Chapter 2 - The Viscount Basks in the Morning Sun, and...
Waldstein Castle, on the island of Growerth.
Growerth was a large island in the North Sea, under the jurisdiction of Germany.
Not only was it prominently large in Germany, it was also under development as a tourist destination. It was also actively establishing sister cities overseas, in countries like Japan, America, and Australia.
Several cities were on the island, upon which was everything from streets resembling the Middle Ages to modern-day civic centers and hotels. Of course, there were no skyscrapers on the island—five-story hotels were about as tall as they went. And yet not a single room was vacant during the busy tourist season. Old buildings by the large streets that had been renovated into hotels were also quite popular with visitors.
Many small peaks rose up near the center of the island, covered with deciduous trees. And near the top of a peak on the southern side of the island was a large castle taken straight out of the Middle Ages.
Its majestic beauty harmoniously blended with the viridian forests and mountains. Countless tourists lost themselves in the wondrous sight as they stepped into the storybook setting.
But at the top of this fairytale castle was neither an elegant little bird awaiting the morning sun, nor a guard dedicated to serving his master. But rather, it was a red mass of liquid--the vampire to whom this castle belonged.
[Ah, the most stunning light of dawn! Yet I’ve been told that the clouds will grow thicker later this evening. So is this sight not akin to the tearful farewell of the gods who light le soleil?]
The morning sun was shining almost parallel to the ground. The vampire spread himself as wide as he could, taking in the rays of light.
And as a result, one of the castle’s walls was covered in red.
The wave of red spread at terrifying speeds, and pushed part of itself onto the castle rooftop to expertly weave a series of words.
[I recommend that you also take in the light, my dear friend! The sun will not last forever. After all, who can say if the beauteous sun will not explode by tomorrow morning?]
The boy laying on the rooftop looked at the letters of blood and sleepily rubbed his eyes.
“...But if the sun explodes, we’re all going to die instantly.” He said incredulously. But the red fluid changed form to respond.
[I fear I must correct you, Valdred. At their nearest, the sun and the Earth are 147100000 kilometers apart. And at their furthest, the distance grows to 152100000 kilometers. That is an average of 149600000 kilometers. Even at the speed of light, you see, it takes eight minutes and nineteen seconds to traverse this distance. In other words, the sun that we look upon at this moment is an image of what it had been over eight minutes ago. Truly, a time machine that costs us nothing! Is it not a most romantic notion?]
The boy called Valdred read over the sentence, which had changed topics halfway through. He nodded.
The red liquid that the boy was speaking with was his master, and a slightly off-kilter vampire.
There was no ‘main body’ controlling this mass of blood. The blood itself was the vampire known as Gerhardt von Waldstein.
The mass of blood that ruled over this castle was once a very normal vampire.
But over the course of his research, in which he attempted to rid vampires of their weaknesses to sunlight, stakes, and other objects, he ultimately found himself in liquid form.
Because he derived nutrition from the special bacteria he infused with his own blood, Gerhardt required regular photosynthesis in order to live. He was almost the polar opposite of the quintessential vampire.
The boy who joined him in photosynthesis today was also a vampire who was quite far removed from the norm.
Not all vampires had a weakness to sunlight. Some turned to ash at the slightest touch of light, and others were entirely unfazed. But very few vampires so readily basked in the rays as this boy and the viscount did.
Even vampires who were unaffected by sunlight tended to prefer the shadows, for fear of human discovery. If a vampire was standing in the sun, they either had a very specific purpose for doing so, or they were there by necessity--much like the viscount.
In Valdred’s case, it was the latter.
Valdred Ivanhoe--Val for short--was a vampire who had once been a plant. To be specific, he was a watermelon vampire.
This was not a metaphor. Valdred was a watermelon, the fruit that many mistake for a vegetable. He had retained this form even after becoming a vampire.
[There, there. Toss such trivial concerns into the flames of oblivion. Should creatures such as ourselves be thrown into the sun’s most searing flares, we would be burned to dust in a matter of moments. That is precisely the reason why we must accept the blessings of Mother Nature--the gift that fuels our very lives!]
Val stared at the viscount’s words. His thoughts began to drift as he began to muse on his own existence.
‘The blessings of Mother Nature, huh...’
