Sorry for the late update. I was horribly distracted by a certain video game featuring a vampire named Val who used to look like Huey Laforet.
Also, apologies in advance to speakers of British English if you do a spit take at the name of a certain character introduced in this chapter. I've provided the character's name in katakana at the end of the update, so if you find it impossible to take the name seriously, please suggest alternatives.
EDIT: Updated the end of the post with visual references for some of the Organization members.
Chapter 3: Soirée of the Vampires
A city in southern Germany.
It was southeast of Munich, near the border and just north of the Alps.
The place at the center of the so-called 'supernatural incident'.
There was a city in the hills surrounded by mountains. Though relatively small, it had a population of over thirty thousand and was outfitted with everything you could find in a major urban center.
Having no particular specialties or attractions, the city was never usually put into the spotlight.
But now, it was the focus of worldwide attention.
The mass disappearance.
Perhaps it would not have made much of an impact in the past. But this modern-day mystery took place in a time when information could be transferred instantly from one place to another.
Naturally, the police and the government had no choice but to investigate this very real mass disappearance. As it had taken place near the border, rumors spread about the incident being committed by foreign crime syndicates from other countries. But that possibility was denied from the outset, and the more the investigation continued, the more people began to believe that this was the work of 'demons'.
Understanding that the police were making no progress on the incident, journalists from all over the world began spewing out their own hypotheses.
The people of the city, of course, were nothing but annoyed at the case. But at the same time, the incident began to fan the flames of fear within the populace.
It was an incident they had no way of understanding.
If it had taken place in a land far, far away, or somewhere out of sight, they would have probably accepted the disappearance as a supernatural incident. One that made only small ripples in their world.
But when they woke up in the morning and opened the window, they saw the mountains.
It happened on those mountains. The disappearances were not things of another world.
And as the truth behind the incident remained lost, the internet began to theorize about poison gas, cults, or strange pandemics. Even the thought of such things was enough to grip their minds in paranoia.
More and more people were leaving for other parts now, at least until the incident came to a close. And other than those with a specific interest in the case, fewer and fewer people were approaching the mountains.
In the midst of this change, a certain rumor began circulating the streets.
Slowly, but surely.
The formless rumor began to cement itself into the citizens' minds as it began to fix its hold upon the populace.
'The village was attacked by vampires.'
Most people, in most other times, would laugh off such a story.
But the mark on the survivor's neck and the complete disappearance of the villagers were facts that they faced every day. And as anxiety spouted left and right in the midst of that confusion, the fear turned into a great weight that pressed down upon the people.
It grew heavier and heavier, little by little.
Their thoughts began creaking.
Their hearts began warping, giving way to cracks.
Through the cracks the rumors began to seep, spreading poison into their thoughts. It ate away at the edges of their reason and common sense, twisting their minds.
And as a result, the people began to think—
Even as they balked at the mention of vampires—
That maybe, just maybe, vampires really were the answer.
Such thoughts worsened the anxiety bearing down over the people. And in the end, the entire city was beginning to creak under the strain.
And the first echoes of the creaking,
Began next to the little girl who escaped the disappearance.
It had been nearly two weeks since the incident.
The girl remained utterly silent.
Initially, she had testified that the village was attacked by strangers. But as time passed, her words grew fewer and fewer, until she finally stopped talking about the case altogether.
She must have finally understood the full magnitude of the villagers' disappearance, the police assumed.
But not everyone agreed.
Her eyes grew visibly blank. As she stopped talking about the incident, she began to noticeably build up a wall with the world around her.
Perhaps she had been bitten by a vampire and was subjugated.
Perhaps she is already a vampire herself.
The tiny but deep wounds in her neck.
They remained with her even now, showing no signs of healing. People began to wonder.
At first, they were extremely reluctant to bring it up. Knowing that it was an unbelievable idea, they did their best to keep their questions to themselves.
But as time passed, people began to whisper, one after another.
'Someone I know said something real crazy the other day…'
Averting responsibility, packaging their suspicions as jokes.
In place of the reeds that revealed King Midas's secret, people used 'baseless rumors' in order to satiate their curiosities.
Following the story of the king, the reeds would one day grow dense and begin to cry out, 'The king has a donkey's ears!'.
And the people would believe.
They would believe in the unbelievable. The idea that the king had donkey ears. The idea that vampires were responsible for the mass disappearance.
The rumor that the girl was bitten by a vampire slowly became a fact to the people, passing by word of mouth from one person to another.
The creaking began to reverberate.
"Sorry I'm late! I got overloaded at work today." Laughed the uniformed man as he stepped through the door. There was a little girl waiting for him there.
The man's name was Horst Gedeck.
He was a young postman, and—with the exception of the girl—the first on the scene of the incident.
The girl at the door was the lone remaining villager.
"How are you, Alma? Any change on your end?"
The girl called Alma quietly shook her head, showing no emotion.
After the investigation, the girl was left with nowhere to go. She was initially hospitalized for a health examination, but she soon ended up in the care of the postman who first found her.
The postman's elderly parents lived in Munich. He was still single, living alone in this city. He certainly wasn't the type to be at the top of a list of potential foster parents, but he was given custody of the girl for two reasons.
One, she had opened her heart to him somewhat.
Two, no one else wanted to take her in.
Vampires were not the only subjects of hushed rumors. Stories about mysterious diseases and international crime rings, among countless other absurd theories, were flying everywhere. The authorities considered leaving her with the police, the hospital, or perhaps an orphanage far away because of the potential shock. But no one asked the girl for her opinion.
In other words, it was only when the postman stepped up and volunteered to take custody of the girl that she found a place to be.
Although there was still a shadow cast over Alma's eyes, she had brightened up considerably since the incident.
At the same time, it was hard not to admit that she had grown visibly quiet.
Normally, a witness might be more inclined to discuss details of an incident after the shock had passed. But for the girl, it was the opposite. She began to avoid it.
But Horst did not pry. He did his best to help the girl adjust to a normal life once more.
There was a large piece of gauze on her neck. Horst knew what was underneath, but he never asked about it.
For some reason, he felt as though it was a forbidden subject.
"We got a big load of mail out of nowhere. Feels like I had to run around twice as much as before. Heh."
"…Is it because of the case?"
"Maybe it's because… people are worried about their friends who live here. So… they're sending so many letters to see if everyone's all right…" The girl mumbled, hanging her head. Horst hurriedly shook his hands.
"No no no! Not at all! It's just that time of year! It's got nothing to do with what happened. And… and even if it did, that's not something for you to worry about, is it?"
Her voice was weak, but she made sure to answer Horst.
"Anyway, let's eat. I picked up some really good sausages on the way back."
Was it just his imagination? He thought he saw Alma smile.
Horst breathed a small sigh of relief.
But at that moment,
There was a dull noise, like something had been crushed underfoot.
Alma flinched. Horst ran up to the door to see what had happened.
"Who's there?!" He cried, but there was no response.
"…Go hide somewhere, okay?" He instructed Alma, and took a deep breath.
Horst swung open the door. But,
The silence of evening filled the street.
A chill ran down his spine. In his paranoia, Horst began to survey the area.
He then found the source of the noise.
A knife in the shape of a crucifix, driven deep into his mailbox.
He anxiously pulled it out and turned.
And he spotted graffiti sprayed onto his wall.
[Carve out the zombie's heart]
It was an incredibly vile act of vandalism, especially since the wall belonged to a private residence.
'Shit! What the hell?! Why the hell does everyone buy into those rumors without even seeing Alma in person?!'
Venting his aimless anger, he turned to the door to erase the graffiti.
There stood Alma, white as a sheet and staring at the graffiti.
He didn't know what to tell her.
Although he only hesitated for a few seconds, it was long enough a silence that Alma turned away and ran into the house.
What was the shadow cast over her face? Fear? Worry? Or anger at this act of indiscriminate hate?
Unable to confirm a thing, Horst quietly followed Alma inside.
Not knowing what to say. Not even knowing how to comfort her.
This piece of graffiti was, to some, nothing more than a silly prank.
But it was the first sign of the warping world that reached Horst and Alma.
Several days later, on the seas.
The orange light of dusk warmly embraced the girl standing on the deck.
Ferret had left the island in pursuit of Mihail, boarding the ferry to the mainland.
