There's a couple more name spellings I need clarification with in this update. Enjoy!
He was a monster in the shape of a human child.
By human standards, this monster was unnaturally beautiful. Though his heart was full of malice, it was at the same time pure.
But he was not a child in shape alone.
Because he was indeed still very young.
But this was more the reason why he was so difficult to control.
Just as human children trample upon ants,
He placed little meaning in
Drunk on pure power.
The child was endlessly drunk
On the fact that he was special.
Not knowing that once he awoke,
His world would be turned upside-down.
Chapter 7 - The Orange Officer Tastes Delight, and...
“Now this is something else, O Great Leader Caldimir Aleksandrov.”
A self-assured voice entered the quiet conference hall.
“If you’re going to scatter to dust, I’ll gladly play audience to your death throes.”
A lone woman entered the room as the carved wooden walls sparkled in the candlelight.
She was dressed much like a military officer, and her short hair and tone of speech made her look somewhat like a cross-dresser. She was about twenty years of age in appearance, and her youthful features clashed with the uniform she wore.
She was in the process of addressing the other person in the room. But this addressee was, at the moment, not quite a ‘person’ in form.
“Grk... Argh... Don’t just stand there and watch, Laetitia... Help me...”
The owner of the anguished voice was a human pincushion, crucified on a cross of blood. His body was filled with dozens of wood splinters.
Most people would have died after being subjected to such violence. But the pincushion known as Caldimir was not human. His nature as a vampire kept his soul tied to the world of the living, and his luckily uninjured face was still able to enunciate the voice squeezed out through his ragged lungs.
“I was in... a minor accident.... Urgh... In this state, I can’t even turn to fog...”
“Duly noted. I passed by the Black Gravekeeper on the way here. Garde’s handiwork?”
“Yes! Shit... That barbarian! You have no idea how glad I am to see you here. If you could just pull out the splinters around my heart... Ugh...” Caldimir pleaded. But the woman called Laetitia responded with a cold look unbecoming of her elegant appearance.
“W-why?!” Caldimir cried, his eyes wide. Laetitia flashed him a cold grin.
“Shits and giggles.”
“This is no time for jokes at my expense, Laetitia!”
“Who’s joking? One soldier’s misfortune is another’s lifesaver.”
Realizing that no amount of screaming would get him off the wall, Caldimir elected for a more sensible approach.
“If you’re going to play soldier, why don’t you try and act a little more rationally?” He asked condescendingly.
“Of all the jarhead questions... I am not trying to impersonate a soldier.”
“These clothes are a hobby of mine.”
“What’s the difference... Never mind.”
Caldimir refused to allow himself to be drawn into Laetitia’s pace, instead deciding to continue speaking for himself. This was a strategy that he applied when dealing with the other officers, many of whom were possessed of highly eccentric personalities and characters. To lose himself in Laetitia’s brand of logic would only serve to put him at a disadvantage in their upcoming negotiation.
This was a strategy he only learned after his dealings with Gerhardt.
Though sickened by the recollection of his old friend, Caldimir held onto his temper and continued:
“...Never thought you were the kind of scoundrel who’d forget everything her master’d done for her.”
Laetitia sighed and shook her head.
“That... Actually kind of hurts.”
“Then why are you laughing as though you’re embarrassed?! If you have time to play around, you have time to help me! ...Ahem. Please. Please help me. I’m begging you.”
The woman loudly cracked her neck. Her smile disappeared, giving way to a mask of iron.
“Let’s hear it. I’m all ears.”
“...What are you talking about?”
“...That scheme you and Sigmund cooked up.”
“That’s... Wait. Something’s not right here, Laetitia Gitarin Aztanduja, the Orange Magic Lantern! How did you know we were planning something? You weren’t even present during the conference!” Caldimir cried, unable to hide his shock, “...Ah, I’ve got it! You have this entire room bugged! You claimed that you couldn’t make it time for the conference, but you were actually spying on us the entire time! You saw it all, didn’t you?! How I rolled around on the floor by myself, how I was beaten to a pulp by Ishibashi and Bridgestone, how I was nearly murdered by Garde, how I was practicing my glorious lines in secret before the meeting began, and how I cooed, ‘Did kitty get lost~?’ to a cat that wandered into the hall! You reprobate! What are you up to? Planning to kill me to take leadership over the Organization?! Hah! You have no right! And even if you did successfully take my life, no one would acknowledge your leadership! Know what it means to feel shame!”
Caldimir’s tone grew steadily more forceful as he shook the conference hall with his voice alone. Although he wasn’t necessarily being loud, his tone was dignified enough to make any human freeze up in fear.
Laetitia, however, looked at him with an expression of utmost pity.
“...I told you. I met Garde on the way here.”
“I only happened to hear something vague about you and Sigmund being up to no good.”
The conference hall was now filled with silence.
Caldimir was frozen still for a few moments. But he soon spoke up, his tone crawling from the depths of his gut.
“Kill me. You have the right to take my life.”
Caldimir’s expression was defeated but determined. And for the first time in their conversation, Laetitia allowed her emotions to show clearly. It was an expression of annoyance at the situation at hand.
“Didn’t know you were a cat person.”
“KILL ME NOW! Don’t embarrass me any further!” Caldimir cried from his place on the wall, shaking his head like a child throwing a tantrum. It almost looked like his eyes were watering.
“And because a slimeball like you happens to come up with some half-baked scheme for power, an entire island’s going to be left FUBAR. Incredible.”
“...So you knew after all.”
“No, but you sent in Sigmund. I can make a good guess as to what you’re scheming.”
Laetitia’s expression had been growing more and more clear from her laugh onwards. Her face was twisting into a malicious grin.
“What’re you planning, our oh-so-mighty leader Caldimir?”
Caldimir sensed the gravity with which Laetitia emphasized her question. He stopped struggling for the moment, and calmed himself as he responded to her with a smile.
“Ha. I suppose there will be no harm in disclosing our sublime, eminent, and most magnificent plan to you.”
With that, the leader of the organization finally regained some semblance of dignity.
“Before that, our dear leader Caldimir. I’m going to ask you something.”
“...What’s this about some glorious lines you were practicing?”
Dozens of minutes later.
Caldimir had finally calmed down, though he was still stuck to the wall.
“...Do you recall the research Melhilm was undertaking? With the watermelon?”
“That business about merging the abilities of vampires.”
“Yes. At first, the research was focused on creating a ‘purebred’ by selective breeding, but Gerhardt got his hands on the final product--Relic--before we could.”
Although it was a rather unflattering way of describing Gerhardt’s adoption of Relic, Caldimir seemed to have changed the sequence of events in his memories to match his claims.
“So that was when Melhilm changed his mind. Instead of fiddling with genetics, perhaps we could gather these abilities together via a transcription of the soul.”
“...News to me.”
“Not surprising in the least. I didn’t know a thing myself until Melhilm told me after his recuperation.”
The officer Melhilm Herzog had wasted a great deal of time and effort in the pursuit of the ‘ultimate vampire’.
The kind of vampire that most resembled the ones from myth and stories.
A master of the night.
A vampire fit for these grandiose titles, possessing the powers of all vampires while having none of their weaknesses, born to reign supreme over his brethren.
But before the first result of this experiment was born, the vampire couple who should have been the final catalysts escaped the clutches of the Organization and sought asylum in Growerth. Thus, the experiment ended in failure.
Having determined that trying to retrieve the subjects would pose too great a risk, Melhilm poured his efforts into yet another study whilst keeping an eye out on the island.
“At the time, the technique of using Eaters to transfer abilities had not yet been discovered. So at first, the new experiment consisted of transcribing different souls into a vampire that had been turned for the specific purposes of the study. But all of his efforts ended in failure. The vampire he used as the subject was left a grotesque mess of a monster. His body and psyche were brutalized by the experiments, yet the experiments that had left him in that state ended without bearing fruit.”
“We’d have gotten word if he’d succeeded. So what happened then?” Laetitia asked, her tone as cold as ice.
“...So that’s when the idea of plant-based vampires came to Melhilm. Not naturally-occurring types, but plants that are turned after being showered with the blood of a vampire. Soon after the plant underwent the metamorphosis, he would pour more blood onto it--blood from a different vampire. And through this method, he would transcribe the souls of multiple vampires into the newborn creature, which would ideally cause it to develop all kinds of different powers.”
“Let me guess. Another failure.”
“A disaster. Though plant he used for the experiment became a vampire and ended up developing something close to human intelligence, the problem was that this vampire was a failure who wasn’t even capable of subjugation.”
Caldimir sighed and chuckled bitterly. Laetitia looked at him with her stony mask once more. She was already certain--Caldimir’s target was this failure of a vampire, and he was still hiding the most important part of the story.
Perhaps Caldimir had noticed this; he spoke up before she could complain.