To be more accurate, Valdred was himself a blessing of Mother Nature. But now he was wearing a false form, basking in the sunlight alongside the churning pool of blood that was now his lord.
Val’s memories of his own birth were extremely vague.
This was at once his first emotion, self-aware thought, and memory.
The thought that occurred to him in the span of a single second. A span of time in which he watched the rain of blood fall upon himself.
A single word. A single emotion. This was the origin of all that was himself. Yet at the same time, it was his final moment of life.
The moment the spray of blood touched his body, the droplets of blood stained his spherical body and seeped into his very cells as though possessed of a will. It bled into him and melded into his very being, and by the time he came to his sense, he knew that he had become a different being entirely.
The second spray of red that touched him was the blood of a different vampire. He understood this because he had now attained knowledge and the capacity to reason.
The rain of blood was a part of an experiment. Everything had been planned out meticulously.
All kinds of techniques were applied to forcibly induce a transformation of the soul. To become more animal, to become more human, to become more vampire.
The moment the watermelon had developed a sense of self, the researcher would undertake the process of ‘education’.
It was the act of transcribing the souls of other vampires into the soul of the plant, using their blood as a medium.
Pieces of knowledge, character, memories, and trauma, carried by the shower of blood, seeped into the watermelon. Its newborn sense of self was crushed, torn, and mangled as it was painted over in the influx of souls.
But what was painted over was not his character.
It was an off-kilter awareness--as he was reconstituted by the shower of blood, the watermelon chose to paint over himself of his own free will. Valdred was given life, and at the same time he had been born anew.
The moment the researcher acknowledged this fact, the second shower of blood filled with soul was poured over him.
Yet another sense of self invaded the watermelon’s psyche against his will, as though a self-aware guinea pig had no need to know anything.
The two souls in which characters and knowledge resided began to tangle together and began to fight amongst themselves--to overpower and devour the other and dominate. As a result, all that was left was a watermelon with a mangled sense of self born from the mixture of two souls.
Then, another soul.
Yet more blood.
Blood falling like a shower.
Soul splattering over himself.
But the watermelon could no longer consider the sight beautiful as he once had.
With each shower of blood his self was broken.
With each shower his self was erased, and a new self was painted over it.
He was scared. Afraid. Terrified.
The self from a single second ago was no longer himself.
As he looked on in fear, he was covered in blood. And as he refused to fear, the overriding self was covered in blood and as he realized that he was indeed afraid the overriding self was covered in blood and as he thought of nothing the overriding self was covered in blood and as he lost himself to madness the overriding self was covered in blood and as he logically observed his own situation the overriding self was covered in blood--
The showers of blood came to an end.
Sitting there was not a watermelon, but a pitifully mutated guinea pig without a sense of self--a vampire with nothing but the knowledge needed to use its powers.
Several years passed. The watermelon who possessed the ability to draw illusions onto the retinas of others and construct the false image of a shapeshifter took on letters from the names of the vampires whose blood was contributed. The name ‘Valdred Ivanhoe’ was created.
At first glance, Valdred was a powerful vampire who could transform into anything.
But he--or she--or it--was afraid.
Did he truly exist?
‘I think, therefore I am,’ it was commonly said.
‘But is it really me who’s doing the thinking?’ Valdred wondered.
It was around this time that Val began to refuse to reveal his true form as a watermelon to others. Despite the fact that it was undeniable proof of the existence of his true self, the watermelon could no longer trust even in this original body.
The self that had lived for a single second.
Was this truly his own sense of self?
Or perhaps it was the mumblings of the soul of another vampire that had been administered to him earlier. And if that was the truth of the matter, perhaps there never was an original self that had been painted over with the souls of others.
What Valdred feared most was to lose by understanding.
If his only memory of his own self as a watermelon turned out only to have been born from a copy of another soul, he would truly lose everything.
‘Then who in the world am I?’
Because he was afraid to lose that one self--the one sense of self that he could call his own--he did not approach the matter. He even attempted to hide that fact that he was a plant.
Then who was the Valdred Ivanhoe that existed where he stood? Whose sense of self lay within? Was it his own? Who could prove it, one way or another, when even he did not know the answer?
