The chapter after this one is going to be long. About 140 pages in my copy of the book, compared to about 50 for this chapter. Brace yourselves for a bit of a wait.
Chapter 9 - Evil Incarnate Puts on a Smile, and...
Ishibashi said many things as Valdred and Selim led him through the halls of the castle.
He told them that Melhilm had come to this island with a pair of Eaters and a vampire who was particularly difficult to deal with, with his sights set on Relic.
‘Mr. Melhilm, huh. I heard Shizune devoured him, but I guess he managed to survive somehow.’
It was not a name Valdred was particularly happy to remember.
Melhilm was the first vampire to have appeared before Valdred after his realization that he had been produced as a result of a series of experiments. He was also Valdred’s creator.
Having been born from a mixture of multiple characters and memories, Valdred could not accept the concept of ‘parents’ on a personal level, in spite of his knowledge of the idea. Because he did not even have a stable sense of self, he was also repulsed by the word ‘creator’. In fact, even to this day Val was not certain of the sensation of having been ‘born’.
As he continued to walk in silence, he remembered the first words he had heard during his short life as ‘Valdred Ivanhoe’.
Two simple words. Though he had only just been born, even then he knew the purpose for which he had been created. Melhilm’s comment essentially spelled an end for his reason to exist.
“But not to worry. I do not destroy vampires for the sole reason of being failed experiments.”
And so, Val was sent to Melhilm’s then-subordinate, Watt Stalf. In exchange for an identity to call his own, he had received freedom.
At this point, Val had no intention of resenting Melhilm for calling him a failure. But what he had said afterwards remained lodged at the back of his mind all this time, echoing through his thoughts over and over again.
“I suppose the saying ‘once burned, twice shy’ holds more than a grain of truth.”
‘I wonder if something happened to Melhilm before I was born.’
In the end, Val was led to believe that he would never learn the truth behind Melhilm’s self-deprecation. And even now, when he knew that Melhilm was alive, he continued to think he would never know. In fact, if Val were to go to Melhilm to speak with him in person, being called a failure would be the least of his worries--he might be branded a traitor and killed on the spot.
As he imagined the moment of his own murder, Val remembered what Doctor and Professor had told him earlier.
“In other words, as a result of our examination, we found that your watermelon body has no physical function whatsoever. To be blunt, if you choose to believe, you would be completely unharmed even if someone should smash that watermelon.”
Even if Melhilm were to destroy his main body--the watermelon--Val’s consciousness would persist unharmed.
In other words, he was closer to immortality than other vampires.
‘What in the world am I?’ He wondered to himself once more with a melancholy sigh. ‘I can’t live on without a vessel. Even if it’s a watermelon...’
“Um... Are you all right?”
Val snapped out of his reverie. Selim was looking at him worriedly.
“Is there something bothering you, Val?”
“Um, no! Sorry. I... I was just thinking about some stuff.” Val replied with a grin. Selim sighed in relief and smiled. It was such a sincere expression of joy that Val was beginning to feel embarrassed.
‘Selim said before that she took on human form because of admiration and her dreams.’
Reminding himself that he had many things to ask of her later, Valdred turned over the two words in his mind.
‘I think... I think I admire humans. But that’s not how the watermelon me feels. It’s the human character that’s been transplanted into me wanting to go back to human form.’
Refusing to break himself out of his negativity, Val sighed loudly.
‘Dreams, huh. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of having one.’
As Val continued to contemplate thoughts about himself, they reached their destination.
“Um... I think you’ll find the viscount here.” He said to Ishibashi.
The door to the room was majestic in nature, even in comparison to the grandeur of the castle. Val stood directly before it as he looked up at the Asian man. He took hold of the doorknob and shook it.
Nothing happened. Val wondered if there was no one inside, but they soon heard a set of footsteps approaching. The door opened halfway, and a maid poked her head outside.
“Oh! Val and Selim. What brings the two of you here?”
The maid looked relieved to see the children, who stood huddled together, but the moment she took notice of the Asian man behind them, she quickly grew cautious.
“...And you, sir?”
“Oh, this is...”
“My name is Ishibashi. I am a member of the Organization with which Viscount Waldstein was once affiliated.”
Ishibashi introduced himself before Val could. The maid reflexively gave him a deep bow.
“I understand, sir. I take this to mean that you are a companion of Miss Dorothy Nifas?” The maid asked. Ishibashi glanced into the room and found a familiar white figure waving at him.
“Yes. ...I suppose this means that the viscount is aware of the current situation.”
The maid took a step back in stead of an answer.
Ishibashi bowed at her once more, and walked into the middle of the room. Dorothy was already there, but the viscount was not. Instead, a bespectacled man dressed like an office worker glanced at him curiously, perhaps because he was also Asian.
As Ishibashi looked around in search of the pool of blood, one of the maids said plainly:
“Our apologies, sir. The Master is currently occupied with other business. We believe he will be back shortly; please feel free to take a seat.”
Ishibashi headed for a sofa in the corner of the room. But he suddenly stopped and turned towards Val, who stood stock-still at the entrance.
“I’m sorry again for interrupting your date.” He grinned. Val shook his head in horror.
“I-I told you, we’re not on a date!”
“Heh. Anyway, thank you.”
Ishibashi waved and flashed a reliable grin at Val and Selim, taking a seat at the edge of the sofa.
Valdred had been expecting to hear more about Melhilm from the viscount. But as long as the viscount was away, he had no reason to be here.
Though Relic was not a stranger to Val, they were not so close that Val would go to any lengths for his sake. He had no business, he felt, taking part in this particular conversation.
Trying to fight off the unpleasant feeling in his gut, Val turned to Selim.
“Heh heh heh... Sorry about the weird misunderstanding.”
“Not at all. I... I’m... I’m very happy.”
