Friday, 3 January 2014

Vamp! IV - Chapter 4

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

Let's start off the new year with a decently-sized Vamp! update. The chapter after this one is going to be very long, so please be patient.

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Chapter 4: Pasts of the Vampires


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On a highway in Germany.


It was just as Gardastance’s helicopter was landing on the Mars estate.

A vampire who should have already been at the mansion was at the wheel of a white car.

She had pale white skin and shimmering white hair. Other than the warm glint in her silver eyes, she was the very image of a snow queen.

Her name was Dorothy Nifas.

She was the officer of the color white, as well as Gerhardt’s fiancée.

If things had gone according to schedule, she would have arrived at the conference early for a pleasant chat with Gerhardt in front of a toasty-warm fireplace.

But at the moment, she was driving down the highway at perfectly legal speeds in spite of her tardiness.

Because Dorothy was capable of transforming into a flock of white bats at will, she had the option of getting to the conference faster in her alternate form. But this time, she had no such intentions.


That was because of her passenger. The girl sitting next to her.

In stark contrast to Dorothy, the girl was wearing a black dress. She was Ferret, who had run off from Growerth half a day earlier.

"I’m sorry, Ferret. It might have been more comfortable if I’d rented us a plane."

"Not at all… It is my own fault for not telling anyone that I was leaving." Ferret said, slightly nervous.

Confusion was still clear in her eyes, and on occasion she glanced over at Dorothy with a look of wonder and discomfort.

‘So this woman… is Father’s fiancée…’


Ferret had recklessly charged off the island and come to the mainland, but at that point she had no idea how she should go about looking for Mihail. That was when a white bat flew over to her and spoke.

The bat soon transformed into a beautiful woman, who smiled and offered Ferret a handshake.

"You must be Ferret. I’m Dorothy—Dorothy Nifas. It’s very good to meet you. The maids at Waldstein Castle contacted me, so I came to get you."

"Oh…"

"Oh, yes! It might be a little awkward to tell you this so suddenly, but we’re going to be family one day. I hope we can get along."

"F, family?!"

The first thing that jumped to her mind was the image of a sister-in-law.

"Wh, what do you mean by that?! Honored Brother is already involved with Hilda-" She blurted out.

Dorothy went on to properly explain that she was Gerhardt’s fiancée. Ferret was so embarrassed that she wanted to crawl into a hole, but she was mostly rattled by the revelation.


‘To think that Father was engaged… I had heard the rumors, but I always thought they were nothing more than jokes…’

Although Ferret outwardly claimed that Relic was all she needed, in her heart she saw Gerhardt as her father proper. Though she remained calm on the surface, the news that her father was engaged called up some indescribable emotion in her heart.

‘Just how in the world…? …With Father?!’

As much as Ferret cared for her father, it was impossible to deny that he was made of blood. Just what kind of a woman could possibly agree to marry such a being?

Or had they been engaged since before his metamorphosis?

‘What if she is after the Waldstein family’s money or power…?’ Ferret found herself wondering for a moment, but she quickly chided herself for thinking so badly of a woman she had only just met.

But she honestly could not tell how they came to be engaged. Although looks mattered relatively little between vampires, there was still a line that could not be crossed.

Noticing Ferret’s confusion, Dorothy giggled.

"What is it? It looks like you have something you want to say."

"…! …Umm… I would like to make this clear. Although Father is a part of it now… I do not think well of your Organization."

"Of course. The incident from half a year ago, and what happened with your birth parents. It’s understandable."

"…"

Ferret was somewhat surprised that Dorothy so easily acknowledged the Organization’s wrongdoings.

She had heard the story before.

That her and Relic’s parents were originally from the Organization; that they had escaped to prevent their children from being used as tools.

"Are they still after Honored Brother and his powers, I wonder."

The reason the Organization refused to leave Growerth alone was because of the power within Relic von Waldstein.

The vampires of the Organization had spent years upon years undertaking research to create an essence of vampiric power. Relic was one of the products of their research.

His powers were unmatched among vampirekind. He could wield an entire island like it was a part of the clothes on his back, synchronizing with it and transforming into hundreds of millions—or even billions of—

"I think it’s important for you to know that some members are after your brother. Especially Caldimir and Melhilm. Now, Melhilm won’t try anything if Gerhardt’s around, but Caldimir hates Gerhardt."

"…! Is Father really in such danger?"

"Don’t worry. Caldimir may hate Gerhardt, but he doesn’t have the gall to try to hurt him. In that sense, I think that mayor of yours might actually be more of a threat."

"Watt Stalf…" Ferret mumbled, hanging her head.

Watt Stalf was the mayor of the city of Neuberg on the island of Growerth. He was a dhampyr, a being who was of both vampire and human descent.

Having made a habit of pestering Gerhardt, Watt was more clearly an enemy of the viscount than the Organization.

"You are right. I wonder why Father lets him walk free even now…"

"Because your father is a kind man."

"He is merely too lenient."

"Maybe you’re right. But that’s also why he accepted your parents and let them onto the island, even though it meant turning his back on his old friend."

Ferret was silenced.

She knew very little about her birth parents. Gerhardt had often told her that they were people she could be proud of, but to her, the only image conjured up by the word ‘parent’ was that of a pool of blood.

That was why she had so valued her connection to her brother. But in more recent months, her relationship with Relic was no longer the only one that mattered to her.

"Your father is a wonderful man." Dorothy said with a warm smile.

"Pardon?"

"Anyone could tell just by looking at you."

"What do you mean…?"

Ferret was not expecting that answer. She could not hide her bewilderment.

"Oh? You’re trying to sneak into the Organization’s conference for the boy you love. Anyone could see just how wonderful your father is, raising such an outgoing and considerate daughter."

"Wh, what are you saying?! I, I only…"

"’You only’…?"

"I… I only wish to stop Mihail before he does anything foolish… Because he is a friend of Honored Brother… I, in any case! I intend only to bring that foolish human back to the island before he makes a mockery of us all! I have no ulterior motives!" Ferret babbled. The snow-white vampire smiled gently.

"You remind me a lot of Gerhardt when he was younger."

"…! …? Father… when he was younger?"

"That’s right. A long time ago, when he was still in human form. He would always try to act so confident. Now that I think about it, you may not be related, but you and Relic do resemble him somehow."

"…"

The sudden mention of her father’s human form aroused Ferret’s curiosity. But something else came to her first.

"You must have known Father for a very long time."

"Yes. Since before the Organization was founded, in fact. Although we weren’t engaged until later."

"…I would have expected a fiancée to follow her future husband out of the Organization." Ferret said sarcastically. She immediately regretted what she did, and despised herself for thinking in such a direction.

As she wondered if she should apologize, Dorothy responded as though she was unaffected.

"You’re right. I stayed behind… and Gerhardt returned to Growerth."

Nostalgically recalling the past, Dorothy narrowed her eyes.

"That was about when Gerhardt and I agreed to marry."

"Pardon…?"

‘They were engaged just as they were about to part?’

Ferret looked at Dorothy, waiting for an answer.

A smile remained on Dorothy’s face, although the sentiment behind it shifted. Her lips curved up slightly, as though she was embarrassed.

"Well… where should I begin?"

After a moment of thought, Dorothy asked Ferret a question.

"Do you like humans?"

"…?"

The question seemed to come out of nowhere. Ferret fell into thought.

Dorothy’s questions never seemed to follow a set flow of thoughts, perhaps speaking for the fact that she was difficult to read. But her question just now was not one that could be easily laughed away.

Ferret hesitated, her fingers tightening over the hem of her skirt.

"…There is an insurmountable wall between humans and vampires. Emotions such as ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ are on too low a scale to compare. Or do you wonder if I like humans in the same way I like cats or dogs?"