Afterwards, Valdred began to purposely create different personas and characters to match his illusory forms. And after a series of strange events, he now made his home here in Waldstein Castle.
The characters he played were all artificial. Fake. Although even the one character he was sure was true was nearly impossible to understand, seeing as this character’s only thought was ‘Beautiful...’.
Recently, Val had caved to the preferences of the witches and female vampires of the castle and took on the form of a young boy. But ultimately, even this was a false form that had nothing to do with his own will.
He spent his days unable to sustain one constant self.
[Ah, to think it has already been a year since you came to call this castle home. How do you feel, Valdred? Have you come any closer to finding the answers you sought?]
The viscount’s question rattled the boy. But Valdred neither ignored him nor got angry at him, instead sighing with a hint of embarrassment.
Technically, even this sigh was an illusion.
Valdred was acting as puppeteer to an illusionary body that contained a simple imitation of the respiratory system, using telekinetic power in just the right measure to produce just the right weight of movement.
In fact, Valdred had no need to respire like a human or take in energy like a plant (via photosynthesis). But the act of creating an illusion that incorporated such detailed human characteristics--even going so far as to expand and contract the illusion of lungs and expel air from the illusion of a mouth--was likely because Valdred had lived for much too long in the form of a human being.
Perhaps it was similar to the way the viscount added punctuation or exclamation to the words he formed with his own body.
“...I’m not sure. I haven’t found an answer yet, but... I’m starting to think, little by little--maybe living forever might not be such a bad thing.”
“...I feel... strange, living in this castle. Everyone here accepts someone like me, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world... I think.”
As Val trailed off, the viscount confidently wove out a correction.
[There was no need for that final addition of yours, Valdred. Your acceptance is indeed most natural.]
Val looked away from the viscount.
Because Gerhardt had no eyes as humans did, he perceived the world through the use of his soul.
In other words, because Valdred’s ability to draw illusions on retinas had no effect on the viscount, Gerhardt always saw Valdred’s true form--something that the latter found extremely uncomfortable.
At first, he visibly avoided the viscount and made his fear apparent. But things had changed recently, as they began to converse more often.
But Valdred always grew uncomfortable in their conversations. There was some sort of an unconscious sense of rejection that he eventually came to notice within himself. And with this understanding, he quickly changed the subject.
“But it’s unusual to see you taking in sunlight so early in the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sunning when it’s scheduled to rain soon.”
[Ah, there is, in fact, an excellent reason for my unusual course of actions today. Though you are correct in that I prefer to awake in the afternoon, while the sun beats down at her fiercest, so that I may remain awake ‘til the dead of night. Today, however, is an exception. The Carnale Festival is scheduled to begin this evening, and I will also be entertaining some guests this afternoon. I thought to soak in more energy while I had the time today.]
The annual Carnale Festival lasted an entire week. Valdred had enjoyed it last year as well, and it had been the first time that he had seen so many people gathered on the island.
“Oh, I remember. It’s starting today, huh? But what’s this about a guest?”
[Ah, some acquaintances of mine, you see...] The viscount said vaguely. Valdred stubbornly tried to pursue this line of thought.
It was neither unusual nor very common for the viscount to entertain visitors. Not only was he very well-connected with other vampires, he was also an official possessor of land and was on good terms with the locals. This was why vampires without a place to call home often came to him in search of a place in which to settle.
Valdred was reasonably certain that this was the case, but he persisted in questioning the viscount in order to keep the discussion away from their earlier topic.
“What kind of people are they?”
[Ah, you see]
At that point, the viscount stopped very suddenly. The letters of blood collapsed as he began to form a new set of utterances.
[...No, this won’t do. We were discussing the matter of your future, were we not? We mustn’t allow our conversations to be so easily sidetracked, especially when they are of such great magnitude.]
“Can we please just get sidetracked?”
[I must refuse, I’m afraid! It is the duty of a nobleman to take action on behalf of all distressed inhabitants of his land. Ah, perhaps you would accuse me of being a trifle too nosy. But is it not also right for a nobleman to be forgiven for trifling transgressions?]
“I don’t see how this is going to help. It’s not like talking it out is going to help me find my true self.”
It was a rather cold response, but Valdred almost felt as though these words were also directed towards himself.