Val did not expect such an answer from Selim.
But not even looking at his comical expression, the alraune smiled gently and repeated herself.
“I... I’m so happy.”
‘Huh. Huh?! Wait. We just met today! Uh... Is this what it means to fall in love at first sight?! Did she fall in love at first sight... With me?! Wh-what am I supposed to do...?! How am I supposed to respond?!’
Val flailed bashfully, red as a tomato. But Selim’s explanation turned his embarrassment into curiosity.
“I’m sure she would have loved to hold hands with a boy, just like this...”
The conversation took a sudden turn for the unexpected. Who was this third party, Val wondered.
“HEEEEY! I found more of Doctor’s friends!”
Val was cut off, however, by an excited shriek. He saw the jester running over form the end of the corridor, followed by the vampires that they had met inside the caverns.
“Hey Val? Val? Is the viscount inside?”
“Not right now. I think he’s got a bunch of important visitors, though.”
“What?!” The jester squawked. But she took a moment to compose herself and turned to Val.
“Hey Val? Selim? Sorry for butting in on your date, but please help us find Doctor!”
“Doctor? I just saw him earlier...” Val said without much thought, but the jester’s eyes narrowed as she began to press him.
“Really?! Where?! Where?! Where’d you see him, Val? Please tell us!”
Val backed into the wall without even thinking, intimidated by the jester’s excitement.
‘What’s going on?’
The jester had yet to explain a thing, but the flow of the conversation was nurturing an ominous feeling in the pit of Val’s stomach.
Melhilm’s arrival on Growerth.
The viscount’s guests from the Organization.
His sighting of Doctor outside the castle.
The first two points seemed to have nothing to do with the third. And though Val did not know the specifics, perhaps Doctor really had just left the castle to go on a walk.
But strangely enough, Val felt as though these seemingly unrelated events were actually connected by a single thread. An indescribable sense of fear began to well up in his heart.
Though it was yet unbeknownst to him, Val’s fears were being made a reality.
The chilly air surrounding the island loomed overhead, dark clouds threatening to devour everything underneath.
Valdred Ivanhoe, standing at the eye of the storm, had yet to understand.
The storm clouds would soon give way to rain.
The water would break down all in its path, both tragic and comedic.
As though washing away the future with the currents of the past.
The southern woods of Growerth.
There were two paths leading to and from Waldstein Castle.
One was the paved road leading up to the parking lot halfway up the mountain.
The other was a steep footpath carved into the mountainside.
The footpath was rarely used by anyone, so the only people who traversed it tended to be those who disliked crowds or those who did not wish to be noticed. Vampires who could not transform into bats or fog, for example, were chief among those who used this path.
The foliage was dense, limiting the line of sight to the pathway alone. There were gaps in the trees along the way, through which the magnificent and almost-otherworldly Waldstein Castle could be seen.
But into this fantastic scene stepped in a being from another world entirely.
A gigantic suit of armor inspired by designs from both East and West, its form straight out of a storybook. But the armor did indeed exist--for it was now climbing the path, one powerful stride after another.
“...There’s... No one here.”
The suit of armor--Rudy--mumbled to himself, looking around.
Even an overgrown route like this was bound to have one or two people traversing it. Perhaps normal days were another story; but today was the opening night of the biggest festival on the island. It would be natural for some locals to be walking along this path to avoid the hustle and bustle of the main road.
Although Rudy initially considered heading to the castle through the uncultivated woods, he stepped onto the path once he realized that he sensed no one walking along it.
‘Is this all Sigmund’s work?’
Perhaps Sigmund had subjugated the locals and cleared this particular path so Rudy could access the castle with ease.
But there was no use speculating now. Rudy continued on his way, fanning the flames of revenge.
‘That’s right. There’s only one thing I have to think about: Theo.’
The moment he shut his eyes, the nightmare from his past came to life in his mind.
The stench of blood.
The heat of the flames licking at his face.
His father’s head rolling on the floor.
His mother’s body, her neck twisted in an unnatural direction.
His friend’s corpse, turned to charcoal.
He was disgusted by everything before him. He cursed his own weakness. And once his thoughts shifted to the vampire he had once thought a friend, he could not even muster words of outrage.
But at this point, even his own past was nothing more than fuel to bring despair to the vampire who had stolen everything from him--Theodosius M. Waldstein.
From the day he first met Theo, Rudy had been trapped. He had been trapped in a fantasy where vampires truly existed. It was an inescapable hell.
He and Theresia had walked through this abyss together.
But now, their hope for escape was within arm’s reach, or so it seemed.
What was on her mind as she walked through this hell? Was she also planning revenge? Or was this now the only path she could envision for herself? Or perhaps she had another reason altogether.
Although Rudy had wondered on occasion, he never thought deeply about it. He did not, after all, care what drove Theresia to walk alongside him. As long as she could help him with his vengeance, he was happy.
The thought of using his lone surviving friend like a tool sickened him. The dark flames roaring in his heart threatened to once more show him the scene from his nightmares.
The images from that day came to life once more.
Each and every word that Theodosius uttered with his sister in his arms was replayed with frightening accuracy.
“It’s been a while.”
It was a nauseating voice. The palpable childlikeness of that tone made it all the worse.
When Rudy opened his eyes, the vampire from his memories was standing before him with an unchanged smile.
‘If... If only I could kill this nightmare. Then I’d finally find rest.’
“Heh heh... You’re still such a sleepyhead, Rudy.”
The nightmare’s words were different from usual. Rudy’s heart stopped for a single second.
Unable to recognize the situation unfolding before him, all he could do was sense his heart grow colder by the second. It was as though his entire body would freeze down to the very last cell.
His mind refused to accept the scene. But his body and his instincts understood everything with frightening clarity, trying very hard to not let his heart take notice.