Ferret was talking in the same pompous way she spoke to Relic and Mihail, but there wasn’t as much energy behind her words this time.

Dorothy replied in a lighthearted tone.

"That’s fine too. Are you a dog person? Or a cat person? Or a human person?"

"P, please! This is no time for jokes!" Ferret protested. Dorothy snickered and turned the steering wheel.

And with that same smile, she paused.

"You know, I despise humans."

"Wha…"

Ferret found herself gasping.

"Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I want all of humanity dead. There are humans I respect and like, but there are more enemies among them than friends. In that sense, I despise the human race."

"…"

"That’s why I manipulated Gerhardt into creating the Organization."

"…You ‘manipulated’ him?" Ferret frowned.

"I think it’ll be best that I tell you this in person, rather than you hearing it second-hand from someone else… Let’s talk about how the Organization was first founded."

Ferret was silenced. All Gerhardt told her about the Organization was that it was a sort of social club. She was curious to know what the Organization was to other vampires.

Dorothy took Ferret’s silence as a ‘yes’ and quietly began to explain, her voice tinged with nostalgia, sadness, love, and countless other emotions.


<=>


Hundreds of years ago, somewhere in Northern Europe.


She was as beautiful as snow.

But her heart was crushed, and snow eventually turned to ice.


Dorothy Nifas was born a vampire.

Her parents were also vampires, and judging from their skin and hair colors, they were probably close relatives.

Or perhaps one was originally human before being turned by their spouse. But that mattered little to Dorothy.

She had the so-called ‘demonic’ power to freeze the air around her.

She was indeed a near-demonic creature, but she was not very aware of that fact at the time.

She had been traveling through many countries in Northern Europe with her parents.

Her physical beauty and the color of her hair were much too conspicuous to humans eyes.

On occasion, when they passed by a human settlement, her parents would tell her,

"You must never allow yourself to be seen by humans."

Until she matured fully, they always veered very far from settlements. And in that era, that was enough for them to steer clear of human contact.

But tragedy struck one day, when Dorothy helped a young man—a human—whom she found collapsed on the snowy mountains.

The young man was nearly frozen, very close to death. She took him to a cabin nearby and started a fire in the fireplace, knowing that her touch would only kill the man faster.

She must not be seen by humans.

Although the lesson was clear in her mind, Dorothy could not fight her curiosity. Humans looked very much like vampires. They spoke the same language. And they were much more numerous. She could not help herself.

When the man finally recovered, he thanked her. He must have realized that Dorothy was not quite human.

She asked the young man to keep secret the fact that he met her, and the young man agreed to do so.

Unlike yuki-onna of Japanese legend, she did not make him swear to secrecy on pain of death. The thought did not even occur to her.

She did not tell her parents about the encounter, only allowing her heart to race in excitement at the thought that she had finally met one of these curious beings.


But there were a few things she should have realized.

Just as she broke her promise to her parents, humans were capable of breaking promises as well.

And that humans loathed beings they thought to be ‘Others’.


<=>


Present day.


"The day after the man went down the mountain, he came back up." Dorothy said quietly, her hands on the steering wheel. "Along with many people from the village."

"…"

"The last I saw, my parents’ throats were slit as they slept in their coffins and set on fire."

Although there was little gravitas in Dorothy’s tone, Ferret could not bring herself to say a word.

Gerhardt had told her that her own parents had been murdered by Hunters.

She found herself picturing the parents she never knew, burning to death. In her mind, they naturally had the same faces as herself and Relic. A chill ran down Ferret’s spine.

"It was nothing unusual. The young man I helped knew about us from the very start. He was from a scouting team that searched abandoned huts on the mountain where strange monsters were said to live. …It was my own fault. If only I’d told my parents about what I did. If only I hadn’t broken my promise. They might still be alive. I might have met Gerhardt differently."

"…Do you… resent that young man and the villagers?"

"No. Not anymore. I told you, it was really my own fault."

A faint smile crept up on Dorothy’s face. But there was a mysterious chill in her lips.

"After all… They’re all dead and gone now."

"…"

That was only natural, considering the lifespan of humans.

But did the young man and the villagers really die natural deaths?

The cold note in Dorothy’s voice made Ferret wonder.

But instead of asking for confirmation on every question she could think of, Ferret decided to wait in silence for Dorothy to continue.

"For a long time, I couldn’t trust anyone. I went out into the sea as though escaping from the humans, using my white coffin as a boat… If I were weak against flowing water, I would have died for sure. But in that state, I guess I would have been all right with turning to ash."

Dorothy chuckled masochistically. The chill in her voice was now nowhere to be found.

"To me, there was nothing more to life than traveling with my parents. And having lost that… I had no need for a world full of those creatures who murdered my parents."

The car shook briefly, perhaps having run over a rock.

Ferret still could not say anything. She continued to listen as an audience of one.

"I thought to myself… If I fled to the sea and somehow make it back alive… I would destroy humanity."

In the flood of emotions Dorothy spilled, Ferret recalled a certain woman.

An Eater named Shizune Kijima.

In the past, Shizune had worked with Watt Stalf for the purpose of destroying every vampire in the world—and perhaps she still wished to do so.

Gerhardt had explained that Shizune threw herself into revenge after her family was massacred by a vampire.

Dorothy and Shizune. Two women from completely different backgrounds who had walked the very same path.

They were not the only ones.

Ferret herself had also seethed in rage, desiring revenge, when she was attacked by the armored Eater.

As her thoughts reached that point, she was quickly seized by a terrible fear.

"Umm… I do not wish to interrupt, but…"

"Oh? What is it?" Dorothy asked pleasantly. Ferret decided to get straight to the point.

"That armored man who attacked Mihail. What is he doing now? If he happens to run into Mihail at the conference…" Ferret trailed off, her fears surfacing over her mask of confidence.

Dorothy looked at her affectionately and answered.

"They might run into one another there, but I don’t think he’ll be attacking Mihail."

"That is impossible! That man was clearly insane! I cannot see him changing his mind so easily!"

Recalling the bone-chilling emotion she felt when the armored man attacked her and Mihail, Ferret panicked.

But Dorothy remained calm.

"You’re right. …Rudy’s will wouldn’t bend so easily. But that’s why… he was broken."

"What…?"

"The way he is now… He wouldn’t be able to fight, even if he wanted to."

As though reminded of something, Dorothy glanced at her watch.


"Oh. Now that I think about it… The conference should be starting soon."


<=>


At the same time, inside the dining hall of the Mars family’s country house.


The vast room was made not for the residents of the mansion, but for its guests.

Vampires of all shapes and sizes were gathered in the dining hall, which was large enough to house five hundred people.

Of the officers, some came alone; others were accompanied by nearly a dozen subordinates. Even their appearances were scattered across the spectrum, from a girl in cosplay gear to a pool of blood to a chihuahua.

They were currently in the middle of a conferences, discussing the mass disappearance that took place in a mountain village east of the Mars family’s country house.

In front of each officer was a laptop provided by the Mars family, and the meeting progressed based on the information that came up on the shared screens.

One Mars family servant was behind each officer for the convenience of those who could not use computers. They provided all sorts of assistance, from working the interface to interpreting between languages.

The conference was almost a show of excessive consideration.

In the midst of all this, one particular pool of blood explained very plainly the incident in question.

[Though we have no proof of vampires’ involvement in this incident, it is true that there are such rumors floating around the city.]

He was making use of his peculiar talent of writing in the air and simultaneously typing on the keyboard to show his words on the shared screen.

Gardastance, sitting behind the nameplate labeled ‘Gold’, spoke up.

