might come rescue you with all their fancy weapons, right? But you know, Mr. Old Man Old Man Old Man, don't expect too much, okay? I'm just saying this for your sake. I'm telling you ahead of time so you won't get too sad! So you have to remember I'm doing this for you. Okay? No getting all teary-eyed on me! Ahaha!"

After her drawn-out ribbing, the girl finally got to the point that would push Cargilla into the abyss of despair.

"Tee hee! You know, you know? They're already under my control!"

"…?"

"Ahaha! I'm talking about those hotties who already went outside. The one with the glasses! They're already under my control! I gave them a lovely little chomp! So you know you know? They're not vampires yet, but it's all over for them! Your friend with the glasses, and everyone inside this house! They inhaled me when I was still in fog form. And I dropped in tiny drops of my blood into their lungs! It was so fun. Everyone was gaping like a bunch of fish out of water! Tee hee! I'm scared of daylight, but I can do everything as long as I avoid the sun! Isn't it cool?"

The slow-witted man finally realized the truth. The girl standing before him was a vampire. And if he were to take her word at face value, it meant that their fate had already been sealed.

'Shit! This is why we're supposed to kill vampires before we can get a look at their faces!'

Despite his overwhelming powerlessness, Cargilla struggled for his life, drawing a knife from his belt. He had just one target--the girl's heart. This time, the invisible force did not stop him. From the looks of things, the one with that power was not the girl, but the giant that had once been Val.

"Die!"

"Ah-"

The jester froze, taken by surprise at Cargilla's sudden attack.

A small impact shook her body. The girl looked down and found a large knife sticking out of her chest.

And before she could take a closer look at it, Cargilla twisted the knife as hard as he could.

"Oh…"

The girl looked back at her chest, and then at Cargilla's face. After repeating this gesture several times, her eyes filled with tears.

And she laughed loudly.

"Ahahahahahaha! Tee hee hee hee! Were you scared? Were you?"

Cargilla silently ground his teeth. The moment he twisted the knife, he had felt no resistance. He had not damaged her heart in the slightest.

"Tee hee hee! You're amazing, Old Man! I may be a scary vampire, but who has the guts to stab a girl in the chest? And you twisted the knife, too! Maybe that's the one professional thing about you. Or maybe, maybe! Maybe you enjoy ripping apart little girls! Mister, don't tell me you got all excited when you saw those girl vampires writhing in their coffins! Ahahaha!"

Something like a fine vapour suddenly covered her chest, and in an instant her body scattered into fog, dissipating into the air. Cargilla angrily fixed his grip on the knife and stepped forward to flee.

The giant at the front door had not made any notable movements since the jester had appeared. Was he yielding to her, or was he just uninterested in Cargilla? His beard-covered face did not allow a hint of emotion to escape.

"Tee hee hee! Hey, you know? Was it hot? That 'Oh…' I said when I got stabbed, I mean! Was it hot? Was it seductive?"

As Cargilla rushed further into the house, the girl reassembled herself from the fog behind his back. Cargilla tried to shake her off again and again, but each time she scattered and came together again. It was starting to look like she was teleporting around him over and over again.

"Was I cute?"

"Was I stimulating?"

"Was I arousing?"

"Was I sexy?"

"Was I titillating?"

"Was I sensual?"

"Was I erotic?"

"Was I lustful?"

Each time the jester rematerialized she added an infuriating quip. But at this point, Cargilla was too terrified of the situation and too angry at his own powerlessness to care.

He had slaughtered vampires he thought were stronger than humans.

He was intentionally intoxicating himself on the mistaken assumption that he held great power.

He could annihilate these creatures mercilessly without being constrained by the law.

He was not drunk on the sensation of destruction, but on his own power as he brought death upon the vampires.

But now he was on the receiving end of that destruction.

An overwhelming power was toying with him in a situation he did not understand, as his life was whittled away little by little. He could hear the sound of everything he had built up to this point crumbling to dust.

Was it power? Confidence? Status? Glory? Everything, even his past and future collapsed into rubble, with the jester laughing atop it.

"Ahaha! You know, I'll tell you something really cool! This is the end, so you're going to hear something amazing. It's like your last feast before your execution! But I'm going to teach you that not all feasts are really delicious. I'm going to be a really nice and gentle teacher!"

With a nauseatingly long lead-in, the jester put her lips by Cargilla's ear.

Cargilla no longer cared to push her away, focusing on running as he jumped over the bodies of his fellow exterminators.

"---- is a ------- too."

Cargilla's eyes widened in shock.

But before he was able to shout, the jester sunk her tiny fangs into his neck.



At the same time, the doorbell that had been ringing all this time stopped, and the door slammed open.

The giant turned around slowly. Standing at the doorway was a young man in a suit. He breathed heavily, glaring at the giant.

"Bastard… If someone's ringing the doorbell, you're supposed to let them in."

"B-but y'said I couldn't let 'nyone in…" The giant blinked, complaining at his superior.

"Ever heard of adapting to your fucking surroundings, punk? Or are you one of those mindless drones the media's talking about these days? Well?!"

The young man slowly raised one leg. The giant's body deflated, changing form into that of a cowering young child.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please, please don't hit me!"

The child, whose gender was not clear, trembled before the young man with teary eyes.

"Whoops, my bad, newbie. I'm not gonna punch you or anything."

The young man smiled gently and landed an axe kick on the child's head.

"Gah!"

"But I can't promise you anything about kicking."

The young man slammed his foot into the child's stomach over and over and over again.

"The fuck is wrong with you? Why the hell do you always transform into a brat when you're apologizing? You think I'm some sort of children's advocate? Or do you think I'm one of those 'punk on the outside, nice big brother on the inside' types? Do you?!"

The young man continued his assault, a thin smile on his lips. Stopping this atrocious act was the voice of a middle-aged man coming from behind him.

"H-hey…"

The young man turned around. A large, trembling man in an army jacked was watching him.

"A-are you human? Wh-where'd that giant go? I don't know who you are, but please help me!"

'Huh? What, did they miss one?'

Thinking for a moment, the young man suddenly smiled, straightened out his clothes, stood up straight, and bowed.

"Ah, you must be here for the vampire extermination job."

Sweeping aside his barbaric behaviour, he politely introduced himself to the man.

"My name is Watt Stalf. I am the mayor of this city."

Putting on a pair of sunglasses he produced from his pocket, he bowed his head and grinned. A pair of unusually developed canines peeked out from his smile.

"I also moonlight as a vampire."



Silence.

The house, which had been wrapped up in commotion for some time, was now eerily quiet. Only time continued passing at the same pace, as though the three people there were the only beings in the entire world.

The man in the army jacket--Cargilla--observed Watt's fangs for a moment before nodding and suddenly speaking up clearly.

"Actually, me too!"

"…What."

Watt's confident grin faded. The child curled up at the doorway also looked at Cargilla in confusion.

"Hahaha! So you never noticed, Mr. Stalf? You thought I wouldn't figure out your deal? A newcomer to vampire society, working his way up the ranks even though he's half human. And not only that, during the day, you're the up-and coming young mayor of Rukram! A youthful face that couldn't possibly be over thirty, and you're a seedy liar to boot. And those under-the-table deals! You used every ounce of ability you have to gain that political power, you hardworking man--I mean, dhampyr!"

The mysterious man rambling on about Watt's personal info met his eyes, and suddenly began running at him at full speed.

"I've actually always been in loooooo--!"

"Ack?!"

Sensing a sudden chill, Watt kicked at the man's stomach with all his might.

"Gack…"

Coughing up breath and vomit at once, Cargilla rolled onto the floor, all the way to the other end of the hallway.

Watt, breathing heavily, raised his voice at thin air.

"…Clown. This is your doing, isn't it?"

A patch of fog in front of the main entrance responded, materializing into human form.

"Ahaha! You knew? You figured it out, Master Watt? But I bet I scared you, didn't I? Master Watt, I was controlling him just now! Tee hee! I bet you didn't know. Even though my teeth marks are on his neck all red and clear! You have no sense of observation, do you, Master Watt?"

The jester's voice was bright and clear. It would have been something to hear her voice singing, but considering her tone, her words were nothing short of annoying.

Watt grimaced for a moment, then sighed in defeat. He covered his face with his right hand and leaned against the entryway wall with his left.

As he slowly looked aside, the jester continued chattering.

"Tee hee hee hee! You're so slow, Master Watt! Who would ask for help from someone who's kicking a little kid? That should have tipped you off!"

"…"

The girl stepped over towards Watt, who remained silent, and suddenly put on a very serious look.

"'I also moonlight as a vampire'."

"…"

The jester mocked him, attempting to replicate his voice. Watt said nothing and merely held up a V-sign.

"W-wait, Master Watt! Not the eyes, not the eyes! This is bad for the baby Master Watt eeeeeeek!"

The jester pranced about with her hands over her eyes. Watt ignored her and turned to unleash his anger on Val. But for some reason, he came face-to-face with himself.

His doppelganger bowed to him politely.

"'I also moonlight as a vampire'."

Watt sent his mirror image, the newbie, flying aside. He put his left foot on the newbie's stomach and his right foot on his face, and dug in his heel.

Again and again.



Once he made sure that Val had stopped moving completely, Watt took out a cell phone from his pocket.

He then picked out a number from his address book and called it.

"It's me."

[Oh, Boss Man!]

He could hear a laid-back voice from over the phone.

"Well? Think you can keep 'em tied up there much longer?"

[Uh, no, sir! Totally impossible. Tonight at the very latest. What is up with 'em? Those werewolves are stronger than most vampires, and those green maids! You gotta see 'em to believe it, sir, you have no idea how hot they are! Are they seriously just familiars? Uh, to be honest, I don't really wanna die. Can we go home now? Some of the guys are starting to hit on those maids. At this rate they'll all be there by tomorrow, man--]

Watt hung up and smashed the phone against the ground.

"Fascinating people, those underlings. Don't you think, Clown? Totally different from those fucking stiffs at city council. Irony at its finest."

The jester, who had com back to her senses at some point, suddenly piped up.

"Ahaha! Master Watt, did you remember to back up your data?"

Watt had over two hundred phone numbers stored on his cell phone for his work at city council. Said phone was now in pieces on the ground.

The young man in the sunglasses howled in anguish.



"Tee hee! Master Watt, you really are small fry, aren't you? But that's why I love you so much!"

Ignoring the jester, Watt fixed his sunglasses and repeated himself.

"…Never mind. The biggest hurdle is getting through this night."



<=>



Waldstein Castle, parlour.



[Vampires, you see…]

Shizune was seated on a luxurious sofa.The letters of blood began to lay out small words on the marble coffee table.