Some might assume that a vampire could just transform into a flock of bats and leave the island. But depending on the individual, a vampire could be greatly weakened or incapacitated by the sea. Ferret, of course, could not transform to begin with.
In exchange, she was able to show her beautiful face under the sunlight.
But for some reason, there was a tinge of sadness in her gaze.
Mumbling to herself, Ferret thought,
'Why do you always have to be that way?
'Never looking to see what's around you…'
Ferret herself was actually the reason he never looked around himself, but she did not even consider the possibility. She continued staring with her hands clasped around the railing.
'You… You're so…'
"Once we meet… How and where shall I beat you to a pulp?"
Her expression instantly clouded over with anxiety. Ferret tightened her iron grip on the railings.
The reinforced railings twisted and bent along the shape of her fingers.
"Oh? A cold, perhaps?"
On the way to the Organization, Mihail suddenly sneezed.
"That aside, that's quite the curious sound. I've lived a long time myself, but I know of only one other human who could manage such an uncommonly unusual sneeze."
"Huh…? Nah, it's just an old habit… Atchoo!"
"Will you be all right? They say that even a common cold is the cause of every contagion."
"Heh. I bet it's just someone talking about me." Mihail chuckled, wiping his nose. Doubs grinned.
"Then it might do you some good to sneeze one more time."
"In Eastern tradition, the number of sneezes is said to specify the sort of talk that goes on behind your back. Once, one is complimented. Twice, one is hated. Three times, one is beloved. Four times, one catches cold while out at night. Five times, one is a selfish freeloader. Six times, one is a good-for-nothing. Then seven times, and so on. Although admittedly, the explanations become more confusing as the numbers get higher. But now! Just one more sneeze, and you'll be on the receiving end of someone's love!"
"R, right! I'll do my best!"
Though on the surface, they were exchanging idle banter, underneath them ran complex currents of thought that no tradition could define.
Of course, Mihail was already long used to it.
"…What're we supposed to do? Talk to her?"
From a distance, a pair of werewolves were watching Ferret crush the railings in her grip. They were tailing her without her notice.
They were an eye-catching duo, one with blue hair and the other shaved bald. But they did not have to worry about being spotted, as Ferret was still locked in tunnel vision.
"So we followed Miss Ferret, just like Granny Job and the maids told us to. But… uh… Now what?" The bald werewolf wondered. His blue-haired friend sighed.
"We just gotta watch her to make sure she doesn't end up killing Mihail while she's beating him to a pulp."
"…Gonna be pretty tough."
They sighed and continued to watch Ferret, whose shoulders were trembling. With cold sweat running down their backs, spooked by the anger emanating from her form.
So, Mihail and Ferret found themselves heading south.
Not knowing in their wildest dreams what they were about to get into—so determined that even if they knew, they would not stop themselves.
After all, setting aside their exact emotions, they were setting off for one another's sakes.
Some time passed.
The next evening, on the property of the Mars family in Germany.
Or, put simply, possession.
Money and money and money.
Those who stood a shoulder above the rest, with incomparable riches in their hands.
In societies both capitalistic and not, it was an incredibly easy position to understand. And depending on their possession of titles, they could be called multibillionaires or aristocrats. Then again, aristocracy wasn't an infallible indicator of wealth.
The Mars family, based in the United Kingdom, had little to do with position or prestige. But at the same time, it possessed phenomenal affluence.
The Mars family owned property all over the world. And though the land was in the relatively inexpensive countryside, each and every piece of real estate was massive.
However, it did not own companies or manage businesses. The Mars family came to power trough the stock market and investments in special events.
In the past, it might have qualified as nouveau riche. But now, the Mars family was a powerful family with a long tradition, far from the ostentation of arrivistes.
The Mars family also owned land in southern Germany. In that countryside estate was built a little England.
It was a country house—a kind of enormous mansion built by British nobles to display their wealth.
On one hand, the Mars family's country house bore all the splendor and majesty of a castle. Yet on the other hand, free from the threat of battle, the walls were adorned with a unique elegance and beauty rather than fortification.
Depending on the era and individual, some nobles owned hundreds of thousands of luxurious manors. In England, many of these collections had become tourist attractions.
But the Mars family's country house in Germany was different. Rather than being displayed to the world, it lay quietly in a plain somewhere in the mountains.
Of course, 'quiet' was too small a description for a manor this large.
The best way to describe the property would be, not to measure it, but to note that one would have to travel through over three kilometers of gardens to reach the manor from the closest gates.
It was about average-size as far as country houses went, but the fact that the manor was built in another country, and that it was but one of many, spoke for the affluence of the Mars family.
It was said that the current family head was a young girl, but for some reason, no specifics about her were ever brought to light.
The family headship was supposedly passed down through the female line, and the head only showed her face when she came to take the headship. The succession only happened once every several decades. But no matter the generation, each head looked remarkably similar to her predecessors. Understandably, some began to wonder if every Mars head thus far had actually been the same person.
Naturally, their speculation was absolutely true.
Currently, Mihail was sitting in a black luxury car, slowly making his way along the stone-paved garden road.
He opened the tinted windows and took in the sights.
The scene lit under the moon was enough to make him forget that he had only just passed through the gates into the estate.
The garden was home not only to a forest, but a river. Not a tiny stream—it was a proper river that boats could float along with ease. The stone bridges that crossed the river were supported by four crosspieces, and a boat was passing underneath at a leisurely pace.
Apparently the river did not flow naturally, and the current was artificial. But the fertile soil and greenery all around them made it difficult to believe everything was man-made.
But the incredibly articulated placement of the trees themselves were testament to the artificial nature of the garden.
"…Is this supposed to be a theme park?" Mihail wondered, unable to hide his awe. The man who still insisted on wearing an iridescent suit chuckled.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Of course, you won't find much in the way of human families or cozy couples out on a stroll."
Mihail responded with a look of confusion. Doubs turned his gaze to the garden and answered him.
"It's no different from the island of Growerth. Her many estates, scattered all over the world, is opened to what humans call 'monsters'. This glorious garden belongs to outsiders, so to speak."
"Ohh." Mihail nodded, and wondered, "what's the Lord here like?"
"She's only a landowner, so I'm afraid the term 'Lord' isn't quite accurate. But she is about three hundred years old. She was originally human before she was turned, so she doesn't look drastically different from yourself."
Unlike vampire-borns, who stopped aging at the peak of their physical growth, those who were turned stopped aging at the moment they became vampires.
In other words, the girl Mihail was soon to meet only appeared to be young. In actuality, she was an adult with centuries' worth of life experience under her belt.
Just as Mihail began to wonder if she talked like an old woman, just like Doctor, a large structure appeared before them.
"Whoa… Is this… a castle?"
"Not at all! This is a privately-owned country house. It's a world away from my own life, so I personally can't even bring myself to get jealous."
In size alone, the structure ahead was a match for Waldstein Castle. Although it wasn't quite as high, the country house was spread out over a such a wide space that it could probably fit an entire village inside.
'Oh! It's like one of those huge shopping malls on the mainland.' Mihail thought to himself. The car slowly approached the building.
"Ah, pardon me, driver. Stop the car." Doubs said suddenly. The driver silently complied.
"I spot someone I recognize."
Mihail looked around and looked in the same direction as Doubs.
There was a young boy walking down the stone path at a saunter. He had silky black hair that was partly dyed red, and was wearing Gothic-style pants and a T-shirt. Although in style alone he looked like a musician, he was still very young. About twelve years old in appearance. He looked like a child who was forcibly dressed up by Goth-obsessed parents.
There was a strange glint in the boy’s eyes—a magnetic pull that drew in anyone who met his gaze. At the same time, the aura he emanated, almost in a Gothic lolita fashion, deterred people from approaching.
The man in the iridescent suit opened the window and poked out his head, addressing the boy.
"Care for a lift, Fannie?"
"Oh! Hey, Mr. Doubs. Uh… may I?"
The boy's childlike tone was a striking contrast to his manner of dress. Fannie smiled and ran over to the car, opening the door on Mihail's side.
Having only just noticed Mihail's presence, Fannie froze.
"Whoa! Sorry. I'll scooch over a bit."
As Mihail slid over to the middle seat, next to Doubs, Fannie slowly stepped inside and shut the door.
"…Who are you? A newbie?" The boy asked cautiously. But before Mihail could answer, Doubs butted in.
