Monday, 28 October 2013

Vamp! IV - Chapter 1

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

Another update. Remember, there will be very few illustrations from this volume, as I don't have access to a scanner.

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Chapter 1: Invitations for the Vampires


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Put simply, the call was an extraordinarily brief one.


[I propose a meeting. All available Colors, gather at the Mars Family vacation home in Southern Germany at midnight local time on the final day of the month.

-Gerhardt von Waldstein]


There was nothing else.

But these words were translated into countless languages and spread across the Earth through all sorts of media.

Of course, the message was not broadcast to the people of the world like a television show.

Only about one hundred individuals were in receipt of this call.

The group went beyond simple diversity. The members were of different backgrounds and languages—those who comprised the group had absolutely nothing to do with each other.

From a human perspective, that is.

Those who were called had one thing in common. One simple but decisive factor.

They were vampires.

Most of those who received the message had not only surpassed the bounds of humanity, they also ignored even the laws of physics that governed the world.

To cite a more specific commonality, these individuals were fellow officers of an Organization of vampires.


Of these individuals, said to be the most powerful of vampires, many had laid their roots deep into human society and beyond.

In other words, they were everywhere and anywhere.

No different from humans.


<=>


The United States of America. Somewhere in Chicago.


"An excellent view, wouldn't you agree?"

The voice of the man facing the window was deep and resonant, but his enunciation was clear to those in the room.

They were in one of the many skyscrapers in the city of Chicago.

This particular room seemed to be on a very high floor. The night sky outside the window was filled with stars.

Dots of light lining the skies, and countless electric lights scattered across the earth.

The glow of the city were just beginning to overpower the glow of the heavens. And in this room at the boundary of the two spaces, a man quietly muttered,

"But there's one flaw in this excellent view. Nebula's Mist Babel, the only obstacle to my own building’s supremacy. Hmph… But I suppose that can't be helped. The moneyed must be modest. If nothing else, our total assets are greater than Nebula's—and I have to acknowledge the Mist Babel for the debt I owe to their chairman from five generations ago."

The man's eyes were fixed upon the headquarters of the multinational corporation known as 'Nebula'.

With his gaze on the great white tower that stood proudly over Chicago, the man chuckled and tilted the wineglass in his hand.

From the position of this room, his building was probably one of the greats as well. The carpet covering the floor was mainly of primary colors, but there was not a hint of frivolity in its design. It was as though a chunk of floor had been carved out of a royal palace and transported here.

The carpet was not the only thing that fit this description. The little round tables, the lights on the walls and ceilings, and even the pillars were showy yet majestic.

The room was straight out of the manor of a baroque-era aristocrat, or a high-class restaurant.

And since the space was, in fact, a dining room owned by a man of great wealth, neither comparison was very far from the truth.

The man stood before one of the windows in this room—to be specific, he was standing in front of the wall, which was made of tempered glass. And without even turning around, he addressed the space behind himself.

"Setting aside that one blemish… The view at night is simply splendid. The world only truly shines after darkness falls. Wouldn’t you agree?"

"…"

He heard no answer.

Behind the man, in the middle of the room, was a younger man with his hands tied behind his back. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, with a slight beard on his face. Droplets of blood were scattered across his brown coat, and his face was also covered with his own blood.

"Now… let me ask you again. Why did you make an attempt on my life?"

With the disturbing question, the man at the window slowly turned around.

His bright blond hair was neatly combed back. He showed no sign of disconcertment before the one who had supposedly attempted to kill him.

The blond man was probably in his early forties. Although his physical movements made him look a little more youthful than that, there was something in his mannerisms that suggested great maturity behind him.

And at this man of ambiguous age came a voice filled with pure hatred.

"…You wanna know why? I thought you had me dragged here 'cause you already knew."

The young man in the coat made no attempt to hide his loathing, rage, and most of all, his disgust.

"Hm. I can't argue that my life has been threatened more times than there are stars in the sky. But let me clear up this misunderstanding. My family are the ones who control the Gardastance Group today. All I have to my name is power and influence that lets me use money like water. So if your business, or some equivalent thereof, lost out to our-"

"Cut the crap, you vampire!"


A vampire.


It was a strangely unscientific statement for a man in the middle of a modern city. The blond man, however, was unfazed.

"Yes. I am indeed a vampire. And?"

His answer was incredibly nonchalant. The young man in the coat ground his teeth.

"That's reason enough for me to kill you!"

With a look at the young man's expression—which was spiteful enough to be reserved for the Devil himself—the blond vampire put on a curious look and fell into thought. He soon opened his mouth once more.

"I was being quite serious when I asked for your motives earlier. I honestly don't know what you are trying to say. So let me ask… why did you try to kill me?"

"Wha-"

"I looked into your background. You have no religious affiliation, and though I considered that you might be a freelance Hunter, I still found no reason why I should be threatened. It's not as though I've ever kidnapped some innocent village girl. In this world, I can use money to get myself the loveliest of women. And if I couldn't earn her love with money, no vampiric power would be enough to sway her to me. I'm not so arrogant as to assume that love can be purchased."