"Is that a particularly pressing problem? It’s possible that a vampire unaffiliated with the Organization is behind the incident. We have a great deal of precedent for such cases."

[Of course, my friend. But this incident has become too large of a news item in the world of humans.]

"What does that matter? In America, most believe it was the work of terrorists. …Or perhaps you had something else to bring up at this conference?" Gardastance asked plainly. Gerhardt sloshed in place.

[In fact, yes. We have received a joint letter from three of the Clans. They seem to suspect that the Organization was behind this incident.]

‘Clans’.

The very mention of the word visibly stirred the dining hall.

Caldimir, now recovered from his injuries, continued where Gerhardt left off.

"Those accursed fossils can’t be much keener to get rid of us. They even brought up the mass murderer from over ten years ago."

[Of course, we responded with a definitive ‘no’ to those accusations. Doubs Hewley should have gone to confirm the facts for himself… Hm? Now that I think on it, he has yet to arrive…]


<=>


There was a small group listening in to the conversation from outside the dining room.

"I can’t see him yet, but I’m glad the viscount’s doing all right."

Mihail, Doubs, and Fannie.

They were standing in the hallway with their backs to the door, clearly eavesdropping. Doubs waved at the servants in the corridor. Fannie looked at him, uncertain.

"Mr. Doubs, why aren’t you going inside?"

"It won’t do to be anything but fashionably tardy, don’t you agree?"

Fannie looked astonished, but Mihail nodded in understanding.

They were also watching the shared screen through a laptop given to them by a servant.

One word in particular caught Mihail’s interest.

"Say… what’re ‘Clans’ supposed to be?"

"Ah, yes. I suppose you could say that they are groups of vampires discretely different from the Organization. They are composed of pure-blood vampires of the same bloodline, not mixed with any other lineage… A family of vampires, if you will. And not just one generation. If a family of vampires grows over many multiples of years to have over thirty members, it comes to be known as a Clan."

"Oh, so it’s one of those huge families!"

"I suppose you’re right. After all, if two immortals had a child once every ten years, they would have a hundred children by the end of one millennium. Some Clans do, in fact, have over two hundred members. The only reason they don’t reproduce like rats is because that would lead to self-collapse. The Clans keep reproduction seriously and severely in check." Doubs explained, pulling up an internet browser on the screen separately from the shared one.

He browsed to a page about vampires on an internet encyclopedia, which listed all sorts of characteristics and examples.

"Vampires from Clans are very much like the vampires you humans usually imagine. They suck humans’ blood, lord over werewolf and witch servants, and think of vampires as superior to humans. They transform themselves into fog and flocks of bats, live deep in the forests, and put up macabre magical shields that repel humans. These typical vampires you see in cartoons and films are the kind you would find in a Clan. Of course, no Clan thus far has been able to use all abilities equally, and none are powerful enough to dream of conquering the world like you see in movies… At least, not until rather recently."

"Huh… So you mean…"

One vampire in particular came to Mihail’s mind.

As though having waited for that conclusion, Doubs put on a gleeful smile.

"You are correct! Your friend Relic von Waldstein. Deftly deduced. Your reward is money!"

"W, wait! I can’t take that!" Mihail stammered. Doubs chuckled, saying he was only joking, and continued to explain.

"You see, Relic was born with the power of all such vampires—with power enough to surpass them. He was born to become the ultimate vampire. To be blunt, Clans—although there are differences between families and individuals—generally do not welcome vampires outside of their own lineage. From their perspective, we are vampires who cross the line of normalcy. In other words, they see us as lowly and disgusting monsters."

Fannie, who had been silent all this time, cut in.

"They’re… really awful. They tried to kill me without a second thought."

"What?"

"They said I wasn’t a true vampire… That I was just a fake that didn’t evolve from a human."

In the little boy’s eyes was a look of intense rage and a sliver of fear.

What had happened to him in the past? His eyes alone were enough to show how much he had suffered.

Although Mihail wanted to hear more about the Clans, the shared screen suddenly shifted to the next topic. He decided to follow the conference for now.


<=>


[The people of the city point to the wounds on the girl’s neck as so-called proof, but we unfortunately have no way of knowing if they were caused by a vampire. Although it is worth noting that the young lady has been seen walking in broad daylight.]

Gardastance rubbed his chin.

"If it’s confirmation we need, I’ll gladly buy out the hospital, or the relevant law enforcement officials."

Caldimir’s temples twitched visibly.

"Every camera and reporter from the entire world is swarming around the city, turning over every rock they can find! If you engage in underhanded deals like that, the Gardastance Group will be suspected!"

"Of course. I suppose that means I should buy out the media, as well."

"Are you even listening to me?!" Caldimir squawked.

At that point, a tan-skinned man who had been quiet during the meeting raised his hand. He looked like a Native American, but he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt with sandals and sunglasses. His physique was a full-figured mix of muscle and fat, making him look very much like a born thug or the president of a neighborhood venture business.

The man laughed leisurely and addressed Gardastance.

"Hah hah hah… Unfortunately for you, Mr. Gardastance, one of my TV crews is on the scene as well. Please don’t make the mistake of assuming my company can be bought out so easily. Hah hah hah."

The man with the unusual laugh was, in reality, neither a thug nor a president. But in terms of influence, he was a match (or perhaps more than a match) for Gardastance.

He was Zao Dugnald, a producer at a famous American TV station. He also appeared in many television programs in person as a host or a commentator.

Gardastance took a moment to think.

"Now that you mention it… I suppose it might be rather challenging to bribe your people."

"Hah hah. There, there, my man. You’re already one of our sponsors—if you’ve got money to burn on bribes, why don’tcha help us out with our production budget?"

"I’ll consider it."

"Wait! Hold it, the both of you!"

Caldimir cut in.

"The TV station is under your influence, Zao? Then it’s simply a matter of having them report false information!"

"Hah hah hah. I’d prefer to give my little ‘family’ the freedom of press."

"This is no time for your little policies! Damn it all! I could say this to the rest of you, but why don’t you ever attend conferences with at least a hint of gravity?!" Caldimir complained. Aiji sighed.

"Calm down, Caldimir. Count your blessings that Mirald the Mirror, Hawking the Void, and Doubs the Iridescent haven’t shown up yet."


<=>


Listening in from the corridor, Doubs put on a face of utter shock.

"How horridly hurtful of Mr. Ishibashi! Treating me like a nuisance?! And on the same level as Mirald and Hawking, of all people!"

"That’s because you get in the way of every conference."

"How could you say such a thing, Fannie?! The only reason I conspire with Mirald and Hawking to get in Caldimir’s way is because of his dreadfully dull babbling! Because bothering him is really the best source of entertainment for me, and me alone!"

Ignoring Doubs, who ended up admitting his guilt, Fannie quietly listened in on the conference.

Mihail, meanwhile, read through the documents presented on the screen, and spoke in an unusually grave tone.

"But still… I wonder what really happened in that village."

At that moment,


Fwump.


There was the sound of something falling. Mihail found himself looking up.

Standing there was a young man.

He was not very tall, probably about the same height as Mihail. He was wearing a mainly black and white Gothic-style outfit, and there was a hint of childlikeness in his face.

However, though the young man should have been in his prime, his complexion was sickly and ashen.

"You all right?"

The young man must have dropped a cloth pouch he was holding. Mihail picked it up with his left hand and held it out to the newcomer.

But the young man stared, frozen still.

"How… what are you… what are you doing here…?!"

"Huh?"

Mihail glimpsed a flash of distress pass by the young man’s eyes. It was a look of pure shock, one that surfaced when it was impossible to think of an emotion to react with.

"Uh… have we… met before…?"