But the viscount continued to seep into his thoughts.
[Ah, I take that to mean that you have at least made efforts to find the answer.]
[If one sits idly by, one can neither change what can be changed nor learn what can be learned. Although I cannot condone the act of leaking negativity into the air without even making an attempt to change things for the better.]
“But Viscount Waldstein... this has nothing to do with you.”
Val tried to escape the conversation again. But the viscount grew more staunch.
[Ah, of course. You are also a vampire in your own right, with free will and all the responsibilities that come with it. It is indeed up to you to live as you will. But I must ask, in that case, that you pay me the rent that I have neglected to collect all this time.]
A chill ran down Val’s spine.
He had been living in this castle as a freeloader since the previous year. He was even supplied with blood to drink from the local blood bank, free of charge.
“Th-then I’ll earn some money to pay it off. Would it be okay if I left after--”
[You are missing the point, Valdred!] The viscount wrote in bold letters. Val stopped himself without thinking.
[I intend neither to impose my own will upon your future nor to drive you from this castle. But if you are being plagued by thoughts of inferiority or self-hatred, I would like you to make an effort to change things, Valdred.]
“...But I don’t even know where to start, or what to do.”
[Ah, yes. Then might I suggest that you begin by learning more about your own body?]
“Do you want me to go to a library, then? Or maybe to go see a doctor?”
Valdred was intending to be sarcastic, but the mass of blood wriggling in midair nodded.
[Of course! That is precisely what you should begin with.]
As Valdred stood in confusion, the viscount put up an utterance in bold letters.
[I shall introduce you to this castle’s very own Doctor and Professor!]
“...I never knew we had a place like this in the castle.” Val breathed, walking down a very long flight of stairs.
[Ah, it is a personal preference of Doctor’s, you see.]
“What kind of people are they, anyway?”
[Doctor and Professor are researchers who are in the process of studying methods to overcome death--in other words, methods to eliminate the weaknesses we vampires possess. And in the process of their work, they have used all sorts of vampires as their guinea pigs. I’ve not doubt that their knowledge will be of use to you.]
“...Although I guess I shouldn’t expect too much on the ethics side of things.”
Although Val had lived in Waldstein Castle for over a year now, there were still many parts of it that he had yet to see. Because the aboveground area of the castle was unmistakably divided into the ‘public area’ and the ‘living area’, a one-time visitor would never in their wildest dreams notice that the castle housed numerous vampires. On that note, the pamphlets that introduced the layout of the castle to tourists kept visitors out of living areas with excuses like ‘Entrance Restricted Due to Presence of Important Cultural Artifacts’, ‘Under Construction’, or ‘Staff Only’.
In a corner of the art supply room in the living area of the castle was an entrance to the castle underground.
Many large suits of armor were lined up in a row. The viscount came to a sudden stop before one in particular.
The armor was positively gigantic, standing nearly a full five meters high and impossible for human beings to wear. If these had been displayed in the public area, they would likely become a mainstay of local tourism pamphlets.
The viscount twisted his form into a series of letters as he sloshed before the suit of armor. From Val’s perspective, the letters were displayed backwards. He could not read them.
But when this code of sorts was reflected in a crystal inside the suit of armor, the latter began to move with a thunk.
The suit of armor then went silent, quietly opening up the wall behind itself to Valdred and the viscount.
There in the wall was a great, gaping hole and a latticed door that would not look out of place at the gates of hell.
[Let us be off, then. I must warn you that some sections of the passage are not illuminated. How is your night vision, Valdred?]
“Oh, um. Yes. It’s good.”
Valdred, still in the form of the little boy, stepped through the door after the viscount.
He glanced over at the armor, which towered over him without so much as a twitch.
Val was certain that he had seen this suit of armor somewhere before, and grasped at the threads of his memory. He finally recalled the event that had taken place last summer at this very castle.
One of the vampires had been inspired by a comic book of some sort to host a fighting tournament. This suit of armor was the ‘robot’ Val had seen fighting in the battles.
Although he frowned in disbelief at the thought, Val had no other way of explaining this strange creature. There did not seem to be any giant man in the suit of armor, nor did the pieces of armor seem to be haunted by a lost soul. What had the other vampires called this creature? The words ‘Unit Toto’ came into mind, but he could not remember the rest very clearly.