"A friend of mine. He's a human, not a vampire, so there's really no need for careful caution."
"Right. The name's Mihail. It's nice to meetcha."
Mihail held out his hand with a smile. Fannie breathed a sigh of relief. At that point, his attitude did a 180 as he took Mihail's outstretched hand with a confident snort.
"Ohh, so you were human. I thought you were a new officer or something. My name's Fannie Lou. I dunno what you're doing here, but don't worry. I only drink girls' blood." Fannie said with a condescending snicker. But Mihail was not at all bothered by this.
"Yeah! Hope we get along. Man, I thought I'd be the only non-adult guy at the conference. Glad to see I've got a fellow minor here."
Fannie suddenly put on a sulk, glaring up at Mihail.
"…Y'know, I'm actually older than you. By about five hundred years."
"You bet. Heh, scared yet?" Fannie said, holding his head high. Doubs chuckled.
"This coming from a vampire who bursts into tears every time a girl calls him scary? It's always amusing to see you trying to act so brave in front of men and adults."
"M, Mr. Doubs!"
"And Mihail, don't worry about Fannie's age and formalities. He's honestly lived for countless centuries, but it's only been about ten years since he took on human form. Psychologically, he's still a youthful youngster."
"Oh, is that how it is?"
'Kinda like Val, huh.'
Although Doubs' description went partly over his head, Mihail still understood that Fannie had the mind and heart of a child, true to his appearance.
Fannie fretted at the exposure of his secret. But Doubs could not look any more jolly.
"Fannie, you see, is only interested in girls about the same age as his current body. It only looks ingenuously innocent, but doesn't it become simply scandalous when you remember that he's actually a five hundred-year-old man?"
"Qu, quit it! Quit teasing me!" Fannie complained in tears.
Doubs chuckled and turned his sights out the window once more. Spotting yet another vampire, he ordered the driver to stop the car.
But this time, Mihail did not see anyone outside the window.
Ignoring Mihail's confusion, Doubs poked his head outside and addressed someone near the ground.
"Care for a ride, Wol?"
From out the window—quite close to the ground—came a pleasant voice.
"Are you trying to aggravate me? I am a proud wolf. I'll not sully my honor by being driven by to the destination."
"I see. Please excuse my manners." Doubs said with a slight bow, and ordered the driver to continue.
'A wolf vampire who can talk like a human? Wonder what he looks like.' Mihail thought excitedly, and turned round to glance out the window.
Trotting elegantly down the road behind them was a lone chihuahua.
Mihail was lost for words. Gesturing for silence, Doubs whispered, "ah, for your reference, the word 'dog' is taboo around Wol. He is always adamant on calling himself a wolf."
"Mr. Wol can be pretty stubborn."
"Of course, there is a true wolf vampire in the Organization, but so many mock him and call him a werewolf that the word 'wolf' is taboo around him. Such a hopeless headache."
"Hee hee. Talk about being blind to yourself." Fannie snickered, sounding a little more at ease now that they had moved on to a different topic. Doubs shook his head at the sight.
"You should speak for yourself, Fannie. You may mirror a human in appearance, but-"
"Mr. Doubs, no!" Fannie cried, clambering over Mihail's lap and reaching out to cover Doubs' mouth.
Suddenly, his sleeve shook.
There was a zipper on the side of Fannie's T-shirt, too randomly placed to be anything but a fashion statement. But at that moment, the zipper opened and something that looked suspiciously like the leg of a crustacean slid out, crossed Mihail's line of sight, and pushed down Doubs' neck.
A second later, the boy's pale hand reached Doubs' mouth and forced it shut.
"How many times do I have to tell you, Mr. Doubs?! You're not supposed to tell humans about my real form! If a girl ever found out what I looked like, she'd run away screaming!"
Not sure how to react, Mihail poked the mysterious, carapace-covered leg that stretched out before his eyes.
Finally realizing what he had done, Fannie hurriedly pulled back the leg into his T-shirt and stared up at Mihail.
"D, did you see?"
"I'll pretend I didn't."
"That's fine, then. Thank you." The boy sighed, relieved. Mihail was reminded of a friend he left back on the island.
'He's starting to remind me more and more of Val. …Now that I think about it, I wonder what Val and Selim are doing right about now.'
Although he hadn't been away from Growerth for more than a few days, Mihail was already struck by nostalgia. He blankly glanced out the window, and as he lost himself in thought, his homesickness began to fade.
Remembering the vampires on either side of him and the chihuahua from earlier, Mihail realized that these otherworldly beings made him more comfortable than scared.
'This place isn't all that different from Waldstein Castle. Though it is a little lonely without Ferret.'
Inside the Mars country house.
By the time Mihail and company arrived on the manor doorstep, many vampires were already inside.
Of the Colors alone there were approximately a hundred.
And including their direct subordinates and the servants who worked at the Mars manor, there were well over three hundred vampires, humans, and werewolves inside the building.
But the Mars family's country house refused to be dwarfed by such numbers.
The living room alone was over a thousand square meters, and the manor contained fifty rooms.
Most humans were first surprised by the fact that this was a rather small manor by country house standards, but that shock was nothing compared to what they experienced the moment they stepped inside in person.
Displaying all the extravagance and elegance of the world, the massive entrance could probably fit gigantic stone statues. The golden chandelier shone brightly in a perfect match, turning even the most ostentatious glitter into a warm glow.
The ceiling was over twenty meters high, but the majestic painting that covered the walls turned the ceiling from a functional structure to a man-made sky. The chamber could easily be mistaken for another world altogether.
The rooms that were built all around the central chamber were also breathtaking. Stepping into one was, rather than entering an art museum, like entering a piece of art itself.
The walls and ceilings were designed differently in each room. From the biggest features to the tiniest details, no corner had been hastily shaped. Even a postcard-sized piece cut out of the wall might pass for an artistic masterpiece.
The manor's hall was the size of an elementary school's gymnasium, coordinated with wooden textures and soft golden colors.
The dining hall was built to host over a hundred guests at once, at a scale too massive to fit in an ordinary mansion.
The parlor was circular in shape, designed like the lobby of a five-star hotel.
The bedrooms were furnished with silken veils and sparkling ornaments to soothe its occupants to sleep.
The kitchens, though without the eye-catching splendor of the rooms, were equipped to efficiently provide large quantities of food. It was worth noting that the ceiling was taller than the entrance to prevent the heat from the food from lingering near the floor.
The great spiral staircases, their very arcs an expression of beauty.
A billiards room that coaxed all sorts of nostalgia and ambition from all who stepped inside.
The bathrooms, shower-centered and not so different from those in ordinary houses, still showcased elegant beauty with the ceramic vases displayed by the bathtubs.
One place that stood out even more amidst this list of rooms in the majestic country house was a place known as the long gallery.
A long gallery was a feature of many country houses. They couldn't quite be called 'rooms', but that distinction was the reason visitors could experience the splendor of the aristocracy in this place.
It was a space the width of two cars, stretching on for dozens of meters.
This was not a hallway; it was a room and a facility in its own right. A long gallery was used as an indoor garden of sorts, to be strolled around during bad weather. It was also a recreation room, decorated according to the hobbies of the owner of the country house. Some nobles even held fashion shows amongst themselves here, even setting up chairs for audiences.
Depending on the owner's preferences, a long gallery could be an art museum filled with a collection of paintings and other works; a library with bookshelves covering fifty-meter high walls; or sometimes an ordinary parlor.
Naturally, the Mars family's country house also had a long gallery fitted to the tastes of its owner.
As a result, it earned a place at the top of a list of the most idiosyncratic rooms. Not only in this particular manor, but probably among every country house in the world.
This was because the gallery was filled with—
"…What is this."
Caldimir Aleksandrov, the Blue Flow of Blood, was guided into the long gallery by a servant as he made his way to announce his arrival. But the moment he set foot inside, he was seized by a strange sense of incongruity.
At first glance, the long gallery showcased artworks on the left side by the entrance, and seemingly infinite bookshelves on the right. Lined up before the bookshelves were luxury tables and chairs, lending the room the air of a relaxed library.
But the incongruity in the air continued prodding at his instincts.
There was but a single window in the long gallery, and even that was shuttered closed. But that was understandable. Though the vampire who owned the premises was immune to sunlight, many of the visitors were not. It was a natural, considerate gesture.