“Don’t rush me. I’m only going in order. So this watermelon was, at first glance, a failure. Its only ability was telekinesis and the ability to create illusions that made it seem like it was a shapeshifter. At least, that’s what we thought. But just before Melhilm was nearly devoured by a certain Eater, he came to an earth-shattering conclusion. Even that failure would be capable of success!”
Laetitia had taken a seat in a nearby chair. She seemed to have decided to lend Caldimir an ear as he went on his long-winded explanation. Her youthful eyes glinted all the while with several centuries’ worth of experiences lying in wait.
“Let me ask you, Laetitia G. Aztanduja the Orange. Think about this from the perspective of a very long-lived vampire like yourself. Let’s suppose that there was a vampire who somehow became the President of the United States, or some sort of powerful mob boss.”
“...Not entirely impossible.”
“And let us suppose there was another vampire. He can walk through walls, and he can turn invisible whenever he wants to. No one can touch him, but he can attack people with ease. And he has no weaknesses. He can get a tan on the beach while kissing a crucifix. However! This vampire can never take a position of power among humans or vampires.”
Though Caldimir spoke in a theatrical tone, the examples he cited were quite specific. Realizing that this description was meant to point at someone in particular, Laetitia silently urged him to continue.
“So, Laetitia. Given the choice, which of these two vampires would you envy more?”
The woman in the uniform took a moment to think over the matter.
She seemed to be going over several scenarios in her mind, but she soon tilted her head with a response.
“The first vampire has the power to change the world. But the second’s freedom is undoubtedly attractive. But... there is no such vampire. Even Relic was born with weaknesses.”
“That’s correct. Think of the first example as Relic von Waldstein. The symbol of absolute power and influence; strength incarnate. I would have no qualms about naming him the strongest vampire in the world. But in comparison, the second vampire... Is invincible.”
“The strongest versus the invincible. Straight out of a cheap B-movie. Get to the point. Does ‘Invincible’ exist?”
Caldimir’s response was quiet but firm.
That one word was enough to make Laetitia freeze. And as though being led by the flow of the conversation, she recalled the earlier part of their conversation and reached a conclusion.
“That ‘Invincible’... The plant vampire?”
Instead of giving her a straight answer, Caldimir recounted a certain name.
“Valdred. Valdred Ivanhoe... The watermelon who holds the key to the goal I seek.”
Waldstein Castle, on the island of Growerth.
“Valdred... I... I don’t know how to thank you...”
“You can thank me after the festival. And besides... There’s a bunch of things I wanted to ask you, too.”
Valdred Ivanhoe stepped out of the castle, completely ignorant of the fact that there was a conversation about him taking place many miles away.
He was holding the hand of the bespectacled girl who followed close after him.
“Something... You’d like to ask?”
“We can get to that later. For now, let’s just enjoy the party. What do you say?”
The girl--Selim Vergès--smiled shyly, slightly hesitant. Val responded with an embarrassed laugh.
It was a heartwarming sight to behold, but no one marveled at the sweetness of the scene.
This did not, however, mean that the castle was empty. In fact, it was bustling with more visitors than it saw on any normal day.
There were only a few minutes until the opening ceremony of the Carnale Festival, a celebration honoring the island’s most venerated artist. Countless people from all over Growerth, Germany, and the rest of the world had gathered here to participate. Although Val and Selim were near the back of the castle, which was not quite so packed yet, the front of the castle was beginning to like the stands of the Formula One Grand Prix.
Because the visitors were all captivated by the sights of the castle, from its beautifully-lit architecture to its perfectly cultivated gardens, no one gave Val and Selim the slightest bit of attention.
Even their conversation was being drowned out in the lively chatter, forcing them to speak more loudly than usual.
Because the crowds and the noise were so overwhelming, it had taken some time for the presence of humans to properly register with Selim: The fact was, she was currently amidst a throng of people.
“Is something wrong?”
“Oh... Um... Aaaahh... Um... I...”
Finally understanding what she had gotten herself into, Selim paled and clung onto Val’s arm.
Val, whose character was currently that of a young boy, blushed like a tomato at Selim’s actions. If he had been in the form of a woman, or perhaps a more composed man, he might not have been so shaken. But he could not transform now--though the people were paying no attention to him at the moment, he could not risk causing a commotion.
In contrast with Val, who stared at the girl on his arm with his face flushed, the alraune trembled with a pale look.
“I... I’m sorry... It’s just been so long since I was surrounded by so many humans...”
“Oh... Right. I... I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you out like this. I’m really sorry.” Val apologized, noting Selim’s discomfort. But something about her words nagged at the back of his mind.
A moment later, he understood what it was that bothered him.
‘It’s... “Been so long”...?’
Selim must have lived underground all this time. So how could she ever have been surrounded by people?
Val prepared to voice his curiosity. But at that moment,
There was a light impact against his shoulder, and the scream of a young girl.
Realizing that the scream did not belong to Selim, Val hurriedly turned toward the owner of the voice.
“Oh, I’m sorry...” Said a girl dressed in humble clothing, bowing towards Val. She was speaking in English.
As soon as he registered the fact that the girl had bumped into him, Val realized that he was standing in the middle of a thoroughfare. Because he was standing side-by-side with Selim, it was not surprising that he ran into someone the moment he let his attention waver.
“No, it’s my fault for standing around like that. I’m sorry.” Val replied in English, making sure to draw on his knowledge of the language in order to give her a fluent reply.
Selim also gave the girl an apologetic bow. Because she was the reason they had been standing in the middle of the thoroughfare, she was also feeling responsible.
“Oh! What a lovely flower you have there!” The girl said with a smile, looking at the top of Selim’s head.
Val tensed. Part of Selim’s hair was shaped like a flower in bloom. Although he thought that it might not be particularly eye-catching in the midst of the many costumed festival-goers, the fact that a stranger so readily noticed it pushed him towards panic.
But the girl said no more about Selim’s hair, disappearing into the crowds with a brief word of goodbye.
There was an awkward moment of hesitation. But Val eventually smiled and took Selim’s arm, searching for a place from which they could get a good view of the opening ceremony.
A voice he had never heard before whispered from behind him.
“You, with the green hair. I would like to ask you something.”
The voice was not speaking in German, but Val instantly realized that it was Japanese. The city of Rukram, which had recently become a part of Neuberg, was sister cities with a town in Japan--this led to a good deal of Japanese influence to enter the city. Val was also acquainted with quite a few people of Japanese descent. Not only that, the knowledge that had been transcribed into him also included a detailed understanding of the language.
And so, he responded.
It was much too careless an act for a creature who should have been running from human beings.
When Val turned, he came face-to-face with a stranger. The man looked around to make sure that there was no one of Asian descent within earshot. He smiled.
“So you are a vampire after all. If you happen to be a relative of Sir Gerhardt, I’d like to ask you to take me to him.”
For a moment, Val felt as though his heart would stop. Although he did not possess such an organ to begin with, even his illusionary body broke into sweat as he responded to the man with trepidation.
“What... Do you mean?”
“There’s no need to play dumb. I’m also a vampire.”
‘How’d he know? All I did was answer him...’
Generally, only Eaters had the power to sense other vampires. But if this man was indeed an Eater, he would have no need to go to the trouble of greeting Val--after all, all he had to do was ambush them when there was no one around.
Val would likely be able to avoid being devoured by an Eater. But he could not speak for Selim. Although he knew that she was skilled in combat, he did not know if her powers would be effective against an Eater.
All he could do now was pray as he continued to stare down at the stranger.
First, he would pray that the man was indeed only a vampire.
Second, he would pray that the man was not an enemy.
The man seemed to have taken notice of Val’s cautious gaze. He said sheepishly:
“Please excuse me. I promise you, I am no Eater. Let me introduce myself.”
The man was probably being so deferent to Val because he was certain that the latter was a vampire. This was because it was impossible to tell a vampire’s age from appearances alone. Vampire-borns who matured to a certain age before their growth halted completely sometimes showed this sort of age-dependent courtesy even to younger vampires.
“My name is Ishibashi Aiji.”
But Val was the one freezing up at the introduction.
“I’m not certain if you know, but to members of the Organization, I am known as ‘Indigo’.”
An underground conference hall, somewhere in Paris.
“So you sent Sigmund, Melhilm, Rudy, and Theresia to the viscount to get your paws on that watermelon.”
“Yes.” Caldimir grinned as Laetitia recounted the situation he had laid out before her.
“This is messed up even by your standards. And all this time, I thought you were doing this to capture Relic.”
“And who gave you that information?”
“Ishibashi. I came here to confirm his intel.”
Caldimir made a face at the mention of the name.
“Of all the problem children... Although I’m almost certain I’ve fooled him into protecting Relic, he might even have gone to the viscount to negotiate--to take custody of Relic before Sigmund can get to him.”
“Doubtful. Ishibashi is a man of honor. He would never cross Gerhardt so easily.”