Mihail tilted his head for a moment, confused. But he trailed off as a strange sensation began to emerge in the back of his head.

"Hey… that voice. I’ve-"

Mihail looked down and thought.

The young man’s face was unfamiliar to him—that much was certain.

But he had heard that fear-tinged voice before.

‘Wait…’

Without warning, a certain scene began to play in his mind.

His own bloodied body, and Ferret’s face, wracked with despair.

As his paralyzed right hand began to ache, Mihail’s thoughts were swept up in a frenzy of memories.

‘It can’t be…’

He looked up, jolted out of his reverie. He opened his mouth to speak to the frozen young man.

"…You’re… don’t tell me…"

"Ah… aaaaahhh…!"

The moment Mihail realized who he was, the young man turned where he stood and fled down the corridor.

"Hey, wait!" Mihail called with surprising energy, but the young man ignored him and ran, stumbling on occasion.

Mihail went after him, leaving Doubs and Fannie alone in front of the dining hall.

"…What was that all about? And who was that?" Fannie wondered. Doubs responded with a glint in his eye.

"That would be Rudy Wenders. One of the Organization’s Eaters. I’m sure even you must have heard of the Hunters Hraesvelgr and Nidhogg, the duo who reported directly to Caldimir?"

"Yeah. I don’t know the details, but the woman was subjugated by a vampire and betrayed us, right? And now the man is useless, too."

"Correct! Half a year ago, he half-murdered a human without orders, and was himself near death when Garde the Black managed to revive him. Of course, this particular hound is no longer useful as a warrior, at least compared to before."

"So what’s that got to do with Mihail?" Fannie asked innocently, his curiosity piqued.

Doubs’ eyes glinted as though he was struck by a sudden stroke of luck. He pressed his hat down over his head.

"You see, Mihail was the human being whom Rudy nearly murdered."

"What?!"

"To think that they would encounter one another, just like that! My heart was pounding in anticipation for that magical moment! Scenes like this are always better candid than staged." Doubs said with a look of honest pleasure, in spite of the loathsome content of his words. "Things are finally getting more interesting. Aren’t you excited, Fannie? Dear me, I’m immensely interested in this conference, but I can’t bear to not follow those two! What to do?"

"…You’re sick and disgusting, Mr. Doubs." Fannie sighed, turning to the laptop screen.

"!"

Suddenly, he stiffened and leaned in close to the screen, eyes wide.

On the shared screen was the image of a little girl.

"What might be the matter, Fannie? Widening your eyes, making your irises look even more like contact lenses than usual."

"Who… is this girl?"

"Ah. She would be the survivor from the mass disappearance case. She’s only twelve years old. But she does look rather resolute for her age… Has she stolen your heart?"

In terms of appearance, she looked to be about the same age as Fannie. The photograph must have been taken at school before the incident; there was an innocent smile on the girl’s pretty face.

Ignoring Doubs’ teasing, Fannie mumbled blankly.

"She’s… the survivor…"

"Yes. Thanks to the two marks on her neck, which look very much like marks from a vampire’s bite, she’s under suspicion of being connected to—Fannie? Are you listening to me? Fannie?"

"…She looks delicious…"

The vampire in the shape of a little boy stared at the image, mesmerized. Saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth.

"Oh no, what to do… My heart’s pounding. I can feel it… I want to suck all her blood and make all her flesh and blood mine… But before that, I just want to hold that slender body tight and sink my fangs into her neck…"

As the boy descended further and further into madness, Doubs chuckled and stretched.

"Goodness me. Your unfortunate… tastes… are showing again, Fannie. Now, I wonder which of us is the truly disgusting one?"

Ignoring Fannie’s fixation on the laptop screen, Doubs muttered to himself.

"…But then again, I suppose nothing you think of doing to that girl will matter if she’s not in one piece when you meet her… After all, sometimes, humans are capable of things that even disgusting monsters like you could never imagine."


<=>


A day earlier.


After giving his testimony at the police station, Horst picked up Alma and headed for the doors.

It had been two days since his house went up in flames. According to the police, it was probably an act of arson. But they had no idea who could be behind the crime.

“It’s the assholes who drew that graffiti on my wall. It’s got to be them!” Horst had said. The detective nodded, but told him that it would be difficult to find a concrete connection between the vandalism incident and the arson case.

When Horst asked why, the detective answered thus:

"Because we have too many leads."

"What…?"

"Do you have any idea just how many people around here think Alma was bitten by a vampire and turned into one of their slaves? Or how many people think she is a vampire? I’m not talking about some religion or an organization. I’m talking about everyone, anywhere and everywhere."

"You’ve gotta be kidding me!" Horst stood, ready to say something, but the detective cut in sharply.

"We’re not stupid enough to buy into those ridiculous rumors and let them get away with it, damn it! But there’s just too many of them. If we’re just going by that one motive… we’d have over a thousand suspects on our hands if we’re lucky. I want to tell you that we’ll put all our efforts into the investigation, but I can’t even do that. All our men are busy with the disappearance case."

The detective could not hide his irritation.

After all, the people the police were supposed to protect were the ones being swept up by rumors, stirring up malice in the community.

The worst part about all this was the fact that the individuals that made up the community had no ill will.

For example, even when Alma and Horst were walking around the neighborhood, no one glared at them or called Alma a vampire to her face.

After all, anyone who did such a thing would be labeled as ‘an idiot who actually believes in vampires’.

The city was swarmed by the media; no matter how much the residents of the city suspected Alma, the girl was known to the rest of the world as an innocent victim.

Because the people were scared, those who wished to hurt the girl were afraid of having their own actions labeled as ‘evil’.

After all, they had no ill will—or at least, that was what they believed.

That was what vexed Horst the most.

If it was like a case of bullying in school or at a workplace, where the bullies showed themselves to the victim, he could probably work up the determination to fight back and refuse to be defeated.

When he first heard the rumors going around town, Horst was prepared.

‘They might ignore me if I try to talk to them.’

‘They might throw rocks at us.’

‘They might swear at Alma and call her a vampire.’

‘They might refuse to sell to us and kick us out of their stores.’

‘They might even attack us outright.’

Horst would probably have preferred that his assumptions came true.

After all, then he could face the people head-on and talk back properly.

But the people’s malice left behind only devastating conclusions in its wake, never allowing itself to be seen.

It was like finding a dead cat in your desk, only to find that the rest of the class treated you just as kindly as they did before. An indescribable sense of unease.

It was different from the sadness and anger of being the only one left out of a gathering of friends. There was only a heavy chill in the air, a sharp sense of his innards turning inside-out.

There was a venomous air over the city, much like being around a person who posted all sorts of malicious comments on the internet yet behaved warmly in real life.

His foes did not give him a chance to retort. They did not give him the chance to glimpse their form.

And though Horst was only receiving this abuse second-hand, Alma was being subjected to it directly.

‘I… I have to do something…’

He had not yet told his parents about the fire. Not only was he reluctant to worry them, he was also afraid that his parents would suffer as a result of his connection to Alma.

Horst wondered if an ordinary postman like him could protect Alma. But then again, he had nowhere to turn at this point.

After all, he did not know just what places in this city were safe.

He wondered if he should turn Alma in to the police for protection, but since she had closed her heart to them, he could not see that as a valid decision.


‘I’d better seriously consider leaving town…’ Horst thought to himself, stepping out of the police station. Suddenly, he felt someone’s gaze on him.

He looked around without thinking, but the streets around him were no different from any other day.

Was he being paranoid now? As he questioned himself, he began to begrudge the unfairness of the situation.

It was unjust. That this city, no different from usual—the city he called home—was his and Alma’s enemy.

Alma must have felt a similar sense of worry. He could see it in her eyes.