As he and the viscount descended the steps, Val began to recall the events that had taken place on the day of the tournament.
‘If I remember right, they brought in everyone who lives on this island for the tournament.’
He had no idea how the event had been thought up or organized, but the fighting tournament had indeed taken place. Alongside himself, other vampires, werewolves, and witches of the castle had participated. Most of them were unfamiliar to Val. He realized that, although he had already been living at Waldstein Castle for three months by that point, he had only interacted with a tiny fraction of his fellow inhabitants.
Ultimately, a scylla by the name of ‘Melina’--a creature whose lower body was made of serpents--emerged victorious. The runner-up, Val recalled, was an ordinary human from the island by the name of ‘Traugott’.
He remembered that Melina mentioned an underground lake at the time. And now Val knew for certain that the lake did indeed exist, because he and the viscount were on their way there.
However, Valdred had no recollection of any ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor’. They had not made an appearance at even the tournament, which every other vampire in the castle had attended.
Of course, Val had not seen them in the living area of the castle. He was reasonably certain that they were very deep underground. So he began to imagine the kind of people they might be.
Several minutes passed since they had begun their descent. The stone architecture around them came to an abrupt stop as it gave way to bare cliff faces all around them.
“Wow...” Valdred breathed, awed by the sight that unfolded before his eyes.
The sound of running water resounded through the space, larger than any man-made tunnel.
Stalactites hung from the ceiling, matched underneath them by many pointed stalagmites. All kinds of unique natural patterns were engraved on the walls, like the inside of a great hollow tree.
Further into the cavern, calcified lime deposits stood in the shape of staircases. There were great pillars of stalactites and stalagmites clustered around, each pillar perhaps already hundreds of thousands of years old.
It was a cavern straight out of a tourist destination, but it was not on any informational guides handed out to visitors of the island.
[Ah, does this shock you, Valdred? This is a secret location for vampires, as well as the living area for those who love the underground and those whose circumstances prevent them from setting foot aboveground. Though I would welcome the idea of opening this wondrous, majestic cavern to the outside world, that would be an act of betrayal to the many who place their faith in me.]
At that point, Val realized that the viscount was as clearly visible now as he had been aboveground.
For some strange reason, the entire cavern was filled with soft light. It was brighter here than it was outside at dusk.
“...? I don’t see any lightbulbs...”
[Ah, yes. In my spare time, I thought to transplant some curious luminescent bacteria into the moss and water within these caverns. Of course, they were byproducts of my metamorphosis into this form.]
The viscount had incorporated a special type of bacteria into his own body in order to create energy. This luminescent bacteria was likely created in the process of the same research.
But thinking of the sheer number of bacteria that would be necessary to so brightly light up the cavern conjured up an unpleasant image in Valdred’s mind. He shuddered.
It was indeed a beautiful place, this cavern. But he had no desire to take up residence here.
His need for photosynthesis was one reason, but the more important factor was that he was not so drawn to this place that he would wish to be here.
And yet this ‘Doctor’ and ‘Professor’ were, supposedly, living here all this time like a pair of oddballs. Why in the world were they holed up so deep underground? Or was there another way in and of of the cavern, which they utilized to come and go as they pleased?
Val continued to wonder, but the viscount suddenly began to give an explanation of the space that lay at the end of the cavern.
[Growerth’s executions took place here in the distant past,.]
[It is even equipped with Germany’s very own invention, the iron maiden. Yet despite its reputation in the world, it is neither a torture device intended to prevent the victim’s death, nor is it a device equipped with an escape mechanism. The iron maiden in our castle is an instrument of death, designed to kill in the blink of an eye.]
Val read the viscount’s words and looked down solemnly. He had heard about the iron maiden in the past. It was a coffin made to resemble the form of a woman, its insides lined with countless spikes. As all one had to do was toss the victim inside and close it shut, this device guaranteed a simple and grisly execution.
Had he obtained this knowledge himself, after his own birth? Or was this information from the memories of one of the vampires who had covered him in blood? Valdred could not remember. In fact, he did not even try.
“...Have you ever executed someone, Viscount Waldstein?”