Caldimir grew anxious.
“Hmph... I still don’t understand how that mass of blood manages to attract such loyalty...”
“Refrain from expressing your self-righteous envy, Caldimir.”
“I could tell you fifty-three more things about you that bother me. Care to hear them?” Laetitia said coldly.
Desperate to change the direction of the conversation, the man who led the Organization said forcefully:
“Bak to the point! During the conference, I emphasized my intent to retrieve Relic in order to keep everyone’s attention on Relic and Gerhardt. But these vampires here are surprisingly sharp. Words alone won’t be enough. That’s why I sent in those two as bait.”
“Hraesvelgr and Nidhogg. I agree that they’re powerful assets of the Organization. But you know what will happen if you send them to Growerth.” Laetitia said firmly, intending to clarify Caldimir’s intentions.
However, Caldimir refused to look away, instead meeting her hostile gaze. In fact, it almost looked as though he welcomed her question.
“Of course.” He said simply. “But it’s none of my business how many people have to die, suffer, weep, vomit blood, languish in pain, begrudge me, or hold a thousand people’s worth of bloodlust against me. As long as I can achieve my goals, I care nothing for anyone other than myself.”
Though his words were mechanical and cold, they struck Laetitia with great force--not because of the terrible nature of his claims, but because she could sense the gravity hiding behind Caldimir’s facade of serenity.
And yet she did not show a hint of having been rattled. Laetitia responded to him as though nothing was wrong.
“...You’re still a mystery, even after all these years. Sometimes you’re a shameless clown, and other times you’re positively demonic. When you’re fighting one-on-one, you’re among the strongest vampires in the Organization, but against multiple enemies, you’re the weakest of us all. On one hand, there’s the you that rescued me from humans by analyzing the Hunters that chased me one by one, manipulating them into facing you alone and eventually wiping them all out. And on the other hand, there’s the sad self-proclaimed leader who fails to invite Black, Mirror, Gold, Silver, Pearl, and Clear out of fear of retaliation.” She said, listing off his contradictions one by one. Caldimir responded in an attempt to cut her off.
“...Is there a problem with that? It is true that killing humans one-on-one is pure simplicity for me. And it’s also true that those like Black and Mirror honestly intimidate me. Those bastards take orders from no one. They ignore my plans and laugh at them, while picking apart everything I say one by one...”
The gloom that permeated his voice earlier in the conversation was no longer there. Such was the nature of Caldimir--quick to shift between emotions. But he soon put on a more serious look as he changed the topic.
“In any case, Rudy and Theresia will wreak havoc on Growerth now. Once Rudy hears about the Waldstein family, he will go berserk. And though Theresia may exercise more restraint...”
Caldimir trailed off. A dark grin rose to his lips as he continued.
“...Once she finds out that he lives on that island, she’ll move on our behalf, whether she likes it or not. As soon as she sees Theodosius M. Waldstein...”
“I see. So you were one of Watt’s subordinates. I’d heard about a shapeshifting newcomer to the Organization before, but to think I would run into you here...”
Once their respective identities had become clear, Aiji addressed Val without a hint of restraint.
‘Ishibashi Aiji, the I-Shadow.’
Though Val’s time in the Organization had been rather short, even he had heard of this man before.
Within the Organization that was created for vampires to exchange information relevant to escaping human persecution, there was a group of high-ranking officers known as ‘Rainbow’. This man was one of them.
The Organization was now technically his enemy; but Val found himself disclosing his name to the man for two reasons. One was that Aiji, despite his moments of volatility, was known for being a part of the moderate faction. The other reason was that he had caught sight of Aiji’s eyes.
Although there was a smile on his face, there was a sharpness to his dark eyes that made Val wonder if he could possibly lie to this man and get away with it. Making false claims without good reason would only leave a bad impression on Aiji. But Val thought that, perhaps since he had also betrayed Watt--a traitor who had inflicted so much agony upon Melhilm--an enemy of an enemy could possibly come across as a friend. The character of the young boy whose shape he was assuming, at least, hoped so.
And that hope came true with surprising promptness.
“Hm? Come to think of it, Watt is still technically a member of the Organization. Under whose jurisdiction, now...?”
The man seemed to hold no hostility against Val, even letting slip a critical piece of information.
“In any case, my impatient younger brother’s gone to meet the mayor, so I’d like to speak to the viscount. If only that brother of mine could be more honest to himself--he’s the one who wants to see the viscount more.”
And he did not seem like he would be unfriendly towards Gerhardt, either.
Val was slightly relieved. So he decided to take Aiji to the parlor inside the castle, where the viscount was likely to be. He headed for the back doors with Selim in tow, wearing a forced grin.
“I’m sorry for interrupting your date.” Aiji chuckled.
“Wh-what?! No! Th-this isn’t... uh... it’s not...!”
Unable to finish his denial, Val turned and glanced over at Selim. But she was unable to understand their conversation, which had been taking place in Japanese. She smiled back at him, completely lost.
Val was becoming more and more embarrassed. He tried to change the subject by asking a question that had been bugging him for some time now.
“Um... Say... How’d you know that we were vampires?”
“Hm? I didn’t sense you as Eaters might, if that’s what you mean. I just noticed it as I was observing you.”
“Your gait, your line of sight, the way you breathe--or don’t--and other little things, all adding up together. The two of you stood out from the humans around you. Another clue was the fact that a boy so young could speak German, Japanese, and English so fluently. So I took my chances.”
Though Aiji was being quite humble, Val was floored by the officer’s observations.
Were he and Selim so noticeable in this sea of humans, he wondered to himself in horror, but Aiji quickly took note of his anxiety.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Humans probably won’t be able to tell. Those differences you showed were very subtle. After all, you two didn’t notice anything about the girl who bumped into you, did you?”
“She’s most likely a vampire herself.”
“Oh... I see...”
‘I had no idea...’
Val was surprised that he hadn’t noticed a thing about the girl, but in hindsight it wasn’t so shocking. After all, Growerth was full of vampires, and tonight was the opening of the biggest festival on the island. Vampires from all parts would be coming to show their respect for the viscount. And to begin with, Val had no idea how many vampires were on the island normally.
‘I’ve lived here for over a year now... But now that I think about it, I never made the effort to learn more about Growerth, did I?’
He finally came to the realization that he had wasted a great deal of time and opportunity in the past year at Growerth. And as though looking to find redemption, he turned to the one he wanted to learn about most on this island.
But Selim only smiled back at him, slightly nervous. Val had no way of figuring out what she was thinking.
“And... That boy over there is probably a vampire as well. Look. The one in white.” Aiji said from behind Val.
Val followed the man’s finger with his eyes.
And he caught sight of a familiar face.
Val had seen him not so long ago in the laboratory. At the time, Doctor was chuckling as he went over the results of his physical examination. But now, he was walking towards the back of the castle with a look of utter anguish.
Normally, he would have thought nothing of it; Doctor might have been out on an evening stroll, for all he knew. But the fact that Doctor was walking around outside bothered Val greatly.
“What’s he doing? I heard he hadn’t gone outside in a long time.”
Though it was indeed strange, Val did not question Doctor’s departure any further.
‘He must have been looking forward to the festival, too.’
With that, he gave up on his line of thinking.
But this was quite understandable.
After all, Val still had no idea.
Many guests had arrived on Growerth that day.
Some would go on to cause tragedy tonight.
An underground conference hall, somewhere in Paris.
“Theodosius M. Waldstein. I never met him myself, but the Organization’s listed him as a threat. You, Melhilm, and Gerhardt are the only ones who know his face.”
Caldimir chuckled and nodded.
“That’s right. He’s not part of the main Waldstein family, but he is part of their bloodline. Though he’s nothing but a stain on their name at this point.”
“That depends on what earned him his place at our list of threats.” Laetitia said cooly. Caldimir laughed.
“Hah! What did he do? Well, that is the most important part.”
Caldimir was clearly satisfied at the disgrace of Gerhardt’s family. His laughter was full of energy, like that of a mythical vampire who had just drank dry the blood of a virgin.
“Yes... Theodosius, a member of the Waldstein family, put us vampires in danger. He went around convincing humans that we were dangerous to them, in spite of whatever he might have intended.”
“How many people did he slaughter? Several? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Or even more? We have no way of knowing at this point. We can’t even tell between his handiwork and the crimes committed by other vampires, or the works of some crazed human serial killer. He went all over Europe... From east to west, without any particular resolve. Men women elders children infants pregnant injured ill ladies gentlemen prettyboys twits beauties wallflowers alike without mercy or prejudice were killed and killed and killed and killed and killed and killed by him, this legendary mass murderer... He avoided leaving behind incriminating evidence by starting with tiny settlements in the countryside that had little contact with the outside world. He erased entire villages off the map! But there was no way the Organization wouldn’t take notice of his actions. Yes! We followed after that monster for the sake of justice. That machine of destruction, the disgrace to all vampires, who attempted to extinguish humanity from the world! I would have strangled him myself! With these two hands! Until he was nothing but a pile of ash!”