His throat felt dry.
It felt as though all the water in his body had evaporated in an instant.
But there was cold sweat running down his back.
An ominous chill ran down his spine as even his mind began to understand the truth.
His instincts desperately held back his sense of reasoning, as though he were attempting to reach forbidden knowledge.
Several seconds passed since the beginning of this struggle. Slowly, the boy standing before him smiled at his old friend.
The pathway was perfunctorily lined with streetlights. The boy’s sculpted smile, so very slightly illuminated underneath, was more ominous than it had ever been in Rudy’s memories.
“So... I wonder what my dear old friend wants to do with me?”
A new line. A new term of address. A new smile.
A new series of images were being added to Rudy’s nightmares.
It was then that he was finally forced to realize the truth.
The nightmare before him was real.
“Anyway... It’s been so long, Rudy. How are you?”
Theodosius M. Waldstein.
Rudy’s nemesis--the one who had stolen away his family, friends, and peaceful life--and the starting point and finish line of his life as an Eater.
The silver-haired, silver-eyed vampire with the body of a child. The vampire who had been his friend for many happy days, which ended with his betrayal.
Beheaded his father,
Pierced his mother’s chest,
Snapped his dear friend’s neck,
And stole his beloved sister away.
He was the main character of Rudy’s nightmares, as well as his nightmare incarnate.
Theodosius M. Waldstein.
His closest friend, one he had called ‘Theo’.
A nonhuman friend he could trust more than even his family.
The words confirming his identity endlessly repeated themselves in his head.
But he could not speak. He could not step forward, clench his fists, or fire stakes from inside his armor to instantly kill his nemesis.
He desperately forced his lungs to breathe, but his vocal cords refused to budge. He could not even control his tongue.
Even his scream, stifled by his own mouth, was carried off by a soft breeze that swept past the hill.
The trees shaking in the wind began to murmur all at once, as though speaking in place of the young man in the armor.
But the emotions expressed by the whisperings were not fury at the vampire that had stole away everything he held dear.
“...What’s wrong, Rudy Wenders?”
The sound of rustling leaves echoed inside the armor.
“You’re stronger now, aren’t you...?”
Rudy’s eyes no longer registered the light from the street lamp. Everything went dark.
But it was not the darkness of night.
“That armor’s one of Carnald Strassburg’s designs. He made it specifically for Eaters, right? You’re strong enough to use it freely now... That’s really amazing.”
The darkness swelled from within, filling every corner of Rudy’s world with blackness.
And in the shadows, all he could see was Theo and his smile.
But this was not strange to Rudy.
After all, the vampire standing there was darkness itself.
“But still... Even with all that power...”
There was a moment of icy silence between the two figures on the pathway. But the vampire, as though he had read the young man’s mind, went on to say:
“I wonder... Why are you so scared?”
Rudy felt his body grow numb, his senses being peeled away piece by piece.
It was a strange, off-kilter sensation, as though he were looking down upon himself from very high in the air--as though he did not exist in reality.
Somewhere deep down, he was trying to escape.
The vampire who had haunted his dreams all these years was now right before his eyes. But for some reason, he kept hoping that this was all a hallucination. His senses were rattled to the point of madness.
‘No. No. No.’
The emotion he had been suppressing with bloodlust all this time burst forth from the darkness.
It was pure, unadulterated fear.
Excited shouts and the sound of fireworks echoed in the distance.
It all sounded like something from another world to Rudy, but the truth of the matter was that the festivities were taking place only several hundred meters from where he stood--at the top of the mountain path.
Emotions from every part of the spectrum filled the island.
And at that very moment, the curtains rose on this year’s Carnale Festival.
The main streets of the city of Neuberg.
“...Did you find her?”
“No. Not a trace.”
An anxious teenager was looking to a group of slightly older men, who were shaking their heads.
This particular street--the biggest on the island--would normally be packed with civil servants and tourists. Lined with government offices, hotels, and recreational facilities, it was the hub of the island’s tourism industry.
The sidewalk was nearly deserted, likely because most people had gone to the opening ceremony. It was there that Relic was wandering in search of Hilda, who had presumably gone missing from the hospital.
As Relic’s distress continued, a large figure leapt from the roof of a nearby building and landed on its feet without a sound.
It was a young man who had fully taken the form of a werewolf. He approached Relic and the others without a care, not receiving any strange looks thanks to the fact that one of the Carnale Festival’s attractions was a costume parade. Though the parade was scheduled for a later date, many festival-goers were already in costumes from day one.
Of course, jumping from the rooftop was rather excessive, even for a werewolf. But Relic was so anxious that he did not point this out.
“Hilda’s scent cuts off around here. I think she might have gotten onto a car or something.” The werewolf said, sniffing the air. The worry in Relic’s eyes only grew thicker, prompting another werewolf to jump in.
“Maybe it’a backwards; she just got off the car here and went to the hospital.”
It was an unlikely possibility, but at this point, Relic would take any hope the situation could offer.
“Then... Maybe we just missed each other at the hospital.”
“Yeah. Then one of the others at the hospital’ll contact us many minute now. All of us werewolves know your girlfriend’s face, Relic. She practically a celebrity! So let’s just wait for ‘em, okay?”
The werewolves laughed as confidently as they could, trying to keep Relic’s spirits up. Relic joined in on their laughter for a moment and took a deep breath. Although he did not actually have the need to breathe, Relic liked to mimic the gesture in order to calm himself. This habit of his did not begin out of admiration for humans, however; he had been influenced by seeing Mihail take this action before greeting Ferret.
Relic exhaled and remembered Mihail’s injuries. A sharp glint rose to his eyes as he went over the present situation.
‘Does this have something to do with the Eater that attacked Ferret and Mihail?’