[Ah, yes. I personally signed off the executions of a full sixteen people. Of course, I elected to leave such power in the hands of the justice system in more recent ages.]
“...You didn’t even hesitate to say that, huh.”
Val had thought that even the viscount would try to veer away from such a topic, but the older vampire had been all too quick to respond to his question.
[I would never have given my approval in the first place if I was ever intending to hide my responsibility. These were not unjust sentences. I will maintain that I made the right decisions by signing their execution orders. And setting aside the criminals who were the subjects of these executions, to hesitate or attempt to cover up what had happened then would be an insult to the laws and the people of the time. ...Of course, it is not a past I am particularly proud of. I do not usually speak of it unless I am asked.]
Neither boasting nor regretful, the viscount recounted his past plainly--the past in which he had caused death, indirectly though it had been.
[The death penalty has been repealed in this country, but it is no business of mine to say whether this is right or wrong. At least, it is no business for a vampire to be poking his nose into.]
[In fact, I am doubtful that such a matter could be so clearly given a black-or-white label. Although it would be wonderful if every conflict could be resolved with words, there are, to give us the benefit of the doubt, times and circumstances when things we consider unjust can indeed be justified.]
Was Val imagining things? The letters forming the viscount’s words looked thinner than usual. Although Valdred had no way of knowing about the kind of things that had taken place in the viscount’s past, the latter’s current character made it clear that he had lived through a great many times and ages.
‘Compared to all that, I’m just...’
Val again fell into thought, into a labyrinth of questioning where he wandered to seek the reason for his own existence.
But at that moment, they turned a corner and came face-to-face with one perfectly completed scene.
She was there before their eyes.
That was all.
This was a place of execution.
The iron maiden was not the only occupant of the space. Even guillotines used by the Nazi regime were installed here.
But even that was just a part of the wondrous scene unfolding before them.
She was silently blooming in the midst of faintly glowing stalactites, like a sprout budding inside a great tree.
There was a gigantic flower laid open there, atop which was a nude, pale-skinned girl.
Was she asleep, or dead? She was buried in the center of the gigantic flower, sitting still as a statue.
The petals were wrapped up around the girl, and the flower was circled by dark green thorns that were woven like a net. Spread in a circle all around like cake decorations were leaves and vines.
The vines extended in every direction, wrapping around the stalactites and stalagmites. It almost looked as though they were a very part of this cavern.
The faintly-glowing cavern looked almost like a cocoon embracing this great flower.
And the vampire watermelon who had lived among humans gaped in awe at the sight of his fellow plant.
Was it the scene itself he thought beautiful, or the girl?
Unable to make a decision, Val uttered a single word.
A quiet murmur was all he could muster.
Whether he intended it or not, it was an emotion identical to one he had experienced at the moment of his birth.
At the same time, the harbor in southern Growerth.
The morning sun had risen completely. A lone vampire stood in the light, atop the harbor office.
She was Shizune Kijima, an Eater-turned-vampire.
The ferry from mainland Germany had just docked. Visitors of all kinds disembarked, each with their own thoughts and intentions.
There were more tourists coming in than usual. This was likely because the Carnale Festival was scheduled to begin tomorrow.
There was a young couple, probably on their honeymoon from the looks of their excessive displays of affection.
There was a middle-aged man wearing a very somber expression, looking almost as though he were ready to commit suicide.
There was a young woman in a Gothic outfit leaning against a large piece of cargo that had been unloaded from the freight hold.
There were a dozen or so children clustered together, likely on a school trip of some sort.
There were all sorts of distinctive people and groups, but Shizune did not feel the presence of any vampire among the visitors.
Though she was once the hunter, she had now become the hunted. But her hatred of vampires had only grown deeper since the transformation. This was because she had become the thing she had wanted to destroy most. She had been turned by a vampire--the very same one who had taught her the way of the Eater many years ago.
Although the one who turned her was manipulating her for his own ends, Shizune did the same to him as she used him to further her own goals. At least, this was the plan. All the pieces were in place, but things had gone horribly wrong.
‘I will destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build up.’
At first, Shizune considered massacring the population of the island in a show of rage. But she quickly calmed down and stopped herself.
But she was not stopped by her conscience. What stopped her was the idea of becoming an enemy of the viscount or the police.