But that was not what bothered Caldimir.
Sensing that there was something fundamentally different about this gallery, Caldimir fixed his glasses and turned to the frames hanging on the wall.
The frames were crafted with masterful intricacy. Even if they were empty, they would be works of art in their own right. At the same time, they did not at all distract from the contents inside—a perfect mix of luxury and humility.
The incongruity was emanating from the pictures inside the frames.
"What… is this picture? No. Is this a poster?"
Inside the frames were colorful posters with all kinds of logos and title images adorning them. It was certainly an understandable way of showcasing a hobby, though rather out of place on the walls of a noble's manor.
At first, Caldimir thought the posters were advertising films or plays. But upon closer inspection, he found posters featuring art straight out of comics and cartoons, and even art styles that used 3-D CGI.
"These are video game posters. Half of them are Japanese. And look what we have here. Instruction manuals for arcade games."
Arriving with a sudden comment was a female vampire who joined the confused Caldimir at the entrance.
"Correct. Admittedly, I don't know much about them."
She was Laetitia Gitarin Aztanduja the Orange Magic Lantern, a woman dressed in a flattering military uniform. With a piercing cold look, she addressed Caldimir.
"You've never stayed long at this mansion, but even you should know of her hobbies. The biggest gaming enthusiast of vampirekind. Likely also in the top ten percentile among humans."
"…Of all the worthless… Putting up posters like works of art? I feel sorry for the room."
"Is that so? The contents matter little so long as they are valuable to the owner. If nothing else, the family head is happy with this place."
"So where is she? I have to show her my face, even if I don't feel like sucking up…" Caldimir muttered. Laetitia chuckled and pointed at a corner of the room.
"Furthest table in the back, if you really want to go there and remind yourself of getting on her bad side after shutting her out of a conference."
"Th, that's a thing of the past! Gold, Pearl, and—for some reason—Yellow already beat me senseless! Now I've broken even, so I'm justified in going to speak to her-"
"Getting wordy again, Caldimir. I see you're scared already."
Silently grinding his teeth, Caldimir turned his back on Laetitia, walking away. His heavy gait on the red carpet floor perhaps spoke for his anxiety.
After undergoing the rare experience of walking fifty meters without turning in a single room on private property, Caldimir looked down upon the mismatched group sitting at a table about ten meters away.
There, he glimpsed a flash of red quite different from the tone of the carpet.
'G, Gerhardt was here too?!'
At the end of Caldimir's gaze sat a creature who stood out like a sore thumb even amongst his fellow vampires.
A logic-defying sight was spread out over a chair and part of the table.
It was a mass of striking red fluid—a large quantity of blood, squirming in the air in defiance of gravity and surface tension.
Though it had been sitting on a chair in a humanoid form with its elbows on the table, it quickly noticed Caldimir's arrival and shifted. Taking on new forms in midair, it weaved itself into sentences in Caldimir's native language before his eyes.
[My word, if it isn't Caldimir. What brings you here, old friend? It's quite unusual to see you arrive at a conference half a day before it is due to begin. It is a rare occasion indeed!]
"Speak for yourself. I see you also have more than enough time on your hands, Gerhardt."
Gerhardt von Waldstein.
That was the name of the liquid vampire.
He was the adoptive father of Relic and Ferret, as well as the former Lord of Waldstein Castle.
When emperors still ruled the country, Gerhardt was granted the title of 'viscount'—a title that could not exist in Germany—and governed the island of Growerth. From the shadows he had supported and sponsored the budding connections between humans and vampires.
At this point, he had passed down his position to Relic and returned to the Organization as one of its officers.
As Caldimir looked on scornfully, Gerhardt squarely replied,
[That is, I must say, an incorrect observation. I was merely making efficient use of the time we have left before the conference. And I continue to send for more information. As the topic of this conference gives no leeway for laughter or joy, I am making an attempt to remain in the world of normalcy, at least until the time comes.]
"What are you people doing, anyway?" Caldimir wondered, casting a glance over the table. Sitting there were some familiar faces, and a woman he had never met before,
First, Caldimir addressed one of the vampires he knew—a quiet-looking girl.
"Well. How are you, Stage of Silver Wheels?"
"Oh, Mr Caldimir… I'm terribly sorry, but I'm a little occupied at the moment… I don't think I can greet you proper- oh no!"
The girl with the moniker 'Stage of Silver Wheels' quickly turned and nodded, but quickly returned to the object in her hands in panic.
She was not the only one occupied in that fashion. Every vampire seated at the table was glued to the electronic devices in their hands. Even the liquid vampire, Gerhardt, was expertly pressing buttons in sequences.
The vampires seemed to be holding portable game systems. Tiny animated characters were moving around the screens.
Thrust into a sense of alienation, Caldimir cleared his throat and called to the entire table.
"I'll bite. Just what are you people up to?"
Gerhardt's words of blood responded, even as he continued to focus on the game.
[Ah, my deepest apologies, Caldimir. We've just encountered some enemies; I suspect we will be tied up for some time. Under normal circumstances we would stop what we are doing to greet you properly. But some members of our party are participating over the internet; it would be terribly inconsiderate for us to stop without warning them. I am sure Miss Romy also wishes she could properly greet you, so I ask that you take a merciful stance towards us.]
The girl called Romy hurriedly looked back and forth between Caldimir and her screen.
"I, I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Caldimir!"
Beneath the veil of her short hair, Romy was half in tears. Her clothes were made of the most expensive fabrics in the room, and her bracelets were adorned with clearly-expensive gemstones.
But there was one strange thing about her dress.
On her back were a large, realistic pair of bat-wings that flapped as though they were a part of her very body.
Although they were not very incongruous on the back of a vampire, the wings were actually fake; they were a custom-made item made of special materials. The wings were likely extremely expensive.
But no one thought her appearance strange.
At least, no one in this manor.
Though the girl—Romy Mars—appeared to be little more than a shy teenager, she was actually the owner of this estate and the head of the incredibly affluent Mars family.
She was also an officer of the Organization, connected to the color silver, and a financial supporter of the group alongside Gold.
She was a former human who had stopped aging centuries ago. Once every few decades she would put on different clothes and makeup to introduce herself as 'the new family head', never showing herself in public otherwise.
But there was one part of human society she made an exception for.
"…Gerhardt. What is this game you're obsessed with?"
[Ah, this would be the portable version of 'Underground Gun Mania'. It is a game where you take on the role of a vampire hunter seeking out vampires who have hidden themselves among the human populace. It's a rather entertaining game, to be perfectly honest.]
"Wh, what?!" Caldimir squawked, blanching. "In other words, this is a game about our enemies! What entertainment could you possibly find in this piece of-"
An ice-cold voice cut across the table.
Sitting there was Romy, whose apologetic embarrassment was nowhere to be found. Instead, she was glaring at Caldimir with a chilling smile.
"I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, but… you are old enough to distinguish between games and reality, no?"
"…Ah… Uh… Wha… What? Why am I the one being scolded here?"" Caldimir groaned, but Romy's smile grew yet more pronounced. With a chill running down his spine, Caldimir found himself looking away.
Though Romy Mars had no interest in films, novels, cartoons, or comic books, video games were another story. She generously poured time and money into this hobby. Romy also made sure to obtain films, comics, and cartoons that were connected to video games in some way.
Although not even Laetitia noticed, posters were not the only video game paraphernalia displayed in the long gallery. The bookshelves that filled a corner of the room were stuffed with nothing but strategy guides, concept artbooks, and comics and novels related to video game works.
Romy also took her hobby one step further.
She would commission costumes of her favorite video game characters to professionals, or she would make them herself. Then she would wear the costumes in daily life. It was an act commonly known as 'cosplay', something she took great pleasure in. To those who knew nothing about games (and, admittedly, even to those who knew them), her manner of dress could be incredibly strange to behold.
However, she spent so much resources on her cosplay and she was so removed from reality that other vampires who shared her hobby began to call her 'a 2-D character in the 3-D world'.
Today, she was dressed in a Gothic dress with bat wings, a relatively sensible outfit for a rich vampire. But normally, she would go around wearing qipaos, kunoichi costumes, and even bikini-style armor or Japanese schoolgirl uniforms. The way people saw her dress was different by the day.
But that alone made Romy little more than a rich young woman with unusual hobbies. Yet for some reason, Caldimir twitched nervously.