The room was elegant, though in a different way from the elegance of luxury hotel rooms. The countless decorations in the room, though expensive, were not garish in the least.

In fact, the home theatre set, the DVD player, and the game consoles beside it lent an incongruous atmosphere to the room. Most of the electronics were Japanese in make, but Shizune was not versed enough in that field to know. And even if she was, it would have changed nothing.

Shizune remained tense, sitting at the very edge of the cushiony sofa so that she could spring to her feet at any moment.

Not at all fazed by her attitude, the viscount set out his words before her.

[The vampires you humans see in films and novels are indeed one correct depiction of our kind.]

"'One' correct depiction?"

[Indeed. An Eater of your caliber must be aware that the capability of each vampire varies greatly. Some can fly through the air with ease and wield monstrous strength, some can never go near water, while others swim through it freely. Some vampires are truly monstrous--one I know of is over five metres long and possesses eight arms. Unfortunately, most such vampires are long extinct. Exterminated by humans.]

"By humans?" Shizune blurted, surprised. The viscount continued matter-of-factly.

[I mean to say that humans like yourself have existed for eons. You must have some idea, seeing as you have been set on your path by tales of other Eaters that have come before you. In other words… only those who had the power to evade capture at human hands have managed to survive this long. Though it may be a humorous situation to behold, it is now the case that we must live in hiding from humans because of our superhuman powers. After all, for all our abilities, we are vastly outnumbered.]

"…What in the world are vampires?" Shizune asked quietly, as though urging the viscount to continue.

The vampires she had encountered in the past possessed a truly wide range of abilities. And each time she encountered one, she felt that no two vampires were similar enough that she could see them as being of one species.

And as though having seen through her curiosity, the viscount went straight to the heart of the matter.

[Ah, simply put, vampires also possess life. Our roots lie at the same place as those of you humans.]

The viscount sent another pool of blood to the empty space next to the letters he was writing. On the tabletop he began drawing a diagram that looked very much like a family tree. At first he drew one greater line, from which sprouted many more, from which sprouted yet more lines.

[The coacervates, the first life forms born to a younger Earth, gave rise to countless varieties of organisms. Mutations and coincidences contributing greatly, of course.]

Shizune looked back and forth from the words to the diagram and urged the viscount on in silence.

[What humans generally consider to be living creatures are those organisms that live on this two-dimensional plain--the same dimension as themselves. However]

The viscount's words stopped there, as the diagram went through a rapid shift.

From the middle of one of the branches of blood sprouted yet another branch--but it was growing into the air.

[This was the result of a certain mutation. Think of it as a two-dimensional being reaching out to the third dimension. In other words, that line made contact with a warped dimension.]

"A warped dimension…?"

[It is quite difficult to explain… After all, we have no way of knowing if it truly is a dimension higher than this. But let us deal with this in a vampiric manner and call this dimension a 'Demonic Realm'. To return to my explanation, a life form that happened to be particularly attuned to this dimension began to evolve in that direction. Of course, these creatures were different from us vampires.]

Multiple streams of blood began rising up into the air from some of the many branches drawn on the marble tabletop. They began to spread randomly, without direction.

[To give you an example, though I've never seen one myself, legendary creatures such as dragons or pegasus may possibly exist. Or perhaps they are so deeply connected to this other dimension that they are not visible to our eyes. Have you ever heard of something called 'flying rods'? They are creatures that are only captured on cameras. They are largely thought to be simple houseflies, but we cannot say for certain that they do not exist. I speak of creatures that exist, but choose not to co-exist with the likes of us.]

After a period of silence, the words he had written on the table collapsed at once as he crafted new sentences onto it.

[But we vampires, you see, are neither here nor there. We inhabit this world and live by the same rules. And yet depending on the era and the location, we bend and break these rules all too easily. Yet for some reason, the rate at which we mutate is incredibly quick. There are cases of mutations happening over a single generation due to the wills of individuals or the effects of religion, for example. This is why some vampires are weakened by crucifixes. But if I were to name one common factor that links all vampires together, I would have to say… Yes. We vampires can freely exercise control over our souls.]

"Souls…?"

Shizune quietly gasped. Now that she thought about it, that very word was the reason why their battle had been halted and she had agreed to the viscount's invitation to tea.

[Some say that no souls reside within vampires, and in one sense, that is absolutely true. There is no confirmed theory; this is my personal hypothesis and nothing more. A vampire is a creature whose soul is entirely separate from his body, but is able to control this empty shell. In other words, a vampire is a creature who can do what he pleases with his own soul.]

The viscount's explanation did not quite make sense to Shizune. She narrowed her eyes.

And as if having noticed this, the viscount added another sentence.

[To simplify the matter greatly, I suppose one could say that a vampire's soul uses telekinesis to animate his own corpse.]

"Telekinesis? Seriously? I've seen vampires that could use some sort of invisible force, but…"

[Yes, it is no exaggeration to say that that particular ability is a very basic form of this power. To control one's body freely--no, this is the ability to control the matter that composes one's body, on a molecular or even atomic level. …Naturally, this control is not perfect. After all, we would otherwise be able to fix our weaknesses, and I would have returned to human form long ago.]

Something about what the viscount said bothered Shizune, but she decided to remain quiet for now and listen to what he had to say.

[For example, take the ability of some vampires to turn into bats or fog. The former is an act of dividing oneself into many living creatures, but there is always only one consciousness behind them all. As for the latter, how does one control oneself when he has neither eyes nor brains?]

"Including you."

Shizune meant to make light of the viscount, but the letters of blood did not seem taken aback in the slightest.

[Precisely! I'm certain that you can now understand the mechanics behind the workings of my movement. How could a mass of liquid, lacking muscle of any sort, move this freely? Telekinesis, a power that ignores the laws of physics. My soul is always looking down upon this dimension from another, controlling my body in its myriad shapes. It is the same for vampires who fly through the air. More powerful individuals may be able to turn even the clothes on their back or their jewelry into bats or fog when they transform, but alas! My telekinetic powers only extend to my body, little more. I can do nothing greater than flipping the pages of a book, switching out DVDs, or pressing buttons on a remote control. If you would give me a little time, I could even perhaps brew some tea. What do you say?]

"No thanks."

The viscount's words collapsed, as though disappointed by Shizune's taciturn response.

But the viscount soon formed yet more words, as though consoling himself. His new utterance caught Shizune's eye.

[Perhaps vampires turn to ash upon death because their bodies were originally formed of mutated substances of similar composition. When an Eater like yourself devours the flesh and blood of a living vampire, perhaps it would be accurate to say that you are gaining the soul energy that had been filling the body. After all, a vampire's blood is the catalyst that circulates the soul's energy through his body. The heart is a weakness for many vampires, but an old friend of mine once theorized--if you were to consider the soul a remote control of sorts, the heart might be a receiver for the signals sent from the soul. In other words, vampires whose hearts are not a weakness are able to use different parts of their bodies as the receiver for the signals.]

"Does that go for you too?" Shizune asked.

The pool of blood did not move.

"You said something about returning to human form earlier, right? What does that mean?"

[It is simple.]

After a moment's hesitation, the viscount decided to disclose his past to the woman who had come to hunt him.

[I once had a human form. No, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was once human.]



<=>



A long time ago, Father was once human.

He was bitten by another vampire, whose soul flowed into him through the bite. Father told me that that's how he was turned into a vampire.

He lived that way for a while afterwards, and one day started doing research about the bodies of us vampires. He only had one thing in mind: getting rid of our weaknesses.

Father did everything he could to achieve his goal, and in the end he chose to throw away his own body. He discovered a bacteria that had gone through a strange mutation, just like us, and incorporated it into his own blood. That's how he took on that shape.

He said that that bacteria was like the opposite of vampires. It makes energy when the sunlight hits it. It's something like photosynthesis, but it's incredibly more efficient. And now all Father ever needs to live is sunlight.

Thanks to that symbiotic relationship, Father doesn't need to drink blood anymore. There's just one problem, though.

Unlike me and other vampires, Father only has strength under the sun.

Father can't live without daylight.



"My gosh, that's the first time I heard the viscount was human before…"

The sun was setting on Growerth. Relic was on the outskirts of the city, on his way to Hilda's house on the back of a farmer's cart.

Relic was telling Hilda about his father while remaining inside the coffin. Ferret was no longer with him--she had been complaining that she could not board a filthy farming cart, so Relic asked her to go to the castle first so she could announce their arrival.

Mihail had followed her as though it was only natural, so it was only Relic and Hilda on the back of the creaky cart.

"I'm sorry for all the trouble." Relic said from inside the coffin.

"Not at all, young sir! Viscount Waldstein's always been so good to us." The old man at the front answered.

Although Growerth was industrialized enough that cars were the main mode of transport, the island also had horse-drawn carriages for tourism purposes. The old man seemed to be using a retired horse to carry his produce to the market in town.

Most people who had lived on this island for a long time knew about the existence of vampires. To be more precise, they were coexisting.

It was not as though humans and vampires had reconciled their differences. It would be difficult for vampires, who had long been thought of as an enemy to humankind, to be accepted so easily into human society.

But things were different on this island.

Growerth, removed from mainland Europe and its long history, had been inhabited by vampires from the very beginning. This was its natural state.

The vampires on this island were always masters over the humans, in one sense.

As industry progressed and Growerth began to maintain frequent contact with the mainland, the vampires left the political stage of the island. But the people of the island accepted vampires like Gerhardt and Relic without so much as a hint of resistance.

However, this did not mean that vampires were given respect or official rights.

Most young people these days assumed that the island had a long and unusual tradition of vampire worship. Very few knew that the lord of Waldstein Castle still lived, in liquid form.

However, to the harbour officials (who were in charge of keeping track of vampires entering and leaving the island) and the older residents of Growerth, Gerhardt remained their viscount and a respected lord.

"It's wonderful to have such close friends." The old man said. Relic looked away in embarrassment, despite the fact that he was still inside his coffin.

"I mean, Hilda and Mihail are the only friends I have around my age."

By the time they arrived at Hilda's house, the sun had set completely. Relic emerged from his coffin. Hoisting it up easily with one arm, Relic thanked the old man and walked with Hilda to her house.

"Relic, is it all right for you to leave the rest of your things back at the harbour?" Hilda asked tentatively. Relic put on a very human smile.

"Yeah. The maids and Granny Job are coming back tomorrow, so we can carry it all back together."

"You mean that old werewolf lady is coming too?" Hilda asked excitedly. Relic nodded.

"That's amazing! I've only seen her about three times, so I've always wanted to talk to her! Relic, you have to introduce us tomorrow!"

'Most humans wouldn't have seen her even once.'

The children in the city had no idea about the secret of Waldstein Castle. Even when their grandparents warned them about the vampire living inside, the young people only ever thought of the castle as a tourist attraction they were not to fool around in. They had nothing against vampires because they did not even believe in their existence.