"…There’s nothing to worry about, Alma." He said, giving her a gentle pat on the head. Horst wanted to try and encourage her somehow.

"But… it’s all my fault that your house…"

"I told you not to worry about it! Those rumors are going to stop soon. Just you wait and see. They’re the crazy ones for believing in vampires— …wait, I… uh…"

He immediately regretted what he said.

Bringing up the rumors would only scare Alma more. He hurriedly tried to make up for his reckless words.

"It’s okay, Alma. I know that you’re human. So don’t pay attention to anything those people say, all right?"

Not knowing if he had properly made up for what he said, Horst glanced at Alma.

"…"

He could not look away.

She was looking up at him without a word.

In her eyes was an indescribable sense of despair. Though she had come to see Horst as family in the few short days they shared together, now she was looking up at him with nothing but despair in her eyes.

It was not disappointment or resentment, but a look thick with resignation.

Rather than surprise, it was an expression that accepted a predestined disaster.

"A, Alma…?"

Horst felt as though a icicle had been driven into his spine.

Perhaps he had done something that could not be taken back.

He did not know what that ‘something’ was.

But he knew for certain that he had hurt Alma.

"Wh, what did I…"

"No… I’m sorry. It’s nothing."

Alma quietly shook her head and began to walk away.

"…Oh… right…"

Horst quietly followed after her.

But Alma, walking just a couple of steps ahead, looked like a girl from a distant world indeed.


However, Horst and Alma were still connected.

After all, they were soon to be swept together in a veritable flood of malice.


<=>


Underground, Waldstein Castle. The laboratory.


It was about twenty hours after the girl without a home fell into despair.

A vampire who had once slaughtered countless people was sitting on his chair with a grave expression.

<You look so tired, Doctor! Is there something the matter?>

Addressing the boy—Theodosius M. Waldstein—was a large white coffin.

Unlike normal coffins, this one was standing upright, and had caterpillar tracks installed underneath that allowed it to move.

There were also robotic arms sticking out of the coffin, and it was even wearing a very large lab coat.

It was an appearance that was either a joke or a nightmare, but the tone of the coffin’s voice—squeaky and endearing like a kitten straight out of an anime—and its cutesy gestures made it seem like a young woman.

The coffin, known as ‘Professor’, once possessed a different body.

Doctor once had a companion; a vampire named Elsa Wenders.

But the young woman named Elsa—her body and memories—was long gone, leaving behind the character of ‘Professor’ and the body of a coffin. She continued her research alongside Doctor in this new form.

"I was just thinking about what happened in that village in the south." Doctor sighed.

Today, he was not speaking like an old man.

After the incident six months ago, Doctor stopped talking that way to Professor. He still put up a front for those not in the know, but to Professor he showed his true self.

However, he had not told her every detail of his past yet. Their relationship had neither changed nor remained the same. Perhaps it spoke for how close they were that they were not very awkward around one another after all that had happened.

<Now that I think about it, you said someone came to visit the other day while I was asleep. Was he trying to investigate something?>

"Well, Mihail took the conversation off the rails. But the man had a listen to what I had to say, and left. I think… he must have been looking into every possible lead. He told me that my experiences were a big help. But something bothers me. Doubs Hewley is not sane. He’s not like either humans or vampires. He’d destroy the border between the two species without a care, just for the sake of his own amusement."

<Doctor… Why did you tell someone like that about your past?>

‘Without even telling me?’ Professor wanted to add, but she held back.

After all, she swore to accept Doctor, no matter what he had done in the past.

Therefore, she had no reason to pry.

But Theo laughed self-deprecatingly and said something unusual.

"Mihail came to see me."

<Yes! You said he was in high spirits. I’m so glad he’s all recovered now~!> Professor celebrated, happy for the boy even though she had not met him many times. Doctor reacted, slowly closing his eyes.

"I thought… that Mihail would be angry at me. I thought that that was why he came."

<What?!>

"All this time after he recovered, I waited. I was ready for him to lash out at me—to tell me that it was my fault that he and Ferret were hurt. No… that was what I wanted."

<Doctor…>

Theo leaned back, blankly looking up at the ceiling.

"If only I hadn’t come to this island. If only I hadn’t done what I did, Rudy and Theresia would never have come to Growerth. And Mihail and Ferret would have been able to enjoy the festival together. But Mihail… he didn’t get angry at me. In fact… it was as though he forgot the fact that he was injured at all."

<Th, that must have been because he had no idea you were involved…>

"…I told Relic everything, so Mihail should have heard. But in the end, he said that I shouldn’t worry, but… heh… us aside, it was like he didn’t even blame the Organization."

His chair creaked loudly. Theo lightly shut his eyes, as though prepared to fall asleep.

"Thanks to that, I remembered everything that happened in the past. And… I found my resolve. To tell you the whole story."

He slowly began his confession.

"This is something I want you to hear, but at the same time… you might not want to hear it. So stop me if you don’t want to listen anymore."

<Doctor…>

"That’s right… I was still about seven years old back then. I’ll start with that. The day I met a vampire for the first time."

Theodosius fell into a dreamlike state as he recounted his memories. As though singing a lullaby, the sadness and pain of his past tinting his future.


"I wanted to become a vampire."


<=>


The past.


The older girl he met on Growerth called herself a vampire.

Even the seven-year-old boy knew what a vampire was.

They were demonic monsters who could transform into wolves or flocks of bats, fly through the air with ease, and drink people’s blood to turn them into zombies or ghouls.

That was what movies, picture books, and cartoons always told him. So even in his young mind they were automatically branded as ‘fearful creatures’.

But the vampire Theo met betrayed his expectations completely.

Just before the lost Theo was returned safely to his parents, the girl produced a single bat from her fingertips.

"…Aren’t you afraid?"

Theo shook his head firmly.

The sight of the bat rising up from the girl’s hand, accompanied by a light fog, was magical. It engraved deep into the boy’s instincts the impression that this was not an illusion or a sleight of hand.

And so, Theo found himself a slave to the vampire.

When he was reunited with his parents, he turned around. But the girl was already nowhere to be seen, leaving nothing but an evening breeze where she stood.

But Theo was unable to erase her from his thoughts. He begged his parents to visit the island even more often.

He thought of coming back to the island as many times as it took to see her again. And once he became an adult, he would buy himself a house on Growerth. But their reunion came sooner than he had expected.

Half a year later, he spotted the girl in the castle garden. He ran outside, only telling his parents that he was going out to play.

"Oh? And you are…?"

The girl seemed to have forgotten him, but when he explained that she helped him when he was separated from his family, she remembered.

"I see. So you remembered me."

As the girl smiled, unable to hide her joy, Theo once again fell under the impression that his very heart was in her gentle hands.

"I’m a vampire. Aren’t you afraid of me?"

It was the same question she had asked half a year ago.

The boy shook his head firmly. The girl smiled just as she had on the day they met.

"I see. Thank you."

Her gentle smile became a drug that captivated his thoughts.

And without knowing, the boy and the girl began to destroy each other’s lives.

Slowly but surely, little by little, like poison welling up within their bodies—


From that day forth, Theo and the girl encountered one another many times.

On some occasions, they made plans to meet. But other times, they met by chance—on both Growerth and the mainland.

She told him that the island was like a paradise for vampires.

Though she said that countless vampires lived on the island, Theo had never seen one other than the girl. The girl was never with other vampires, either.

When Theo wondered about this, the girl gave him a rather strange answer.

"Well… that’s because I’m uncomfortable around vampires."

"Why?"

"I… I didn’t become a vampire because I wanted to. And… I like humans better. I don’t want humans to hate me."

Theo did not understand.

Who could possibly hate such a kind and beautiful girl?