It was too exact a timing for it to be a coincidence. According to Ferret, who had been one of his first targets, the Eater in the gigantic suit of armor was apparently after a vampire called Theodosius.
Theodosius Waldstein. Relic remembered hearing the name from his father.
The Waldstein family was spilt into two bloodlines--a line of vampires and a line of humans. The Human line, however, was severed completely several years after Relic and Ferret were born.
The last member of the human branch was an orphaned boy named Theodosius. But he had been bitten by a vampire and lost his humanity.
Relic did not hear anything about what happened to the boy afterwards. But he was quite certain that his father knew.
‘I don’t know what Theodosius might have done. Maybe he murdered that Eater’s loved ones.’
From the horrifying show of fury the Eater directed at Ferret--a vampire he had only just met--Relic supposed that the man must despise the entire Waldstein family, or perhaps all of vampirekind.
‘But... I can’t let him get away with hurting Ferret and landing Mihail in the hospital. I... I won’t forgive him for making Ferret cry.’
He clenched his fists, quietly but passionately honing the outrage he had suppressed earlier in the hospital.
‘And... If he’s even dragged Hilda into this...!’
The air around Relic changed; countless shadows began casting themselves from the pavement and the walls.
The shadows then took on the form of bats and began to fly in a circle around Relic, slowly closing in on him. And once the circle narrowed, the bats were absorbed into Relic’s body.
The werewolves, awestruck by the sight, took a step back without thinking.
When they transformed into bats or fog, most vampires could not transform anything but their own bodies and the clothing they wore. Even those who were a cut above the rest could affect little more than objects that they were touching directly, like the ground beneath them.
Relic, however, had produced bats even from places that he was not in physical contact with. The werewolves knew what this meant; and as they beheld the shadow cast in Relic’s normally warm eyes, they shuddered in silent fear.
“...We’ll go ahead and report to the viscount.”
“Thank you. I’ll search for her from overhead one more time.” Relic said with a nod, and glared at the night sky.
The shadows underneath him shook, and a second later, a flock of bats were launched into the air like water out of a geyser. The sound of their wingbeats filled the air, and the great mass of shadow disappeared into the sky with a powerful noise.
There was nothing left where Relic had been standing earlier. The werewolves looked on with both worry and expectation at their not-quite master, and quickly left for Waldstein Castle to report to the viscount.
They moved so quickly that they left nothing but a gentle breeze in the wake of their departure.
Relic was flying through the air in the form of countless bats, looking over his hometown.
The festival lights glinted off the ornaments made specifically for the celebrations. The entertainment district shone more brightly than usual.
But there was something off about the scene.
With a sense of discomfort about the city he called home, the bats quickly dispersed.
The thousands of bats circled the sky over the island several times, and Relic was finally able to pinpoint the origin of his suspicions.
But this only led to the worsening of his fears.
‘The island... It’s too quiet.’
Waldstein Castle, inner courtyard.
<...and I thank the fate that brought me to share the hometown of this venerable artist!>
The voice of a young man, dignified yet slightly overdramatic, rang out from the speakers.
The man holding the microphone, who was greeting the people from the balcony, was Watt Stalf--the mayor of Neuberg and one of the island’s most influential individuals.
<Let tonight be a night to celebrate! I promise each and every one of you that even this very island is a work of art, on par with the great creations of Carnald Strassburg himself.>
The look of outrage he had shown at City Hall earlier was nowhere to be found. Watt was now wearing the face of the mayor, the man who would lead the Carnale Festival.
But he was silently swearing, his character unchanged from that of the usual petty villain.
‘Shit. The fuck’s up with this crowd?’
Even for a man who placed little value on human life, the scene unfolding before his eyes was one that utterly devalued humanity.
<I hereby announce the opening of the greatest art piece in history... This year’s Carnale Festival!>
There was a thunderous roar of applause, accompanied by a deafening hurrah from the crowd (perhaps intent on bringing down the castle with the force of their cheers).
Fireworks were launched into the air, sending colorful sparks into the night sky.
So numerous were the attendees that one crowd merged with another, creating waves of people that surged to and fro, sending the mayor’s way a generous round of applause.
Watt looked down upon the faceless masses, made up of people who could not help but lose their individuality amongst the multitudes.
‘Tch. Talk about a literal case of non-individuality.’
He knew that the mass of people before him--each and every human--was already being subjugated by Sigmund. He also knew that most of the island’s population was headed to the castle at this very moment.
It seemed that some people had been left untouched by Sigmund’s actions; medical personnel, law enforcement, and harbor officials had been left where they were, in order to prevent too much of a commotion.
Of course, many people had come of their own will. The Carnale Festival was an important celebration to the islanders, and it was also a famous international event. But even those who wished to be here in the first place had been subjugated by now.
‘Wonder if the count’s started to figure things out right about now.’
If that gunman was speaking with the viscount, the latter would now know of Sigmund’s presence. How would Gerhardt respond, when all he could advise Watt was to not turn Sigmund against himself?
Watt glared at his surroundings as though trying to get a glimpse at his rival’s solution to this problem.
Powerful as Sigmund was, subjugating vampires was still impossible.
This was why Watt assumed that the viscount would have his subordinate vampires on standby as guards. But what caught his eye first was,
There was a girl in the first row who was dressed like a jester, applauding so hard it looked as though her hands might erode away.
Once she realized that Watt met her eyes for a moment, she smiled sheepishly and hurriedly disappeared into the crowds.
‘What is that idiot up to?’
With an annoyed sigh, the mayor once more surveyed his surroundings.
A man and a woman--a pair of singers from Growerth--were currently on the balcony stage. The audience’s attention was focused upon them.
Several people in the audience, however, clearly stood out from the rest. Watt squinted to get a better look.