Hilda and Mihail, however, were special.

Of the ignorant children, they alone were exposed to the truth, stepping deeper into the secret of the island than their peers. Having grown up with Relic and Ferret since childhood, they did not see the castle familiars or the bloody viscount as symbols of fear.

"Our parents are way too harsh on you. I can't believe they won't let me even introduce you to anyone. It's not like anyone would believe you're a vampire that easily."

"Ahaha! Maybe I should transform into bats in front of everyone." Relic joked. Hilda smiled and shook her head.

"You can't do that! Everyone's going to bully you."

Relic was thankful to Hilda for this normal conversation.

Sometimes, when he looked at Hilda, he found himself fighting an irresistible desire.

'I want to make her mine. I want to control her and drink her blood and turn her into a vampire like me.'

Perhaps this desire of his was still weaker than it should be because he was not yet mature.

But he feared that one day, he would lose control of this urge and do something he might regret.

It was not long before leaving on his trip that he confessed all of this to Hilda. It was, for all intents and purposes, a confession of love to his childhood friend. But he also knew deep down that this could potentially mark the end of their relationship.

When Hilda had finished listening to everything, her eyes were wide.

"What's this all of a sudden, Relic? Mihail and I've known all this for a long time. We've been friends with you vampires for years now, haven't we? The viscount told us the same thing before, but I gave him my answer. I'd make my decision when it came to it. I told him that if you liked me, then I would be ready. Well… Actually, I'm really happy that my feelings weren't just a one-sided crush!"

Relic was astonished by her answer. "You're saying that because you're still young," he told her, "People make mistakes when they're not mature. You're going to change your mind once we've grown up", he said.

Although he had come to her to confess his feelings for her, Relic ironically found himself trying to turn her away. But Hilda smiled and responded.

"Then how about this? If I don't change my mind by the time we're adults, then we can get married. You can decide if you want to suck my blood then!"

Perhaps that was the exact moment that Relic truly fell in love with Hilda.

This was why he could never bring himself to impose control over her.

Relic had left on his journey partly in order to distance himself from Hilda, so he could get his thoughts in order.

And as for the rest, Ferret had hit the mark.

Even when he spent time with other girls, when it came to drinking their blood, Relic could only think of Hilda's smile.

What he feared was not the act of drinking her blood. It was the idea that he could accidentally impose control over her, or drag her into the world of vampires.



"What's wrong, Relic? I'm sure Mom and Dad will be happy to see you again!"

Hilda smiled innocently as Relic looked back on his past.

"Yeah. Definitely." Relic replied, but he knew deep down that such a thing could never be.

Hilda's parents had come from outside Growerth. Relic could tell easily that they were not too fond of him or Ferret. The couple had been hired by the vampire viscount as tutors to the twins, and this allowed Relic and Ferret to meet and befriend Hilda and Mihail.

However, Hilda's parents were deathly afraid of vampires. They were not devoutly religious, but their distaste went beyond animosity, turning to terror. For the past ten years they paid their respects to the viscount like the other islanders, but it was clear that their respect was borne of fear, not admiration.

Relic was already certain that Hilda's parents would greet him with nervous fake smiles and eyes full of fear. The one thing he counted a blessing, however, was the fact that they had never left the island. Perhaps they feared that the vampires would retaliate, or perhaps one of the familiars, like Granny Job, had threatened them.

Feeling his heart growing heavy, Relic and Hilda arrived at her family's home in the forest.

"Huh?"

They could instantly tell that there was something wrong.

Every last shutter was closed. The front door was smashed into the entryway.

"What… is this…?" Hilda whispered, grasping Relic's arm tightly.

'A burglar?!' Relic thought, loosing his senses into the area. He was trying to sense the presence of living creatures, but he could not hear any human breathing or heartbeats.

"…Let's check inside."

Relic raised his arm. multiple bats emerged from his fingertips and flew into the house.

The images reflected in the eyes of the bats began flashing by in a corner of Relic's mind.

At the same time, Hilda's trembling carried up his arm and all the way to the rest of his body. To her, burglars armed with guns and knives were more terrifying than vampires.

"…Everything but the door seems to be fine."

The interior of the house was not particularly messy, nor could he sense any human presence inside.

But the moment they cautiously began to step forward--

"I've been waiting for you."

The voice had come from inside the house.

It was a practised tone, the kind that would not have been out of place in the service industry. The voice, entirely out of place in the darkened house, had come from the shadow standing at the end of the hallway leading through the front door.

'But I didn't see anyone there!' Relic thought, and realized something.

The Asian man standing before him had neither breath nor an audible heartbeat.

"…A vampire…"

"Ah, just as one might expect from the honoured Relic von Waldstein. I'm glad to note that you are quite observant."

The Asian man smiled mechanically, approaching Relic and Hilda unarmed.

"D-do I know you?"

Despite Relic's hopes, the Asian man was indeed a complete stranger to him. After all, the man was obviously of East Asian descent, but his perfectly fluent German did not bear a hint of Growerth's characteristic accent.

"Who are you? What happened to the family living here?" Relic asked, shielding Hilda as he cautiously stepped forward.

"Who am I, you ask? I'm terribly sorry. I've run out of business cards since giving up my humanity. …Ah, yes. Although I didn't intend for it to be this way, my current superior calls me 'Magic Man'."

The Magic Man put on a self-deprecating smile and answered Relic's second question.

"And as for the couple residing in this house, one of our friends bit them both while the young lady beside you was away."

"…!"

Relic bared his still-small fangs slightly at the Magic Man's mechanical response. Hilda nervously looked back and forth from his face to the Magic Man, still not entirely in the loop.

"Hah! I'm sorry, but it's bedtime for the young lady."

The Asian man took out a scarf from his pocket and placed it atop his own head.

"One, two…"

After the sudden countdown, the man's form vanished into thin air.

"Three."

The voice had come from behind Relic.

Before his eyes floated the Magic Man's scarf, and by the time Relic hurriedly turned around, the man's arm was striking down at Hilda's neck.



<=>



A boy and a girl walked through the forested path leading to the castle.

It was a walking path on the opposite side of the paved road leading to the parking lot, leading to the back of the castle.

The land was almost uncultivated in comparison to the front. The streetlights illuminating the way seemed almost like halfhearted attempts to make the path usable. Humans sometimes traversed this path on walks during the day, but almost no one passed this way after sunset.

"You mustn't pass by this way, because at night this is the path of the vampire viscount…" The elders of the island said, but considering the general lack of belief these days, it was clear that most young people merely considered the elders' warning to be something borne out of concern for their safety rather than the presence of a vampire.

The boy and the girl were traversing this very path. Setting the boy aside, the girl was, strangely enough, wearing a black dress of unusual design.

The girl looked clearly disgruntled. But the boy, who looked to be slightly older than her, was positively beaming.

"I love you!" He said, the moment they were out of anyone's earshot. Ferret almost tripped.

"Ferret! Are you okay?"

"I am beginning to wonder if your head is all right!" Ferret shot at Mihail, who looked at her worriedly. But Mihail smiled gently and blushed as though nothing was wrong.

"Aw, thanks for worrying about me, Ferret."

"That is not what I meant!"

Ferret shook her head, astonished. She walked on without sparing a glance at Mihail.

"Unbelievable… Have you no shame?"

"I thought that was completely natural, though… anyway, what's your answer?"

"I refuse to respond to cheap confessions of love that I receive at every occasion!" Ferret spat angrily, but she did not try to end the conversation.

If she wanted to, she could climb up the mountain so quickly that Mihail could never catch up. But whether she was aware of it or not, she matched her pace to his as they traversed the path together.

"Even cheap confessions are worth a lot if you pile them all up."

"That is most unfortunate, then, as I throw them out each time I receive one." Ferret said coldly, being unnecessarily stubborn.

"Ahaha! Don't worry, Ferret. I'm not going to give up that easily."



Ferret was lonely.

Living with the fact that she was a vampire, she grew to feel an ever-growing sense of loneliness.

Her brother, while possessed of countless weaknesses, was the quintessential vampire. In comparison, she had neither weaknesses nor the special powers her brother could wield.

Although they were both adopted, their great resemblance to each other made it certain that the two of them were twins. This was why Ferret did not have confidence in herself, so different from her older brother.

Though she was a vampire, she was very much unlike one.

'Why in the world was I born?'

Ferret's line of thinking went in a much more negative direction than that of Relic.

Because she was unaffected by sunlight, she could choose to attend a normal school if she wished. But she personally refused to do so. More than the fear of being rejected by her peers was her fear of being separated from her brother. She was scared that, should she choose to walk a separate path from Relic, she would eventually become someone different from him altogether.

Why were they born? As they grew to realize that they were not normal vampires, Ferret began to find herself sinking into uncertainty.

But one day, her adoptive father spoke to her.

[If you are feeling uncertain about yourself, my daughter, then you must have conviction in something. It can be anything you choose--the conviction to protect a loved one, or even the conviction to rule the world, if you wish. And as long as you remain true to your convictions, your self-perceived reason for existence will follow naturally.]

'Then… I'll choose to protect my brother. Because we're on the same boat.

'I don't mind things this way. I'll live on for eternity alongside him. We are each other's only blood relations. Because he has everything I don't, I'll be his shadow. Because that will mean I was born to help my brother for all of time. That's why I'll do anything to protect him--even if it means annihilating all humans and vampires from the world.'

It was just around the time when Ferret was quietly cementing her convictions and closing her heart that a certain young man walked into her life.



Initially, the boy named Mihail was nothing more than a childhood friend. Ferret had never gone out of her way to talk to him, and considered him nothing more than the son of her tutors. However--

"I love you." He had said to her out of the blue. Ferret did not instantly understand what he meant. It was only after taking a few moments to process this information that she responded:

"I'm not interested."

It was nothing short of a flat-out rejection. Ferret honestly had no interest in Mihail. In fact, she was more concerned about the girl named Hilda, in whom Relic was greatly interested.

But fortunately (or unfortunately) for Ferret, Mihail was not the type to back off so easily.

"I'm going to love you more than you care about Relic!"

"…!"

Honestly shocked by Mihail's declaration, Ferret finally looked him in the eye. She had always thought that she had been able to conceal her thoughts. She thought that the change in her attitude towards her brother did not show in her behaviour. But the young man before her seemed to know her so well that he had noticed these subtle changes.

But she coldly thought to herself:

'I see. He must not know that I'm a vampire. Otherwise he'd never say anything like that to me.'

With this line of reasoning, Ferret allowed her true identity to show in broad daylight, despite her father's strict warnings. She glared at Mihail and showed off her fangs.