"M, Miss Romy. Is that even a question? I'm just worried. A, after all, we've got a certain sicko named Garde who really can't tell reality apart from games."
The occupants of the table froze.
Garde was the officer to whom the color black had been assigned. They were a vampire whose entire body was covered in black bandages like a mummy. They specialized in subjugating corpses, possessed the power to control corpses at the cellular level to make them their slaves. It was rumored that they had turned a video game into reality by resurrecting soldiers from both sides of a war as zombies and forcing them to repeat the slaughter in which they had died.
"It's because of dogs like that that we vampires get framed as monsters. It's also why we get incidents like this. why can't Garde just learn from me and live like an upright person?" Caldimir wondered, criticizing Garde in order to avert the full brunt of Romy's anger.
But the first to react was the lone member whom Caldimir did not recognize.
The scantily-dressed woman flashed him a seductive smile.
"Is there something the matter, Miss?" He asked confidently, thinking that she was a subordinate of Romy or another vampire. But the moment the woman spoke, Caldimir's grin went rigid.
"You're really brave today, aren't you? You are."
The voice definitely belonged to a woman. But when she spoke again, her body began to change.
By some unknown power, the woman's voluptuous body suddenly changed to muscle. The fat over her chest disappeared, and an Adam's Apple jutted out of the neck as the vampire took on the form of a man.
Transforming into a somewhat androgynous but chilling man, the vampire pulled out his suitcase from by his feet and withdrew rolls of bandages. He wrapped them around his face.
Then, another word.
At that moment, the tight, muscular frame rapidly dried out, giving way to the form of a bone-skinny person.
Having finally returned to their original voice, Garde the Black put on an eerily cheerful grin under their bandages and turned to their party members at the table.
"Can I come back in a bit? Can I come back?"
Even as they asked, one of their hands was already holding Caldimir's arm in a vice-like grip.
"Y, you… Gaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrddde… Gah… Ugh…"
Listening to Caldimir's agonized groans, Garde's party members reacted with utter calm.
[Ah, there's little left of this boss's hit points now. I'm quite certain we'll be able to manage ourselves.]
"Um… Garde, would you mind terribly if I asked you to take it to the garden? I'd prefer to keep all my posters intact…"
"We gotta split up the loot, so hurry on back, you hear?"
Caldimir screamed in rage and despair at the vampires' reactions.
He was soon dragged bodily out of the long gallery.
Those left behind continued to focus on their game, returning to idle chatter.
"Anyway, is Garde a man or a woman?"
"I heard that not even they remember anymore…"
"Come to think of it, aren't we missing a trickster here?"
"Doubs says he's running late. Something about bringing someone along."
"Speaking of which, that asshole's been giving away our email addresses to Garde without permission. I don't care myself, but that's pretty damned rude."
However, one among the party members remained silent.
Because everyone assumed that he was keeping quiet so as to not distract anyone with his written words, no one realized that part of his body was slithering outside in a stream of red.
Several minutes later, the courtyard of the Mars family country house.
[Are you all right, Caldimir?]
Caldimir was sprawled out on the ground, beaten to a pulp by Garde.
As Laetitia reveled in the atrocious scene, the stream of blood wove itself into words. Caldimir smiled bitterly.
"…Abandoned your game, I see."
[Not at all. I am both playing and speaking to you at once.]
[It has been apparent to me for some time now, Caldimir—perhaps you should refrain from condescending over others for the purpose of elevating yourself. That will ultimately lead to neither praise nor support from our brethren.]
Finally noticing the viscount's presence, Laetitia stepped in between them, looking down upon Caldimir.
"Don't waste your breath, Gerhardt. You know Caldimir has been this way from the beginning."
"And that's why we founded the Organization in the first place. To cover one another's weaknesses. Did you forget?" Laetitia snickered. Gerhardt squirmed and responded in a font conveying nostalgia.
[Not for a moment. How could I ever forget?]
Caldimir snorted between gasps.
"Heh… Are you quite certain? You… you've already left us once…"
[I shall remind you again, Caldimir, but I have no regrets about leaving the Organization. Although I do sometimes wonder if there could have been another way.] Gerhardt replied, trembling sentimentally.
[Ah, yes. When we first founded the Organization… We were young. We all were. Yes. So very young. You, Laetitia, myself… Melhilm, Dorothy… and the brothers.]
[Now that I look back on it, perhaps our meeting with them was what started the Organization.]
Centuries ago, somewhere in Eastern Europe.
"Your existence is itself a sin."
With these words echoing in their minds, two boys sprinted through the woods in the middle of the night.
They ran and ran. They ran without caring where.
Without a single flame to guide them, they ran through the pitch-black woods.
They were both about fifteen years of age.
Because they looked completely identical, it was easy to see that they were twins, or perhaps part of a set of triplets or quadruplets.
"Big brother! How much further… How much further do we have to run?!"
"…Until those bastards stop hunting us!"
They sped through the mountains without so much as stumbling, perhaps because they could see well in the dark.
The younger brother responded by looking back without slowing down.
Scattered before his eyes in the darkness were countless trembling torches.
Glowing flames were clustered in little groups, turning the multitudes into one large figure.
If they were lined up in a row, they would probably appear like a serpent or a dragon.
But the flames were dotted along the mountain, far behind the boys. Because they had no specific monster to elude, they were pressed by an inescapable unknown in the blackness.
Flames flames flames flames flames flames flames flames
Trembling trembling trembling trembling as they lithely groped through the dark, the glowing fires despair incarnate for the fleeing children.
Clinging viscously to the torches were voices of resentment that shook the very mountains with their groans.
'We must not let them escape.'
'We must not let them live.'
'If they escape, we will be killed.'
'If we do not kill, we will be killed.'
'Kill them. Kill them. Kill them.'
'Do not show them mercy just because they are children.'
'Kill them because they are children.'
'Before they mature into greater threats.'
'Destroy them. Destroy them. Destroy them.'
'Destruction. Bring them destruction.'
It was an eerie scene.
Chasing after the brothers were humans in ragged clothing. They were not battle-hardened men like knights or bandits.
They were common people from ordinary lives, who had rushed into the mountains in the rags they were wearing earlier.
But the torches, sickles, axes, hunting crossbows, and the terror, hatred, and disgust in their eyes turned the people into a pack of madmen.
"Oh no… This is bad… Big brother! There's… There's more of them now…"
"Don't waste time looking at them! Just keep running!"
Spurred by the older brother, the younger brother continued to run as he wept.
The brothers were at an advantage when it came to climbing the mountain. They knew their superior speed well.
But that was not hope enough to assuage their fears.
'So what if we're faster?
'I… I don't know if we could outrun them.'
Slowly but surely, the scattered torches were beginning to cover the entire mountain.
Would they even be able to flee across the mountain at this point?
The flames at their backs swallowed the mountain slope like a giant wave.
'What if… those fires cover the other side too?'
The same worry gripped the brothers' minds at once.
But they did not dare to voice their fears.
Because they felt as though, the moment they did, their fears would become reality.
"Big brother… I… I can't…!"
Grabbing the younger brother's hand before he could collapse, the older brother pulled him along and continued to run.
Encouraged by the action, the younger brother gritted his teeth and put strength into his legs again.
"Damn it… Why…? Why do they have to come after us…? What did we ever do to them…?"
"What did we do? …We were born. They said… it's a sin…"
The older brother pressed on, biting his lip.
Between his bleeding lips stuck out a pair of unusually long incisors.
They brothers wondered if it was their fate to continue running for all of time.
'No… Maybe that'd be better than getting caught.' The older brother thought.
But at that moment, a pair of hands reached out in the middle of the knobbly path and grabbed each of the brothers by the napes of their necks.
The one responsible for so easily ending the brothers' desperate escape was an extremely tall, rugged woman dressed like a bandit.
"Damn it… Let go! Put us down!"
"Y, you bastard! Let my brother go!"
The younger brother cried for his brother's release, even though he had also been captured.
They struggled with all their might, but the woman did not so much as budge.
'Why doesn't she even flinch…?'
The brothers panicked.
They knew that they were incredibly strong compared to humans. After all, that was the reason they were being chased by their own neighbors in the first place.
But not even their superhuman strength so much as fazed the large woman. It felt as though they had been wrapped against an iron tree.