Since she was immune to sunlight, no one would find out that she was a vampire unless she said so herself. And even if someone noticed, Theo was sure that they would accept her.

But with the passage of time, his unfounded beliefs slowly began to change.


The boy began to catch up to the girl’s height little by little.

After all, the girl hadn’t aged a day since they day they first met.

In a few more years, the two of them would be perfectly matched.

It was around this time that she said something, sounding quite lonely.

"…You’re almost my age already."

"Why? You’re so much older than me, Big Sis."

"Because my time stopped long ago." She whispered, and flashed him her usual gentle smile.

"I think… this will be the last time we meet on this island."

"What…?"

At first, he did not understand.

They met as they usually did, and they would say goodbye as they usually did.

That was how things were supposed to be. That routine was what let them spend these happy moments together.

But his fantasies were so easily shattered.

As the boy blankly allowed himself to be embraced, the girl spoke, choking something back.

"But… if, if we ever meet again… I hope we’ll be able to start over."

"Wait! What are you saying?!" Theo cried in confusion, grabbing onto the girl’s hand.

But her hand slipped out of his fingers as she hugged him so very tightly.

"I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Theo."

"…!"

Her voice was stained with tears. Theo couldn’t help but choke back his own bewildered voice.

"If this keeps going… I’ll… I’ll end up wanting to suck your blood…"

"Big Sis?"

"Because I think… I think I’ll end up wanting to turn you…"

He could not understand what she was saying.

He understood the words; but he could not make sense of the meaning behind them.

It was terrifying, being unable to understand the girl he so loved. All of a sudden, it felt as though she had grown very far away. As though he was trapped in a giant bubble, separated from the world.

"But… no more. It’s over. If we ever meet again… Then—"

He did not know what she said to him then.

But he never heard the end of her sentence, and the vampire said nothing more.

Her body turned into a large flock of bats, circled once over the boy’s head, and disappeared towards the sea in the light of dusk.

He could not even cry out.

He did not know what he should say.

It never even occurred to him to try and stop her from leaving.

After all, it had happened so suddenly that he didn’t even understand that this was goodbye.


<=>


<My gosh…>

It was all Professor could do to vocalize sadly.

Theo slowly stood from his seat and began pacing around the room as he continued his story.

"I didn’t understand what she meant at the time, but now I know. This island really is a paradise for vampires."

<So why?>

"But for those who’ve begun to hate vampires… This island is a dreadfully addictive poison."

<Doctor…>

"But I didn’t know any of that. That was why… that was why I tried to become a vampire."


<=>


The past.


It was about two weeks later that he truly felt the sense of loss.

Though he came to the island like before, she was not there.

He wandered the island, just like he did when he first searched for her.

But instead of the hope he held before, he was now torn with fear and despair.

What really captivated him was not her smile, but the melancholy expression she wore for him at the very end.

Why was such a beautiful girl making such a sad face?

He wandered the streets. But he did not find her.

He could not find an answer.

Each time he came back to the island, he repeated the same actions again and again. But he could not find a single vampire, let alone the girl he loved.

Perhaps she was just a fantasy—a dream he made up, he nearly began to think.

But to acknowledge that vampires did not exist meant rejecting the girl’s words—rejecting his past with her.

The boy was still too young to understand, but he was certain that he must not disbelieve.


Half a year passed.

The boy finally found the clue he was seeking.

It was getting dark, and shadows were creeping along the ground. A flock of bats were flying across the sky.

There was something strange about the bats. But thinking that perhaps the girl had returned, the boy desperately followed after them, calling her name.

Soon, he spotted the bats flying into a back alley. When he followed them there, they were already gone.

Instead, he found a man.

He had long blond hair and a long violet coat. The man with the strange air around him had sharp features, and there was something supernatural in the way he carried himself.

‘He’s a vampire!

‘He’s just like Big Sis!’

Unable to hide his excitement, Theo approached the man without an ounce of caution.

The man looked at him dubiously.

"Who are you, child? You don’t seem to be merely a boy fascinated with bats."

"Oh… uh… my name is Theodosius Waldstein."

Theo gave the man his name. The man’s temple twitched.

"’Waldstein’, you say?"

"Oh, umm… I’m looking for a girl. A vampire…! I was wondering if you knew anything…" The boy stammered.

"I see… Tell me more."

The vampire paused for a moment, then stopped and asked for an explanation.

Once Theo told him everything, the man’s sharp eyes narrowed into a smile. He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder and offered him advice.

"Of course. The girl must have been afraid of losing you."

"…?"

"If that girl was originally human, her body must have stopped aging when she was turned. Then, though she loved you like family, you would one day die before her—and she would realize that she is different from you humans. She must have been unable to bear that realization. At the same time, she did not have the courage to turn you into a vampire."

The vampire in the violet coat chuckled, taking a seat on a nearby box. For some time, Theo listened to the man talk about vampires. But being so young, he could not understand everything the man was saying.

But the one thing he understood for certain,

Was the fact that the girl would never return to Growerth again.

The more the realization resonated in him, the more his body was encased with fear.

It was the sensation of something viscous trembling in the back of his head.

A terrifying feeling, like reality disappearing from before his very eyes.

In his memories, the girl’s face grew more and more distorted. And though he thought he should not forget, her image became less and less distinct over time.

‘Who is this?

‘Did Big Sis really look like that?

‘No, she was a little more, uh… umm…’

The more clearly he tried to remember, the more his thoughts turned to mud as his memories of her sank into the depths.

There was a noise ringing through his head.

Was it the sound of her screams, or was it the sound of his own moaning?

Theo fell back, leaning against the wall with cold sweat covering his body.

The vampire in the violet coat smiled quietly, silently mocking him.

"Worry not. I have an idea." He said.

His words would go on to change both their fates forever.

"You must take hold of eternity as well. To wander in search of her forever…"


<=>


"After that… My memory is in pieces. I don’t even remember how I left the house that day. My parents… are probably still alive, but I can’t go to see them now. Gerhardt made me write to them once, but… I can’t go meet them in person."

<…>

Professor wanted to say something, but she forced herself to listen in silence. She knew that Doctor had already thought of everything she wanted to tell him.

"All I know is that… after Melhilm turned me, I took in the blood of so many other vampires. At this point, I don’t even know who I am, and who I’m not. It’s like my entire heart was taken away by someone. I became a mindless mass murderer, not even a vampire. …No. I guess… there was something like that in me all along."


<=>


The past.


How much time had passed since? Theodosius, the ignorant human boy, had become a vampire in the body of a child.

He spent his days being infused with the blood and cells of all kinds of vampires, all in the name of experimentation. But until his wounds healed themselves, each and every test left him in excruciating agony.

He was made to absorb the flesh and blood of countless vampires so he could be made into a powerful vampire himself.

Melhilm never forced him into the experiments. But Theo volunteered himself anyway, driven to become a proper vampire and meet the girl again.

But his earnest dreams produced no results.

It was a miracle if he could transform even parts of his body into fog or bats. He was nearly incapable of subjugating or turning humans. Essentially, he was a vampire in name only—and considering his weaknesses as a vampire, he was below even humans.


"In the end, you came to become nothing." Said the man who turned him. But Theo did not react.

"Go where you will. You may be a failure, but your body is stable, and you will likely greatly outlive humans. Though I suppose that is the only advantage you have… but in any case, be well."

‘I’m going to be abandoned.’

Though his sense of self was on the verge of collapse, he still retained enough sanity to understand what was happening to him.

"…"

With the last dregs of his rationality, the boy muttered the name of the girl who had pulled him into the world of vampires.

Melhilm stopped. There was a look of disgust on his face.

"Yes… I did look into her. Another officer told me that he located her."