After his rather calm and proud declaration, the vampire continued,

"Perhaps you have me confused with another vampire. After all, combed-back blond hair isn't all that uncommon among our kind. Perhaps it's the influence of cinema…"

"Don't mess with me!" The restrained Hunter cried, cutting off the vampire, "what's the difference? You’re are all the same! You deserve to die because you're a vampire!"

"Ah! Now I understand."

The vampire on the receiving end of the young man's threats nodded, and dramatically spread his arms. He elegantly looked down upon the human.

"To think I would be placed under threat for such an outdated reason in this day and age! Of course. Of course! What a curious day. I'd heard Gerhardt was visited by rabble like this in the past, but now I've got myself a wonderful story to tell the others!"

"…'Outdated'?"

"One can't argue that the idea of vampires being servants to the Devil is a bygone thought. Don't you agree that one must first do some research before setting out to eliminate something? The idea of killing vampires for no reason other than their identity, in this day and age, is nonsense. Of course, some sects do indeed give us a fair chance and study about us before declaring us enemies and attacking."

The vampire shrugged and addressed the back of the room.

"So, how does it feel to have been hindered? Not by vampires, but humans?"

"…Never thought so many people’d sell their souls to the Devil."

The Hunter spat hatefully, slowly turning his focus to the area behind himself.

There were more than just the two of them on this floor.

Dozens of men in military jackets were standing in a row behind the bound Hunter.

In fact, the halls on this floor and many other places throughout the building were guarded by 'private soldiers' who were dressed, not in army jackets, but security uniforms.

The soldiers were dead silent. No emotion showed on their faces.

But as though speaking on their behalf, the vampire continued scornfully.

"Devils? Souls? That's what's so outdated about your claims. I demand labor from these people, which they supply me with. And I compensate them. I also pay them money to keep secret the fact that I am a vampire. After all, there are countless people who are more desperate for immediate reward than eternal life."

"…"

"I must admit, It was rather interesting to talk with such an old-fashioned Hunter like yourself. While you await trial, why not take your time figuring out a way to explain why you were carrying around a weapon as strange as a white stake?"

The vampire turned away, having lost interest. The Hunter frowned and asked,

"…You're not going to kill me?"

"I have no reason to. But let me give you a piece of advice. The one you should truly fear isn’t the vampire. It’s the capitalist. Remember. I have the power to frame you for falsified crimes and put you away in prison for all eternity."

With his composed, condescending words, the vampire put on a self-deprecating smile and put an end to the conversation.

"The most terrifying thing in the world? It’s not vampires. It’s money."

He began walking, past the young man. And at that very moment,

"That so…?"

The Hunter grinned maniacally.

"Then die."

He had, at some point, untied his restraints. The Hunter leapt into the air with great force, charging towards the vampire. And in his hand was a very thin stake of carved wood he had drawn from somewhere.

"?!"

But before the nearest soldier could react,

Before the blond vampire could even turn to face the Hunter,

Before even the sound of the young man leaping into the air,

The Hunter reached out to kill the vampire at positively inhuman speeds.

He reached out.

Further,

Further and further,

Further and further and further still.

Completely ignoring what the vampire had to say, the young man became a mass of determination that existed for the sole purpose of destruction.

His one attack was filled with resolve and purpose, flying like a bullet towards his target.

But the attack would never reach the vampire's heart.

"Wha…"

To the young man's shock, the object that blocked his wooden stake was something all too familiar to him.

Paper.

His determined attack had been blocked by a mass of hundred-dollar bills.

Where in the world had they come from?

It was a pile of wealth itself, composed of hundreds, thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands of bills.

Hundred-dollar bills, which were sure to be worth a fortune if tallied together, had flown and squirmed and twisted together as though possessed of minds of their own. They had become a paper shield that stopped the Hunter's stake.

A real bullet, perhaps, would have been able to pierce the symbol of capitalism. But reinforcing the barrier of papers was a wall of metal composed of countless coins.

From behind the absolute wall of capitalism, the vampire said with pity in his tone,

"Impressive movements. For a human, anyway."

In a corner of the wall of money, the vampire grinned, just as the Hunter had done moments earlier.

"Here's your tip."

A second later, the bills threw themselves upon the Hunter at once, robbing his limbs of movement.

Then, the vampire reached into his pocket and took out a wallet. He took out a single coin and flicked it towards the Hunter.

It was an innocuous action, but no one had been able to catch the movement of his fingers.

By the time they heard the sound of metal cutting through air, it was already over.

"…"

The Hunter fainted without so much as a groan, the whites of his eyes exposed.

Lodged in his chest was a coin that had been driven into him at incredible speed.

The blond vampire fixed his collar, and flashed the unconscious young man one final, arrogant smile.