Because she had only recently become a vampire, she still did not have complete control over her own powers. Shizune came to the conclusion that making enemies in such a state would only serve to worsen her situation.
Of course, once she had sufficient power, she would destroy them all--humans and vampires. She was even considering taking her own life at the end of the slaughter.
It was only a matter of having sufficient power.
And it seemed that yet another obstacle in her quest for power was to appear today.
“...I thought I’d eaten every last bit of you. Maybe I’d lost one while I was distracted.”
He was the vampire whom Shizune had devoured, and whose powers she had transferred to her then-ally Watt.
Ordinarily, a vampire could not gain the powers of another by drinking the target’s blood. But there was one exception: If a vampire drank the blood of an Eater who had just eaten a target vampire, the powers of the target would be transferred to the former. In other words, Eaters acted as filters that allowed vampires to drink the blood and gain the power of their brethren.
Melhilm, who had thus been indirectly eaten by Watt, had taken the trouble to send a handwritten letter announcing his survival.
If he had intended to avenge himself, there would have been no need to do such a thing. Melhilm’s motives were still a mystery at this point, but Shizune was unfazed.
‘I don’t care what he’s after. I just have to take him down directly.’
Shizune was not being overconfident. She had come to this conclusion on the basis of her calculations and strategy.
This was why she was carefully observing the flow of visitors to the island at the harbor, which was the only way in or out of Growerth. She did not think Melhilm was so foolish as to be discovered here--he could very well fly to the island in the form of a flock of bats, and there were other places further along the island where ships could reasonably dock.
But Shizune chose to wait here.
After all, Melhilm was also searching for her. Perhaps he would go after Watt first, but that did not matter to Shizune. Although she did want to eventually take care of Watt herself, her first priority was to save herself from the trouble that was coming her way.
‘Besides, Watt won’t die so easily.’
The mayor had transformed his only weakness--his heart--into a single bat and hidden it somewhere. If Shizune made one wrong move, he could strike back with ease.
Things would be little different if Melhilm decided to target Watt. In fact, Shizune would be happy if the former could find the hidden heart and spare her the trouble.
Her senses jolted her awake from her reverie.
‘I can feel it.’
It was a vampire’s presence.
One ability of Eaters was the power to sense the presence of vampires. Even though she had been turned, this ability alone had remained with Shizune.
But the presence had come from behind her.
And it was familiar to her.
It was the presence of the vampire she had driven into a corner, spiced with fear, and devoured entirely--or so she had thought.
But it seemed that she had not, in fact, eaten all of him. Shizune amended her own memories as she slowly turned.
The vampire stood in the sunlight, looking at Shizune with a confident smile.
He had long blond hair and wore a long violet coat. Under his sharp eyes and nose were a pair of conspicuously glinting fangs.
The distance between Shizune and the vampire was about ten meters. Although the former stood at the edge of the rooftop, the man--Melhilm Herzog--stood at the very center, as though he were reigning over the space.
“...It’s been a long time, you monster.”
Perhaps he was being considerate to Shizune. Melhilm spoke to her in fluent Japanese.
“Never thought I’d see the day when a vampire called me a monster. But it’s not a bad feeling.” Shizune replied coldly. Even though she had been surprised by him, and even though he had been detected by her, both Shizune and Melhilm looked unperturbed.
“You’re making no sense. You’re now a vampire yourself. I suppose we could say we’re finally on even footing. After all, the last time we met, you were a mere Eater--a lower life form.”
“And who was it that screamed like a little girl when that ‘lower life form’ devoured him?”
“Even humans are eaten by beasts on occasion.”
Although their respective words were quite casual, the looks in their eyes were growing more and more hostile.
“Oh, I see. So did you end up lugging a shotgun along today to kill that animal?” Shizune taunted, reaching into her jacket. She was armed with her weapons of choice--modified utensils like knives and forks--and was ready to throw them in a moment’s notice.
but Melhilm did not so much as twitch, plainly continuing the conversation.
“Not at all. I’m too much of a coward, you see. The idea of hunting beasts with my own two hands is quite terrifying.”
“And that is why I elected to leave the hunting to the hounds.”