She demonstrated her superhuman strength by throwing him with one arm.

However--

Very fortunately (or very unfortunately) for Ferret, Mihail was the type of person who responded to all challenges with great enthusiasm.

"I don't care if you're a vampire. In fact, I love you as you are, as a vampire!"

As Ferret listened to the confession of the boy whose head was bleeding, she found herself truly cornered.

She was terrified. It was not that she disliked Mihail. In fact, her disinterest had given way to a tiny hint of curiosity. But she was scared of accepting someone else into her world--forging a connection to a part of the world outside.

It felt as though, the moment she made this connection real and became part of the world, her existence itself would be denied.

The mentally cornered thirteen-year old girl desperately wracked her brains for a reason to reject the young man before her, and arrived at a certain conclusion.

"D-do you honestly believe that an aristocrat like myself could possibly deign to be with a commoner like yourself?!"



This was when she began to obsess over aristocracy and the Waldstein name.

"Why do you always have to talk so politely like that?" Her brother Relic would complain for the following three years.

Standing before Ferret now was a young man who looked as if he didn't have a care for the class difference that was supposedly between them.

"I asked the viscount when you left. I mean, I asked him if I could start dating you."

"What?!"

Ferret stopped in her tracks and shot Mihail a glare.

"A-and how did Father respond…?"

"He said he couldn't give his daughter to someone who tries to suck up to her family first. He just leapt up on me! I thought I was going to drown."

Mihail's response somehow put Ferret at ease, but also left her confused. Shrugging that off, however, Ferret quietly spoke.

"I see… That is most unfortunate."

"But I'm not gonna give up. Oh, right! I'm gonna be an actor. I'm gonna be an awesome actor like Sean Connery and get knighted by the Queen. What do you think? I'll be a human knight protecting the vampire princess. Doesn't it sound like something out of a fairytale? And then they fall in love."

Ferret had many things to say about Mihail's dreams, but she decided to point out one thing in particular.

"…Peerage no longer exists in Germany."

In some ways, this was a denial of her own family. But Ferret continued undeterred.

"Father is now the only aristocrat left in this country…"

Ferret knew full well that, no matter what she said about her family, the noble title was something her father worked for personally. She could not boast about the title, when she was not even his blood relation. All Ferret had to her name was her vampiric blood--something she had personally designated to be superior to humans out of pride.

As she began to withdraw into her shell, Ferret caught a glimpse of someone descending the mountain slope. She looked up, wondering who it could be.



"Ferret! Are you all right?!"

It was her brother Relic, his clothes ragged for some reason.

"Honoured Brother?!"

"Relic! Hey, are you okay? Where's Hilda?"

Ferret and Mihail hurried over to him. Relic punched at the ground angrily.

"Damn it! Some Japanese vampire ambushed us at Hilda's place… And he kidnapped her!"

"What…?!"

Mihail anxiously grabbed Relic by the collar.

"Hold it! I thought you were with her!"

"I'm sorry… He was just too strong. I couldn't possibly--"

But before he could finish his sentence, Ferret's fist drove itself into Relic's face.

Ferret's show of unrestrained power sent Relic flying through the air, crashing into a tree on the mountainside with unthinkable force. This was strength dozens of times more powerful than the likes of which she used against Mihail.

Relic slid down the tree trunk without so much as a squeak.

"I also have a question for you." Ferret said coldly, wearing a mask of ice and cloaking herself in bloodlust.



"Who are you?"



Silence.

The mountain path was lit by nothing but the street lamps. As they stood in darkness so deep that they would be swallowed if they took a single step off the path, a strange silence came over them.

"Ugh… That was pretty brutal…" The person taking Relic's form mumbled, groaning from pain. By the time he had stood up, he no longer looked like the young vampire.

He was dressed like a tourist, but Ferret and Mihail had no way of knowing that this was Val, taking the form of the newbie vampire exterminator.

"I mean, even if you figured out I wasn't your brother, how could you hit someone with his face that hard? Or was it something like 'my brother would never leave a girl in distress'? Something corny like that? Is that how you caught me?"

Although his form had changed, it seemed he was still reeling from pain. Val looked at Ferret with his eyes not yet focused.

"Not at all. I am afraid your failure was evident long before that."

"And?"

As the transforming vampire stood before her eyes, Ferret uttered something she knew as unmistakeable fact:

"My Honoured Brother is much too powerful to possibly lose to anyone!"



<=>



Hilda's house.



It was approximately a month ago that his plans began to go awry.

Before that, things had been sailing very smoothly.

About ten years ago, he was merely a salesman who dabbled in stage magic. But that was when he was bitten by a vampire and turned, starting a new life.

He was not like the street performers who used all kinds of tricks and devices to perform magic. He had been promoted to a Magic Man, in every sense of the word.

The vampire who had turned him perished in a forest fire about five years ago. But having already drank the blood of many humans, he could not return to the world of humanity. He was left abandoned in the world, a vampire without a master.

It was exhilarating, the sense of freedom. He was so overjoyed by his liberation that he drank the blood of ten humans that night.

Avoiding settling down in one place for too long, he traveled all across Japan. And before he knew it, he was mingling with other vampires.

Their little organization slowly grew larger and larger. And as soon as he found himself a possible position in a large organization in Europe, he cut off all the ties he had created thus far and entered that organization. Having been acknowledged for his skills as a negotiator, he worked as a subordinate of Watt Stalf and cemented his position in the Organization.

His superior was powerless and incompetent. Watt was nothing more than a stepping stone for him. Not only did Watt refuse to acknowledge his subordinates, on a more personal level, he would never stop calling him 'Magic Man'. It drove him mad to hear this all the time.

But his plans had only truly started to go wrong approximately one month ago.

They caught and trapped a vampire who was supposedly a viscount of some sort. They froze him with liquid nitrogen and sealed him in his coffin. After making light of his incompetent superior, he had been planning to follow orders from above and capture the two vampires in Yokohama. But by the time they arrived, they had both already left.

They had gone to the trouble of sealing away the troublesome viscount and seeking out the duo hiding overseas, but it had all amounted to nothing.

That was when they were contacted by Watt, who also worked at the city council. A British couple had received a letter from Relic, and came to Watt and disclosed its contents. They asked him how they could protect their children from the vampires.

On the letter, Relic wrote that he and Ferret would arrive a day ahead of their familiars to meet Hilda and Mihail.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Magic Man thought. If he could use this situation to his advantage, he could attain more influence than Watt.

But only a week afterwards, the vampire that commanded both him and Watt died.

He was told that he had been murdered.

'Impossible.'

At first he could not believe the report.

The murdered superior was not only powerful, he was also not the kind of fool who would allow humans to discover his resting place.

Not only that, he had been murdered during the night.

Could such a human being exist? Someone who could face off against such a powerful vampire at midnight?

The death of their superior brought their plans screeching to a halt.

It was not long before Watt gleefully took matters into his own hands.



Several days ago, Watt ordered them to continue with the plan, claiming that he intended to honour their superior's will.

"Mr. Stalf, I cannot agree with this. I don't mean that I do not want to carry out the plan, but since our superior has passed, I feel that we should wait for orders from the other higher-ups before acting!" He had said said, his tone rather more sharp than it usually was. Watt's reply came with a look of annoyance.

"Yeah? Who gives a shit? The head honchos up there don't give a rat's ass about us. Besides, Mel's the only one who wanted to go through with this anyway. The Organization's not some corporation. It's a social club. If you really want someone to boss you around, I'll take the job."

"…Even if it means your actions will cut us off from them?"

"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. They're all just a bunch of shitheads anyway."

'This man isn't going to listen to reason.'

Nothing good would come of being involved with Watt Stalf any further, the Magic Man thought, and decided to eliminate him.

He was certain that it would be a simple task to kill a single powerless dhampyr. Not only that, their superior had originally assigned him this role to keep an eye out on Watt's actions. If the Magic Man wanted to make a good impression on the other superiors of the Organization, he would have to follow through with his role. And the time was ripe.

The moment he made his decision, he stepped behind Watt's back in the blink of an eye.



And Watt's heel smashed into his face.



"?!"

Watt was sneering, having moved at speeds the Magic Man could never have imagined possible.

'Impossible…'

Until just a month ago, Watt's power did not even qualify him to be called a vampire. He was only above the Magic Man in status because of his position in the official world as a mayor. How could he have come this far so quickly?

'No. This is impossible. This is impossible…'

Uttering the kind of words that a magician like him should have heard from his audience, the Magic Man collapsed. When he opened his eyes, he had become Watt's loyal underling.

He had changed his colours as though in an act of magic, while quietly waiting for the day he could reach upwards once more.



But today his plans had gone awry yet again.

He intended to knock out Relic's childhood friend to take her hostage and negotiate with him. However--

"Are you okay, Hilda?"

"…Yeah, I'm fine."

The Magic Man had struck, but Relic and Hilda were conversing as though nothing had happened.

A flock of bats had sprouted from Relic's shoulder, catching the Magic Man's arm as it fell with the speed of a katana. The bats squeezed against one another as though creating a symmetrical image, wrapping themselves around the Magic Man's arm with the kind of strength normal bats would never be capable of.

"…You could have hurt Hilda." Relic said coldly.

"…Urgh!"

The Magic Man flinched and found himself trying to step backwards, overwhelmed by Relic's decidedly un-childlike glare.

'Wait. Wait. This isn't what was supposed to happen.'

The Magic Man thought he knew what he was getting himself into when he came to challenge Relic von Waldstein, having full knowledge of what kind of creature he was. But the Magic Man underestimated Relic, thinking that the boy was still bound by his immaturity. Though he had heard about Relic's various abilities, he was also told that Relic was not very proficient at them yet. The Magic Man had initially agreed with this assessment.

But the reflexes and the power Relic was showing before his eyes made it clear to the Magic Man that Relic was stronger than him.

Gritting his teeth, he glared at the boy. But he soon broke out into a grin.

"…Astounding. Flawed though as you are, a perfected product is really on a different level altogether."

"…?"

Having no idea what the Magic Man was talking about, Relic found himself looking into the man's eyes.

The Magic Man did not let this chance escape him. He began to unsettle Relic, laying the foundation for his trickery.

"Oh? It looks like you had no idea. You don't know how you came to be, or how you twins came to have such unusual characteristics?"

It was an all-or-nothing attack.

A clear look of doubt came over Relic's face as his attention went from Hilda to the Magic Man. The Magic Man continued to cast his spell, drawing Relic's attention ever closer into his domain.

"So in the end, Viscount Waldstein never told a thing to his children. How stubborn of him! After all, you would have found out sooner or later. Or maybe he was trying to use the two of you for his own ends as well!"

"What… are you trying to say? …Right. Who are you?"