But his disgust seemed to be directed at neither Theo nor the girl.

It was meant for ‘something’ that was not present there.

"I do not know the details, but… I was told that she was killed by humans."


"———————"

At that moment, everything came to a standstill. Melhilm must have noticed Theo’s shock, for he stopped walking away.

"We Organization members are not the ones you should be blaming. The girl died before you and I even met."

However, the boy did not even react.

The light in his eyes faded. His gaze missed the reality before him.

‘Poor thing.’

Determining that Theo had been completely broken, Melhilm wondered if he should kill him on the spot to end his misery. But in the end, he decided against it.

"…I don’t know if you can still hear me. But if you ever come to your senses, return to the island of Growerth. Someone there will be able to save you."


Melhilm’s words did indeed reach the boy.

But it would be a very long time before the boy understood and accepted them.

At this moment, there was nothing going through his mind but the echoes of despair.

‘Abandoned.

‘Abandoned.

‘I’ve been abandoned. By something.

‘I’ve been abandoned. By me.

‘I abandoned. I abandoned everything.

‘That was why. You were abandoned.’

Over the course of the experiments, countless ‘somethings’ had been infused into his being.

They trembled and swayed together, becoming a great wave that violently shook his heart.

‘Just as you abandoned humanity, you have been abandoned.

‘Don’t leave me.

‘You have been abandoned by everything. It is all over now. Over now. Goodbye. Goodbye.

‘Don’t leave me.

‘Goodbye. Fare you well. I hope you one day bloom beautifully in a sunlit park.’

Even the ‘somethings’ slowly began to crumble, ringing hollow and meaningless in the boy’s mind, leaving him in confusion and despair.

‘You! Have been abandoned. You’ve been abandoned. I don’t want a meaningless life.

‘I don’t! I don’t! I don’t!

‘Goodbye. Goodbye. You have been chosen, but the sky is blue. Take out your handkerchief and do some embroidery with that pool of blood. So that you will not become garbage.’

One jumble of meaningless utterances after another.

But the very sound of those voices tore the boy’s heart apart, whittling down his sense of self into a minuscule scrap of being.

‘Don’t leave me! I’m not a failure!

‘I’m a vampire. Just like Big Sis!

‘So, so, so, I’m not going to give her to you. Not to humans, not to the world, never, ever ever!

‘So, so? So! So? So so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so…


‘Goodbye.’


The last of the voices he heard reminded him of the girl.

But at that point, the consciousness and existence of the boy named Theodosius came to an end. In his place was left a horribly broken ‘something’ that would one day come to be called a mass murderer.


That was the beginning of the tragedy.


<=>


"After that… it’s exactly as the rumors say."

<Doctor…>

"Maybe, back then, I didn’t even know what I hated and what I didn’t hate. I have almost no memories from that point onwards, but it’s not like I could say I was unaware of what was happening. That’s why… I have to be the subject of humans’ revenge, for all eternity. Even if this is just for self-satisfaction."

<But Doctor… you came back to your senses, didn’t you?>

Professor wanted to say that Doctor wouldn’t be here talking to her if that wasn’t the case. But Doctor just looked up at the ceiling and mumbled.

"If you were to ask me if I’m relieved that I came to my senses… I’d say I’m glad I didn’t create any more casualties. Although I would have preferred that I was killed while I was still insane, I don’t have the right to be that lucky—"

<But I’m so happy that you’re here with me, Doctor.>

"Thank you, Professor."

There was a shadow of a smile on Theo’s face. Professor made a sound like a sigh of relief.

"…But I’m still worried about Rudy and Theresia. Gerhardt told me that Theresia’s been subjugated by a vampire who’s not affiliated with the Organization. I’m still gathering information on that vampire now. I hate to admit it, but my information network doesn’t reach overseas."

<Ohh! So that’s why you were contacting so many vampires recently!> Professor said, finally understanding what Doctor had been doing. Seeing this, Doctor quietly stood and headed for the door.

<Doctor.>

"What is it? I’ve told you everything-"

<No, you haven’t. I still haven’t heard about Elsa… the person I used to be before I was born.>

"…"

Doctor was clearly avoiding the subject, but Professor had come to a resolution of sorts.


<Won’t you please tell me, Doctor? About Elsa, and how she lived alongside you?>


<=>


Southern Germany. On a balcony in the Mars family country house.


"Hey, I told you to wait! Why’re you running away?!"

Mihail’s chase was taking place on a balcony so large it was a veritable rooftop garden.

All around them were stone sculptures of video game characters. Upon closer inspection, they might have looked comically out of place. But at the moment, neither Mihail nor the young man he was running after had the time to spare observing the scenery.

"Agh… Uwaa…"

The young man was terrified.

But his voice was indeed familiar to Mihail.

He was the Eater who arrived on Growerth six months ago, on the first day of the festival.

The Eater in black armor who drove a stake through Ferret’s chest.

Mihail was justified in being unable to forgive the man who had hurt Ferret so.

‘But…’

What was he supposed to say, Mihail wondered. He could not think of the words.

Should he raise his voice and demand that the young man apologize to Ferret?

‘But maybe Ferret wouldn’t want that.’

Should he throw out every profanity he knew?

‘That doesn’t sound right, either.’

Should he tell him to never approach the island again?

‘I’d have to make him apologize to Ferret before that.’

Or should he offer forgiveness, as though nothing had happened?

‘I can’t do that. I’m not Ferret, so I don’t have the right to make decisions like that for her.’

If Ferret hadn’t come out of the attack in one piece, Mihail would have lashed out fist-first without a moment’s hesitation.

Or if the young man were to attack Ferret again, Mihail would have no qualms about swearing at him.

But Ferret was not here, and Mihail sensed no hostility from the young man. In fact, he looked more terrified at his presence than anything.

‘Hmm… what do I do?’

Mihail fell into thought, forgetting one important fact.

The young man had tried to kill him, and was responsible for leaving his right hand paralyzed.

This was why forgiveness was not an option for Mihail.

Not only had he forgotten that he had the right to forgive, he also thought that he had no right to offer forgiveness on behalf of Ferret.


<=>


In front of the dining hall.


"Truly an incredible young man, that Mihail. The most entertaining example of humanity." Doubs mumbled. Fannie looked up, wiping drool form his mouth.

"…Huh? Wh, what?"

Doubs sighed.

"Have you been enraptured by the photo of the girl all this time? That lolita complex of yours is positively criminal… Tsk tsk tsk. I was talking about the boy that was here with us until a moment ago."

"Oh, right. What about him?"

"I was saying that he was an excellently entertaining young man." Doubs smiled faintly, hiding his eyes under the brim of his hat. "Though he is capable of accepting and embracing everything around himself, he is at the same time unable to see himself. How could he? Other than his feelings for a certain young lady, of course, it’s almost frightful how little he values himself over others. That is precisely the reason why he so easily accepts us superhuman creatures."

"I don’t really get what you’re saying, but I don’t think Mihail’s a bad guy."

"Of course! To vampires, he could be an object of admiration or an unnecessary piece of trash. After all, he is capable of embracing and befriending anyone at all, whether human or vampire."

"That’s a good thing, then. If only he were five years younger and a girl…"

Fannie seemed to be wondering what it was about Mihail that could make him unnecessary. Doubs snickered.

"Because if you befriend him, it would be nothing short of effortless to stab him in the back."

"…You’re disgusting, Mr. Doubs."

"And to add, he discriminates too little. In many cases, good people like him who can befriend anyone are often suspected of hypocrisy. After all, the more blackhearted you are, the more likely you are to measure others by your own standards."

There was nothing particularly funny about his explanation, but Doubs cackled uncontrollably, slowly getting to his feet.