Caldimir didn’t so much as take a breath during his long speech. On his face was an expression that might have convinced a stranger that he was possessed by the ghost of that mass murderer.
But Laetitia knew better than to assume such a thing. After all, the mass murderer was still alive.
The series of incidents caused by Theodosius M. Waldstein were quite recent for someone of Laetitia’s age. She recalled the facts that had been reported to her about his actions.
“That incident in the German countryside. It was the site of his final murders, and the only time he left any survivors.”
“Yes! That’s exactly it. That rampaging monster was nothing but destruction incarnate, and this was the only thing productive that came in the wake of his actions. But to think that those two children would mature so well!”
Laetitia had also seen the survivors. She had even spoken to them in the past.
They were a pair of Eaters raised to be the Organization’s hounds and fighting dogs--Theresia and Rudy.
Given the monikers of Hraesvelgr and Nidhogg respectively, they had become two of the top Eaters of the Organization. Slaughtering hundreds of vampires who stood in the Organization’s way, they performed their duties as dogs admirably.
“They were born to butcher vampires--no--anything, living or undead! And we are the ones who raised them! No vampire is a match for--no, most vampires are no match for their powers!” Remembering the bandaged vampire who had turned him into chunks of meat earlier, Caldimir corrected himself. “Yes... They are the cream of the crop. Even their food was a cut above the rest. Even other Eaters couldn’t possibly hope to defeat them! Not even the one who devoured the flesh and blood of our ally Melhilm... Not even Shizune Kijima.”
The island of Growerth. The south side of the city of Neuberg.
The city streets were lined with buildings in the style of traditional German architecture. But one place in particular broke the mold with a decidedly Japanese look. It was Growerth’s martial arts mecca, the Neuberg Dojo.
“Osu! Thank you very much! Osu!”
Firm cries of thanks punctuated the air. The children mixed in Japanese greetings into their German, stampeding towards the doors with things like uniforms, boxing gloves, bamboo swords, naginata, or Japanese bows hanging over their shoulders.
One boy took off on his bicycle. One of the girls ran off. But no matter the mode of transport, it was clear that the students were all headed for the festivities that were scheduled to begin tonight.
Once the commotion subsided, the dojo was quickly filled with a cold silence.
But this did not mean that the building was empty.
There was a large sparring ring just inside the front doors. The sliding doors were all left open, leaving the great room filled with dozens of large tatami mats.
Though the mats were still a fresh green, the individual straws were already falling apart. They were a testament to the powerful impacts they had been subjected to inside the dojo.
There was a man in the midst of all this, standing in silence without so much as twitching.
In spite of his imposing build, he blended into the room as though he was a part of the walls.
The man, cloaked in silence, turned to a corner of the dojo and spoke.
“...Will you not show yourself now?”
His tone was neither harsh like a soldier nor resonant like the voice of an opera singer. But his voice filled the dojo to its furthest corners, bringing to light the presence of another person in the room.
“Took you long enough to act like I exist. Why’d you go to the trouble of calling City Hall about me if you weren’t even going to talk to me?”
“Seeing as you are still fit to speak, I see my worries were unfounded.”
“...So you even realized I got hurt.”
The second voice was coming from a corner of the dojo, behind the shadow of a decorative tree.
A woman with long black hair crawled into the light, dragging herself along the floor.
The moment she emerged completely, the injuries ailing her became clearly visible.
Everything below her ankles was gone, as though her feet had been torn off. Something resembling black tar was coating the amputated areas, stopping her bleeding. It was a grisly sight, looking almost as though the woman’s feet had been melted off by the tar.
But the muscular man remained stoic.
“Your friend will be here for you shortly. Lie down on the tatami mats awhile.”
“You gotta be kidding. I have no friends. Don’t make up relationships for me. Especially not with that third-rate piece of shit!” The woman snapped with monstrous anger.
The term ‘monstrous’ was quite fitting, as this woman--Shizune Kijima--was a vampire.
Although the man was hit with a wave of bloodlust that would have scared most anyone, he did not react. But it was not as though his trained physique had deflected the anger--he accepted the force and parried it away like a swaying willow.
“I see. I apologize for the misunderstanding.”
Seeing the man bow his head in apology, Shizune let her bloodlust die down and put on a different face--one laughing bitterly at her own wounds.
“Never mind. I only came to you because you’re one of the only people who know any Japanese. So I’m not going to ask you to help me. But I do want to cut a deal with you, Traugott-sensei.”
Shizune was clearly rejecting sympathy, but the man called Traugott allowed himself to be sympathetic nonetheless.
“...I am not so skilled in the medical arts that I could use my abilities to bargain with an injured woman. If you have time to feign strength, acknowledge your weakness and wait for your acquaintance.”
Normally, Shizune would have instantly reacted with anger and hostility at words like these. But not now. The man before her was an ordinary human being, but she knew well that he was her superior in many ways.
Strength. Experience. Position. Physical age. Mental age.
What precisely was so great about him? Shizune had never considered the specifics herself, but what was certain was the fact that he was a man she did not want to risk crossing.
Traugott Geissendorfer was the de facto master of the Neuberg Dojo, and a career martial arts instructor who taught for all sorts of educational programs. However, the money he earned on the side by participating in tournaments or appearing on TV programs easily dwarfed his regular income.
Because he was away so often, he was on Growerth as much as he was gone. But he had been on the island for the past several weeks in his position as the master of the dojo, perhaps because of the Carnale Festival.
Although Carnald Strassburg was the undisputed top celebrity of the island, adding the condition ‘currently still alive’ would elevate Traugott to that position. He had received honorary citizenship at the city of Rukram before its merging with Mozartzungen, and the residents of Growerth treated him with great respect and awe--both the humans and the vampires.
Just like humans, vampires could also be starved for entertainment. And the idea that someone from their own hometown was making waves in the world outside also cheered them greatly.
One factor that contributed to the vampires’ love for Traugott was the fact that he knew a great deal about vampires himself. Some claimed that he could overpower vampires despite his humanity, and many who bore witness to his superhuman feats were inclined to agree.
Traugott had trained in Japan, Thailand, and China in the past, and was able to speak the languages of the countries he had visited. So Shizune got in contact with him and began to do odd jobs at the dojo, receiving some pay in return.
But she had no intention of being in Traugott’s debt. She had intended to hide today so he wouldn’t notice her injuries, but he had so easily sensed her presence.
There was no point in being picky now. The amputated areas around her ankles, covered in asphalt, were starting to go numb. Shizune knew that she had no other options.
“...I’ll pay you later, so I’d like some food. Preferably something meaty with bone, and some milk. And... Could I use the bathtub?”
“Otherwise I’ll get blood everywhere. You don’t want your holy ground here getting all slopping wet with blood, do you?”
“It seems to my eyes that you are no longer bleeding, Shizune.” Traugott said, leaving his question unstated. Shizune chuckled masochistically.
“The asphalt’s seeping into my veins and skin. My legs aren’t regenerating. So I thought I’d just rip off everything from the knees down.”
An underground conference hall, somewhere in Paris.
“But they are the Organization’s dogs. They will listen if Dorothy or Ishibashi commands them to desist.”
“Not once they find out that the Waldsteins are involved.” Caldimir said with a calculating smile. Laetitia shook her head.
“You’d stir up conflict between fellow members of the Organization. There is nothing to be gained from this, Caldimir.”
“I have much to gain from this!”
“...Childish as always.” Laetitia sighed.
“Hmph... I was only joking. I’m not so irrational that I’d set my own pieces against one another. That is why I’m using Sigmund as bait.”
“The eyes of the world will be on that festival, and you send in Sigmund?” Laetitia said. It was a reasonable question. After all, the Organization’s purpose was to protect vampires from unjust persecution and death at the hands of humans. But their problems would snowball uncontrollably if they exposed a conflict between vampires to the masses.
Caldimir, however, looked nothing short of casual as he grinned, his fangs glinting in the light.
“Hahaha... Don’t be foolish, Laetitia. That is exactly why I sent in Sigmund. You already know how far this plan of ours can go.”
“...Airborne infection of humans.”
It was a strange term to be using to describe the ability of a vampire.
“A vampire who can create allies through airborne infection. It’s not so difficult to imagine the terror Sigmund is capable of! In most zombie films, all it takes is a single bite to be infected. But what if the virus was carried through the air? The movie would end before it even started. Yes! There would be no story, no incident left for humans to recall!”
“You’re enjoying yourself.”
“Indeed I am! Sigmund may have great difficulty in turning humans, but my comrade can easily subjugate every human on the island and make them bend to my every will. Those rulers of the island--both of day and night--will understand the magnitude of this power as they struggle to save the countless people under their care.”