"Remember. This is capitalism."


<=>


Once the Hunter had been taken away by the police, the vampire—Rude Gardastance—stepped onto an elevator alongside his secretary, who had been waiting in the hallway.

Rude addressed the secretary with utter calm, as though the attempt on his life had been a thing of the distant past.

"Any interesting news?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Waldstein has just called for a conference."

As she gave her report, the secretary opened up a PDA and held it out to Rude.

The moment Rude read through the contents of the email, the calm on his face gave way to an uncomfortable frown.

"The end of the month… Do I have anything scheduled?"

"Yes, sir. Dinner with Senator Sturm and a large banquet."

At the secretary's answer, Rude breathed a joyous sigh of relief and shut the PDA with a laugh, handing it back to her.

"Trifles. Cancel those engagements. Even my banquet will only be host to humans. It's not reason enough to turn down Gerhardt's invitation."

"Is this all right, sir?"

"Of course. Those humans are only moneyed hordes who seek eternal life. Dropping by the Organization's meeting will be a much more profitable use of my time."

"From the word 'available' on the email, I don't believe it’s a very important meeting, sir…" The secretary said, just in case.

Rude looked up at the ceiling of the elevator with a haughty smile, and spoke in an appropriately proud tone.

"I don't need to remind you; I have money. More money than anyone in the world."

"Are you trying to be arrogant, sir?" The secretary asked emotionlessly. Rude ignored her question, and allowed his expression to soften ever-so-slightly.

"That's why I know better than anyone the value of those who can’t be bought with money.


"In other words, that is the worth of the Organization is to us vampires."


<=>


Just as Rude had received the message,

Many other vampires all over the world heard the call.

Through email, letters, telephone, morse code, signal fire, or telepathy.

All kinds of means were used to invite all kinds of vampires from all kinds of locations.


One, in an ancient castle in Eastern Europe.

One, on the grounds of a shrine.

One, on a city crossroads.

One, in front of the computer at home.

One, on the high seas.

One, under the waves.

One, in the back of a cavern.

One, atop a gigantic spiderweb in an abandoned house.

One, in a pet store.

One, in an arcade.

One, on the front lines of battle.

One, inside a crib.

One, inside a grave.

One, in digital space.

One, beyond the stars.


One, in the midst of biting a human.

One, in the midst of being bitten by a mosquito.

One, in the midst of a 100-million dollar gamble at a casino.

One, in the midst of sleeping with a human woman.

One, in the midst of puzzling out a crime.

One, in the midst of doing maintenance on his own body.

One, in the midst of repenting at a church.

One, in the midst of taking digestive medicine.

One, in the midst of getting a tan on the beach.

One, in the midst of defusing a bomb.

One, in the midst of urinating on a utility pole.

One, in the midst of a dentist's appointment.

One, in the midst of being attacked by a Hunter.

One, in the midst of helping a friend about to be attacked by a Hunter.

One, in the midst of threatening a friend under the guise of a Hunter.


In all kinds of times, places, and situations, the vampires received the message.

Their dead hearts began to beat with excitement at Gerhardt’s sudden call.


<=>


The former chairman of the Gardastance Group—a multinational corporation counted among the top ten companies in the United States of America—flaunted his freedom and wealth without restraint.

"The Mars Family's vacation home. If I remember correctly, they have a helipad."

"Yes, sir. They have eight helipads set aside for guest use."

"…I see."

The vampire fell into thought for a moment. He gravely looked at the secretary and came up with a proposal.

"What do you think of this plan? Arrive on scene with a purchased military helicopter while madly opening fire with a paint gun?"

"It's an affordable plan, sir, but for the sake of my mental health I would like to ask you to refrain." The secretary answered emotionlessly.

Seeing the visible twitch in the woman's temples, the richest vampire in the world broke out into a cold sweat. He averted his gaze and began to brainstorm ideas for the gift he would bring to the meeting.


<=>


A home on the island of Growerth.


"I'm broke…"

The boy was looking back and forth at his wallet and his passbook, mumbling to himself in despair.

"Oh no… What do I do…? Now I can’t buy Ferret a gift."

His name was Mihail Dietrich.

He was an exceedingly normal young man living in rural Germany.

By age, he was quite close to becoming an adult. But the air of innocence around him made him seem rather childlike still.

Among the many types of secondary education offered in Germany, Mihail was old enough to be entering a vocational school. But thanks to certain circumstances on the island, he was currently undergoing training related to the various tourism-related businesses on Growerth.

Immediately after his studies, he would be conscripted. There was a busy plan laid out before him, but at this point, all he was concerned about was the fanciful dream of creating children's books and starting a family with the girl he loved. A complete rejection of reality.

The girl he loved, of course, never returned his affections. And even if she did, there were still countless obstacles standing in their way.

But what bothered him now was none of these obstacles, but the reality of the fact that he was too poor to buy her a gift.

