Finally, a Vamp! update.
To readers: Reader NullApostle has kindly compiled a detailed list of information on Vamp! in a text file here, if anyone wants to work on a relevant wiki or database.
Chapter 2: Sins of the Vampires
Several days earlier. Waldstein Castle Laboratory.
There was a vast network of caverns underneath Waldstein Castle. Thanks to the bacteria created by the former Lord, Gerhardt won Waldstein, the walls were glowing faintly.
In that soft light, the sound of running water pleasantly echoed off the rocks.
Layers upon layers of stalactites hung from the ceiling, matched underneath by stalagmites. On the surface of the rocks around them were distinctive yet organic patterns, emphasizing the natural origin of the caverns.
At the back of the caverns were calcified lime deposits in the shape of a staircase, and there were great pillars of connected stalactites and stalagmites that had probably been formed over tens of thousands of years.
If this area were to be revealed to the world, it would probably be swarmed with tourists from not only Germany, but the entire world. A little further to the back was the remains of an old execution ground, but even that was now an artifact of historical value.
Yet Gerhardt never chose to disclose this place to the public. Nor would Relic, the current Lord of Waldstein Castle, choose such a thing.
This was because these caverns did not belong to humans. They were an otherworldly realm filled with what humans called 'monsters', and an irreplaceable home to these ‘monstrous’ creatures.
"Hey, it's Selim and Val! How're you doing?"
A surprisingly bold voice echoed in this space of 'others'.
Even in a world of darkness, Mihail behaved no differently than he usually did.
"H, hello, Mihail."
"Forget us—how're your injuries?"
Receiving Mihail warmly were a vampire whose lower body was a gigantic flower, and a green-haired boy sitting in front of her.
The former was Selim, an alraune. The latter of Val, a vampire born from a watermelon.
"Completely healed, thanks for asking!"
Mihail smiled with strangely unfounded confidence. Another voice then addressed him.
<Ah, hello there, Mihail. How're things aboveground?>
The voice was coming from a small table, around which were seated several 'others' engrossed in some sort of a game.
Because these 'others' used the caverns as a sort of living room, many of them often brought tables, decks of cards, and other personal belongings.
It was, in a sense, very much like them to play a game in front of an execution ground. But the air around them was rather like that of a park or a community center.
The skeleton who first spoke to Mihail put something on the table. And using a mysterious power, he activated the voice generator under his jaw to enunciate in a distinctive mechanical tone,
<It's a scary world out there—can't even walk around at night without worryin' my pelvis off->
Suddenly, the skeleton was cut off by the man sitting across from him.
"Sorry, Mr. Puzzle. Ron. Civil War, yakuman…"
<Tseng! What is this?!>
The skeleton with card suit markings carved in his skull rose from his seat in shock, his jaw dropping.
The man called 'Tseng' also possessed a strange appearance. He was dressed in the style of ancient China, but there were talismans stuck all over his body.
<Urgh… Not bad…>
"Heh heh… With this, I avenge myself for last month's defeat."
"Grrrowl…" "That was quite hopeless from the very start."
There were two others seated at the table. One was a skinny man wrapped entirely in bandages, and a werewolf with a blue mane. Although werewolves generally remained in human form, this one seemed to have gotten himself into some trouble, as he was currently in wolf form.
One of the things about the caverns underneath Waldstein Castle was that even such individuals could interact with others freely.
Mihail entered this space without a care in the world.
The 'monsters' in the caverns, including the vampires, accepted him into their world without a hint of hostility.
The boy continued to chat with them as though he were speaking to his neighbors.
Suddenly, a snake as thick as a man's arm began to slither up his body.
Many sharp-eyed snakes pulled his body back like rows of chains, and Mihail was quickly embraced by something.
He could feel warmth, so different from the cold of the snakes. And he could feel softness, supple in a different way from the muscled forms of the snakes.
But before he could confirm the identity of the creature behind this form, she spoke from overhead.
"Mhmm. It's been a long time, Little Mihail. Oh, I just can't stand it! You're still so cute I could hug you until all your bones snap!"
Smiling over Mihail was a voluptuous beauty with long hair, shaking her head from side to side with a smile.
Through the fabric of her surprisingly thin clothing he could feel the suppleness of her bust. Although it might have been a rather envious situation for a boy of his age, one look at the woman's lower body would probably drive most humans away in shock.