Neuberg City Hall. The hallway outside the Mayor’s office.
Paintings had been hung in the hallway in anticipation of the Carnale Festival.
Although the building looked more majestic than usual today, most of the employees working at City Hall were already at the heart of the festivities at Waldstein Castle. The building was silent.
In that silence, two shadows stirred.
Pointing a microphone at the bespectacled mayor of Neuberg, Watt Stalf, was a reporter.
But Watt was staring at the reporter as though the microphone was a loaded shotgun.
“What was it that Melhilm demanded back from you? And what is it that we are here to find? It is the young vampire we had left under your command, Watt Stalf.”
The vampire in the guise of a reporter--Sigmund Kiparis--mechanically recited Caldimir’s demands to one of the most powerful men on the island.
“Valdred Ivanhoe, I believe that watermelon’s name was...”
The mayor frowned at the mention of the name, responding with a question without even thinking.
“What do you want with him? If you’re here to take everything back, why aren’t you taking the clown and the magician? Is there something I should know about that watermelon?” Watt said, recalling the fact that Val was the only one of his former subordinates whose face he couldn’t remember.
Sigmund, however, shook his head.
“There is no need to disclose this information to you. In fact, your knowing the truth would only hinder our plans. And remember that you do not have the right to refuse to cooperate.”
“Son of a bitch...”
The truth was all Sigmund told.
“I have subjugated a full forty percent of this island’s residents. Though they are not yet aware of this, if I give the command, they will die without a second thought. Without reason. If I order them to cease breathing, they will refuse to exhale until they pass away. My ability overpowers even human instinct.”
Forty percent. The number hit Watt with all its magnitude. His temple twitched.
“Yet this is only the beginning. The island’s population is still on the rise as more visitors flood in to enjoy the festival. But if I choose to do so, I can subjugate every last human on the island, and even the birds and the animals if necessary.”
There was no exaggeration or lie in Sigmund’s mechanical claims. He looked almost like a robot to Watt’s eyes.
Most people would have been struck still by fear at this point. But Watt, in spite of the fact that he was now essentially powerless, responded with a genuine, forceful voice.
“So... What kinda deal is Mr. Sigmund-the-invincible trying to cut with me? Am I so fucking scary you need to take hostages to negotiate?”
It was clear that he had no more options. The situation was a dead ringer for the possibility the viscount had explained to him earlier in the evening, so Watt had no reason to doubt the man’s claims.
This vampire was capable of causing airborne infections. Although it was hard to believe, vampires always defied the boundaries of logic. If there was a viscount made entirely of blood, the idea of a vampire that could infect humans like a virus didn’t sound quite so far-fetched.
And yet Watt did not wish to accept this. To do so would be to acknowledge defeat.
He could probably emerge victorious if he abandoned the people of Growerth.
But he rejected that option before even considering it.
After all, what use was there in defeating Sigmund in this way if this victory automatically spelled his defeat against the viscount?
The moment he abandoned the islanders, he would lose to Gerhardt von Waldstein. Though there was no official competition or rules pertaining to one, Watt knew that he would feel defeat down to his very bones.
Though they were different in that one ruled over the day and the other ruled over the night, Watt knew very well that if Gerhardt were in his position, he would never forsake the humans.
Though he came close to losing his temper at the thought that he was taking Gerhardt into the equation, Watt forcibly quelled his anger and returned to the matter at hand.
“...Hurry up and answer. Can’t cut a deal until you lay out some terms.”
“There is no hurry. Although most of my business with you concerns naught but small details, let us begin; have the watermelon come to this place. That will make matters much easier.”
“...What are you, a retard? Why don’tcha just go to Gerhardt if you want that watermelon that badly? Him and the magician... And the clown. None of ‘em are my underlings now.”
“We already know.” Sigmund said, shaking his head. “But rumors tell us that the clown--Pirie Mistwalker--is still obsessed with your person.”
The moment Sigmund mentioned the clown vampire, Watt felt cold sweat running down his back.
“Give orders to the clown. Have her lure Valdred here.”
Watt glared at the reporter with gritted teeth. The man remained entirely stoic.
“This first job is a relatively trivial matter in comparison to another task which requires your cooperation.”
“I cannot read the memories of the individual humans whom I have subjugated. To be specific, I am unable to find the individual I need.”
Watt frowned, completely lost.
“A human? I thought you were here for the watermelon. What the hell do you want with a human being?”
“...Do not make me repeat myself. In order to take custody of Valdred Ivanhoe, we must turn all eyes upon Relic for a time. Though I have no qualms about taking the watermelon by force, Comrade Caldimir would prefer to avoid such a method.”
“Quit stalling and tell me what the hell you’re planning.”
Determining that it might be dangerous to anger Watt any further, Sigmund sighed and got to the point.
“What is the name of the lover of Relic von Waldstein?”
There was a force and weight to Sigmund’s voice that wasn’t present before. It was as though refusal would be met with the instant realization of his subjugation over the island.
But the moment Watt made to speak, a hole was blown through the reporter’s chest.
What he first felt was the wind left in the wake of the attack.
He then heard it--the sound of something cutting through the air.
And before he knew it, the reporter was left with a gaping hole.
However, there were no flashes of red flesh and organs. It was literally a hole, blown clean through the man in a perfect circle.
Watt looked on in utter confusion. The reporter quietly looked down upon his chest and brought a hand to his wound.
A moment later, blood began spilling from the hole.
The force of the spill was rather weak, perhaps because Sigmund had been shot through the heart--or perhaps because he was a vampire. Watt realized that he was speculating only as he looked down upon the red stain on the carpet.
It was only when he saw his own blood that Sigmund finally gasped in anger and confusion.
At the same time, his bleeding stopped and the hole in his chest began to shrink. Although he regenerated at about the same rate Watt was capable of, perhaps Sigmund was the type of vampire who could withstand a blow to the heart. Or perhaps he had, like Watt, hidden away his heart elsewhere to safeguard it.
As Watt continued to analyze the information the scene was providing him, a snicker shattered the tense atmosphere in the hallway.
“Hey, hey! That’s more than enough bluffing outta you, Siggy.”
Once more, there was a whoosh. The sound of something cutting through the air.
It was as though a small plane had flown by right next to Watt.
The sound echoed five times as the windows in the hallway shook in their frames.
And the moment the sounds passed by,
Five more holes had been blown through the reporter’s body.
His body was mutilated as though a gigantic hole-puncher had been used upon it. Normal humans would not have been able to withstand such attacks.
The one who had driven this vampire to such a state then casually turned to address Watt.
“Huh. So you’re the mayor? Mind if I just call you that?”
“...Who the hell are you.”
The intruder was holding something shaped like a gun in his right hand, Watt noted. ‘Shaped like a gun’ was a fitting way to describe his weapon, as it was clearly a fake--a children’s toy.
The plastic texture of the gun was quite clear under the fluorescent lights. But holding this toy was not a child, but a man with blue eyes and blond hair who looked to be about the same age as Watt.
“Me? The name’s Bridgestone. Yellow Bridgestone.”
The man introduced himself with surprising openness. Watt didn’t even have to pry to get his identity out of him.
“And, let’s see here... I’m an officer of the Organization, and dunno if you already know this, but I’m also Yellow of Rainbow. Don’t sweat the name; I just made up an alias to match my title.”
“...! I’ve heard of you. That Japanese guy is your older brother.”
“You’re hurting my feelings, pal. I’ve got a bit of a complex with being compared to my brother, you know? Anyway, I should normally expect some respect here, seeing as I’m a member of Rainbow and all, but I don’t sweat that stuff, so cut your worryin’. I dropped by here ‘cause my brother told me to, but who’d have thought I’d hit the jackpot just like that? That’s what being a gunman’s all about. The way things’re rolling, I bet I could beat John Wayne in a fistfight now. Serious!”
The man calling himself Bridgestone spun his toy gun in his hand, rambling about everything and nothing at once. He then turned back towards the reporter.
“All right, Sigmund. Playtime’s over. And so’s your job.” He said, casual as can be as he addressed the dying vampire. “First, you’re gonna have to tell me where I can find Melhilm.”
In spite of his injuries, Sigmund remained eerily calm. The look of agony had subsided, and he was not even sweating despite the severity of his wounds.
“Comrade Caldimir is the only one who has the right to give me orders. Furthermore, he has instructed me to ignore your commands for the duration of this mission.”
Bridgestone shook his head, astonished.
“Should’ve beaten the old bastard harder.” He mumbled, tightening his grip on his gun and withdrawing his grin. “So Sigmund. I know what you’re probably thinking. You don’t think I got any more bullets left in my magnum. You’re wondering if I used all six or if I still have one shot left, am I right?”
Reciting a line straight out of a gangster movie, Bridgestone slowly hooked his index finger onto the trigger of his gun.
There were clearly six holes bored though Sigmund’s body, but no one pointed this out.