The woman sighed.
"You've got to cool your heads. We've come to help you."
From behind her emerged several men and women, also dressed like bandits.
It was then that the boys noticed something strange.
Unlike the villagers giving them chase, this group of people were not carrying any source of light.
The group was lastly joined by a man. He cracked his neck and turned to the tall woman.
"Madame Job. What'd Mr. Gerhardt say, ma'am?"
"We've got free rein, he says. He means we've got to save the lads. Young Masters Gerhardt and Melhilm'll scare off the humans."
The woman, speaking with an unusual accent, laughed heartily. She hoisted the boys higher into the air and sat them down on her shoulders.
Not a second later, her body expanded. The brothers felt soft fur on their skin.
Transforming into a gigantic humanoid wolf, the woman leaned forward slightly before kicking off the ground with the force of a cannon, leaping into the sky.
At that moment, everything the brothers saw became one with the wind as the world rushed past them at incredible speeds.
Each time one of her feet touched the ground, there was a noise like a peal of thunder. The boys realized that they had been saved by a being whose power they could not challenge—a power that wiped clean even their fear and anxiety.
"Wh, what do we do, big brother?"
"…What can we do? Let's… stay put."
In contrast to the panicked younger brother, the older twin calmly decided to follow this strange group of people.
This was a turning point in the lives of the brothers.
Several years later, they went on to found a certain organization alongside the master of the werewolves who rescued them. A vampire named Gerhardt von Waldstein.
An Organization made of vampires, by vampires, for vampires.
A group that, to humans, looked like nothing short of a band of demons.
But for the brothers, at least, the Organization brought them salvation.
Present day. The entrance of the Mars family country house.
"It's been a while since we had a conference at Romy's place."
"It sure has."
A smile-happy caucasian man and a bespectacled Asian man were standing at the doors.
Although their eye and hair colors were different, their physical features were identical. It was obvious that they were twins with different coloring. The caucasian was dressed like a typical young man from America, and had a gun holstered at his side. The Asian was dressed in a well-cut suit, and for some reason had a bamboo sword at his side.
The younger brother—Yellow Bridgestone—slapped his older brother Aiji Ishibashi on the back.
"Since it's Mr. Gerhardt calling the party this time, I'll bet we'll get a buncha unfamiliar faces."
"Yes. …He's been away from the Organization for a long time, but Sir Gerhardt is still on excellent terms with many of the officers. And I'm happy to see that he's reconciled with Sir Melhilm as well."
"Heh. That's 'cause he's one of the founders. Just the fact that he's around makes everyone feel better. A lot better than that asshole Caldimir calling the shots."
Not knowing that Caldimir was currently lying in a heap in the courtyard, the brothers opened the front doors and stepped into the entrance hall.
"Whoa. She's got paintings on the ceiling? …Is this a church? I'm outta here."
"Don't be rude to the hostess. And look. This isn't religious artwork."
As they looked upon the unimaginably opulent interior, the younger brother made snide comments and the older brother chastised him.
The vampires in the entrance hall reacted to their arrival.
"Oh… Ohhh! Thank god you're here, Ishibashi-san! Finally, someone who speaks Japanese! Oh… You have no idea how many years I've lost off my life, not understanding a word of what these people are saying!"
A Japanese man in a grey suit ran up to the brothers, gingerly rubbing his stomach and looking quite weather-worn.
"Ah, Satō-san. …Hm? Are we the only Japanese members here today?"
"No, well… You see, Hayami-kun the Varigated and Morikawa-san the Vermillion are in the guest rooms. But it's a bit awkward for me to speak to Hayami-kun, and Morikawa-san is a bit difficult to approach because he's surrounded by miko… Ichimatsu-san the Checkered, Kochō-san the Multitude, and Yamada-san the Pearl haven't arrived yet. So… the only other Japanese member here was…"
At the end of Satō's gaze was a Japanese man in a tuxedo, his hair slicked back and a plain office tie around his neck. He was standing perfectly upright, pontificating passionately.
"In other words, humanity must find new direction and step towards the future! How much longer must we live in fear of yet another oil crisis? Humanity must advance beyond the chains of the past. From the fetters of limited natural resources, to the regulated use of the new energy source known as blood! Yes! Vote Kibamori Ryōma today, for the realization of this ideal! For nine-hour work days, and for all work shifts to be fixed at night hours! Vote Kibamori Ryōma!"
"…Oh… Kibamori the Amber…"
"Why in the world is he making an election speech in a place like this?! And before that, have you heard the news? How he created the 'Vampire Party of Japan' and announced his candidacy?! Yes, the internet sees him as a laughingstock, and the media doesn't even report on him because they think he's insane! But he's beginning to gain steam, even though he began with only a hundred votes! Just imagine what might happen if he gets elected! And do you know what he said to me? 'Would you like to run alongside me', he asked. Urgh… e, excuse me a minute."
Grimacing, Satō clutched his stomach, took out a packet of digestives, and tipped the powdered medication into his mouth.
"P, please calm down. People with common sense are hard to come by in the Organization. If you happened to collapse of stress, the Organization will only grow more irrational."
Petitioning his fellow officer with a show of sympathy, Aiji turned his gaze at the other vampires.
Suddenly, a colorful parrot flew up to the brothers and squawked,
"You're food! You're food!"
The parrot then found its perch atop a vampire with a turban and a goatee, who seemed to be of Indian descent.
"Ah… My word. To think I would gaze upon two members of Rainbow while I still lived… This is the guidance of karma. Namaste."
The man was behaving so overtly Indian that he came right around to not looking so authentic. Yellow prodded the parrot's beak with his index finger and cried,
"Hey, hey! Charulata! What happened to the two hundred bucks you owe me?!"
"…It seems we are connected by a negative flow of karma from lives past… This also is the will of the gods… Namonamo…"
"The hell are you saying?! I'm talkin' money here! And what exactly is that three thousand-year old past life you always yak about?!" Yellow demanded, shaking the man by the collar. The suspicious man named Charulata looked off into the distance, and replied in an enlightened voice.
"My past life I spent as a bishōjo of impeccable karma. I handed extremely incredible sutras to the monk Xuanzang, and also was a beloved idol of a maid cafe in Akihabara… Moemoe…"
"You ain't actually Indian, are ya?! You're just a tanned Japanese guy!"
"Hmm… I have no idea what you are talking about. Well, I shall see you again in our next life. Kob kun krab."
"Argh! You're pissing me off, asshole!"
Ignoring his younger brother—who continued to argue with Charulata in a strange show of diligence—Aiji quietly walked towards the center of the entrance hall.
"Attendance really has gone up this time…"
All around him were vampires of incredible eccentricity.
"Superior officer sighted! Men! Salute!"
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
A man in a military uniform called out orders, and the skeletons around him saluted Aiji loudly.
"Someone… Won't someone love me? Only by true love's kiss will I return to being a frog!"
A remarkably handsome man was attempting to court the female vampires around him. But the women only gave him dubious responses. Although the man claimed that he was actually a frog vampire, no one had ever kissed him, so the truth remained unknown.
"All you have to do is believe. In the fact of your own sins, and in the Lord. And the fact of your forgiveness."
A vampire was selling indulgences from a certain faith to fellow members.
There was a black woman conversing with a gigantic lion, her wet black hair shimmering. When she caught sight of Aiji, she and the lion flashed him a smile. Thinking that he saw the same sentiment in the lion's look as the one the parrot had said to him earlier, Aiji forced himself to smile back and turned away.
"Ah, Mr. Ishibashi! Pale as ever, I see. You need more training!"
A smiling, tanned vampire with glinting white teeth, wearing a sleeveless undershirt. He would tell vampires weak against sunlight that their problem could be resolved with training, and insisted that they get suntans.
A world of chaos was squirming in the entrance hall.
At first glance, it looked like a costume party or the back room of a theater where young artists were rehearsing for their performances. The more 'normal' of the vampires were staggering nervously like Satō, or had already gone to their rooms, unwilling to be treated like the more unusual members of the Organization.
Although Aiji did not dislike these idiosyncratic characters, there was no telling what might happen if he lingered here too long. He wanted to go to another room and speak to Gerhardt, but being a superior officer meant that he could not neglect greeting the members who came up to him.
"Ah, you are here. …So much commotion for a group of officers, don't you agree?"