It occurred to him that money was not necessarily needed for a gift, but he currently wasn't able to make her a present himself. And he had also experienced over a hundred instances of writing love letters(which were cost-free) and having them all torn apart or thrown away.

At this point, the girl could probably report Mihail for being a stalker. But fortunately, she had a good reason for being unable to turn to the police.

This reason was connected to the obstacles that stood in their way.

In terms of both social class and position, they were at opposite ends of the spectrum.

He was an ordinary commoner.

She was an aristocrat's daughter, living in a castle.

He was a human being.

She was a vampire.

Ferret von Waldstein.

It had been many years now since she stole Mihail's heart.

To this very day, he continued to shower her with affection.

But there was nothing but trouble in his way.

Each whisper of love earned him a punch.

Each love letter was tossed away on the spot.

His parents were in staunch opposition.

His parents hired Hunters to kill the vampire girl.


He was pierced with a stake by another Hunter who attacked her. And for a time, Mihail had been in the hospital in critical condition.


And yet he did not give up.

Ferret had been looking quite down lately. So in order to live out his affections, Mihail made up his mind to give her a gift. But sadly, his buying power was currently a resounding zero.

"I guess I'd better find a part-time job."

In Germany, earnings from part-time jobs were subject to taxation. And the number of unemployed was by no means small. There was no guarantee that Mihail would find employment.

He had tried to get an interview at several places, but certain circumstances prevented him from being hired.

"That's all right! As long as I have Ferret's love, things'll work out somehow… Come to think of it, didn't Doctor say before that he was recruiting test subjects? …I wonder if he needs any humans."

Mihail slapped his knee with his left hand. He got to his feet and immediately ran for the door.

Not knowing who, or what strange fate awaited before him.


Of course, even if he knew, Mihail would not hesitate to step forward.


<=>


Several days later. Waldstein Castle, on the island of Growerth.


Growerth was a large island in the North Sea, under the jurisdiction of Germany.

Not only was it a prominently large island, it was also under development as a tourist destination. It was also actively establishing sister cities overseas, in countries like Japan, America, and Australia.

Including Neuberg, several cities were on the island, upon which was everything from streets resembling the Middle Ages to modern-day civic centers and hotels. Of course, there were no skyscrapers on the island—five-story hotels were about as tall as they went. And yet not a single room was vacant during the busy tourist season. Old buildings by the large streets that had been renovated into hotels were also quite popular with visitors. In more recent years, the annual festival had become such a success that plans for a large-scale hotel were currently under consideration. Local opinion on the development was still mixed.

Many small peaks rose up near the center of the island, covered with deciduous trees. And near the top of a peak on the southern side of the island was a large castle taken straight out of the Middle Ages. Waldstein Castle, the symbol of Growerth and one of its most popular tourist destinations.

Its majestic beauty harmoniously blended with the viridian forests and mountains. Countless visitors lost themselves in the wondrous sights as they stepped into this storybook setting.

Thanks to the fact that many works of art by Growerth’s very own Carnald Strassburg were displayed on the premises, Waldstein Castle was considered the most prominent sightseeing destination on the island known for its rich culture.

But most people had no idea.

Deep within the castle, there was a residential area hidden from the public's view.

But what lived inside was not human.

In the majestic and elegant castle resided its Lord, living in death from behind the veils of darkness.


The vampire known as Relic von Waldstein, and others who belonged to the world of the Night.


But the Master of Night, ruler of Growerth, was currently looking just about ready to cry in the face of his younger sister's rage.


<=>


Evening, Waldstein Castle dining hall.


"Honored Brother! Just how many times must I remind you?!"

A boy flinched at the outraged voice directed towards him.

"C'mon, Ferret. You don't have to get that angry. I almost dropped my plate."

"I am angry at you because you deserved this show of indignation! Honored Brother, you are the master of this castle and the Lord of Growerth! So what possessed you to personally take your finished plate to the sink?!"

As Ferret chastised him, Relic—the older twin—sighed uncomfortably.

It was currently one in the morning.

Relic and Ferret were vampires, but they did not have to live on blood alone. Although some vampires were able to consume nothing else, the twins were capable of also enjoying ordinary meals like human beings.

Around them stood a row of maids in green clothing, watching over them as though the scene warmed their hearts. Ferret, however, did not seem to notice as she directed her outrage at Relic.

"But it's faster for me to just take the plate myself…"

"This is not a matter of efficiency! Honored Brother, you must come to a better understanding of your own noble status! There is a place for commoners, and there is a place for aristocrats. Is it so difficult for you to see that this boundary must not be crossed?!"

The girl was wearing a completely black, but elegant dress. Her outfit alone made her seem far removed from mere humans or the mundane world.

Meanwhile, the boy was wearing clothing you could find on any young man in the city. He carried himself with a completely different air from his sister.

"I think I told you this before, but… I mean, sure, I inherited the island from Father. But I don't really want to act like… you know…"

"Hmph!"