Melhilm finished his sentence with a disturbing grin--a grin so strangely confident that Shizune hesitated for a single moment. And as she went over the meaning of his words, a chill ran down her spine.
Her body was moving before her mind had processed the information.
She leapt forward and looked back. A streak of silver was whipping across the place she had been standing at only a moment earlier.
“Oh, I missed. This is unfortunate.”
The girl was high in the air.
But she was not floating. Perhaps she had scaled the wall of the three-story building in an instant, or perhaps she had leapt up to the rooftop in a single bound. Either way, the young woman began her descent from a point slightly higher than the rooftop and landed at its edge.
It was clear that she had leapt up from the ground. After all, this young woman in Gothic clothing was the very one Shizune had seen on the ground by the cargo only moments ago.
As she registered the appearance and voice of her attacker, Shizune also saw the weapon the young woman was wielding.
“Is that... a silver whip?”
Sunlight shone on the glinting cord as it coiled like a serpent and returned to the young woman, cutting the air. The metallic sound of the whip touching the rooftop for a second, and the glint Shizune remembered her own days as a hunter convinced her that her suspicions were correct.
There was a cone-shaped lump of silver at the end of the whip, looking much like the tip of a small spear.
The whip itself was likely made of leather or a similar material, then coated with silver. Although it probably was not pure silver, it would still be extremely heavy.
But the young woman wielded this weapon without exerting an ounce of effort.
And what bothered Shizune more than anything was the fact that she could not sense a vampire’s presence from the newcomer.
“You... you’re an Eater.”
“Yes. I am.”
The Eater grinned and lightly waved the hand that was holding the whip.
At the same time, Shizune vaulted backwards.
The whip slithered towards Shizune as she fell back. Its silver tip tore at her arm.
Although she did not let out a cry, a kind of pain she had never experienced in her life ran down her spine. She was immune to sunlight, but Shizune had no resistance to silver.
‘I see... So this is what it feels like to be hit with silver...’
Because she had never been targeted by vampire hunters or Eaters in the past, this was an entirely new experience for Shizune. In fact, this was her first time meeting an Eater other than herself. Analyzing her opponent’s strategy was difficult when she had zero experience dealing with such an enemy.
More disheartening for Shizune was the fact that, from only the looks of the Eater’s jump and whipping, the newcomer was likely physically stronger than herself.
To say that this was a shock was an understatement.
Shizune had also devoured dozens upon dozens of vampires in the past, taking on their powers for herself.
But it was clear that this Eater had devoured many more--or perhaps stronger--vampires than herself. Although Shizune wanted to deny this reality before her, the pain that clawed at her very nerves did not lie.
“What... is your name?” Shizune asked, drawing a fork-shaped dagger and taking a stance.
The young woman smiled brightly and bent the trajectory of the whip.
“Theresia. Theresia Riefenstahl.”
As Theresia introduced herself, the whip flew back towards her. It would soon return to Shizune with the force of a powerful bullet, but Shizune was neither foolish nor belligerent enough to let this single moment pass by.
She quickly glanced at Melhilm. He was watching with his hands behind his back, not looking likely to make a move.
So Shizune, at that moment, focused all of her attention at her target--Theresia.
But the moment she lobbed her forks at her target, her legs were suddenly caught by something.
She lost her balance. the forks flew off at the wrong direction at full force. They disappeared into the distance like bullets.
Although Shizune had narrowly avoided falling over, her legs still would not move.
As she stood there in shock, Melhilm, who stood beside her, spread open his arms from their position behind him.
Shizune finally realized why her legs would not move.
Melhilm’s arms were cut off at the elbows.
“I never got a chance to show this to you last time, but this is one application of my power.”
Shizune finally looked down at her feet. A pair of hands were clutching her ankles. The arms they were attached to were cut off at the elbows, but eerily enough, the ends were made of countless tiny bats swarming together. It was as though a flock of bats were contorting themselves into the form of an arm.
“I’ve left the hunting to the hound, but I thought it might be prudent to at least set up a trap.” Melhilm said, certain of his victory. But his words did not reach Shizune.
Her senses were focused entirely on the silvery mass of death heading her way.
As Shizune stood with no way to escape, Theresia attacked without a shred of doubt or remorse.
A splatter of blood spread under the blue sky.