Offering Aiji a handshake of sorts was a monster covered in rusted skin. He was like an alien out of a movie, minus the humanoid aspect. A voice was coming from somewhere in his body—a mixture of centipede, beetle, construction machinery, and predatory dinosaur—as it creaked in time to his voice.
"It seems we've got an attendance rate of about eighty percent. Void, Cetus, and Deep Deep Deep Blue aren't here, but that's only natural… Of course, I suppose Void will get into our heads whether we like it or not."
"Yes. But it's really unusual to see so many at a conference."
"Of course. Gerhardt is part of the reason, but even those who wouldn't normally attend have probably come because they could spend time at the Mars family's country house. They’re after the food, no doubt. Gluttonous creatures."
The machine-like vampire seemed to be laughing, his teeth clacking together as though ready to gnaw through iron.
"Yes. You're right."
After exchanging a few words with Tromm Ed Romans the Dark Grey, Aiji walked over to his brother, who seemed to have finally wrapped up his conversation with Charulata.
"I'm exhausted already."
"Already? Gimme a break. How're you gonna stand Mirror's sarcasm or Iridescent's tricks? …Then again, I gotta admit the attendance is kind of scaring me."
"The more members gather, the stranger this Organization becomes… Especially when the members who don't usually attend decide to show up."
"Which is why more normal people like us get to be part of Rainbow." The younger brother said confidently. Aiji sighed and shook his head.
"In that sense, Satō Ichirō is a better fit for your position… Although I suppose that's from a human perspective of normalcy."
Aiji glanced over at the Japanese man he had spoken to earlier. Satō was a slight distance away, coerced into tasting a strange dish by a vampire dressed like a chef. As soon as he took a bite, Satō began to flail on the floor—perhaps there was garlic in the food.
"Another failure… And I was so sure I'd excised the garlic while retaining the taste…"
As the cook sighed and hung his head, officers who were not weak to garlic rushed over and began to wolf down his food.
Watching from the sidelines, Aiji treated the scene as though he had nothing to do with it.
"I wonder what humans who know us only from movies would think of this."
"Who knows? Vampires who act like vampires mostly get offed before they join. Either that, or they're crazy strong bastards from one of the Seven Clans. I guess we really are a complete mess. Mr. Gerhardt is made of blood, for crying out loud!"
"If we're discussing vampires who don't fit the norm, I guess Sir Gerhardt and the Giemsa Stain."
"The Giem-who now?" Yellow asked.
"The white blood cell vampires that were developed by Sir Melhilm. I believe he's still trying to find out if they have a sense of self or not. But if you look at how they absorb humans' red blood cells and turn the host's body into something like a zombie, Giemsa Stain is probably more like a vampire than Sir Gerhardt."
"Aaaaand the Organization finally turns into a netherworld. Or some sort of alien council. Wouldn't be surprised if we get a buncha men in black at the door armed with penlights and laser pistols."
"I admit it scares me to think that's not so impossible after all." Aiji said with a laugh, unusual for the stoic man.
Although Aiji's laugh was bitter, Yellow seemed to be happy with the first genuine smile his brother had shown in a long time. He decided to continue joking around.
But at that point, a cacophonic bell began to chime in the entrance hall.
All eyes were on the source of the sound. There was a man dressed like a butler at the top of the steps, bowing politely at the guests.
For some reason, there were a pair of ski goggles over his face. His eyes were faintly visible under the darkened glass.
His eyes were incredibly cold—it was as though spheres of dry ice had been stuffed into his sockets.
The man, a butler of the Mars family, bowed once more and continued with sophistication.
"It is my greatest pleasure to greet you here in this incredibly humble home."
Aiji sensed a strange incongruity in the butler's speech, delivered in English. But before he could confirm any of his suspicions, the butler continued solemnly.
"Dinner will be served in the hall, but it is naturally a showing of Lady Romy's divinely generous goodwill towards you that reaches deeper than the mantle itself. Please keep this in mind and move to the hall quietly. And to prevent the air in this manor from being infected by your impoverished breathing, please take care to breathe as little as possible. Remember that your poverty is already as good as pollu-GRK!"
The polite, yet highly insulting speech was cut short with a sharp cry.
Standing behind the man was a girl—the head of the family, Romy Mars—holding a giant sword, face pale, and covering the butler's mouth as she desperately clung to his shoulders.
"J, Jodo! How improper! I, um, everyone! I'm terribly sorry for this! I will deny Jodo his next meal, so please… Please pretend you heard nothing…!" The girl in bat cosplay cried, half in tears.
As everyone wondered how they should react, the butler easily wrenched himself out of his master's hold and bellowed, eyes wide.
"No, Milady! If you stay here any longer, you will be infected by their poverty! Poverty is a disease that can only be cured with wealth! Your humble servant will use as much wealth as it takes to keep this rabble away from you, so please do not fret!"
"Please be quiet, Jodo! A, and it's incredibly rude to wear those goggles in front of the guests! Please take them off this instant!"
The cosplaying vampire chastised the butler with a mix of hesitation and indignation. But the butler responded with a strangely confident expression.
"Heh heh heh… These goggles are not merely for the purpose of avoiding UV rays, Milady. They protect me from going blind from the sight of these impoverished masses. The only one these eyes of mine look upon, Milady, is you!" He cried, whipping off his goggles and gazing upon Romy.
"Umm… Jodo? You're scaring me."
His expression unchanging, the man put on the goggles once more and declared to the vampires below:
"…And thus, I am unable to remove these goggles until the day of my death!"
With the voice of one annoyed vampire came a black projectile that bit off the butler's solar plexus.
A gigantic bat had been launched from the gun Yellow had drawn.
"Urgh…! Y, you pauper! How dare you use such a cost-efficient attack?!"
"J, Jodo! Why can't you just apologize to them?!"
Watching the butler struggle against the bat, Aiji wearily turned to his brother.
"Vampires these days are so colorful that I'm starting to get worried."
"That butler's a human, big brother."
"Apparently he used to be a Hunter. Then he fell hard for Romy. If you think about it, there's a lotta sick bastards out there—vampires and humans. Hah!"
'What is the world coming to…?' Aiji began to wonder, when all of a sudden a deafening noise began to rock the entrance hall.
The sound was coming from somewhere far away.
He quickly realized that it was coming from a helicopter in flight.
At first, Aiji assumed that it was just passing by; but what helicopter would pass through this vast piece of private property in the middle of the night?
Perhaps it was an attack led by humans or vampires unaffiliated with the Organization.
Keeping this possibility in mind, Aiji focused his senses on the sound of the helicopter.
"Oh! That must be Mr. Gardastance!" Romy said with a clap of the hands, instantly dispelling Aiji’s worries.
"He contacted me to see if the helipads would be available today. Oh, but he also asked if he could use two adjacent ones at once. I wonder why…"
He was the officer to whom the color gold had been assigned, and was the only vampire in the Organization whose wealth dwarfed those of the Mars or Waldstein families.
But why in the world did he choose to arrive by helicopter, risking attracting attention? Wouldn't it make trouble if the former chairman of the Gardastance Group were to be seen on Mars property and reported to gossip or business magazines?
Mulling over the questions in his head, Aiji pictured the outcomes of his fears and realized just how much of a risk Gold must have taken.
Determining that it would be best to listen to the man in person, Aiji and the other vampires stepped outside through the front doors.
"Is that… a jumbo jet?"
"N, no… That's… don't tell me that's a helicopter?!"
The vampires could not hide their shock at the helicopter illuminated by the blinding lights.
The vehicle was rather unorthodox for a helicopter, starting with its incredible size.
The silhouette was large enough to rival a jumbo jet.
The vehicle, more suited to a public airport than a privately owned helipad, slowly hovered over the ground as it descended.
Attached to either wing were gigantic rotors, chopping through the air and sending gusts of wind blowing around them.
Vampires who were weak to intense light went back inside. But as vampires who were in the gardens and their rooms also crowded outside to see what was happening, nearly a hundred vampires and their subordinate werewolves ended up filling the vicinity of the helipad.
Rude Gardastance, the Gold Yaksha.
Knowing that Rude considered money omnipotent, the vampires looked on with more annoyance than awe.
What was likely one of the biggest helicopters in the world finally landed on the ground, taking up two helipads at once.