Unlike normal humans, the woman's lower body was connected with countless serpents that were currently wrapped around Mihail's body.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch! M, Melina! I'm really happy I'm getting buried in your chest and your snakes and I honestly can't say I'm not enjoying this at all, but you can't! My heart already belongs to Ferret!"
As Mihail struggled, even with a helpless grin on his face, the half-human-half-snake called Melina giggled and released him.
"Hah hah! I was just playing around, Mihail! You're so adorable when you're thinking about Ferret like that!"
Melina's appearance led many to mistaking her for a scylla out of Greek myth, but she would usually say, "Actually… A scylla's got six dogs instead of snakes. But I do have a friend who fits that to a tee". Yet even before this monstrous being, Mihail smiled without a care.
"I'm always thinking about Ferret!" He said with his head held high. Tseng and Puzzle cheered him on.
<It's good to be young. Go for it, Mihail.>
"A boy on the border between affection and love. Some things never change."
Selim and Val joined in on the heartwarming scene.
"Ferret is a wonderful person. You'll do just fine, Mihail!"
"If only Ferret would be a bit more honest."
Soon, more 'monsters' and even witches joined in on the conversation. Before he knew it, Mihail was surrounded by nearly twenty vampires, witches, and other creatures.
"A thousand Euros on them getting married in three years."
"Isn't that too high for a starting bet?!"
"Then two thousand!"
"Why're you raising it?"
"Ron. Golden Gate Bridge."
<Ugh… Two yakuman in a row…>
"Ferret's basically unconquerable, though."
"But when it comes to Ferret, Mihail's unstoppable."
"We're trying for a bloodless victory here, so conquest has nothing to do with it."
"If Mihail wants to conquer Ferret, I think he just has to strip. Right now."
"Hey, someone call the cops! We got a cougar on the loose!"
"I'm not a cougar! I'm a witch! And do you really think you could judge a witch with human laws?"
"You're a witch, but you're still human to begin with, so you should have official records."
"Well, yeah! I mean, I'm a high-flying college girl!"
"…Which means you're eligible to get judged."
"Huh? …Uh, wait. But, well, you can't prove magic with modern science, so maybe they could just call it lack of evidence…"
"What's magic got to do with being a perv?"
"Someone call a doctor!"
"Oh? I'm also in favor of Mihail taking it off!"
"Not you too, Ms. Melina!"
"No! We really won't be able to judge you in a human court!"
"Someone call Circe!"
"The witch who turned Scylla into a monster in Greek myth."
"Greek myth?!" "That's total fiction!" "You have to be realistic here!" "Your brain's too saturated with mythology!" "Wh, what? Whaaaat?! But we're werewolves!"
<Ron. Big seven stars.>
"A double yakuman?!"
<Ha. Your talismans are smoldering.>
"You two have been getting nothing but yakuman for a while now… I call cheating."
"…!" "---------" "…" < > " " "" "" ""
Mihail slipped away from the commotion, which was quickly degenerating into another topic altogether, and continued into the caverns with a spring in his step.
The further he went, the more the walls of the cavern changed.
Other than the path in the ceiling that led into the underground lake, the route had no forks. And unlike the caverns, the path was clearly artificial. As nature gave way to man-made space, the glowing bacteria disappeared, replaced by lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. Naturally, the path was much more even and could probably be traversed on a bicycle.
Ahead was a laboratory where lived a pair of vampires known as 'Doctor' and 'Professor'. Last time Mihail came to visit them, there was a poster advertising a job opportunity as a test subject.
This was what Mihail had come to inquire about, but when the laboratory came into sight, he realized that he was not Doctor and Professor's first guest today.
Standing there was a strange man.
He was wearing a suit that seemed to be a shade of green, but it was a luminous fabric that shone in colors like gold, red, and blue depending on the way light reflected off it, making it difficult to tell the exact color.
More bizarre was the hat on his head, also luminous and green. It was the sort of top hat usually worn by quiz show participants.
It almost looked like pressing a button would sound a bell and a question mark would pop out. Mihail initially wondered if there was a TV crew here to film something.
But three seconds later, he remembered that such a thing was impossible, and concluded that the man must be a vampire of some sort. This was because it was unthinkable for a human being other than Hilda or himself to be here. And even setting aside the man's clothing, the air around him was different from that around a human.
Although Mihail didn't boast a particularly keen sense of observation, he had lived among humans and 'monsters' for so long that sometimes, he found himself immediately judging whether someone was human or not.