"Ah, excuse me. To put it simply, I was sent here to bring you with us."

The Magic Man was putting on layer after layer of dramatic politeness, but this was all a part of his plan.

Confirming that Relic's attention was now solely focused on him, the Magic Man began to explain the truth about the existence of the boy.

"Relic… before you were adopted into the Waldstein family, you had no last name. After all, you were born for the sole purpose of becoming a living relic, in the exact sense of the word."



<=>



Waldstein Castle, Parlour



[And that was when I threw myself into the lava, using my vapourous form to blind my enemy!]

"Interesting."

How much time had passed? Shizune was not displeased about listening to the viscount's past exploits, but the vampire had begun to weave the tales of his metamorphosis, the agonies of his early days in his liquid form, the incident in which he faced down bandits as a pool of blood, the commotion that took place when a Christian chapel was built under the castle, and other stories from his life, into an epic adventure.

It was already dark outside, and the parlour was lit by a fluorescent chandelier, quite different from the one in the bedroom. About half of the castle had been cordoned off from visitors, and the interior of the rooms in this section were little different from those one might find at large mansions.

The marble table was covered in words and illustrations. It almost looked like a television that only displayed red. Viscount Waldstein seemed to be quite accustomed to this sort of presentation. He paused writing at climactic moments, and employed other such tactics to draw in his single audience member into his tales.

[Gitarin, who hails from the same Organization as yours truly, praised my actions-]

Shizune had been listening attentively until this point, but she suddenly spoke up, having remembered something.

"You keep mentioning this 'Organization'. What is it?"

[Ah, have I neglected to explain? Simply put, it is a gathering of vampires used mainly for exchange of information.]

Shizune turned her attention from the viscount's story on the marble canvas to the viscount himself.

"…Tell me more."

The viscount only seemed to have remembered who Shizune was after looking her in the eye. Hurriedly shaking his liquid form, he formed yet more words on the table.

[Wait a moment, I ask you. I understand why an Eater such as yourself might search out a gathering of vampires. But I have no intention of selling out my former associates, nor do I have any idea of what has happened to them in the hundreds of years since I departed their company.]

"…Seriously? Look. I listened to what you had to say, and I like you. I know I'll kill you eventually, since you're a vampire and all, but I'll probably save you for last and I don't mind being friendly with you until then. And if I die of old age before that, then you get to live. So I think you'd be better off telling me where I can find more of these vampires."

Shizune's declaration was decidedly different from the well-known vows of 'I am the only one who can defeat you'. Her simple statement of 'I like you, but I'll kill you eventually' reached the viscount's senses, icy smile and all.

There was no colour to her emotion, save for the obvious signs of curiosity. Although the viscount felt a sense of danger in that expression, he did not allow this to hinder his attempts at a conversation.

And as though asking for payment in return for disclosing his past, he cautiously threw out a more personal question to the Eater.

[…What lies at the base of your obsession with vampires, may I ask?]

It was a question directed at her very core. Shizune paused, then looked at the pool of blood by the table with determination, and confessed the truth.

"It used to be revenge. It still is. But now, my revenge… it's almost like… there's no joy in life."

With this, Shizune revealed her story. She had no intention of disclosing any of this to the other exterminators, let alone any other humans--to do such a thing would be meaningless.

It could only have meaning when she told it to the vampire before her--her enemy.

The story of how a vampire had appeared at her peaceful village without warning.

How her family had been murdered.

How she had sworn to get revenge on all vampires.

How she had killed a vampire for the first time.

How things began to change in her heart--

Little by little she began to unveil her past.



[A most wretched circumstance indeed… Though we vampires cannot survive without blood, one who cannot bind fetters upon himself can do little more than drive those around him to ruin. I have neither the right to apologize on that vampire's behalf, nor the right to pass judgement on that creature, but allow me to at least wish your family a peaceful rest.]

Having heard Shizune's story to the end, the viscount slowly wrote out these words on the table. Shizune waited for him to continue, but he did not show any sign of doing so.

"…You're not going to say anything about me? You're not going to say something like how revenge won't satisfy my family? I was sure you'd be the type to lecture me like that."

[Hm? Vengeance is something one undertakes in order to arrive at inner peace. It is not done particularly for the sake of the dead.]

Shizune narrowed her eyes, surprised at the viscount's answer, and smiled bitterly.

"…I see."

[Of course, that does not mean I can agree with your course of action entirely. …Allow me to ask. If your brother's murderer had been, not a vampire, but a human, would you have set out to annihilate all of humanity?]

"Humans don't drink blood."

[By that logic, there are many vampires who do not kill humans.]

Although she almost felt like like she was being coaxed into answering, Shizune did not falter.

"I guess I still would. Yeah. I would. I'd kill them all--annihilate humanity with my own two hands."

She was half driven by stubborn pride at this point. Shizune looked away as she answered.

The viscount took this to mean what she was lying, and that he had been able to move her heart, if ever so slightly.

[Do you think that the act of ceasing to think is the same as seeing one's convictions through to the end? To come to a resolution and accomplish one's conviction is also a path of its own, to be certain. But I fear I cannot condone the act of regarding stopping one's thought processes and living by one's convictions as one and the same.]

Silence. Shizune wondered for a moment where she should lay her eyes, then took a deep breath and changed the subject.

"What is the Organization's purpose? World domination?"

[It is no secret society, by any means. Nothing so pompous. As I said earlier, its members merely exchange information at most. It was founded by about twenty vampires, including myself. Another vampire and I researched the evolution of vampires. I have told you about the circumstances regarding my body, but there was one other who was approaching the same idea, but from a different direction.]

As the atmosphere calmed once more, the letters of blood formed words in a rather old-fashioned font as though reminiscing about the past.

[To put simply, it was a plan to create thoroughbreds. A rather mythical idea--to have powerful vampires breed and thicken their vampiric blood. Ah, I suppose Count Dracula might be a suitable example to use. Many films present him as the ancestor or origin of all vampires, but the extent of his powers wax and wane with the ages. Much like gods and devils. But you see, such a powerful and omnipotent being has never existed in the history of vampires. The characteristics of many vampires coalesced in the minds of the collective and gave birth to this character. Of course, I cannot deny the possibility that I have, in my ignorance, overlooked such a vampire who truly existed. But in any event, this friend of mine from the Organization had set out to create such a powerful vampire.]

One stream of blood rose up and began twisting, as though drawing a shape in midair.

"Breeding vampires? …Is that even possible?"

[A rather difficult thing, I must say. It turned out that vampires with few weaknesses have less in the way of abilities, as well as reproductive capability. Even more so for those with many abilities and few weaknesses. After all, if they cannot die, they have no need to leave behind progeny. But they wished to create such powerful beings. To put simply, the easier a creature is to kill, the more offspring they will wish to leave behind. The process of evolution was necessary for a vampire to reach this ultimate state. It would be nothing unusual for such a process to take place because of the imposition of one's will, especially considering our vampiric nature. Or rather, this is more or less what ended up occurring.]

The letters of blood collapsed, then reformed themselves.

[Let me begin with the conclusion. As the result of their efforts, they produced a vampire that might only appear in myths--one with power enough to be known as a god or a devil. But in exchange, this vampire was also left with almost every weakness known to us. Sunlight, like most vampires, garlic, salt, holy water, silver, an intense repulsion to holy artifacts, et cetera. The weaknesses of each vampire had been all compiled into this one individual!]

It was easy to tell that the viscount's words contained a great deal of emotion. Was Shizune imagining it? There seemed to be something slightly disheveled about the layout of the words.

[Many years ago--decades, perhaps--I happened to provide a place of hiding for a pair of vampires who had escaped to this island. They were guinea pigs of the Organization, and already extremely close to their intended perfect product. I listened to their story and accepted them as my guests. However, these two vampires lost their lives to a human hunter. I cannot tell you how much I loathed myself for being unable to even watch over their final moments. And as penance, I took in their offspring as my own. To give their children happiness and freedom, as my friends would have wished. And if possible, for them to take my position over this island one day. With the most impeccable etiquette and courtesy, of course.]

"…What's this about etiquette and-"

[Ah, I believe it is imperative that one possess at least a modicum of courtesy, especially as a vampire, in order to one day interact with the people of the mainland. Proper manners will always triumph over small misunderstandings! If, one day, vampire and human could partake in the drinking of blood hand-in-hand with courtesy, I should like to be present to witness such an ideal sight.]

The letters of blood passionately described images of a likely impossible dream. But Shizune, ever the picture of calm, tossed out a question.

"What happened to the vampire who conducted these experiments?"

[What happened to Melhilm, you ask? Ah, he seems to be targeting my children, but I can rest easy knowing that my familiars are watching over them. …Hm?]

The viscount trailed off suddenly, as though having just remembered something.

[Now that I think on it… why in the world was I sealed within my own coffin? It was so sudden that I cannot recall… Although I do believe I heard Watt's voice at the very end.]

The viscount recounted his memories, bringing them to light one by one. But Shizune spoke up as though to stop him.

"Melhilm Herzog…"

[Ah! So you know of him!]

"I know him very well. I just happened to eat him recently… He was delicious."

Her expression was cold as ice, unmoving and utterly static. But in her eyes there was an unmistakeable glint of excitement, greater than any she had shown before.

"…So, where can I find your son and daughter?"



<=>



Hilda's house.



"…It can't be…"

Hearing the secrets of his birth from the Magic Man, Relic grasped for words in shock.

"No. That's not possible… How could… Ferret and me… No…"

"It is no lie, I promise you. You were born to be the relic of a nonexistent ancestor--a contradictory existence. You are the product of centuries' worth of experiments, born to generations of research subjects."

A relic(t) was a term used for an organism whose features remained unchanged since ancient times, such the coelacanth. In the pursuit of the nonexistent being known as the ancestor of all vampires, an experiment was conducted to give birth to such a creature.

When Relic thought about it, the Magic Man's explanation was not all that unexpected. He had wondered for a long time about his obviously unusual set of powers, and sometimes even pondered the possibility that he was born of an experiment. But until his suspicions had been confirmed by another, he had always tried to brush them off as products of his overactive imagination.

Perhaps he could have held on to the hope that someone had lied, but if that were true, there would be no reason for such a strange vampire to have appeared before him.

As all kinds of thoughts surfaced in his mind, the Magic Man continued as though trying to push him further into a corner.

"However, you were created with a flaw."

"…?!"

"Those many weaknesses you posses were originally intended for your twin sister. Of course, the fact that you are twins was something that had been artificially induced from the start. Your sister would have been made to take on every weakness while you were both still in the womb… Of course, not even modern medical science couldn't induce such a thing. It would be a mistake to assume that we vampires and our still inadequate technology could possibly succeed in such a feat. Astonishingly enough, you became host to all abilities and weaknesses at once. Perhaps as a side-effect, your sister ended up as a nearly featureless vampire…"

Relic started feeling even sicker when the Magic Man mentioned Ferret. It was even worse than taking a whiff of garlic.