As Relic trailed off vaguely, Ferret decided to turn her rage towards the maids around them. However, she was slightly more reserved when speaking to them. The venom with which she berated her brother had been softened.

"A, and all of you, as well! Why did you not try to stop Honored Brother when he attempted to take away his plate personally?!"

"If I may, Miss Ferret…" One of the maids said with a curtsey. "Master Relic is the current Lord and the one whose orders we must prioritize over all others. We also advised him on this very matter once, but Master Relic answered with a smile that he would prefer to take his plates himself. We were only following his orders."

"…"

Having been the one to bring up hierarchy in the first place, Ferret could not find a response. Seeing his chance, Relic joined the conversation.

"Yeah, Ferret. Don’t blame the maids."

"H, Honored Brother!"

But what Relic did not take into account was the fact that the maids also served Ferret as their mistress. The one who had answered Ferret turned to Relic with a deep bow.

"If I may, Master Relic, I wish to advise you once more."

"Yes?"

"Trifling things like taking away the plates are jobs that we have been assigned and have accepted as our own. So unless it is an act derived of great determination or joy, we would be grateful if you allowed us to continue with the work we were assigned."

"…"

This time, Relic was the one lost for a response. He looked at the maid, at his sister, and back at the maid again. And eventually, he sighed in defeat and gently laid down his plate.

"I'm sorry. It looks like I still have a long way to go before I become a good master to everyone."

At Relic's sincere apology, the maids bowed all together.

A maid who was standing beside Ferret whispered to her,

"If I may advise you, Miss Ferret. Anger is not a very effective tool for chiding Master Relic."

"…!"

"After all, he could dismiss even the wisest piece of advice as an emotional outburst."

"…I understand." Ferret answered, sighing just as her brother had. The maid smiled gently and said in a rather casual tone for a servant,

"It looks like you owe me one, Miss Ferret."

"Ohh…"

Were the maids anyone else, Ferret might have lashed out at them for their insolence. But she could not bring herself to show such indignation towards the maids who had been like mothers to them. Ferret had been, for a moment, uncomfortable at being in debt to the maid. But when the maid herself pointed this out in good humor, Ferret found herself feeling more at ease.

Remembering the fact that even her adoptive father Gerhardt, the former Lord of Waldstein Castle, could not argue with the maids, Ferret once more remembered their underlying influence.

"Allow us to serve you some tea." One of the maids said. Soon, the maids began to clear the table with smooth, graceful movements. Relic could not take his eyes off the sight. And before he knew it, the plates and utensils were off the table. The remnants of their meal had been cleared from the elegant tablecloth, giving way to an air of relaxation.

"Um, thank you."

'They're really amazing, no matter how many times I see them work.'

Although Relic saw the maids use their incredible skills every day, he was constantly floored by their expertise.

And each time he watched them, the same question bugged him:

'Do I really deserve to call myself their master?'

It was not only the maids.

This island was home to countless supernatural creatures, including vampires and werewolves. Under the protection of Waldstein Castle, they lived out their own lifestyles alongside—or separately from—humans.

The Lord of Waldstein Castle meant nothing to the humans of Growerth. But for those like Relic—those humans saw as 'others'—this position was a very meaningful one.

Did he really have what it took to claim such a role, Relic wondered.

Although his doubt continued, he had already accepted his position. He could not allow himself to allow his trepidation to become his weakness.

Thus, Relic looked at his own position head-on.

At the same time, there was something that bothered him slightly about his sister.

"Say, Ferret?"

"Yes, Honored Brother?"

Their argument had only just come to a close. Ferret was still sounding somewhat cold.

But Relic's question turned the air around her upside-down.

"Why don't you go hang out with Mihail once in a while?"

"Pardon…?!"

The stiff nobility of her bearing collapsed in an instant. And for a moment, a girlish expression more appropriate for her age returned to Ferret's face as she gaped in shock.

But that quickly faded, and Ferret gritted her teeth to gather her wits once more. She shot her brother a glare both searing and frigid.

"…It seems to me that you have not been listening to me for quite some time now, Honored Brother."

"I'm saying this because I was listening." Relic said firmly.

Relic's sudden turn for the serious silenced Ferret for a moment.

"You've been overdoing yourself, haven't you?"

"Wh, what do you mean? I do not-"

"I can see right through you, Ferret."

"…"

Ferret went silent. Relic put down his cup of tea and addressed her, sounding slightly sad.

"It's written on your face. Before, you used to react and respond to Mihail, even if you were just getting angry at him. But now… you don't even try to meet him in person."

"That is not-"

"I told you before. Mihail's injuries weren't your fault."

"…"

The girl in the black dress was at a loss for words. She slowly stood from her seat.

And without having properly defined her feelings for Mihail, she answered her brother.

"…There is no meaning to my understanding that fact if I cannot accept it." She said mechanically, her eyes downcast as she turned away from the table. "My apologies, Honored Brother. I am feeling unwell; I will retire early."