Watt and Sigmund made to speak simultaneously. But at that moment--
There were no gunshots.
The sound of something slicing through the air once more shook the hallway.
The reporter’s body was doing a distorted dance across the carpet.
The repeated impacts assaulting his body forcibly twisted him into a spin.
With each impact, holes were shot into his body, flesh was torn from his arms, and pieces of his head fell off. He was rapidly losing human form.
For the first time, Watt was witness to the process of the attacks. He finally understood what was happening.
Each time Bridgestone pulled the trigger of his plastic handgun, a black mass was shot from the barrel.
It was not a bullet.
There was no sound, and there was no gunsmoke. Not even the smell of gunpowder.
But the gun was firing something.
Watt focused and concentrated on the projectiles that were flying across the room. Eventually, he saw it.
Cutting through the air and shooting through Sigmund were little monsters with glinting fangs. They compressed their bodies to the utmost limit, spinning their entire bodies as they moved to drill through air and flesh.
They mercilessly tore at their target’s body.
“Sorry ‘bout that. My gun isn’t actually a six-shot.” The gunman said flippantly, pulling the trigger over and over again.
“‘Cause I’m the bullets, y’know? So basically I have infinite ammo. Just like a video game! Wait. You already knew that, didn’t you? Ah well. Ahahahaha!”
Though Bridgestone’s tone was casual, the bats kept shooting out of his gun one after another.
“Ahahahahahahahaha! Ahahahaha hahahahaha haha hahahaha hahahaha hahahaha hah hahahahahaha ha ha ha ha hahahahahahaha HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
He laughed like a broken record as he continued his mad assault against Sigmund.
Each bat that was driven into his body raised its fangs and twisted itself even more, devouring Sigmund’s flesh as it went.
It was a grotesque feast happening at breakneck speed.
In the path of the predators there remained nothing but empty space.
“Ahaha! Hahahaha aha haha... YEAAAAAH! I haven’t gone this wild in way too long! Like super--wait. I’d almost add a super- to this! Hah! What do you think, Mayor?”
Yellow turned to Watt with a grin. By that point, he and the mayor were the only people left in the hallway.
The third man had been devoured by the countless bullets Bridgestone had fired at him. He had lost his form entirely, not even a single bone remaining where he stood.
“Oy...” Watt breathed, his expression a mix of shock and disbelief. “You’re... An Organization officer.”
“Yeah? Oh, you don’t trust me? Makes sense; we’ve never met before and all. Officers don’t share personal info or anything. And I don’t make a point of remembering the other officers’ underlings, either.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. Weren’t you two... Supposed to be on the same side?”
Sigmund claimed to be here on a mission for the Organization. But this man, also claiming to be from the Organization, killed Sigmund without a moment’s hesitation.
“Hey, hey. Don’t get the wrong idea. I didn’t kill him. We just have some issues on our end that need addressing, so I just got in his way for a bit.”
“That pile of ground beef over there, huh?”
“Hm? ...! Oh! Ah, I get it!”
Bridgestone, finally seeing Watt’s point, waved his arms in front of his face.
“No, no, no. This guy here’s just one of Sigmund’s Branches. I killed ‘im off to announce war and stuff, but Sigmund’s totally fine. This reporter guy’s probably gonna come back in no time.”
Though Watt did not understand what Bridgestone was trying to say, there was one thing he understood.
“In other words... You didn’t hurt this Sigmund guy one fucking bit?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying, dumbass!”
Though it seemed as though the mood would grow hostile thanks to the men’s rough attitudes, the conversation continued as though that was no hindrance.
“Hey, wait just one goddamned second here.”
If Sigmund was still alive, that meant the lives of the islanders were still at the mercy of the enemy.
“Fucking bastard... Why’d you have to go and do that?”
“Huh? Oh, I get it. I mean, on my end, it was just me getting the drop on ol’ Sigmund. But I just cost you your chance to negotiate, huh? Right. Sigmund’s holding the entire island hostage and all that. I totally understand.” Bridgestone said, nodding to himself.
Without warning, he opened one of the windows. It was evening outside, with the last of the sunlight disappearing over the horizon. But the city was filled with a brilliant glow, perhaps because of the festival that was beginning tonight.
“But y’know? That’s none of my business.”
“Dunno ‘bout my brother, but I don’t give a hoot about what happens to the humans here. All I care about is stopping Sigmund. Whatever negotiation you two were planning doesn’t matter to me one bit.”
From a human’s perspective, Bridgestone was terribly callous and cruel. But Watt was not particularly angered by his statement. After all, the Organization did not exist for the protection of humanity. And to add, Bridgestone’s neutral attitude was still considerate in comparison to vampires who saw humans as nothing but prey and playthings.
What angered Watt, however, was Bridgestone’s next claim:
“But then again, I guess I might think about keeping those humans safe if Mr. Gerhardt asked me. Hah!”
The gunman put a foot on the windowsill.
“So that’s all for now, Mayor. I’m probs gonna go a bit trigger-happy today, so thanks in advance for permission. And don’t worry ‘bout Mr. Gerhardt. My brother’s gonna go talk to him.”
The moment Bridgestone finished his sentence, the very air around him began twisting.
He was rapidly wrapped up in the distortion, and the darkness around him morphed into the shape of a gigantic bat. A moment later, he threw himself into the evening skies.
Then, something like the sound of a rocket launch shook City Hall. The windows rattled even more loudly than before.
The dog-sized bat catapulted itself from the wall of the building, melting into the darkness.
With the force of a cannonball,
And the sharpness of a bullet.
The dhampyr left in the wake of the departure tightly gripped the windowsill with a stubbornly calm expression.
‘Son of a bitch. Acting like I’m a fucking non-issue.’
Bridgestone was an officer of the Organization(which Watt was also a part of). And setting aside his influence, his abilities as a vampire were formidable.
But the fact that he had looked his nose down on this city--no, its mayor--infuriated Watt.
The fact that this intruder had looked down on him while simultaneously showing his respect for Gerhardt von Waldstein enraged him. It was nauseating and vexing.
He spent a moment turning over this emotion in the pit of his stomach, before eventually breaking out into a grin. A cold and apathetic grin, one that was at the same time disturbing. A perfect look for a petty villain.
‘Right. Since when was I this much of a pussy? I’m not gonna shrink back that easily.’
The cell phone in his pocket began to vibrate. He took it out, noting that the call was from a member of the city council. The fact that the name belonged to someone he wasn’t on particularly good terms with tipped him off to the identity of the true caller. He took the call.
<...We were interrupted last time, but I will have you answer my question from before.>
The voice undoubtedly belonged to the councilman to whom the name belonged, but the words were coming from Sigmund.
But Watt could not be more casual about the continuation of their conversation.
“Sure. Let’s do this.”
The voice on the other end shook slightly, as though Sigmund had been taken by surprise.
Delighting in his enemy’s show of shock, Watt put on a snide grin and said:
“So you wanna know the name of the human Relic von Waldstein’s all crazy over? Look for--”
A beach on the island of Growerth.
‘I wonder what time it is.’
The young man in the armor thought to himself, standing at the deserted beach.
Rudy Wenders, the uninvited guest, looked up at the darkening skies and began to walk towards the harbor to find his fellow Eater, Theresia Riefenstahl.
Though he risked being found by the werewolves from earlier that day, he was reasonably certain that they would not all be traveling together.
‘Taking care of two or three of them at a time won’t be a problem.’
He was not boasting in his own powers or being overconfident. This was a conclusion he had reached after objectively analyzing the movements of the werewolves from before.
Rudy knew that he was strong.
This was not a matter of pride, but a fact of reality and the source of his confidence.
His faith in his own power was what sustained him.
It was all to make Theodosius M. Waldstein suffer for what he had done--for taking away everything his childhood self had held dear.
“Hey! What’s that?”
“Maybe he’s performing at the festival!”
Rudy heard a pair of voices from behind him. He finally came to his senses.
He turned around with surprising fluidity for a man in a suit of armor, and found himself looking down upon a pair of children around ten years of age.
They were probably siblings or a pair of childhood friends. A pair of curious eyes looked up at the fantastic suit of armor.
‘Brings back memories.’
The children reminded him of himself and Theresia when they were around that age.
Curiosity killed the cat, as the old saying went. And if cats were killed for their curiosity, there would be nothing strange about humans having their families and loved ones massacred for the same reasons.
If only their childhood selves never had that curiosity.
If only they hadn’t thought of exploring the woods.
If only they had never encountered that accursed vampire.
And... If only he had never thought of befriending that vampire.
Although he knew that there was no point in debating what could have been, this other life that he could have led--a life full of normalcy and peace--refused to leave his thoughts. Perhaps, he wondered to himself, he could try his hand at a new life once his vengeance was complete.
As he lost himself in his near-delusional dreams, the little boy looked up at him and said,
“...I found you!”