"In other words, your sister existed as a scapegoat for your existence."



<=>



Waldstein Castle, parlour.



The Eater's sudden question about the whereabouts of his children suddenly snapped the viscount back to his senses. The pool of blood itself shook violently, as though the question had come as a great shock to him.

[They have left on a journey to become human, to the shoulder of the constellation Orion. I sent them off on a vampire rocket powered by vampire engines--more specifically, the V(ampire) Mark II.]

"…You're a terrible liar, huh?" Shizune said incredulously. The viscount's body squirmed.

[It is only courteous to avoid using any derivative of the word 'lie' when a gentleman feels he must obfuscate the truth. What I claimed to you as no lie, but a dream! True gentlemen bring encouragement to others through tales of dreams.]

"Like some bragging baron from a fairytale…"

[Ah! Baron Münchausen, you say! But I ask that you correct yourself. It is no mere fairytale! It is a great tale of adventure. 'Marvellous Travels on Water and Land: Campaigns and Comical Adventures of the Baron of Münchausen, published by Gottfried August Bürger. The film 'The Adventures of Baron Münchausen' was an absolute delight to behold.]

The viscount rambled on on the marble tabletop. Shizune looked quite surprised.

"So you even watch movies?" She asked, and remembered the DVD player sitting in the corner of the room.

[Ah, impudently enough, I, Gerhardt, am captive audience not only to films, but all kinds of stories.]

"I bet you're the type to think everything you watch is amazing."

[Nothing that exists in this world is not amazing! It is all merely a matter of personal preference!] The viscount said with unnecessary excitement. But Shizune, having figure out his intentions, quietly repeated her earlier question.

"So, where are your children?"

Silence came over them once more.

It was a particularly long period of calm. The pool of blood--the viscount--eventually swirled about and boldly scrawled his answer on the table, as though trickery would matter little at this point.

[I shall be frank with you. I stated earlier that I have no obligation to fight you, but should you choose to attack my children, I will have no choice but to protect them. In times of war is it not unusual for a sixteen-year olds to bear arms, but as long as such dark shadows are never cast on this island I am obligated to defend my family. …But I could not possibly bring myself to fight against a lovely young woman who has so patiently listened to my tales. I shall refuse! And this is why I ask you to desist, for my sake!]

"I don't want to fight someone who's been such good company, either. But I feel like… if I'm going to kill you eventually, I might as well do it now. But I'll just say this: Thanks. I had fun today."

Having felt something other than a sense of curiosity for the first time, Shizune smiled lightly--not as an Eater, but as a human.

"But I still want to meet your children."

Shizune withdrew her smile and made to get off her seat. However--

"…?"

[What might be the matter?]

"There's something about this room… It's faint, but I can sense another vampire here."

[Ah, so Eaters are capable of sensing our presence? Such a thing is impossible for we fellow vampires, but ah, this is most fascinating.]

With the viscount's exclamation, all movement in the room ceased. Suddenly, the voice of a young girl rang out from midair.

"Ahahaha! You noticed, you noticed! Tee hee! That was so quick so cool!"

Several seconds later, Waldstein Castle was enveloped by a light fog.



[Ah, a vampire burglar, are you? Rather elegant, snapping up treasure while taking vapourous form, but might I suggest that you send in a warning next time, as all proper thieves do?]

The fog suddenly grew dense in front of the surprisingly laid-back letters formed by the viscount. It then solidified into the form of a girl.

"Tee hee! Hello there, Viscount Waldstein! I guess this is the second time we meet! Although last time, there was a coffin lid blocking our way. It's pretty obvious, but I'm a jester! You can call me anything! A Pierrot, a Clown, an Auguste, whichever one you like."

[Ah… So are you one of the ones who sealed me into my coffin? I wish to officially file a complaint. Would you perhaps direct me to your leader?]

Hearing the girl's voice, the viscount turned his attention to the parlour window, where she had materialized, and put up letters in English to match her language.

[Ah, and concerning the matter of how I may address you… Might I presume that you are fully aware of the implications of each name?]

"Huh?"

[Are you aware that a 'Pierrot' is a term used exclusively for those characters in Commedia dell'Arte? The theory that the term 'clown' is derived from a word meaning 'serf'? Or the role of an Auguste?]

The English phrases formed themselves in the air before the jester, bombarding her with one question after another.

"Ee--eek! I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I didn't know I'm really sorry I won't do it again!"

The jester looked as though she would burst into tears at any moment. The letters collapsed once more and formed themselves into softer words.

[Slow down, young lady. Ignorance is no sin. So long as you live on with a passion for learning]

At that very moment, Shizune's arm quickly and extravagantly sliced down from behind the viscount.

A silvery object sliced straight through the letters of blood and pierced the jester's heart.

"Sorry, I'm no good at English." Shizune said emotionlessly, throwing one fork after another.

The jester girl looked surprised for a moment, but her shock quickly turned into a grin.

"Tee hee hee! That's not good! That's not going to work at all!"

Forks pierced her body over and over again, but they passed right through her without leaving so much as a scratch.

"Ahaha! What am I doing, I shouldn't be relaxing! I'm here to kill you!"

The moment the jester declared her intention and turned into fog, the viscount interpreted for Shizune.

[She says that she is here to kill you.]

"…Thanks for your help."

The viscount then wrote out his thoughts in both Japanese and English, and displayed them to Shizune and the jester.

[I fear it will not do for the two of you to run rampant here. There is a ballroom down the main stairs. Might I suggest that you relocate?]



<=>



What's going on?

This is the viscount.

This weird red pool of blood is the viscount.

Master Watt tricked him into getting into the coffin and sealed it, and today that stupid extermination team let him out.

He's so weird. Not just his looks. His personality too.

It's not really something I should be saying, but… He's in such a scary situation. Why does he look so relaxed?

But I don't care anymore. I'm going to kill this girl for Master Watt's sake. I'll kill her. I'm not going to control her. I'll never let her evolve into a vampire. I'm just going to kill her. For Master Watt.

Master Watt's probably going to get angry at me for it. But I can't help it.

Master Watt rescued me when I was dying in an alley in New York. All I can do as a vampire is turn to fog, but Master Watt rescued me.

I was about to be killed by other vampires, but Master Watt used cheap tricks to save me.

He brought up Melhilm's name and bluffed his way through.

He's the one who helped me, but I thought then, 'What a petty villain.'. But as I sat there shaking, Master Watt laughed and said I looked like a clown.

Master Watt is a petty villain and a piece of garbage, but that smile he showed me was so wonderful.

I just want to see that face again.

But if I don't kill this girl now, I'm not going to be able to see his smile ever again.



Having nimbly escaped the parlour, Shizune descended the stairs and leapt into the dance hall. She was not particularly interested in humouring the viscount's request--it was just that she would have an easier time fighting the fog specialist in a wide-open area.

Although she could potentially kill her target by driving her into a closed-off space, Shizune preferred to lure her opponent into an attack-focused strategy, striking back the moment the vampire re-materialized. This was why she had elected to use a location where she could fight her opponent from a slight distance.

However, the ballroom was already filled with guests.

The exterminators, armed with their garishly ostentatious equipment.

And a man and a woman who were strangers to Shizune, likely residents of Growerth.

"What's this? What happened to the slime?" Cargilla said, approaching Shizune with a gentle smile and a gun in hand.

It was a smile he would never have shown her back when they were on the ferry. But his eerily bright grin soon clued in Shizune to the situation.

"You're being turned… No, you're still at the control stage." Shizune said gravely, drawing a fork.

"You catch on pretty quick." Cargilla said, and pulled the trigger without hesitation.

But at that very moment, a fork was driven into his middle finger. The bullet was fired, but it went flying over Shizune's head.

At the sound of the gunshot, Shizune leapt forward. Her superhuman strength propelled her all the way up to the chandelier.

The humans had been robbed of their consciousness, now acting as little more than puppets dancing to their master's will. The quickest way to end this situation would be to defeat the master. However--

"Damn it… The clown's not here!"

No matter how much she looked around, Shizune could not sense the jester anywhere.

As she ground her teeth, a stake filled with explosives was launched towards her from below.



The jester was standing at a balcony very far from the ballroom, listening to the sound of explosions.

"Tee hee hee! I wonder if she could kill them. They're still innocent humans that aren't completely turned yet, after all! Could she kill them? Or not? Ahahaha!"

All the jester had to do was allow the controlled humans to exhaust Shizune. Then she would flow into the Eater's lungs while in fog form, and materialize from the inside. That would end things permanently.

Although she would only have to materialize part of herself, she was up against an Eater--a being who could sense the presence of vampires. She could not approach recklessly, or she would be attacked in turn.

The jester turned back to the balcony entrance, toying with the idea of going to the ballroom.

[Ah, this is a dilemma.]

There was a pool of blood on the balcony floor.

[I'm afraid that I must ask you to release those humans you are controlling. That couple is a guest to this land and myself, working as tutors to my children. And as for those good Saints, they are the ones who have released me from my sealed coffin.]

The jester read the viscount's words carefully. Her eyes widened for a moment, and she grinned impishly.

"Ahahaha! Viscount, you're way too nice! Do you even know what's going on? Those silly exterminators came to this island to exterminate you! And and and the ones who asked Master Watt to get rid of you? It's that couple right over there! Sure, they're working as tutors, but they've always been scared of you and your kids! Tee hee! Didn't you know? Are you surprised? Is it a shock?"

As the jester guffawed before him, the viscount quickly formed his next sentence.

[I've already known about the latter for some time now.]

"Ahahaha… Huh?"

[Ah, if they had only voiced their desire to resign, I would not have stopped them. But to think I had driven them to such a dilemma… It is my fault entirely. But seeing my children grow so close with theirs, I could not bring myself to take charge in resolving the matter in such a way. And in any event, I should have expected that Watt was involved in this incident… It has been a good decade now since he has been harassing me.] The viscount said, as though mumbling to himself.

Then, he turned back to the jester and addressed her in large letters.

[Perhaps I could ask you to consider releasing them?]

"…Ahaha! You're gonna have to make me!" She giggled. The viscount's answer was simple.

[Then you leave me little choice. There is little time, I fear, so I will make this simple.]

"Huh?"

Something was coming. The jester quickly tensed, turned her body into fog, and dispersed.

[If cornered, she will likely kill them all. Though they may be innocent humans. I ask that you understand that time is of the essence.]

'So this is what the viscount is like.

'He really is strange.

'How could this happen?