'I've never seen this man before.'
Mihail was suspicious for a moment in spite of himself, but,
"Oh well. Maybe he's a newcomer. I should say hi."
His doubt only lasted for a single second. He walked up to the suspicious and mysterious man without hesitation and talked to him as though chatting with a friend.
"Hi there. Nice to meet you."
"…? Ah. Nice to meet you." The man said, at first perplexed but quickly breaking out into a smile.
From closer, the man began to look even more mysterious.
He was still quite young.
But in spite of his relative youth, he was extremely tall. There was something unbalanced about the two features.
His large hat was pressed firmly onto his head, covering his eyebrows and making it difficult to read his expression.
If the man were to bow his head slightly, even his eyes would be half-covered. Mihail wondered if the man could see a thing this way, but deciding that that was no way to greet a stranger, he started with a simple introduction.
"Um. Hi. I'm Mihail. Mihail Dietrich. Are you a new vampire here?"
"Ah! It's a positive pleasure to make your acquaintance! I am Doubs Hewley. As you've already pointed out, I am a vampire, one most indescribably insignificant. And you would be… a resident of this castle? Or an employee in the local tourism industry? You look quite human to me."
"Oh, uh… I'm old friends with the Lord of this castle." Mihail said agreeably, a little surprised at the man's very affable response.
"Ah, yes. The viscount did mention that the island was home to a new Lord! …Of course. You must be the young sweetheart of the viscount's daughter Ferret!" The man cried, making dramatic gestures and putting on a look of shock. Mihail responded with an even more exaggerated flail.
"'S, sweetheart'?! That's… quite the term, but, uh, well… to me, Ferret's so sweet that my heart's kind of sort of feeling like it's filling with honey and I'm getting stung by a thousand bees every day!" Mihail answered in panic.
The bizarre man snickered, amused.
"Now that is a marvelous metaphor! The stings of the bees that carry sweet pollen cannot be dislodged until they are torn from their very bellies! In other words, the stings of love that pierce your heart will remain with you for all eternity, til death do you part! Exceptionally excellent! Your reward is a bonbon. Which would you like? Mint-flavored? Or soda? Oh, shucks. Just take them both. Here, quickly!"
"Whoa! Thank you!"
It was a strange sight, the bizarrely excitable man and the boy receiving candy from him.
It seemed like there was some sort of communication happening between them, but from an outsider's perspective, it looked more like a suspicious man trying to lure a boy away with the promise of sweets.
Half of the man's face was hidden under the brim of his hat, and the sight of his eyes shining in the shadows was nothing short of eerie.
But without a care for such things, Mihail grabbed the man's hands and shook them up and down, his face flushed red.
"This is amazing! Wow! I can't believe a total stranger recognized my relationship with Ferret, just like that! Ferret and I really must be connected by destiny or something! Oh, man! Now I really have to go see Doctor, quick!"
"Oh, yes. Of course… and would Theo-I mean, 'Doctor' be inside here?"
"Huh? You mean he's not? The viscount said Doctor’s always in here…" Mihail trailed off, turning towards the laboratory entrance.
Even now, the laboratory struck a stark contrast to the rest of the underground.
The rocks that made up the cavern walls cut off suddenly, giving way to a concrete wall.
It was a sight straight out of the ruins of an ancient lost civilization, or perhaps some underground vault in a bank, but all Mihail wondered about it was, 'how did they build something like this?'.
In the middle of the concrete wall was a door you could find at any office building. The electronic lock made it look somewhat like the door of a modern apartment building.
But the man next to Mihail did not seem to be very surprised at this jarring sight, either.
Mihail had assumed the man was a newcomer, but perhaps this was not his first visit to the castle.
Thinking to himself, Mihail pressed on the doorbell again and again. But the intercom was silent.
"Huh. Maybe they're out."
But as Mihail shook his head, the man called Doubs brought his mouth to the intercom.
"Hah hah. It would be in your best interests to stop pretending you aren't home." He laughed, tapping on the intercom with his fingertips. And in that same tone, he continued, "if you don't hasten and hurry out of there, I can't guarantee what will happen to Mihail here!"
Not understanding what the man was implying, Mihail tilted his head.
Mere seconds later, the voice of a young boy crackled through the speaker.