"Hey, Ferret!" Relic called after her, but his sister left, her footsteps echoing in the darkness.


"…D'you think maybe I shouldn't have said that?" Relic asked the maid beside him, after the footsteps faded and silence returned to the dining room.

The maid bowed elegantly and responded with advice.

"If I may be direct, Master Relic. You tend to be much too blunt. On many occasions, relationships between men and women are healed by time. And I believe it will take quite some time before Miss Ferret's heart is healed. Just the same as Mihail's injuries."

"Time, huh. It's not like I don't get that, but… if we wait for her to heal by our perception of time…"

What worried Relic was the difference between vampires and humans.

Although he knew that they were the same at heart, there were still some insurmountable physical differences between the two species.

Because Ferret was immune to sunlight and flowing water, other than her regenerative capabilities, she was able to live like an ordinary human being. But time was one thing that still separated her from them.

Vampires could live for centuries—or even eternity. If they tried to interact with the world by their perception of time, Ferret could very well end up leaving Mihail behind in the shadows of the past.

This was what Relic thought, but one of the maids replied,

"We can tell that Miss Ferret isn't the only one whose heart is troubled, Master Relic."

"What?"

"We aren't referring to decades' worth of time. Perhaps a year or two, at most."

"B, but even that's a very long time by human standards, isn't it?" Relic asked anxiously. A bespectacled maid gave him a gentle smile and answered.

"You are only speaking from knowledge, not experience, Master Relic. The difference in our perception of time from that of humans only becomes noticeable after fifty, a hundred, or perhaps two hundred years. You are still essentially living at the same pace as human beings."

"B, but…"

"Master Relic, we have known Mihail for quite some time now. And we don't believe that his feelings for Miss Ferret would wane so quickly."

A short-haired maid chimed in with a chuckle.

"You won't say you didn't already know, would you? Master Relic, you know Mihail too well."

"…"

As Relic went silent, the maid who spoke to him first refilled his cup of tea and whispered with a bow.

"However… we do admire just how much you cherish Miss Ferret, Master."

"…You're all incredible."

Although he sounded defeated, Relic looked satisfied as he brought his teacup to his lips.

Savoring the clean, aromatic taste, he flashed a smile at the maids.

"Thank you. I guess I must have been overthinking things."

"Not at all. We apologize for having been so direct."

Relic was struck by the grace with which the maid bowed, and was reminded of just how much longer these vampires in green must have lived.

And so, as he marveled at the maids once more, Relic decided to voice a question that suddenly came up in his mind.

"Come to think of it… Just how old are you, everyone?"

The maids smiled all at once at his innocent question, and gently scolded him.


"A gentleman doesn't ask a lady her age, Master Relic."


<=>


Ferret's room.


"…I'm awful…"

Ferret had returned to her own room, and was sitting on the edge of her bed blaming herself.

"How could I take out my anger on Honored Brother like that?"

Including her elegant covers, the interior of her room was a textbook example of an aristocrat's bedroom. The desk in the corner she used for reading and studying was a slight mismatch with the atmosphere, but even it was much more luxurious than a desk from the home of an ordinary family.

Normally, Ferret played a part perfectly matched to the refined and noble interior of this room. But now, she was curled up like a little bird trapped in her cage.


On her mind were the events that took place half a year ago.

It was on the first day of the island's annual celebration, the Carnale Festival.

Mihail was dragged into the attack of a Hunter who was targeting her, and was left with devastating injuries.

Feeling the brunt of the guilt for the incident, Ferret was overjoyed to hear several months later that Mihail had finished his rehabilitation and was being discharged from the hospital.

But the guilt of having gotten him involved drove a tiny splinter into her heart, in spite of the fact that Mihail did not blame her.

The sensation of something jabbing into the back of her head and her gut.

Too often this sensation clawed at her emotions.

One week since Mihail was discharged from the hospital, he visited the castle with his sister Hilda. The maids were serving them tea.

Out of habit, Mihail reached for his cup with his right hand.

But partway through the action, he pulled his right arm away and picked up the cup with his left hand.

That was all.

Drinking his tea as though nothing was wrong, he energetically complimented the taste and thanked the maids.

But that single scene etched itself into Ferret's mind, digging into her thoughts like a knife.


"Although he can still move his arm, it will be difficult for him to regain the use of the fingers, even with rehabilitation."

This was the reality presented to her by the doctor.

The moment she heard this, Ferret sank deep into sadness.

But when she saw Mihail and his unchanging smile, she felt as though she had been liberated from her guilt.

At least, until she saw his unmoving fingers with her own eyes.

Seeing was believing.

No matter how much she readied herself beforehand and acknowledged the fact ahead of time, the sight of reality came down like a hammer, rattling even her character.

Ferret's heart was left viciously shaken. Only the memory of the violence done to Mihail continued to resurface in her thoughts.