He first noticed the group of vampires who had betrayed him for the Waldstein maids. They seemed to be looking for something. Following them was a green-haired boy accompanying a bespectacled girl.
“The kid’s probably Val, and... Fuck. I know all their faces.”
They were all vampires who had betrayed him. Watt quickly lost interest and looked elsewhere to try and spot anyone suspicious.
He suddenly noticed a girl. She was looking at him.
At first, he did not recognize her. But once his eyes fell on her humble clothing, he remembered that they met briefly earlier that day, when he was leaving the viscount’s parlor.
Of course, he had no idea why she was looking at him now.
‘That kid’s a vampire, too. But she’s not from the island. Damn it. I don’t like outlanders figuring out who I am...’
The girl continued to watch Watt for some time, but suddenly looked away and disappeared into the crowds, just as the jester had earlier.
The jester, having run off in embarrassment, tried to get back to searching for Doctor as she had been doing three minutes ago. But the image of Watt on the balcony giving his speech refused to leave her thoughts.
“Aww... I couldn’t toss the confetti after all. Too bad. But just hearing Master Watt’s voice makes me so happy!”
She lightly slapped her face and took a deep breath.
“Okay! Off to find Doctor! Now that I heard Master Watt’s voice, I’m going to find him for sure!”
Val and Selim came over to her, their eyes downcast.
“Nothing. We couldn’t find him anywhere.”
“Maybe he’s left the castle area...”
At the beginning of their search, Val had headed straight for the mountain path at the back of the castle. But he did not see Doctor. They then came to the conclusion that it would be more efficient to focus on the crowds at the festival rather than wander aimlessly through the streets.
Ultimately unable to find Doctor, Val turned his ears to the song coming from the stage with an exhausted look.
The other vampires joined them soon afterwards, cracking their joints and pouring out complaints at the jester.
“It’s no good. We won’t be able to find anyone in this crowd.”
“And don’t forget he’s a vampire. If he’s transformed into a flock of bats, we didn’t stand a chance of finding him to begin with.”
“And even if we start looking for some bats, we don’t even know what kind of bats to look for. What color? What species?”
Everyone was clearly tired; they had given their all into the search. Just moving through the crowds must have been a challenge for the vampires, who usually did little but laze around the castle.
“What to do...?”
The vampires sighed loudly. Val continued to think, wondering if there was anything he could do.
In the end, he was forced to conclude that legwork was all he could manage.
“Selim, let’s go check out the mountain path one more time. Maybe Doctor’ll come back that way and we’ll meet up with him somehow.”
“Yes! That’s a great idea, Val.” Selim replied with a smile. Val felt apologetic at her enthusiasm.
“...Sorry. I was supposed to be showing you around the festival...”
“Not a all, Val. I’m worried about Doctor, and just the fact that I get to be outside with everyone else makes me very happy.”
Each and every word she said was full of sincere gratitude. But that only made Val feel guilty and envious.
The fact that she could feel joy at something as simple as having company.
Though they were both plant-based vampires, Val felt that Selim was much more human in attitude than himself.
‘Even though we’re both plants... Selim... Why...?
Val caught himself just before his envy could grow into something worse, and chided himself silently.
‘Damn it! What’s wrong with me? ...This is why I can’t be a plant or a human!’
Perhaps it was illogical for a vampire like him to strive towards humanity or planthood. But at this point, logic mattered little to Val.
This was why he had yet to realize:
The moment he felt the emotion known as envy, Val was just as human--if not even more so--as Selim.
Somewhere in the city.
A luxury car raced along the road towards the castle.
There were no other vehicles on the streets. The municipal car pressed forward, just barely skirting the speed limit.
“What’s that idiot Watt doing now?” The occupant of the back seats asked the driver.
“Oh... Um, the mayor is currently taking part in the opening ceremony.” The woman at the wheel said, not even trying to hide her fear of the passenger.
The woman was the mayor’s personal secretary. But she did not even protest at the insult to her employer. This was, however, not because she agreed with the passenger; it was because she thought it would be in her best interests to not talk back to the Eater she was transporting.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. The voice from the back returned, this time sounding slightly less irritated.
“I guess I owe you one, though. Tch... I said I’d never accept help from the asshole. Look at me now.” The Eater said disdainfully. The secretary could do nothing but continue driving, too fearful to agree or disagree.
Shizune Kijima had attempted to regenerate her legs in the dojo’s showers.
The regeneration process was faster than she had expected, but she was beginning to think that it would be some time before she would be able to walk properly again. That was when a municipal vehicle arrived at the dojo.
And now, she was being driven along by Watt’s secretary.
At first, she thought of rejecting his offer. But as long as Melhilm’s whereabouts continued to escape her, Shizune would be at an advantage fighting alongside Watt rather than against him.
The silence continued for some time, before Shizune once more opened her mouth.
“To be honest, I thought of torturing you here to figure out where I could find that bastard’s heart.”
The secretary did not even try to hold back her scream. Shizune grinned. Instead of adding a ‘just joking’, she plainly continued.
“But there’s no way Watt would tell anyone where he’s hiding his heart, and I even if he did, there’s no time anymore. ...Yeah, just let me off here.”
“You can go ahead and run off if you’d like. I’ll take care of the rest myself.”
“What do you-”
The moment the secretary spoke, the rear-view mirror was engulfed in shadow. Though it had already been reflecting the night, even the lights from the street lamps had been extinguished from its surface.
Shizune had probably sensed the presence much earlier. She turned round to face the black mass behind her without a hint of fear.
There were enough bats there to engulf the entire car.
And each and every one of them glared at Shizune with human eyes.
The bats caught up to the car with incredible speed, covering its windshield.
The secretary shrieked in terror as everything before her eyes was suddenly filled with the black creatures.