<Good grief. Hold on a moment. Let me open the door.>
Though the voice was clearly that of a child, the register was that of an older man. And with the response came the sound of the electronic lock being unlocked.
"Ah, it's open! Sensationally stupendous! Let's step inside now—you too, Mihail! Hurry hurry!"
Deciding to not dwell on the confusing situation at hand, Mihail followed the man into the laboratory.
Not realizing that his unguarded decision had just spelled out his fate.
Inside the laboratory.
"…It's been quite some time, young man."
"Yeah, it's been a while, Doctor! I was in the hospital longer than I thought, and this place completely slipped my mind. I'm really sorry. …Huh? Where's Professor?"
"She's asleep at the moment. Her sleep cycle can be a little erratic."
The 'Doctor' Mihail was greeting apologetically was, in all appearance, a boy much younger than him.
In contrast to the average-looking Mihail, the boy was beautiful—clearly on another level altogether. Because of the almost artificial beauty of his appearance, calculated like some ancient work of architecture, the boy's looks were almost otherworldly. But even his counter-natural looks were in themselves beautiful, making the boy called 'Doctor' look very much like an exotic monster.
He had shimmery silver hair like a mirror, and beautiful eyes that glinted like crystals. His irises were a light silver, juxtaposed against the pitch-black pupils within. His very eyes were like a pair of jewels.
His nose, ears, the shape of his lips, and the pale skin peeking from under the sleeves of his lab coat were no different.
His appearance was a miracle of sorts, like ever negative feature had been removed for a yet-young plant. The very pinnacle of 'immature beauty'.
But this beautiful boy used the kind of language expected from someone much older than he appeared. It was extremely unnatural to behold, but it was nothing particularly unusual on Growerth.
After all, he was also a vampire, and as his appearance showed, one whose flow of time had stopped.
Eternal youth personified was wearing a dissatisfied look. In fact, he was looking quite wary.
Although Doctor usually joked around with and teased visitors, enjoying the confusion of others, he was strangely silent today.
"…Who are you, and what brings you here? I've no memory of seeing you on this island before."
"Ah, but you did see me through the security camera at the entrance just now, didn’t you? I don't think I should have to introduce myself twice… is what I'd like to say, but since you've taken the trouble to ask, let me introduce myself. Re-introduce myself repeatedly, if you want! Because I love myself with an undying, unstoppable passion! Doubs. Doubs Hewley. If you like the name, I'll say it again! My name is Doubs Hewley. Every time I say my name, I'm greeted by a round of applause, a rush of human blood, and the shouts of kittens. They all cry, 'All Hail Doubs Hewley'! That is the world of my ideals, but I wonder if such a day will ever come?"
As Doubs recited his dreams and questions with his arms spread, Mihail found himself clapping.
"Stupendous! To think a part of my dream would come true in such a split-second instant! Here, here! In thanks and congratulations, I shall present you with this photograph of myself. If you should ever come across a woman of staggering, stunning beauty, remember to hand this picture to her!"
Mihail applauded as he received the photograph, in which Doubs Hewley smiled in the very same outfit he was currently wearing.
'This guy's awesome! It's decided. I'm going to say hi to Ferret next time with that kind of confidence!'
In contrast with Mihail's indomitable optimism, Doctor spoke with cautious calm.
"…Why are you clapping, young man?"
"Huh? Uh, well, I just…"
"…I suppose your applause is not entirely unreasonable, so let me set that question aside for now. …Doubs Hewley. What I want to know is the purpose of your visit, not necessarily your name. Of course, I've already learned of your moral character from that sight in front of the intercom.”
"Ohhh… So you were pretending not to be home! Heh, that's actually a little childish of you." Mihail said lackadaisically.
Doctor only mumbled, "Your character is in and of itself a talent, young man…" and went silent.
Not realizing that he had been used as a tool in the strange conversation between Doctor and the mysterious man, Mihail could do nothing but stand in confusion.
The one to break the silence was the vampire who had been endlessly repeating, 'Doubs, Doubs' for some time now.
"Well, then. Seeing as this is our first meeting, let's get the formalities over with. What am I to call you? Should I follow the norms of this island and call you 'Doctor'? Or act as an older person might to a younger person and call you 'Young Theodosius'? Or 'Theo', like a friend? Or shall I close the gap a little more and give you a nickname? It's all up to you and also yourself!"
"What's that last part mean?" Mihail wondered. The excitable man laughed.
"I only said it because it sounded frightfully fanciful! Don't let it bother you!"