The little girl continued where the boy left off, an eerie chill in her tone.
“What are you still doing here?”
“Theresia’s already on her way to the castle, you know.”
This boy, a complete stranger, knew Theresia’s name. Rudy thought for a moment that these children might be Theo’s allies, but he did not sense any vampiric presence from them.
But he soon took note of their strangely blank gazes and realized what had happened to them.
“Sigmund. It’s you.”
“Nope! We’re Sigmund’s Leaves. We’ve both been subjugated, that’s all.”
“Oh. I get it.”
The two children had already been infected by Sigmund’s blood.
Sigmund was the self-proclaimed ‘Branch’, and the subjugated humans were known as ‘Leaves’. The Branch was a different person each time Rudy met Sigmund, but he did not know the specifics of how Sigmund worked. It would be a lie to say that he was not curious, but at the moment he could not care less about it.
“Pass on a message to Sigmund for me, okay?”
Though Rudy had no time to assist Sigmund and the others now, if he wanted to meet up with Theresia, he would have to go to the castle as their orders dictated.
But the subjugated children giggled as though they had seen through him already.
“We already passed it on!”
“Our eyes and ears belong to Sigmund.”
“And it looks like you’ve already met the girl.”
“The sister of your target today.”
His target’s sister--
It took a moment for the thought to register, but Rudy finally realized that this ‘sister’ was probably the vampire he had attacked in the harbor today. His eyes widened instantly as he interrogated the two children.
“What’s that supposed to mean. Don’t tell me... Is Waldstein our target this time?”
“That’s right.” The little boy replied. The girl continued where he left off, cheerfully providing Rudy with more information.
“But he’s not the Waldstein you’re looking for.”
The children were little more than clockwork dolls moving at Sigmund’s command. They spoke one after another in full sync as they revealed everything to Rudy.
“Didn’t you know, Rudy? The castle you’re going to is called Waldstein Castle.”
“And our target today is a relative of the Waldstein vampire you’re looking for. Oh! I get it! Maybe Melhilm never told you because he didn’t want the two of you to charge onto the island without orders!”
“And who knows if any of them know where your target’s hiding?”
“Maybe you should ask while you’re doing your job! Ask the Waldstein prince and princess!”
“...That’s right! We dispatched you two here because we’re going up against the Waldsteins today!”
“You should be thanking us!”
The repeated mention of the Waldstein name fanned the flames of anger and anxiety in Rudy. He opened his mouth to say something--anything--to expel that emotion.
But the children cut him off.
Their tone was different. It was a 180 from the voices they had been using earlier. It was enough to push back everything Rudy was about to spill.
“Remember Comrade Caldimir’s words, Rudy. Become our hunting dogs, and we shall give you a hand with your plan for revenge.”
“And now is the time. That is all that matters.”
There was a monster named Sigmund living in the innocent eyes of the children. There wasn’t a drop of emotion in their voices, which were instead filled with a chilling force of will.
As Rudy registered this fact, the boy suddenly began to look around as though he was lost.
“Huh? Was I... Saying something?”
“Huh? What is it?”
“Maybe I’m just imagining things. Oh well. Hey, Mister! You’re doing something with that armor for the festival, right? I can’t wait to see!”
“Hey, we have to go now! The festival’s starting!”
There was nothing resembling the terrifying emptiness in the children’s voices now. Sigmund had given them back their senses. There was probably nothing left of the previous exchange in their memories.
But the subjugation still continued.
If Sigmund gave them the order to die... No, if Sigmund so much as thought about the children killing themselves, they would probably begin strangling themselves on the spot. The image came to Rudy with surprising clarity as he projected the image of his childhood self onto the children.
‘Though I doubt Sigmund would go that far...’
He was told that Sigmund would take action today to restrict the target’s movements today. He was supposed to find out the details as Theresia transported him from the harbor to the castle, but things had spiraled out of control after his encounter with the vampire and the werewolves.
‘But that... Wasn’t the only thing that went wrong.’
The exceedingly ordinary human boy who had stood between him and the vampire.
If Rudy had been serious, he could have twisted off the boy’s neck with ease.
But the boy’s actions were engraved into Rudy’s memories, and as he unconsciously compared him to his own childhood self, he found his senses filling with endless unease.
‘But it’s almost over now. I’ll take away everything Theo holds dear... The Waldstein family, his friends... And in the end, I’ll kill him. Then... It’ll all be finished. I have to finish it.
‘But for who?
‘For myself. That’s all. Even if I kill him... My parents and my friends... And my sister... None of them will come back.
‘Yeah. I’m just doing this to satisfy myself.’
Rudy laughed alone, cutting himself down in his own thoughts.
He was not rejecting himself in his laughter.
He was laughing because he was picturing the acts of revenge he would take upon Theodosius soon.
He would make that fiendish vampire feel the very same despair and fear he had felt in the past.
‘I... Will become Theodosius.’
At that moment, the image of the boy from before--Mihail--flashed through his thoughts once more. Anger welled up within him like a volcano, but he ground his teeth without knowing why he was so outraged.
The boy and the girl left Rudy on the beach, leaving him with these painful words:
“Bye, Mister Armor!”
“Do your best at the festival!”
Rudy could neither wave his hand nor respond to the children.
Even the act of recalling his old self was repulsive to him. He could not bring himself to watch the children depart.
Despair and hatred continued to sink their roots deep into his heart.
An underground conference hall, somewhere in Paris.
“It’s all in the palm of my hands. And if all goes well, I’ll even be able to capture Relic on the side. I’d like to do that. If at all possible.”
“I see nothing but greed in that head of yours.” Laetitia said, chiding her fellow officer in a strangely happy tone.
Caldimir, on the other hand, made his downcast mood clear.
“And yet... Our greatest miscalculation is now headed straight for Growerth...”
“You mean Garde.” Laetitia said, frowning.
“Yes... Garde Ritzberg, the Black Gravekeeper! That demonic vampire, wandering battlefields for centuries to devour the dead and steal away death from corpses to control them! That sick necromancer! I still can’t bring myself to admit that someone as revolting as Garde is one of the Organization’s strongest members! Laetitia, you know what happened during the Great War. This sicko zombified every corpse on the front lines, even though no one was left alive to fight! And made the corpses start another battle! For the sole purpose of deriving amusement! For trifles! Someone like that should be at the top of our blacklist, but no one can defeat Garde! It’s a relief Gerhardt managed to convince that idiot, but that bothers me even more! Gerhardt’s left the Organization, but Garde still worships the ground he walks on!”
It was an overly dramatic way of describing his fellow vampire, but Caldimir was not exaggerating when he discussed Garde’s feats. Nor did Laetitia doubt the veracity of his claims. She knew very well the kind of vampire Garde Ritzberg was.
“If that idiot tells Gerhardt what I’m planning, everything will have been for naught! And if Garde decides to go crazy and ends up fighting Sigmund head-to-head... There won’t be a Europe left anymore.” Caldimir said, as though the end of the world was nigh. Laetitia smiled faintly.
“That’s not a problem.”
“Growerth is a thousand kilometers from Paris, and Garde just left the room. It’s as simple as ending things before your little problem gets to the island. Call back Sigmund and Melhilm before the inevitable rampage.”
“...Rudy and Theresia won’t listen to orders once they run into Theodosius.” Caldimir said. Laetitia’s smile grew icy.
“Then they die. Simple as that.”
The outskirts of Paris. Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“Amazing! I got a seat on the plane to Hamburg! I did!”
The sun was setting on the airport. A vampire was sitting in one of the airplanes that were preparing to take off.
The figure’s face was wrapped up in layers upon layers of black bandages, their wide-open right eye being the only feature exposed to the world. The rest of their body was also wrapped up in bandages, making them look very much like a black mummy. The only exposed parts of their body was their shoulder-length hair, which stuck straight into the air, and the area around their neck and bellybutton. Some might have been drawn to this strange appearance, but to be frank, it was difficult to tell if this vampire was a man or a woman.
How had Garde Ritzberg gotten through security like this? It was still a mystery, but they were now sitting in a seat in first class.
“Mm... To Hamburg? Is it less than two hours to Hamburg?” They wondered to themselves, falling into thought.
It wouldn’t take very long to reach Growerth from Hamburg. Although they would not make it in time for the opening ceremony of the Carnale Festival, Garde did not seem to care one bit.
After all, they did not even know that tourists from all over the world would be gathering on the island today, on the day that marked the beginning of the festivities to come.
“I wonder how many people Sigmund’s killed? How many?”
The more fresh corpses there were, the more toys there were available for Garde to enjoy.
Just like Caldimir, Garde cared nothing for the lives of the people on the island.
An underground conference hall, somewhere in Paris.
Caldimir hung his head with a tired look, having spilled everything.
The conference hall was filled with silence for a moment, but Laetitia flashed a grin of pure ice and shattered the stillness.