The sound of the bats’ gnashing fangs overpowered even the sound of the car’s engine as it continued forward. And once even the windows were entirely covered, the secretary hit the brakes without a moment’s hesitation.
She had probably chosen to stop instead of speeding up to outrun the bats because she was fearful of causing an accident. But this was fine by Shizune. As soon as the car came to a complete stop, she slammed the door open.
Shizune had expected the bats to come swarming inside, but the moment she stepped onto the road, the bats covering the car flew into the air all at once.
The flock of bats gathered together in the air, circling round and round. And soon, they landed at a point about ten meters away from Shizune, taking the form of Melhilm Herzog.
“You’re pretty rough for a guy dressed like an aristocrat.”
“Judge by appearances, will you? You’ll find yourself regretting your folly, as I did in the past.”
Sarcastic greetings followed their sudden reunion.
The secretary sped off on her car as soon as the bats abandoned her. Melhilm did not spare her a glance, however, and instead continued to stare straight into Shizune’s eyes.
“Oh? Did I really come across as such a dainty young lady?”
“Don’t be so full of yourself. You weren’t the one who deceived me through appearances.” Melhilm said with a relaxed grin. Shizune narrowed her eyes.
“You’re talking one-on-one with a lady, and you bring a third party into the conversation? Really romantic of you. Who’s the lucky ass-kicker?”
“Heh. You’ll know soon enough.”
Shizune was struck by Melhilm’s comment, and decided to pry for more information. But Melhilm seemed to have already tired of the mutual volleying of sarcasm.
“...If you actually survive the night, perhaps!”
Melhilm spread his arms wide, and his body instantly transformed into a black shadow. It scattered in all directions, turning into a flock of bats hundreds, or perhaps thousands strong.
“So you could actually pull tricks like this, huh? Remind me next time to fight you with a handicap.”
Watching the black wall spreading quickly before her eyes, Shizune said in wonder:
“You know, I might have broken a sweat if you’d done this back then--that night I devoured you.”
Remembering the taste of Melhilm’s flesh, she grinned voraciously at the flock of bats before her.
“I doubt I’d have had enough forks and knives for them all.”
If the bats had human mouths, perhaps they would have told Shizune to shut her mouth. But the only sounds they made were the squeaks from their mouths and the flaps of their wingbeats.
It was certainly a sight to behold, but there wasn’t an ounce of fear in Shizune’s eyes. With her reflexes and agility, she could cut down ten thousand bats with the silver knives she carried in her pockets.
But Shizune did not put this hypothetical plan into action.
She stopped herself from speaking unnecessarily and tensed her entire body. Her mind, focused to the limit, directed her body to take action.
With the black wall looming before her, Shizune leapt backwards with all of her strength.
Less than a second later, a silver glint emerged from the wall of darkness and cut through the air with monstrous force.
Then came two simultaneous impacts: The sound of something smashing into the ground, and the sensation of the gust that blew past Shizune in the wake of the attack.
The bats scattered from the center of the silver impact.
Standing on the other side of the wall, through the gaping hole left by the scattered bats, was a familiar face. The Eater with short blonde hair, holding a silver whip in her hand.
The girl who had driven Shizune into a corner eight hours earlier was standing in the midst of the darkness, wearing the same smile as before.
If her attack had connected, Shizune would have lost her life. But she responded to the assault with surprising nonchalance.
“I thought you were being pretty talkative today. You were waiting for your friend to catch up, huh?”
The human eyes in each bat’s eye sockets seemed to sneer in response. But even in the sight of thousands of such eyes, Shizune refused to back down.
Seeing the smile on her face, the Eater--Theresia Riefenstahl--looked questioningly at the woman she had nearly killed earlier that day.
“Your name was Shizune, wasn’t it? You look quite happy for someone who’s about to die.”
Shizune grinned at the provocation, flashing her fangs in response.
“I’m just excited, you know? It’s just about dinnertime.”
The Eater-turned vampire looked upon the two ingredients laid out before her.
“And what do you know? Here I’ve got a delicious vampire and a tasty-looking Eater coming right up to me. This is going to be one amazing feast.”
Waldstein Castle Parlor.
As the castle was engulfed in the singers’ music and the cheers of the audience, a group of monsters--the creatures who truly ruled the castle--were in a discussion about the current situation.
<It’s no good. I managed to shoot down a couple Branches, but I don’t even know where to start looking for the Trunk.>
In the crowded parlor occupied by maids, werewolves, and even a sentient pool of blood, the Asian guest--Aiji Ishibashi--was receiving a report from his brother via phone.
Bridgestone, the younger of the twins, had come across several more Branches whom he knew by appearance. But Sigmund’s main body, known as the Trunk, was still nowhere to be found.
<There’s no point torturing the Branches or taking hostages. Sigmund can regenerate them without even breaking a sweat.>
“Damn it. Is Caldimir the only one who knows what the Trunk looks like?”
<Laetitia probably knows, too. But her phone’s been busy for a while, and now she’s out of the service area.>
“Understood. For now, you should go around and try to find Melhilm. I’ll try and find a way to stop Rudy and Theresia.”
With that, Ishibashi hung up on his brother and walked over to the viscount in the middle of the room.
Once Ishibashi was next to the sofa, the viscount (who had returned to the parlor at some point) wrote in the air in a sombre font:
[It seems... That things may become quite troublesome from here on out.]
Apparently, the viscount had exchanged greetings with Ishibashi before the latter’s phone call. He dove straight into the topic at hand.
[Ah, to think that Sigmund would come to Growerth! Speak of the devil and he will appear, they say--‘說曹操, 曹操到’.(1)]
Writing out his thoughts in a considerate combination of Chinese characters and German, the viscount connected the ends of his sentences as though crossing his arms.
[Sigmund is a vampire who possesses twelve bodies. Capturing eleven Branches will be of no use if you cannot find the one at the center of them all.]