Realizing that Doubs would never stop at this rate, Doctor sighed and shot him a glare.
"How I treat you will depend on your purpose for coming. When I asked you who you were, I was not asking for your name; I was asking for your affiliation and purpose."
"Dear me. According to the viscount, you were supposed to be quite open to harmless jokes."
"…I've been feeling rather disinclined to them in more recent days."
"Hahahaha! Of course, of course! In other words, the incident six months ago is the reason for your moody melancholy!"
Doctor's expression faded.
"…So you're one of them."
"Yes! Extraordinarily excellent! To think you'd have already known! Your reward is a bonbon. Sweet is the reward given to those who reach the answer!"
"No thank you." The boy said coldly. Doubs closed his fist over the candy with a disappointed look.
And in the blink of an eye, a black cane rose up from his hand. Doubs spun the cane and struck the floor.
"Was that a magic trick?!" Mihail asked, amazed. Doubs fixed his hat and struck a pose.
"Yes! I happen to have a knowing knack for magic tricks, and holding magic shows for vampires each and every night is the most magnificent joy of my life! If you'd like, I could make Waldstein Castle itself vanish! …Of course, only on television."
"Amazing! …Oh, but if the castle vanishes, Ferret's going to lose her home, so you can't do that!"
"Why, that's not a problem at all. That's when you step in to work and support your lady with your own two hands!"
"Yeah! That's it! That's perfect, Doubs!" Mihail said with an innocent glint in his eye. But he quickly withdrew his smile and added worriedly,
"Come to think of it, there's a vampire magician in this castle named Mage. Your characterization overlaps."
"What?!" Doubs cried, spinning around with his gaze fixed on the ceiling. He finally fell to his knees as he supported himself by his cane.
"To think there would be another stage magician vampire… The moment I'd been dreading all this time has come upon us! To lose my unique idiosyncrasy is to lose proof of my own identity! This is nothing to brag about, but I live by no rule, no ideology other than that of my own selfish enjoyment! Losing my individual character is nothing less than death! My body may already be a living corpse, but this death will also be the death of my soul!"
"Urgh… Now that things have come to this, I have no choice but to challenge that vampire to a magic duel! I'm terribly sorry, but please call this 'Mage' character here on my behalf! Have this entire bag of bonbons in exchange!"
Mihail did as he was instructed, running out into the hall with his cell phone in hand.
Watching him depart, Doctor sighed and took a seat in a nearby chair.
"…It will be at least ten minutes before Mihail wakes Mage and brings him here from the castle. I'll commend your cunning, but it'd be best for you to disclose your business quickly."
"My, my. I'm glad you're quick to understand." The man snickered, and struck the ground with his cane again. "Well, then. Let me get straight to the point. I am from the Organization, here as a lowly officer. My color is iridescence—the moniker I received from the viscount is 'the Iridescent Extra'. It's a pleasure."
The man politely greeted Doctor, who sighed again.
But Doctor's response this time was different. No longer did he speak in a tone fitting an old man—his new tone was still more mature than his appearance, but it was still of a much younger than before.
"You Organization officers and your obsession with these monikers. Do all Colors have nicknames like a team of cartoon superheroes?"
"Yes. Some choose their names themselves, while those who are too embarrassed are given one by a committee. So it's really rather preferable to choose a winning moniker for yourself before you're stuck with an unflattering one. And speaking of which, don't you also have the recklessly remarkable nickname of 'Mass Murderer'?"
"…I didn't come up with that."
The moment the phrase came up, the air around Doctor turned frigid.
The self-proclaimed 'Iridescent Extra' spread his arms dramatically and twisted his lips into a revolting grin, one quite different from the smiles he had shown Mihail.
"That nickname of yours has more than a little to do with the reason I'm here today."
"…Did Melhilm order you to kill me?"
"Positively preposterous! I may be beloved by the vampires of this world, but Melhilm despises me! And why in the world would he task an unrelated third party to take care of the remains of his experiments? Neither I nor the Organization have any reason to kill you at this point. Do I look like the old you, the kind of vampire who enjoys meaningless murder?"
"Then what does the Organization want with me now?"
Passing over Doubs' obvious provocation, Doctor pressed on to the point without batting an eye.
"Have you heard about the mysterious incident that took place last week in the mountains in southern Germany?"