The roar of the rotors grew quiet, but even now it was difficult to accept that this was a helicopter, not an airplane.
As the onlookers exchanged dubious glances, the helicopter door opened and Gardastance stepped outside.
"Ah, my friends! So good of you to come to receive me! I love you all!"
Spreading his arms wide, Gardastance proudly stepped onto the ground. A pool of red liquid, which had made its way onto the helipad without anyone's notice, wrote out a greeting.
[It has been a long time indeed, Rude. Still fond of big entrances, I see.]
"Ah, Gerhardt! As unpredictable as ever. Well, to be perfectly honest, I was thinking of arriving by military helicopter, shooting our members with paintballs made of tomato juice… but my secretary wasn't looking too happy about it, and, well… Someone was demanding that she be given a ride. I really had no choice but to bring the chopper."
[Ah, so you are bringing company?]
"Yes. We're transporting her outside now."
Gardastance glanced over at the helicopter. A large hatch on the back opened up, revealing a cargo hold that could probably carry a mid-sized whale.
[…You don't mean to say that you're brought… her?]
"I do. A conference at the Mars family's country house is about the only kind of meeting she can attend, after all." Gardastance laughed with a meaningful look. As if on cue, his passenger poked her head out of the hold.
It seemed that she had been cramped inside, in spite of the sheer size of the cargo hold.
That was because she was a massive tyrannosaurus.
"Hah! I'm sure not many of our officers have ever seen her in person. I've been keeping her hidden on my property for nearly a century now. Well, it took me fifty years or so, but we've finally managed to communicate to a degree. Unfortunately, she's so lacking for blood that she's asleep for about three hundred days a year."
[Hmm… Now, even should your passenger join us, those without the power of telepathy will be unable to communicate with her. By the way, Rude. How do you manage to communicate with her, my friend?]
"Money, Gerhardt. I simply hired a telepath."
As the vampire dinosaur stretched out and roared, the former chairman of the Gardastance Group and the pool of blood continued to talk as though nothing was wrong.
[Ah, but I do suppose this may be a fine opportunity of sorts. Melhilm had always been keen to study her.]
"Of course. Let me tell you about the most interesting thing, Gerhardt. She's grown fur on her back and tail! Could it be that all dinosaurs had fur, or is she different because she's a vampire?"
[In any event, it must have been difficult to transport her all the way here. Was your company not searched on the way?]
"It certainly was. But I insisted quite firmly that this was part of a film shoot. Although it would have been entertaining to tell the truth and silence the officials with money. Hah!"
Ignoring the fantastical conversation taking place, another pair of vampires were talking amongst themselves.
"I'm gonna take back what I said about this place being like a netherworld."
Watching the gigantic newcomer, the brothers Indigo and Yellow chuckled bitterly.
As they looked on, their astonishment had given way to surrender at the scene unfolding before them.
"…Forget demons, this is practically Hollywood."
A city in southern Germany.
Several days earlier.
The vampires began to travel to the Mars family's country house one after another for the upcoming event.
At the same time, at a city dozens of kilometers to the east, the humans were also busy preparing for a large event.
Of course, this particular event was more of a ritual than a celebration, and was headed in a completely different direction than the mindless commotion of the vampires.
There was no malice behind the humans’ actions—nothing but anxiety and worry.
And so, the people were so easily loosed from law and the order of society and left to rampage.
After all, since they had no malicious intent, they could not feel a shred of guilt.
No matter the consequences of their actions.
The morning after his home was vandalized with graffiti, Horst did his best to prepare breakfast without letting it slip that he had been badly rattled.
Alma looked worse off now than she did last night. She didn't say a word about the graffiti, but her heartache was clear in her appearance.
'Maybe I should call the police.' Horst thought to himself, but perhaps that would only end up scaring Alma more. After all, the rumors about the vampires were floating around even among the police officers. And as the police considered Alma a witness and not simply a victim, going to them might leave Alma with worse memories.
'But if those bastards from yesterday decide to go even further…
'Maybe I should pester the police until they give her official protection.'
As he ruminated over breakfast, a thought suddenly occurred to him.
'…What if I leave town? It might be hard to quit my job that quickly, but…
'Or maybe I could leave Alma with my folks in Munich. The people there are so much warmer.'
For some reason, Horst got the sense that the people in this city were unnecessarily scared of vampires.
It had always been a bit of an isolated city, but the air of dread running through the streets had only just recently become palpable.
Reporters and journalists from not only Germany, but all over the world, came to town and tried to dig up information. They poked their noses even into business that had nothing to do with the disappearance.
It was probably only natural that the aggravation, coupled with the fear, had hardened the people's hearts. But—
"Horst… What's wrong?"
The postman was jolted out of his musings by Alma's voice. He must have been zoning out for quite a while.
"Huh? Oh. Sorry, I was just thinking about things."
He quickly put on a practiced smile, but Alma stopped what she was doing with a downcast look.
"It really is my fault, isn't it…?"
"Hey, hey. I told you not to say stuff like that, Alma!"
Horst raised his voice slightly. He leaned forward and ruffled Alma's hair, so she could not continue.
"I have the day off today, so let's go somewhere and enjoy ourselves. What do you say?"
"C'mon. Don't worry. Sometimes, you just need a change of pace."
Horst decided to take Alma out, disregarding her hesitation. But he was partly motivated by the desire to stay far away from his home, where some of the graffiti from the previous day still remained.
He hadn't yet decided on where they would go, but he wanted to avoid the view of the mountains.
So he chose the nearby shopping mall.
He hoped that it would bring Alma some cheer after what she had gone through.
With that, Horst began preparing to leave.
The people on the streets might give them cold looks.
The vandals who put graffiti on his house might do even worse if he ran into them.
Such worries ran through his mind, but Horst told himself that no one would try anything in the middle of a shopping mall in broad daylight. Not many people knew Alma by appearance, and the bandage on her neck wasn't so unusual a feature that she couldn't hide it under a hood.
With that, Horst made up his mind.
His attempt ended in a half-success.
As he suspected, nothing happened to them in the city.
He was almost surprised at how much he and Alma enjoyed his day off. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but some of the shadows had been chased from Alma's eyes.
"Did you have fun today?" Horst asked absently as he and Alma headed home from the biggest shopping mall in the city.
The girl slowly looked up and said in a quiet voice,
"…That was my first time going to a shopping mall."
A girl living in a village in the mountains could not possibly have gone to a mall before. The furthest the village children ever went was probably the elementary school at the foot of the mountains.
In schools in Germany, most classes ended before noon. The village children went home before it got dark, so they had little interaction with the children in town. As a matter of fact, not a single child came to see Alma in the hospital after the incident.
Of course, even if she did have friends at school, the children's parents probably prevented them from coming to visit.
It felt as though, compared to the countryside or the bigger cities in Germany, this city was downcast and melancholy.
'I miss Oktoberfest.'
Horst had gone to Oktoberfest several times in the past. Recalling the warm smiles of the people he met there, he wished that this city could smile like they did.
He turned to look at Alma.
She was looking up at him with a smile.
Though it was tinged with sadness, she had never once smiled until now.
Glad to have brought her outside today, Horst answered with a smile of his own and ruffled her hair.
And so, his plan was half-complete.
The reason it was not fully successful was because Alma's smile would disappear that evening.
When they returned, his house was on fire.
Fannie Lou: ファニー・ルー
Remember the color spread from the first update of this volume? All of the characters on the image have now been introduced.
Top left: Romy Mars
Top center: Garde Ritzberg
Top right: Dorothy Nifas
Center: Tromm Ed Romans
Mid-1: Doubs Hewley
Mid-2: Yellow Bridgestone
Mid-3: Aiji Ishibashi
Mid-4: Ichiro Sato
Middle right: Fannie Lou
Bottom left: Caldimir Aleksandrov
Bottom right: Unnamed wolf vampire(?)
Remember the color spread from the first update of this volume? All of the characters on the image have now been introduced.
Top left: Romy Mars
Top center: Garde Ritzberg
Top right: Dorothy Nifas
Center: Tromm Ed Romans
Mid-1: Doubs Hewley
Mid-2: Yellow Bridgestone
Mid-3: Aiji Ishibashi
Mid-4: Ichiro Sato
Middle right: Fannie Lou
Bottom left: Caldimir Aleksandrov
Bottom right: Unnamed wolf vampire(?)