For her, the powerless Mihail would stand up against any adversity; adversity that he could not defeat—adversity that could kill him.

Again and again.

Again and again and again and again.

He would go so far for Ferret, who never showed him an ounce of warmth.

In Ferret's mind, countless memories piled together on top of one another. And so, she found herself unable to say a word.


For the first time, she felt a sense of distance between herself and Mihail, who continued to behave cheerfully even with full knowledge of what had happened to him.

And she ended up realizing something.

The difference between humans and vampires.

The wall that stood between humans and vampires divided her from him in a way she had never once considered.

Her body was different from that of a human.

Some injuries, she was reminded, could not be healed.

Of course, even vampires had many weaknesses. In many cases, wounds inflicted by silver would never heal. And it was difficult to return to life once a vampire had been turned to ashes. But in that sense, even humans died when they were stabbed through the heart with a stake. And though they were immune to sunlight, humans could be killed and turned to ash by fire.

In spite of their weaknesses, vampires were much more resilient than humans. And Ferret went one step further, being an unusual vampire with no weaknesses to speak of. Although she, in exchange, had no special abilities, in some ways Ferret was even further removed from humans than other vampires by virtue of her perpetuity.

This was why she was so stricken with fear.

The fear slowly grew as she began to understand her repressed feelings for Mihail.

The simple thought that she and Mihail were different fanned the flames of her guilt.

Love between humans and vampires.

Mihail had already crossed the boundary without even blinking.

But that same boundary stood as a wall before Ferret, looking for all the world like an indomitable fortress.

She had never dreamed this would happen.

That the day would come when she desired to walk the same time alongside someone other than Relic.

That she would come face-to-face with the fact that such a thing was impossible.

Although she had the ability to suck blood, Ferret could not turn the humans whose blood she drank.

This was confirmed on the day of the incident, when she attempted to turn Mihail in order to save his life.

'…What exactly do I want of Mihail?'

Her brother Relic could probably turn Mihail into a vampire.

And if Ferret wished, Mihail would give up his humanity without hesitation.

But was it forgivable to turn a human into a vampire for her own selfish reasons?

She questioned herself, beset by a kind of confusion she had never felt before in her life.


When her brother pinpointed exactly what she was feeling, Ferret was driven further into self-hatred. She was now clinging to a hope even more contradictory than her current state of being.

'…I want to see him.'

The boy she was treating coldly for the sole reason of his making her uncomfortable.

If she met him, the wounds in her heart would only deepen.

But on the other hand, it also felt as though hearing his voice could heal those hurts.

'…'

As she agonized over her contradicting emotions, another fear reared its head in her heart.


She had received no word from Mihail in the past few days.

Until recently, he had come to the castle every day to try and meet with her. But he had been silent now for several days.

'What if he hates me now?'

Before, in spite of her chilly attitude, she still interacted with Mihail. But for some time now she hadn't even thought of seeing him in person.

On one hand, she acknowledged that Mihail had every right to stop liking her at this point. On the other, she was also afraid that he blamed and resented her.

'…'

And she hated herself for suspecting such a thing, if only for a moment.

In the midst of her misery, Ferret realized that she had been clutching a stuffed animal that was beside her bed.

'How childish of me,' she thought, quickly trying to put it back where it belonged. But then,

'Wait…'

The stuffed animal was a pink bat of an adorable design.

It was even more incongruous in her Gothic bedroom than her desk and her travel coffin.

'This was from Mihail…'

Only several days after his very first confession to Ferret, Mihail had come to see her with this downright lovable stuffed animal he had acquired somehow.

At first, she complained, "Are you making light of me, an aristocrat? I am not a child!". But in the end, she responded, "Throwing this away would be discourteous to the one who put heart and soul into making this stuffed animal, so perhaps I shall donate it to some daycare on the island!", before proceeding to receive it and treasure it with all her heart.

Her eyes met those of the bat's, reminding her of that day. Ferret's eyes stung with tears.

She sat hanging her head for several minutes. But she eventually wiped her face and slowly looked up at the ceiling.

"…I'll go see him… tomorrow."


But her resolve to see him was no guarantee of things getting better.

The gap between them might only grow more pronounced.

But Ferret had made up her mind.

Tomorrow, she would confess everything.

She would throw away pretenses and forget her noble status, being true to her honest feelings.

Even if her resolve would end in saying her goodbye to him forever, Ferret could not allow herself to stand there doing nothing as they grew more and more distant. That would be an insult to Mihail.

As Ferret closed her eyes, her memories with him began to play in the darkness.

Scenes of happy times and painful times alike.

And seeing the boy's smile in her memories, Ferret sank into peaceful sleep for the first time in a month.


But she still didn't fully understand the boy named Mihail.

It was twelve hours later that she realized he was much more proactive a person than she ever gave him credit for.


Put frankly, Mihail Dietrich was somehow different from ordinary humans.

Of course, this was probably why he was able to steal Ferret's heart away in the first place.