“You’re a sick bastard, Caldimir.”
“...That’s all you have to say?”
“Yes. Your allies aren’t even allies in this plan of yours. I was going to give you props for going so far to get your hands on Valdred, but that wasn’t the truth. You just want to get back at Gerhardt von Waldstein.”
“What?! How dare you?!” Caldimir cried. But Laetitia smothered his yells with the depth and weight of her own voice.
“There are countless Organization members who could get Valdred to you more efficiently and with even greater secrecy. Sigmund and Melhilm could pull it off on their own.”
Being a fellow officer, Laetitia knew well the powers Sigmund possessed. This was why she was capable of such a cutting critique of Caldimir’s excesses.
“Deploying Rudy and Theresia had nothing to do with increasing your chances at success. You sent them there to destroy the peaceful ecosystem the viscount’s created on that island. Talk, Caldimir. You’re not really interested in getting back Valdred or Relic. You wanted the viscount to get involved in Rudy and Theresia’s plans for revenge. Val and Relic are nothing but excuses to you.”
One little clue--the fact of the excessive power allocated for the mission--was enough for Laetitia to form a conclusion that she could rub in Caldimir’s face.
But Caldimir withdrew his look of anxiety, looking up with determination filling his endlessly cold eyes.
“...Hmph. And what will you do? Betray me? No... Would you denounce me for acting against the Organization’s interests?”
“Stop being a slimeball politician. But not to worry, Caldimir. I have the viscount’s email address, and Dorothy and the twins’ cell phone numbers. But I won’t contact them.”
Caldimir did not ask why. He had known Laetitia long enough to understand her reasoning. This was also the reason why he had told her everything.
Laetitia finally broke free of the iron mask she had maintained all this time and burst out laughing like a madwoman.
The laughter filled every corner of the conference room. Each and every wave echoed against the walls and joined yet more, making it sound almost as though the room was filled with an audience.
“Hah... This is too interesting! And I can’t even join in on this commotion! I hate, despise, loathe myself! Why can’t I see the outcome with my own two eyes? All I can do is imagine the chaos, and it’s killing me!”
The composed soldier from moments earlier was gone. Laetitia was wearing the face of a cartoonish dictator descending into madness.
“Hm. I thought you were supposed to be friends with Gerhardt. Not going to offer him a helping hand?”
“There’s no merit in helping him. Or are you suggesting that there’s something more pleasant than the sweet honey of the suffering of others?” Laetitia said, grinning fiendishly. But in contrast, her voice grew more and more passionate by the second.
“Rudy doesn’t know a thing. Our loyal hound Nidhogg knows nothing whatsoever. Now this is going to be fun! If only I could be at Growerth myself to witness that moment of despair personally!”
“Then why not go, Laetitia? And while you’re at it, go take care of Garde for me.” Caldimir said, but Laetitia shook her head.
“...Unfortunately, I have a dentist’s appointment tomorrow morning.”
A dentist’s appointment. It was a strangely human excuse for a vampire. Caldimir frowned.
“A... Dentist’s appointment?”
“You heard me.”
Caldimir stared blankly, mouth agape.
“Cavities. I’m getting a dental impression done tomorrow.”
“I never told you, but for some reason, I can’t regenerate damage from tooth decay. Maybe it’s just my image.”
Laetitia cradled her face in her hands, her gravitas and madness disappearing in an instant. From the way she behaved now, she looked like little more than a high school student dressing up as a soldier.
“After all... I’m the kind of person who’d pick deliciously sweet honey over showing gratitude to her master.” She said plainly, as though this was reason enough for her to abandon Gerhardt.
“I drank too much sweet blood. It’s surprisingly hard to find blood that’s high in sugar but low in fat.” She said, turning and walking away. “Also... I’m satisfied just imagining misfortune and disaster. I know that seeing it in person won’t satisfy me as much as I expected of it.”
“...Why?” Caldimir wondered.
“If Gerhardt von Waldstein is involved, then I know things won’t turn out as badly as I wish they would. So all I can do is take pleasure from a catastrophe I dream up for myself.”
With that, Laetitia G. Aztanduja, the Orange Magic Lantern, left the conference hall without a sound.
Caldimir was left alone with his anxiety once more.
“Tch... Gerhardt this, Gerhardt that. All of them. Every last one of them! How could someone who left the Organization have so much charisma and influence? What about me is so inferior to him?!”
Laetitia had given him the answer earlier, but Caldimir had put it out of his mind. He angrily glanced down at the chunks of wood sticking into his body.
And he finally remembered his state of being.
“Wha...? Wait! I forgot! Laetitia! Stop! You forgot to get me off this wall! Laetitia! I, uh, mean... Miss Aztanduja! Come back, please! If any of the Organization’s underlings catch sight of me like this... No! Laetitia! Laetitia!”
His screams echoed meaninglessly through the conference hall. The man who had plotted misfortune upon Gerhardt had been served misfortune in turn ahead of time.
Listening to her rescuer’s screams from outside the hall, Laetitia repeated herself:
“I’m the kind of person who’d pick deliciously sweet honey over showing gratitude to her master.”
The woman in military wear chuckled with an almost childlike look, enjoying the sound of screams coming from behind her.
She then remembered the island ruled by her old friend.
Were the seeds of misfortune beginning to sprout? Or had they already grown into disaster and despair? And what if Gerhardt wasn’t present on the island today? If the master of the night--the master of the vampires--was absent?
Her thoughts went from conjecture to fantasy as she imagined catastrophe upon the island.
But at that moment, the cell phone in her breast pocket began to vibrate.
Annoyed at the interruption of her daydreams, she looked down at the screen. But her frown soon changed into a grin.
Her eyes glinted as she took hold of yet a new seed of misfortune. She continued walking down the hall, bringing the phone to her ear.
Her heart was pounding in anticipation of the imminent tragedy.
“...I wonder how much longer Hilda’s going to take...”
The anxious vampire in the hospital room looked out the window and at the clear night sky, which was slowly beginning to sparkle with starlight.
The chatter of the festival-goers was such that it was threatening to reach the heavens. But in spite of the beautiful and comforting sight, the young vampire--Relic von Waldstein--was overcome by an ominous feeling.
He tried to hold back his fears by saying out loud the name of his beloved.
“Hilda... How am I going to explain things to her once she arrives? I guess I should start by saying Mihail’s life isn’t in any danger...”
But nothing could overcome this looming fear. Saying her name only made things worse.
The boy had yet to realize.
Hilda herself was the reason for his fear.
And that his fears were about to become a reality.
“She’s really late...”
The source of his fears manifested itself in the sound of a knock.
Relic opened the door without so much as a hint of hesitation, too rushed to be gentlemanly by any stretch of the definition. But standing outside was not his beloved childhood friend, but one of the werewolves living in Waldstein Castle.
Several werewolves were still camped out in the hallway out of concern for Mihail, but there was something else in their eyes now--a look of confusion and worry.
“...? Is something the matter?”
The werewolf at the door was bald and wearing sunglasses. He was the very picture of a biker’s underling, currently in human form.
“Did you notice? It’s pretty quiet in here...”
“Pardon?” Relic said. The werewolf’s nose twitched.
“And... This hospital feels... Empty.”
“What do you mean...?”
Though Relic could make a reasonable guess as to what the werewolf was saying, he found himself asking for clarification in an attempt to stave off the inevitable.
The werewolf’s answer confirmed his worst fears.
“...I don’t smell as many humans as before.”
Relic finally turned his attention to the building. It was eerily quiet.
“We can still smell some patients and doctors, but it’s like... There’s less doctors around than usual. Even considering the festival, I mean. And it’s not time for them to switch shifts, either.” The werewolf said, surprisingly articulate for someone of his appearance.
Relic’s fears ballooned as he headed for the reception desk on the first floor.
Even as he descended the stairs, the eerie silence clung to him like spiderwebs. It was a sickening feeling, as though the very air was filled with a foreign substance.
But Relic hoped with all he had that he was just imagining things as he headed downstairs.
The sight that greeted him, however, sent alarm bells ringing in his head.
There were several people manning the reception desk, but they were engaged in a furious and desperate battle against the flood of incoming phone calls. From the pieces of conversation Relic managed to pick up, he could tell that some of the doctors and nurses had gone missing.
But what triggered the swell of terror in his heart lay somewhere else entirely.
There was a sign-in sheet at the reception desk, at the bottom of which was written the name of someone he knew well.
It felt as though all the blood in his body suddenly swelled backwards though his systems.
The name of the girl he loved was clearly written on the sheet.
But she was nowhere to be found.
At that moment, the sun finally disappeared over the horizon in the west.
There was a chilling moment of silence as the hour of vampires commenced.
Night had begun.
Pirie Mistwalker: The clown finally gets a name! Mistwalker is easy enough, but "ピリエ" is a bit harder to pin down. Any suggestions?