'How…'

Several large bubbles began growing before her eyes. They looked like red globules, quickly expanding into the air. They began to swallow the fog around them whole.



'This is bad, this is bad.

'He caught me. He actually caught me.

'What do I do? I can't materialize. I'm spread out too thin.

'Oh now, oh no… the fog… I'm being absorbed into the bubble!

'No, please, no…

'I don't want to disappear.

'I don't want to die. I don't want to die yet.

'Please. No. I have to save Master Watt.

'Oh, I can't even say anything… I can't even scream for help. I can't even apologize.

'Please. Just let me say one thing. Just one thing is enough. Please.

'Master Watt, you have to get away. Master Watt, that girl--'



<=>



"Should I just break all their legs? In the worst-case scenario, I'm going to end up having to kill them all…"

Shizune spent some time evading the humans' attacks, surveying the situation.

"…?"

But suddenly, the humans stopped in their tracks and collapsed where they stood one by one, as though they had been hit with tranquilizer darts.

Remaining cautious, Shizune examined one of them and came to the conclusion that they were merely unconscious.

Not knowing what had happened, she decided for now to go to the vampiric presence she was sensing.

Floating on the balcony connecting the kitchen to the outside was a strange bubble.

A bright red orb about ten metres in diameter was silently floating in midair.

The moment Shizune stepped towards it, the bubble collapsed and regained its liquid form, spreading over the balcony floor.

A hat had fallen on the floor where the bubble had been floating moments earlier.

It was the distinctive hat worn by the jester girl.

"…Is it really all right for a 'gentleman aristocrat' to kill a girl in cold blood?"

[I assure you that she did not suffer.]

"I can't say that I think as well of you as I did earlier… but thank you."

Shizune spun the abandoned hat around her finger, sighed, and smiled gently.

Seconds later, she heard something crashing from beneath the balcony.



<=>



Mountain path.



"What is this, a sci-fi? Or a fantasy?"

As they faced down Val, transforming into a giant of a man before their eyes, Mihail turned to Ferret with a strained smile.

"…Horror, perhaps." Ferret replied, not a hint of humour in her tone. She faced down her enemy and tried to think.

If she were to fight a human, the differences in their statures would mean nothing to her. Unfortunately, their foe was a vampire who seemed to have already shrugged off the punch she had landed on him with all her strength.

"This is so weird! Isn't he going against conservation of mass? Or is he all hollow inside?"

"Please stop shouting needlessly."

"Okay."

Mihail silenced himself and turned his attention to the vampire before them, making sure to stick close by Ferret's side.

"Heh heh heh… Who'm I s'pposed to beat down?" Val said, having completed his transformation into the giant. He took a step forward.

"A-all right, I'll be your opponeeeee--?!"

Mihail took a courageous step forward, but he was picked up by the collar by an invisible force before he could even reach Val. The force threw him into the woods.

"…Telekinesis."

Ferret's eyes narrowed even more.

Her attacks would not work.

She knew nothing about her foe's weaknesses.

She would be impeded by a certain oblivious young man.

Waldstein Castle was only a stone's throw away.

Gathering her thoughts with these facts in mind, Ferret instantly came up with a plan.

"We will flee."

"Awesome! …Wait, what?!"

Ferret immediately took Mihail in one arm and sprinted towards the castle at full speed.

"Huh?! Hold it!"

Val, taken by surprise at Ferret's course of action, hurriedly followed after her. However, the giant's form was not suited to running. Mihail, being carried with his legs towards the castle, saw the scene and thought that they could get to safety with ease.

But a moment later, the creature changed.

"Stop right there, please!"

It suddenly became faster, and at the same time Mihail found himself hearing a very familiar voice.

Approaching them from further back on the mountain path was--

"Whoa! This is bad, Ferret! You're coming after us! Am I supposed to be happy or what?"

"…Are you asking me to drop you, Mihail?" Ferret said, and stole a glance backwards. She was now being chased by her own self. And if they were physically on even ground, Ferret, with her extra burden, was at a disadvantage.

'But of all things, to take on my form… how sickening.'

There was still some distance between them, but any closer and Val could use telekinesis to trip her over.

Abandoning Mihail would guarantee that she escaped, but--

"Do not let go!"

'I could never do such a thing. I would not dream of it.'

But in contrast to Ferret's grim determination, Mihail lightheartedly took out his cell phone from his breast pocket and laughed.

"Sweet, that fake Ferret is smiling! Better grab a picture!"

'One more act of idiocy, and I will drop him!' Ferret resolved even more grimly than before. She could hear a mechanical sound effect from beside her. And--

"DON'T!"

She heard a scream, sounding much like her own voice at a slightly higher tone.

"What? What was that?" Ferret wondered, and looked back once more. Val, who was still in her form, had stopped dead in his tracks with his arms before him as though trying to shield his face.

"Mihail! What did you do?!"

"Uh, I was just taking a pic… huh? What's this?" Mihail said suddenly, as though he had seen something strange. His eyes went back and forth from the picture displayed on his phone to the fake Ferret standing behind them.

And--

"DON'T LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!"

With an anguished scream, a creature with monstrously long arms and legs began approaching them at breakneck speed. Val, who had only moments ago taken Ferret's form, had transformed into the fastest form he could think of, a jumble of inhuman features.



"Ack! Something's coming, Ferret! It's huge!"

"I know!"

"Don't worry about me, Ferret! Save yourse-!"

'Why does he never think about what he is saying?!'

"You finish that sentence, and I'll lop off your head, Mihail!" Ferret yelled at the top of her lungs. Just then, the rear balcony of Waldstein Castle came into view. Strangely enough, a red orb was floating just above it.

"It's Father!" Ferret exclaimed.

The red orb popped at that very moment, but it was not far to the castle.

There were ten metres left. By the time the back door came into view, an invisible force pulled at Ferret's leg.

"Eeek!"

With an uncharacteristic scream, Ferret, still holding Mihail, rolled all the way to the underside of the balcony.

"Oof!"

Mihail was the first to hit the wall, softening the impact for Ferret. She got to her feet instantly.

"Are you okay?"

"More or less…" Mihail grinned, to Ferret's relief. She turned from her trembling friend to the creature that had appeared before them.

Val had returned to taking the form of a young boy. He looked upon Ferret and Mihail with a mix of anger and fear.

"…Did you see me?" The glassy-eyed boy asked nervously, instead of attacking them.

"Huh?"

"Did you see it? My true form."

Mihail wondered for a moment how he should answer, before finally deciding to be honest. He nodded.

The boy's hands curled into fists.

"What do you think of my appearance, human?" The boy asked.

Mihail fell into thought once more, then came up with a rather strange answer.

"Well… I'd say… delicious…? Or cute, maybe?"

"Do you think that I am a vampire? A being with an ego--self-awareness?"

As the rage in Val's eyes subsided, it gave way to something that looked like terror.

"…Yeah. If that's what you want, then you must have it. I mean, if you didn't have self-awareness, you wouldn't be talking to me right now, would you?"

"Wait a second! What are you talking about?!" Ferret cried in confusion.

Then--

[My, my. A lady mustn't raise her voice so, Ferret.]

Words of blood written in German descended before Ferret's eyes.

"Father!"

"Viscount Waldstein, sir!"

With that, a great deal of blood spilled from the balcony. It would have been a shocking sight for those who were not in the know, but the ghastly scene heralded hope for the two who already knew of the viscount's form.

[When did you return from your trip? And without a word to your own father!]

"Pardon? I do believe we wrote to you last month, Father."

Looking at Ferret's confused expression, the viscount remembered what kind of a situation he was currently in.

[Hm? Now that I think on it… For how long have I been trapped in my coffin?]

"Trapped? What do you mean, Father?"

Still in mutual confusion, the viscount suddenly came up with a new exclamation.

[Ah, this is most unusual.] He addressed Val, who had been hanging back.

[It is most uncommon to see one such as yourself. A friend of Ferret, I presume? If so, you are a most welcome guest. Make yourself at home.]

"Wha…?"

Val stood in confusion. Then he froze.

[But I must ask one thing. What were you doing with those good Saints earlier today?]

"…!"

Understanding the implications behind the viscount's question, Val began shaking. He was currently in the form of a little boy, looking completely unlike the young exterminator from earlier. So how did the viscount know he was the same person?

[I see… Of course. You control others' sense of sight with your soul, making it appear as though you are capable of transformation. All the while, manipulating tools with telekinesis as a normal human might… Apologies, being in this eyeless body, I perceive the world through my soul directly. Your form is always consistent to my sight.]

"S-so… you can see me… you… my true form…"

[You may call it a 'true form', but you have only had one form, as far as I could perceive.]

Reading this, Val, in the form of the little boy, began to tremble.

"No… Don't… don't… look at me…"

His teeth chattered, and he suddenly shook his head in terror.

"Don't don't don't don't don't don't look nobody look don't look at me! Don't look at the real me I I I I I'm right here! I think for myself! This is the only me, I am my only soul!" He began babbling incoherently.

[Ah… I see his ego has not yet stabilized.]

The viscount approached him to calm him down. However--

"No… NOOOOOOO! Don't look at me don't look at me don't look at me!"

With a terrible scream, Val turned tail and ran into the distance.

Ferret, who had been watching this sight for the past ten minutes, utterly lost in confusion, had only one thing to say.

"…What was that all about?"



<=>



Hilda's house.



How could I have been so shameless?

Telling Ferret "Just be yourself", when I'm the one who took away that freedom from her.

She was placed with me so she could become my scapegoat, and I came out of it with all our parents' abilities. And I still called myself her older brother.

And since I've taken all the weaknesses, I've even taken away her freedom to die.

"Relic? Snap out of it, Relic!"

I'm sorry, Hilda. I want to suck your blood, but that's probably because someone programmed that thought into me.

Is the me that's thinking right now… really me?

Damn it… Damn it… I never took it seriously when I saw stories about AI and robots wrestle with their self, but I had no idea I'd feel so terrible when I learned the truth.

I think. Therefore I exist. But what if even this is something someone programmed into me beforehand?

And before all that…  since I was born that way, am I even a living creature to begin with?

"Relic! Relic!"

But I know what I have to do. First, I'll get Hilda somewhere safe. I have to protect her from this man.

"Do you think you could do such a thing?"

Damn it. He's saying something again. Don't listen to him. Don't listen to anything. Just think of protecting Hilda.

"You are neither human nor vampire, created as an idol. The fruit of one sinful vampire's research. You have been created upon the sacrifices of hundreds upon thousands of vampires. Do you know what this means?"

Stop it. Shut up. Damn it. Every time I try to do something--every time I almost snap out of it, he opens his mouth and ruins everything. I have to make him shut up, but my soul won't listen to me. I can't turn my body into bats. I can't visualize my self. I can't get a picture of what I look like.