Sigmund Kiparis had been an officer of the Organization even when Gerhardt was still a part of the group, and was a fanatical follower of Caldimir. This vampire was capable of subjugating organisms through airborne infection, but this was not all.
Sigmund’s identity was that of a vampire composed of twelve different bodies.
Though the bodies were separate, they shared a singular mind through airborne blood. And as such, they were capable of acting in many different places at once. The main body, known as the Trunk, controlled the others--known as Branches.
One ruler, eleven generals, and the infinite soldiers they created. This why why Sigmund was known by the moniker of ‘The Green Army’, and was designated one of the Organization’s most powerful weapons.
[Hm... If only we knew where we could find the Trunk, Dorothy and I could go to convince Sigmund in person.]
Snow incarnate nodded firmly alongside the viscount. But Ishibashi frowned slightly.
“It would be best if words were enough to convince Sigmund. But he would place Caldimir’s orders above his own life.”
Ishibashi did not stop there. He worriedly glanced at his old friend and respected mentor, the bloody viscount.
“And... There are people here who should worry you more than Sigmund.”
[...Those connected to Theodosius. Of course... I was prepared for their coming, but to think it would be at a time like this...]
“...So he’s here? The mass murderer?” Ishibashi asked, not bothering to soften the truth. But the viscount put his efforts into doing what Ishibashi did not bother with.
[...Perhaps he is indeed here, in a sense. Theodosius does exist, but the mass murderer you speak of is no more. Not in this castle, nor anywhere in this world. Only the sins left in his wake remain as a reminder of his existence.]
Mage and the other familiars were confused by his statement, but Ishibashi had known the viscount for long enough to understand what he meant.
“That sin is the most important part, sir. It is true that the Organization has no qualms with leaving him be, so long as he does not cause us any more trouble.” He said. But Ishibashi then shook his head and continued:
“But Rudy and Theresia will not agree with our decision.”
[I also understand.]
The viscount’s reply was remarkably grave. The maids and the werewolves tensed at the sight,
[And yet... I cannot let pass the fact that my beloved daughter Ferret and my good neighbor and subject Mihail were so grievously injured.]
Was it anger or sadness filling his words? Or was it an impersonal weight of responsibility he held as the lord of Waldstein Castle? No one could read his expression, and a heavy silence fell over the parlor.
It seemed as though the stillness would last forever, but Mage finally made to spur the conversation forward and turned to his fellow Asian with a forced smile.
“B-but there are three officers of the Organization present! I can’t speak for this Theodosius character, but couldn’t you, perhaps... do something about the one called Sigmund?”
“...If we ignore the well-being of the islanders, yes.”
The coldness in Ishibashi’s answer led the viscount to hurriedly join the conversation.
[Your ignoring their well-being would be most troubling. I shall gladly bow my head and entreat you, as the former governor of Growerth--I ask that the people of the island not be harmed.]
Though surprised by Gerhardt’s show of responsibility, Ishibashi accepted his plea instantly.
“That’s precisely why we’re here today, sir. Although I’m somewhat worried about my brother.” He smiled in an attempt to calm Gerhardt, and chuckled cynically. “If we were intent on ignoring their safety, we would have brought along Black or Gold from the beginning.”
[Of course. Indeed, you are correct.]
Once Ishibashi named two colors that belonged to officers of the Organization, the viscount seemed to sigh in relief as he remembered his old friends.
[I still speak to Garde over the internet almost every day. I suspect that this friend of mine could easily overpower even Sigmund’s endless armies. After all, the Black Gravekeeper only grows stronger in the presence of the dead.]
A port town in northern Germany.
The port town from which the ferry to Growerth departed was home to many other ships and boats; most were fishing ships, each vessel clearly lived-in and filled with a sense of daily life.
Daily life, naturally, was intertwined with work. And sometimes conversations like this could be heard on the docks:
“What’re we going to do with all this leftover fish, Dad?”
“...How am I supposed to know?! Shit! We finally get a big haul for once, but everyone’s off at the festival! The market’s deserted!”
An irritated father-son pair was standing face-to-face on the pier. The sun had already set on them.
From the sound of things, they were fishermen; and the vessel beside them was full of their catch from early that morning.
But at this point, the fish market had already closed. And the men did not seem to be particularly inclined to preserve the fish for later.
“Damn it! If only we had some connections with a canned food factory...”
“Sure, it’s a big haul; but all we caught were small fry. Anyway, we have to make a decision soon or we’ll end up having to waste all this fish.”
They looked up at the container on their ship, powerless to do a thing. Inside was their catch; a veritable mountain of fish that they could not even take to market. The flames of life had given way to a dank, clammy odor and was now filling the air around them.
Perhaps they should just dump the fish in the nearby waters, the men began to think.
But at that moment, a stranger approached them. A mysterious person wrapped up in black bandages.
“How much for those fish? How much?”
As the fishermen wondered if the stranger was a man or a woman, the mummy in black plainly made their business clear.
“Could you sell them to me? Sell them to me right now?”
The fishermen hesitated at the sudden offer, but the figure in black quickly reached into their bandages and drew a wad of bills, tossing it at the men.
“Is this enough to buy all the fish? Is this enough?”
“Huh? Wha...? This is too sudden... Uh... It’s too mu-”
The father hesitated at the clearly overpriced bid, but the son instantly validated the transaction.
“Stay quiet, Dad! From the looks of this guy, he’s probably going to Growerth. Maybe there’s going to be a fish party there.”
“But this is too much!”
“We’re not ripping him off, Dad! He’s the one who made the offer first!”
As the fishermen whispered to one another, the figure in black grinned at the massive quantity of fish they now possessed.