"Ah, so you do. Then you know what I'm here to-"
"It wasn't me." The boy spat, disgusted. He did not even hear Doubs out to the end.
But the vampire in iridescent clothing ignored him and continued on with his own discussion.
"You couldn't possibly not know about it! After all, every channel is positively swamped with reports about this case! A sleepy, peaceful village in the mountains! What was the disaster that struck this little settlement? Was it brought on by man? Or the gods? Or beings from another dimension? And in the end was left behind but one little girl! It's a superbly sensational news story, perfect for blowing away the boredom of peaceful existence."
"But there's something that the media hasn't announced even now, as real estate prices take a nosedive in mountain villages. Did you know, by any chance, that a certain rumor is floating around the area?"
"No." The boy shook his head, displeased. Doubs answered energetically.
"They say that the villagers were killed by a vampire."
"It's understandable that such a rumor would pop up in the wake of an incident like this. But the Organization can't take this lightly. After all, we have your precedent."
"So I'm being suspected." Doctor said, clenching his fists.
Although it did not show on his face, his conflicted emotional state was plain from the look in his eyes.
The colors of his emotions were swirling and blending together, and could not be described in a single word.
Anger. Sadness. Hatred. Regret. Despair.
His negative emotions were distilled again and again in his heart, leaving behind a disgusting gunk of sentiment lurking beneath his beautiful exterior.
But Doubs neither apologized nor mocked him, instead holding up his index finger with a constant smile.
"Tut, tut, tut. There certainly are some among the Organization's members who suspect you, but the viscount cleared it all up with a whole wall of words saying, 'That is not possible'. And even Melhilm, who turned you into a vampire, says that your involvement is unlikely. And above all else…"
Doubs paused, wagging his finger.
"…Above all else, I don't suspect you, either."
Doctor was at a loss. Doubs continued.
"You probably don't know much about the Organization’s members other than Melhilm. But we know quite a bit about you. And from the store of information in our grasp, we can reach a certain conclusion…"
Before Doctor realized, Doubs was wearing an expression at once joyful, sad, and nostalgic.
"From what I recall, your crimes were much more atrocious."
Doctor maintained his silence in the face of many provocations.
But coming back to life in his mind were the memories of his past, flooding past at a speed unthinkable for humans.
The memories of the sins he committed as a vampire.
And the sin he committed as a human being.
About twenty years ago, there lived a human boy in a city in northern Germany.
His name was Theodosius Waldstein.
At the time, he was seven years old.
The name 'Waldstein' came from the noblemen who lived in Waldstein Castle on the island of Growerth, and the boy often traveled to the island with his parents.
But in the modern world, the boy was not an aristocrat. He had no claim to the castle.
Even so, he felt a strange draw to the island and the castle. He begged his parents and visited Growerth time and time again.
And it was as he walked the island alone one day that he met the girl.
It was a typical story.
The sun was setting, and stars were beginning to sparkle overhead. The boy was crying, having been separated from his parents.
The one who helped the lost boy and took him back to the castle was a girl in red who had long black hair.
She was nearly ten years older than he was, but the girl was not quite a 'young woman'. On the way to the castle, she expressed surprise at the name 'Theodosius Waldstein'. Then, she smiled gently.
"You must be a relative of the viscount."
The boy thought her words strange.
The title of viscount did not exist in Germany, but the boy, too young to know this, had been confused by the phrase 'relative of the viscount'.
In the light of dusk, the girl put on a mysterious smile and softly leaned in towards his face.
Until that point, Theo had grown up hearing that he was pretty enough to be a girl.
But even he found his heart being stolen away by the girl.
By her ethereal beauty.
Her skin was porcelain white, too natural to have been covered in powder.
Her gaze was powerful and piercing. One look was enough to make him feel like she had tapped him on the back.
There was no warmth coming from the breath that escaped her lips, and it felt as though a colorless fog was stroking his face.
The girl's fingers, softly entwined with his, were at once naturally and artificially beautiful, like a doll or a painting given life. His nerves tingled at the smooth, cold texture of her fingertips; he began to lose himself in her allure.
Beautiful. Pretty. Cute. Cool.
Could a seven-year old boy have the vocabulary to describe her?
In the end, unable to say a word, the boy froze.
He had no other choice.
When he had grown, Theo went on to say,
"If that's what it feels like to be paralyzed, I don't think I would mind being that way for the rest of my life."
All she did was lean into his face.