<=>


The next day. Mihail's house.


"…He's… not here?"

Ferret was visiting a home near the castle, dressed up elegantly and holding a parasol. But greeting her at the entrance was Mihail’s sister and Relic's girlfriend Hilda.

"No. Sorry you had to come all this way."

"Not at all. It is my fault for having neglected to contact you ahead of time. In that case… When will he return? I shall come back when he is home."

Ferret had made up her mind to drop her noble mannerisms, but the moment she heard Mihail was away, she found herself falling back on old habits.

In the past, she had been jealous of Hilda for daring to take away her family as a mere human being.

But that jealousy faded before it could ever turn to hate, and now they were good friends. Perhaps even this was thanks to Mihail showering her with affection.

If Mihail did not exist, perhaps Ferret would have lost herself to envy and harmed Hilda to keep her away from Relic.

She was reminded once more of just how much Mihail had affected her. She remembered that she truly needed to see him soon.

Ferret waited for Hilda's answer, wondering where she should kill time while she waited.

"Um… well… Ferret?"

"?"

"I'd love to invite you for some tea while you wait for him, but…"

Hilda sounded slightly awkward. Ferret could feel anxiety creeping on her thoughts.

Ferret knew that the Dietrich siblings' parents despised vampires.

Perhaps they had locked Mihail in the basement so he could never see her again.

As Ferret worried with a strangely aristocrat-appropriate image on her mind, Hilda sighed and told her the truth.

"Mihail won't come back to Growerth until next week."

"Pardon?"

"He said he found a part-time job on the mainland. They're giving him room and board."

"Wh, what? Where?!"

Hilda’s eyes turned to dinner plates at Ferret’s reaction. But she realized that, for some reason, Ferret was actively looking to meet Mihail.

Hilda looked at her friend, who looked unusually determined today. She thought for a moment before giving her an answer.

"He said I shouldn't tell you or Relic, but… I guess I can't keep this a secret. I was just wondering if I should tell Relic or not."

"Wh, what do you mean?"

"Well, it's about Mihail's part-time job…"

Hilda trailed off, sighed deeply, and continued.

Her answer, in fact, needed a sort of determination to put into words.

"Those Eaters who hurt you and Mihail… Mihail is working at the same place they are."

"…Pardon?"

"I only heard about it on the phone this morning. I was wondering how he'd gotten a job on the mainland…"

'What did she just say…?

'The mainland?

'Eaters?

'Could she be talking about Shizune Kijima? Or… it can't be…

'That armored man…?

'A… a part-time job?!'

She was so perplexed that her thoughts faltered.

Unable to comprehend Hilda's answer for a moment, Ferret asked,

"Wh, what do you mean by that?"

"Apparently someone from the Organization came to Growerth a few days ago. And I think he liked Mihail, so he offered him a part-time job. I tried to stop Mihail, but he said he checked with the viscount through email and that there was nothing to worry about. Then he hung up. And he told our parents he was doing volunteer work for Growerth. They'd obviously try to stop him if they knew he was getting involved with vampires."

Hilda explained everything patiently. Anyone with a grasp of human language could understand what she meant.

Including Ferret.

"…"

"I know your father is going to be there, but I'm still worried. I mean, he said there are lots of good people there… but the people who hurt you and Mihail are there too."

Hilda hung her head. This time, Ferret's eyes had turned to dinner plates.

She gaped silently like a beached fish, her sharp fangs emerging into view.

And before she knew it, her fists were trembling as she spat quietly,

"Do not…"

"'Do not'?"

"Do not worry, Hilda."

Ferret's beautiful, pale face contorted very slightly as she declared,

"I shall contact Father immediately and bring that foolish Mihail back to Growerth!"


As Hilda watched her friend run off, a smile rose to her lips.

Although Ferret did not yet notice, Hilda had realized that she was back to her old self.

Hilda was, of course, worried for her brother. But she was even more concerned for Ferret, who had been looking very troubled for some time now. Her declaration to bring Mihail back was almost heartwarming.

"…She's not going to follow him to the mainland, is she?"

Hilda, slightly nervous, decided to prepare to leave as well. She did not want to be late for the moment Relic emerged from the coffin that sheltered him from the sun.


But Hilda had underestimated Ferret.

Although Ferret was indeed back to her old self, the momentum—or perhaps the determination—from the previous night continued to drive her. She was still stuck with tunnel vision.

By the time Hilda came to visit Relic's room, Ferret was already on a ship headed for the mainland.

Still dressed in her fancy clothing, she departed for the sole reason of dragging Mihail back—by force if necessary.


And so, whether he was present or not, Mihail continued to play a great part in Ferret's life even today.


-----


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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update.

    So, will we meet all colors of the Council in this or the next volume?

    (I posted a list in the AWLTMS Database site. Maybe you can use it.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was one hell of a chapter, loved it. Thank you so much for this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another conection with Baccano!!

    ReplyDelete