“I was worried! I was! The last ferry was gone. The last ferry to Growerth. Thanks a lot! Thanks!” They said, excitedly hopping on the spot.
The fishermen nervously put on forced smiles, but a moment later, their faces--and the rest of their bodies--froze.
The figure in black leapt up with unthinkable power and landed on the container atop the ship with ease. They then picked up a small fish from the pile and brought it to their bandage-covered lips.
How had this person leapt so high into the air?
What were they planning to do with these stale fish that were still alive?
And how did they plan to transport all these fish alone?
These questions they had were erased in an instant.
A scene so bizarre that everything else seemed natural soon unfolded before their eyes.
With their free hand, the black figure pulled back the bandages around their lips, exposing a pair of glinting incisors.
The incisors were so long, in fact, that the younger fisherman frowned.
‘Are those... Fangs?’
Was it a part of their costume, he wondered, even after bearing witness to the figure’s incredible jump. But perhaps this was because they had never once come into contact with inhuman individuals like this character.
As father and son looked on in confusion, the mummy sunk their fangs into the fish’s belly.
But this unusual act was little but the bell that signaled the raising of the curtains. The beginning of an incredible scene the father and son would never forget.
The moment it was bitten by the black figure, the prone fish began flailing as though it had just left the water. It left the figure’s bandaged hand and fell into the container.
The figure in black looked down at the fish, and with their mouth once more covered by bandages, spoke.
This time, their repetitive manner of speech was nowhere to be found. There was an authoritative force and power in their voice--like a proud emperor commanding his servants, as though questioning was forbidden.
The moment they gave their command, the splashing fish leapt up.
Then, there was a moment of silence. Followed by the sound of many more flailing fins.
Splish splash smack slap
Another moment of silence.
Smack smack splash thud slap splash
Silence and noise came and went in turn. Eventually, the silence grew shorter and shorter as one moment of noise blended into the next, creating one massive uproar.
Slap. Splash. Thud. Thud. Smack.
Splash. Smack. Smack. Slap. Thud. Splash. Slap. Thud.
Thud. Slosh. Splat. Smack. Thud. Splosh. Squelch. Slosh.
Thud. Splash. Slosh. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud thud thud thud thud thud splash slosh slosh splash smack slosh smack slap splish slosh ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
It was the sound of waves.
Though there was nothing but fish inside the container, the fish themselves became a little sea, creating currents and waves in the closed space as though in a desperate bid for recognition.
They had been limp and still until just moments earlier. But with the first fish in the lead, the rest followed in twisting and flailing as though they had been set back into the water.
But the fishermen sensed no life from the fish.
The eyes of the fish were dead and grey, clearly different from their catch early that morning. It was as though they were being electrocuted, moving by reflex alone.
As the chilling movement continued, the bandaged figure narrowed their eyes in ecstasy and commanded:
Silence returned to the harbor.
The fish jostling in the container stopped as though they had lost all their strength.
But the silence soon came to an end, and the ears of the fishermen and the figure in black were assaulted by a new noise.
Father and son cringed and covered their ears at the sound. The figure in black gleefully watched with their exposed right eye.
Something resembling the sound of pieces of expanded polystyrene smashing against one another, and the sound of something soft being beaten with a stick.
It was as though the fish, in spite of having no voices, were screaming.
They mashed their bodies against one another in physically impossible ways as they pushed and pulled towards the center of the container, not caring that their bodies were being ground to pulp.
Pieces of flesh and scales were peeled off their bodies. Bones and innards mixed together as though they were separate creatures, sometimes defying gravity as they gathered.
The fishermen could not see what was happening from their vantage point on the pier. But the sound alone was enough to tell them what was going on.
So specific was the noise inside that though the phenomenon was humanly impossible, their imagination could fill in the gaps. The sound filled the harbor, creaking and smacking.
The diced pieces of flesh soon gathered together. Muscle with muscle, bone with bone. They wove together with no set pattern, creating new masses of flesh and bone.
“This is going to take a while. It is! About an hour. It would be faster if I used human corpses. It would be super-duper fast.” The figure in black said to themselves from beside the fishermen, once more returning to their repetitive self.
The bandaged person had been atop the ship until just moments ago. When had they descended?
Instead of answering the fishermen’s silent question, the figure in black beamed like a little child and asked of them a question utterly irrelevant to the commotion taking place inside the container.
“Is there an internet cafe around here? Is there an internet cafe with all the popular games? Underground Gun Mania would be the best. That would be the super bestest.”
The fishermen could feel their legs turn to jelly.
Though they could not see what was taking place inside the container, they knew without a doubt that something unnatural and grotesque was occurring there.
“...Never mind. I’ll find it myself. Never mind. I’ll come back for the fish. I’ll come back for them in an hour.”
Leaving behind the awestruck father and son, the figure in black walked away with a crack of the neck.
They then stopped just as they passed by the pair, looking straight at the fishermen with their eye wide open.
“You didn’t see anything, get it? You saw nothing. You have to forget about it, okay? You have to forget.”
The bandaged figure turned away from the frozen fishermen, apparently having lost interest. But they left a single command as they departed:
It was a simple but normally unpalatable command. But the men could not defy the order. No amount of struggling would allow simple humans to go against this instruction.
The moment the figure in black disappeared, the father and son took the money they received and sped away without turning back.
Left in the harbor was the sound of something stirring.
A strange ‘something’, no longer a mountain of fish.
[It is not the act of drinking blood that qualifies one to be a vampire.] The viscount wrote proudly, recalling the abilities of his old friend and party member.
[Humanity figures little into the matter. After all, it is because we transcend the laws of nature that we are called monsters.]
(1) The saying “說曹操, 曹操到” means “speak of Cao Cao (a character from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms), and he comes”. It has the same meaning as the English idiom “speak of the devil, and he shall appear”.