But that alone was enough to drive her image into his heart and enslave him, whether he liked it or not.
"Let me tell you a secret."
The girl smiled faintly, and…
"You see, I'm a vampire."
Her face. Her voice. Her beautiful black hair, fluttering in the wind of dusk.
His memories, though from his time as a human, came rushing back to him in perfect detail.
But the moment his thoughts reached that point, Doctor's reminiscences came to a sudden stop.
"Hello? Are you listening?"
Doubs' face was right before Doctor's eyes. The brim of his hat touched Doctor's forehead.
With an uncharacteristic scream, Doctor pulled back his chair and prepared to raise his voice. But…
"I brought him!"
Mihail's voice echoed from the laboratory entrance, followed by the sound of rushing feet.
"…Has it already been so long?"
"Yes. My riotous rambling took up quite a bit of time. But really. I used every provocation in the book to try and get you angry, but you ended up falling asleep! The reward for your patience is a bonbon."
"I’ve already told you that I have no need for such things!" Doctor responded, reverting to the tone of an old man. At that very moment, Mihail pushed open the door.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Doubs! He'll be here in a sec." He said, not knowing what kind of conversation had been taking place here until just moments ago. Of course, even if he knew, he wouldn't have let the atmosphere dictate his attitude.
"By the way, I'm sorry about saying that stuff about your characters overlapping. Even if you lose to Mr. Mage, I'll still think you're a swell guy! No one who notices my relationship with Ferret could possibly be a bad person!" Mihail said, disturbing the atmosphere of the room. Doubs chuckled.
"I'm very grateful to hear that! But that attitude of yours won't last very long."
"Once you learn who I am, you'll come to hate me. I can't wait to see the look on your face when I reveal the truth."
Just as Mihail tried to respond to Doubs' mysterious claims, an even greater disturbance piled into the lab.
"Yo!" "Hey, where's Professor?" "Maybe she's asleep."
"I see. So there's no one around today to chase us out."
"Then again, not even Professor's a match for us once we get serious." "Our seriousness is a pretty big deal." "The problem is, we never got serious." "Getting serious is tough, huh?" "Anyone who can get serious is a genius." "We don't need to be geniuses… determination and effort are the true motivators of life!" "That's pretty awesome! You're one heck of a genius!" "Heh heh heh… Once I get serious, nothing will be a challenge."
"Now, let's settle down and watch this magic duel while we slowly extort money from Doctor!" "Interesting. Then the magic duel will involve getting the money out of Doc's safe and into our hands as fast as possible." "Great idea."
The intruders were a group of vampires who lived in Waldstein Castle. They were originally subordinates of the mayor of Neuberg, a dhampyr named Watt Stalf. But a certain series of incidents left them here as freeloaders.
Before they were vampires, they were unemployed bums. And by nature they were also lazy.
They were long-lived NEETs who neither lorded over nor subjugated humans.
This was why they constantly battled the demon called boredom, poking out their heads at the mention of any entertainment.
They had heard about this duel from Mihail as he passed by, and had come to the lab with carefree excitement.
"So who's this magician s'pposed to be, anyway-"
At that moment, they spotted the iridescent figure in the corner of the room.
The vampires froze simultaneously.
"…" "…" "…" "…" "…"
As they went silent at once, Mihail frowned in confusion.
"What's wrong, guys?" He asked, now on friendly enough terms with them that he could treat them like equals.
That was when a straggler emerged into the lab.
"Heh heh heh… Who might this challenger be, ignorantly making a claim to my title?"
He was an Asian vampire known to all as 'Mage'. For him, magic was not only a hobby but also an integral part of his own identity. He had rushed over to the laboratories, thrilled at the news of a fellow vampire magician.
But the moment he caught sight of the man in iridescent clothing, his thrill turned to despair.
"Oh, so it was you. Now this is quite the quaint encounter. I'm looking forward to seeing how much your magic has improved after your time working for Watt Stalf."
The man snickered, his eyes glinting from under the brim of his hat. Mage could only tremble blankly.
Mihail looked back and forth between Mage and Doubs.
"D'you know each other?"
"Do we know this guy?! Damn it… Do you not know who this bas-I mean, this guy is?!" One of the freeloader vampires cried.
"Of course I do. His name's Doubs Hewley."
"If you'd told us that earlier, we'd never have come here in the first place!"
"That guy's one of the Colors at the Organization! Mr. Watt doesn't compare to this guy!"