Damn it. What's going on? I turn into bats all the time. All of a sudden I feel like my body belongs to someone else.

"In other words, you are like a god to us. You have the power to reign over others. You are the closest being on this earth to true freedom. Do you understand? How do you feel? Born, most fortunately, to become the perfect being, the product of centuries' worth of research. Do you know what this means for you?"

Stop it stop it stop it stop trying to confuse me. Just think of protecting Hilda. Just think of taking down this man--

"You don't know?"

Why aren't you talking to me…?

Hilda?

"You're asking if he knows what that means? You don't get it, do you? Really, you don't."

"Who do you think you are, butting into this conversation?"

"Relic's childhood friend! You have a problem with that?!" Hilda declared, glaring at the Asian man.

I've never seen Hilda this angry.

Who is she doing this for? Me? It can't be. But that doesn't matter. You have to get away, Hilda. No. I have to get her away.

"I'll answer your question for Relic."

Thanks, Hilda. But what are you going to say?

You could say 'Relic is still Relic', or 'Only Relic can decide what he's worth', but answers like that won't work.

But thank you. I don't care what you tell him. Because just hearing your voice in that answer might help me get back on my feet. So right now, I just want to hear what you have to say.

"All right, I'll say it. If what you said is true, and Relic is the result of those vampires' experiments…"


"If he's an idol, not just a human or vampire, and if he really was made through hundreds of sacrifices…"

…Hilda?

"If he's a god, or a devil… If he's just lucky, or if he's the perfect existence!

"That means he's unbeatable."



"Whether it's vampires or humans or hundreds of others from the past! Whether it's himself or someone else! And even if he's facing off against words! It means he can never lose!

"I'm trying to say that Relic could never lose to the words of someone like you!"



------------------------!



<=>



The moment Hilda stepped in front of him as if to protect him and declared her trust in him, Relic came to a realization. He realized that he had never really liked or disliked Hilda.

He also realized that, at this very moment, he had truly fallen in love with her.

A bat flew past him.

Dozens of bats rose up from the doorway, one of them scratching past the Magic Man's face.

"…Where did these bats come from?!"

Relic's body showed no signs of having transformed in the least. Setting that aside, after Hilda's declaration, he had stopped trembling and gritting his teeth. He merely knelt there with his head bowed. As the Magic Man fell under the impression that time had stopped around him, he noticed that Relic was standing.

The Magic Man had not missed the moment of Relic getting to his feet. It felt like he had watched a film strip that had cut away very suddenly.

He could not have been mistaken. A vampire like him, focusing his senses to the utmost, could not have missed something like this, the Magic Man told himself, but the reality before him had already shifted. Relic was now holding Hilda in his arms.



Hilda's answer had been so simple that Relic had never even considered it.

But it was enough for him. It was the answer he was looking for.

"Hilda." Relic whispered strongly, embracing her tightly. "Thank you. I think I'll be better now. I'm sorry. I wanted to protect you as best I could, but now I want to protect you with all I have. I promise. I'll give it my all."

With this, he gently put his mouth to her neck.

At that very moment, hundreds--thousands of bats emerged from the walls, floor, and the ceiling and covered the house in black, with Relic and Hilda at the centre. 

"It can't be… Has he synchronized his body with this entire house?!"

Many vampires could turn even their clothing and accessories into bats when they transformed. And depending on their powers, some could even turn their vehicles--cars, motorcycles, and the like--into bats alongside themselves.

"No… The entire manor?! This is unheard of!"

However, the Magic Man was mistaken.

It was because he was inside the manor that he never realized what was happening--to this city, and the entire island.



"…!"

Shizune Kijima, who had been walking through Waldstein Castle, suddenly felt a chill at the sudden expansion of vampiric presence.

She looked outside from a nearby balcony. The nearest streetlamp was dim, and the city lights that should have been visible in the distance were not there.

She could sense a powerful vampiric presence. However, she could not pinpoint its location.

To make a comparison, it was similar to when the jester had transformed herself into fog. But this sensation was on a different scale altogether.

Shizune then realized that the streets, the forest, and the castle were being enveloped in a thick fog.

At this very moment, the island of Growerth was mired in fog, the likes of which had never been observed in the past.



[Ah, this is Relic's doing, I presume?]

"Has Honoured Brother caused all this?"

[Ah, Ferret. As I recall, even your parents had synchronized with this entire castle in the past. But to think there could be such a range of differences in power among us vampires…]

As the viscount and Ferret stood at the back of the castle, the sudden fog covered even the stars in the sky. At this rate, it felt as though everything around them would soon sink into darkness. Countless bats were gathering in the sky, pitch-black flocks swarming like mosquitoes.

"I don't really get it, but…" Mihail said, looking up at the scene. "Is this the kind of power you want, Ferret?"

Ferret gaped for a moment at the sudden question.

"Sometimes, you pose the most uncomfortable questions."

"…Sorry."



As the mysterious fog rolled onto the entire island, one man remained absolutely calm.

Watt Stalf quietly took off his sunglasses, and looked over at the flock of bats rising up from the ground.

"So the final boss shows itself." The most petty of men said, as though he was enjoying the situation more than anyone.

"…This is power, huh? This is the apex of all vampiric power? Synchronizing yourself with the entire island, and if you wanted, you could turn the whole damned thing into a gigantic wolf that could destroy the world in a single night." He snickered. Watt then looked up into the sky resolutely.

"Why does uselessly great power have to be so damned beautiful?"

Reaching out his hands towards the fog and the bats covering the sky, Watt uttered in a childlike tone:

"…I'm in love. Hey, power. I'm falling in love with you all over again."



"W-wait a moment!"

Standing in stark contrast to Watt's serenity was the Magic Man, who was the most anxious man on the island despite being witness to only the smallest fraction of Relic's display of power.

"Wait please I'm sorry I'll tell you the truth I thought I could defeat you by crushing your will but please believe me I was just being young and rash, I thought I might give you a little nudge… This is cheating! It's too much! You're only supposed to use this power against the final boss, or some global threat! You could beat me without even trying! So why are you doing this to me? I haven't killed your friends or loved ones, or anything!"

As the Magic Man rambled in half-defeat, Relic silently stepped towards him.

'I'm finished. It's all over. I never thought it would come to this. I was sure I could get away, even on the off-chance that he used his powers. But it's done now. What kind of power could steal even my strength to run?'

It looked like the flock of bats, looking as though they could swallow up the world around them, were making a path for Relic and Hilda.

"No, a Magic Man should never lose his composure." Relic said in a surprisingly calm voice, putting a hand up to the Magic Man's face.

"But since your magic really has no tricks, maybe I should call you a Magician."

"Oh…"

To think that, of all people, the boy before him would tell him what he had wanted to hear all along.

'So Lady Luck's finally abandoned me…'

Strangely enough, the moment he heard Relic's words, the Magic Man found himself in a serene state.

'Damn it. Or maybe she'd left me the moment I gave up on being human.'

"Three."

The moment he heard that voice, the Magic Man realized something.

"Two."

'Oh… I'm going to be erased.'

"One."

The countdown was going, driven not by the Magic Man, but Relic. Perhaps, the Magic Man thought, that his instincts as a vampire were trying to help him accept his demise.

'Come to think of it, when was the last time I actually performed a genuine magic trick-'

"Zero."

Before he could even think of the answer, the Magic Man disappeared.

On the floor where he had been standing a moment ago was a gaping hole the size of a bathtub, its edges lined with countless wolf teeth. They clattered against one another excitedly, as though welcoming their new meal.

It was almost as though they were applauding.






(1) Ware is an archaic first-person pronoun with a very dignified tone.
(2) Chin is a first-person pronoun analogous with the royal 'we'.



-----





On Names and Lores
This section contains a list of names I could not settle on spelling for, as well as vampire terms that I could not place or figure out. It's also your chance to correct me without mercy. Any names and terms detailed below are open for debate. Have your say in the comments!



Names:

1. Gitarin (ギータルリン)[giitarurin]: For your information, her full name is (ラティーシャ・ギータルリン・アズタンドゥーヤ) [latiisha giitarurin azutanduuya]. I'm assuming her first name is a variant of Laetitia, but I'm not sure about the rest...

2. Granny Job (ゾブ)[Zobu]: The Korean version transliterated her name as "Yob", by the way. But otherwise I don't have much to say about this one.

3. Rukram, the city of (リュクラム)[Ryukuramu]: Another tough one. Please have a go at it!

4. Ferret: I'm still waiting for more comments! Whether you're voting for one choice or another, or making a new suggestion, I'm all ears (until I put up the final update of this volume, at which point whatever her name has been spelled as will be set in stone).


Lore:

Synchronization
Apparently vampires in this mythos can temporarily assimilate parts of their surroundings into themselves. I felt like 'assimilation' sounded too permanent, so I used the term 'synchronization'. Is there any vampire lore that corresponds with this ability? And if so, what is the 'official' term for it?

Hypnotism/Control
There's a distinction to be made here. 'Hypnotism' is when a vampire makes eye contact with a person and controls them. 'Control' is when a vampire bites someone and becomes their 'master', in a sense, and is a step removed from outright turning the person. Is there a specific term used for the latter? Right now I don't think the hypnotism/control distinction in the text is clear enough.

Snake(s)?
Japanese and Korean are languages that do not usually pluralize nouns unless specifically called for. So, does a vampire turn himself into a single snake, or a bunch of them at once?

If I've neglected to mention something that was inaccurately portrayed in the update, please comment!

9 comments:

  1. Awesome, i'm hooked on this now. Thank you very much. So looking foward to the next chapter.

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  2. Thanks so much~ Reading this is always a pleasure :)

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  3. Well, that escalated quickly. Great update !

    About snakes, I found this about vampires turning into a giant cobra :
    http://wodpedia.wikidot.com/serpentis

    Can't really help with the rest, but I think your choics are quite good.

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  4. Thanks for this chapter! Relic is soooo cool!

    And this is just my personal opinion, but I think "Ferret" sounds better. (I'm french, btw)

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  5. thanks for another great chapter

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  6. It might just be me, but when I read "Ferret", I think of the small furry animal, not a person. Is that intentional? It is kinda weird to see someone named after an animal (and it doesn't sound feminine, either; sounds like thief's nickname or something).

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    Replies
    1. I think it's a bit weird too, and I can't really see any significance to her name, other than the possibility that she was named that because she's Relic's scapegoat or something. But from the looks of the comments we're in the minority.

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    2. I think Ferret may be pronounces fer-ray, if that sounds like more of a name.

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  7. I'm really sad The Jester died this chapter(at least I think she did). She was my favorite character so far!
    Anyway thanks for the translations~

    ReplyDelete