Before Mihail could respond,
Doubs himself took the reins of the conversation.
"I am an officer of the Organization. The very same Organization that created the Eater who attacked your beloved and took away the use of your right hand. The very group that used this Eater to wreak havoc on Growerth."
His tone had done a 180. His voice dripped with malice.
Doctor, who watched from the side, could tell with painful ease exactly what Doubs Hewley was intending.
Though it had only been a short time since their meeting, Mihail had already shown Doubs trust and friendship.
Doubs went out of his way to declare that he was the enemy, probably intending to relish Mihail's dismayed reaction.
Mihail's back was turned to both Doubs and Doctor.
Curious to see what kind of a face he was wearing, the former slowly circled round to take a look.
Just as Mihail did not know Doubs beforehand, Doubs also knew nothing about Mihail other than the fact that he was Ferret's friend and a victim of the Eater attack.
He truly knew nothing about Mihail.
After all, when he finally glimpsed Mihail's face,
He saw to his surprise that there was no change in his expression.
With the very same smile from before, Mihail responded,
"Wow, that's amazing!"
"…What?" Replied everyone else.
They looked around at one another, and even Doubs opened wide his shadowed eyes.
"So you're a friend of the viscount! Could you pass on a message to him? Relic and Ferret've been worried about him since he hasn't been back to the island." He said, as cheerful as ever.
He was not pushing himself to behave in this way.
He was not avoiding reality.
Although he talked as though nothing was wrong, Mihail's actions were absurd for the situation.
"Young man… Did you not understand? After what happened to you and Ferret…" Doctor said.
"What about it?" Mihail asked, titling his head.
"The injury to your arm was devastating, was it not?"
"Oh, that's what you're trying to say. But the guy who attacked me was the man in the armor. His voice was different, and more importantly, that armor guy was the worst of the worst—he put down me and Ferret's love! There's no way he's the same person as the guy who called me Ferret's sweetheart." Mihail said with a chuckle. Doctor still looked astonished.
"Young man… do you not resent the Organization? If not for them, neither you nor Ferret would have been injured so!"
Mihail seemed to be surprised at Doctor's question. He withdrew his laugh and put on a more serious look.
"Hm… Y’know, I never thought of things like that. And besides, the viscount said that Ferret's parents met in that Organization. So if the Organization never existed, neither would Ferret. So really, I should be thankful. I think."
He thought for some time, but found no answer. Mihail turned to Iridescence and smiled a grin of pure innocence.
"I'll take my time thinking about that stuff later. So, what's the magic duel going to be like? Sawing yourself in half? …Wait, vampires could cut themselves in half and still come back, so I guess that wouldn't be magic. Then, how about poking crucifixes into a box, or teleportation? Oh, but you'll need some judges to score your performance. This is just my opinion, but you should make Ferret the main judge and me the assistant who sits next to her, and…"
Mihail's rambling turned into a whisper at the very end. The Iridescent Extra was silent for a moment.
Was he upset that he had been denied a show of despair, Doctor wondered. He broke out into a cold sweat, fearing that Doubs would attack Mihail.
But the emotion that flashed by Doubs' eyes was a hint of confusion,
And unparalleled excitement.
Suppressing the thrill emanating from within, Doubs began at a mumble but quickly let his mouth run wild as he cried out to the heavens.
"STUPENDOUS! How astonishing! You, Mihail, are a human possessed of a pathetic flaw that also works as an incomparably incredible strength! Marvelous! I would reward you with money, but even the act of putting a price on this show seems despicable to me! Ah, the viscount did say that I would find some interesting humans here, but to think he was talking about you!"
"Huh? What? Uh… I don't really get what you're saying, but thanks!" Mihail said, very lost.
He was not the only one. The other vampires were also equally confused, watching Doubs and Mihail laugh without knowing why.
"Oh! That reminds me." Mihail said, his eyes snapping open as he turned to Doctor. "Doctor, I saw some help wanted ads last time I came here. Are you still recruiting? I'm actually hurting for some money right now."
His oblivious nature was practically a talent. The vampires wanted very much to point out his blindness, but they were beaten. Iridescence tapped Mihail on the back.
"Were you looking for part-time work?"
Giving Mihail a thumbs-up, Doubs winked and put on his most excitable face yet.
"Actually, there's going to be a rather large event taking place at the end of the month. We just happened to be looking for some help!"