"To be blunt, Mihail currently stands in a precariously perilous position. He is a small, frail bridge standing between the worlds of humans and vampires. A single wisp of wind will whirl him away to oblivion."

Shaking the dust off his clothes and fixing up his hat, Doubs made a confession.

"Honestly, I’m very excited. If Mihail were to be constantly exposed to the dark side of vampires and humans, would he ultimately accept them as well, or reject them? Or will he show us a completely different possibility? My heart is pounding in anticipation. Isn’t yours?"

Fannie grimaced and glared.

"You’re sounding a lot like a villain, Mr. Doubs."

The man in the top hat shook his head dramatically, his iridescent clothing shifting colors in the light.

"Nay! I am simply satisfied with anything that gives me amusement. And for the sake of entertainment, I could easily become a villain, a saint, a hypocrite, a faux villain, a Messiah, a Devil, a neighbor, an observer, a mastermind, a victim, or even a traitor!" Doubs cried with gusto, gesticulating theatrically as he stepped into the dining hall.


"After all, that is why I am known as the Iridescent Extra!"


<=>


On a highway in Southern Germany.


At the end of Dorothy’s explanation, Ferret found herself beset by a complex emotion.

"I see… so that Eater is no longer capable of fighting properly…"

"That’s right. He survived because Garde subjugated the cells in his body, but at this point, it might be an exaggeration to say he’s fully alive. He can’t go back to the way he was before. Physically… and emotionally."


"…"

Rudy Wenders.

An Eater Ferret could never forget.

He was the man who mutilated her with stakes and left Mihail’s right hand paralyzed.

She could not forgive him.

Nothing could allow her to forgive him.

Doctor had told her about his past. She understood why the man had been consumed by revenge.

But understanding alone was not enough to halt the flood of emotions.

For some time after the incident, she could not stop worrying that she would end up killing him the next time they met.

But that worry was erased completely when she saw Mihail smiling on his hospital bed.

Of course, Mihail had also been angry at the Eater. But that was anger for the fact that Ferret was hurt. He was not angry about his own injuries—his near-brush with death and the paralysis of his hand.

"But still… I am worried."

Gently gripping the hem of her skirt, Ferret spoke with her head bowed.

"I think… Mihail will forgive even the man who tried to kill him. That utter absence of a sense of self-preservation, and his kindness… it concerns me so much that I do not understand what I must do!"

"But it’s because he’s that way that you fell for him, isn’t it?" Dorothy commented.

"Wh, wha…?!"

Ferret could not hide her shock. Dorothy continued, looking straight ahead.

"I’ve never met that boy named Mihail, but if Gerhardt is right about him, I’m sure he’ll become someone you can truly count on."

"…"

It was true.

Ferret had indeed been saved in countless ways by Mihail.

And setting that aside, she did not want to lose him. She could not.

It felt for a moment like her heart was screaming.

‘I miss him.’

She didn’t care about rules and propriety. She didn’t care about the specifics of the feelings she had for Mihail.

All Ferret knew was that the wall she had been constantly building up in her heart was being shaken violently.

‘I’ll see him soon… Then I’ll give him a proper smack… and then…

‘…And then…?’

Ferret remained silent. Dorothy spoke up gently.

"That’s why you should support Mihail, too. Don’t you agree?"

"…Me…? Support Mihail?"

"Of course. You see, it’s very dangerous to embrace everything, like Mihail does. Whether you’re a human or a vampire. People like him will accept everything without a thought—even if it’s poison, or something they just can’t handle. In the end, they end up breaking themselves."

Smiling, Dorothy then added:


"That’s why Gerhardt took on that form. …So that he wouldn’t end up broken."


<=>


Several minutes later, on the balcony.


"It’s okay. Calm down. I’m not gonna kill you, okay?"

"Agh… Ahhhh…"

He was like a child running from an abusive adult.

That was all the young man looked like.

Was he really the same Eater who fought in the suit of armor, Mihail wondered. But he held back his question and tried to speak to the young man.

The young man was probably older than him, but Mihail did not particularly feel like treating him as an adult. But then again, he did not particularly feel any hatred for him, either.

The young man still looked terrified. Mihail decided to make an attempt at conversation.

"Hey… Relic told me what happened. I understand why you hate Doctor so much, but why’d you attack Ferret?"

"…"

"…"

A heavy silence came upon them. The air felt murky.

But Mihail still waited for an answer.

He would have been satisfied with even just a hint of understanding.

But the young man only trembled, shaking his head.

He was mumbling something like a man possessed.

"?"

Mihail listened carefully. The young man was repeating himself in a fearful voice.

"No… they can’t…."

"What do you mean?" Mihail asked. The young man flinched and looked into his eyes.

"Humans and vampires… th, they can’t… sh, shouldn’t get along. It’s impossible."

It sounded like he was chastising himself, rather than answering Mihail’s question.

"Humans and vampires… getting along…? That’s impossible… It has to be! If not… wh, what about people who couldn’t…? What about people like me…?"

"…"

Perhaps he was not quite in his right mind. The young man was not talking to Mihail.

But knowing some of the story behind him, Mihail looked up at the starry sky, leaning against a pillar. He somehow understood what the young man was trying to say.

"You… what about you…? Tell me! Do you really think humans and vampires can get along? They’ve never betrayed you—they’ve never made you taste despair. So how could you blindly believe that things will work out for you?! How… how could you put your life on the line for that faith?!"

"…"

How was Mihail to respond?

Although his feelings for Ferret never wavered, he never thought of the greater relationships between the two species.

In that sense, the relationship between Doctor and this Eater was also a personal one that didn’t necessarily speak for other human-vampire relationships. But Mihail decided to take a moment to think.

But a moment’s thought could not possibly give him an answer.

‘I heard that the mayor’s half human and half vampire. I wonder what his parents were like?

‘Relic is my friend, and it feels like being a human or a vampire doesn’t really matter on Growerth.’

At that point, Mihail realized that the state of Growerth was itself what the young man so wanted to deny, and thought in a new direction.

He paused for a moment, his eyes shining. Then, Mihail broke out into self-deprecating laughter.

"Yeah… you might be right."

"What…?"

The young man looked up. Their eyes met. This time, it was Mihail’s turn to chastise himself.

"Maybe it’s true that humans and vampires aren’t meant to get along. Maybe it is impossible."

"…"

"But still… I still love Ferret. That’s all."

On the surface, Mihail’s confession seemed to have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

"You’ll be betrayed… You’ll lose everything, just like I did… everyone you love… murdered…"

"I won’t say that I’ll still be happy if that happens. If Ferret killed Hilda or my parents… I think I’d be real angry and sad. But… I can’t really explain, but… even if that’s what happens to me in the future, I still love Ferret. There’s nothing I can do about that."

It sounded almost like Mihail was bragging about his girlfriend. But there was something lonely about the way he explained things.

"Y’know. It’s too late. I’m already in love with her. There’s nothing I can do. There just isn’t."

He was almost angry that he could not explain why he so loved Ferret.

"’Cause I think it’s different, y’know. Me liking Ferret is completely different from understanding vampires."

"…"

The young man went silent for a moment.

Eventually, he realized that nothing would be enough to change Mihail’s mind. He sighed loudly and looked at Mihail with both sympathy and envy.

"…This is the only chance you have. Once you lose someone dear to you, you’ll—"

"Oh, there you are. What were you and Rudy talking about? Anyway, I’m glad no one drew blood or anything." Fannie called from the manor entrance, cutting the conversation short.

"Mihail. Mr. Doubs says you have to get ready now. It’s almost time for your job."

"Really? …Hey, Rudy? We’ll talk more later."

Not knowing a thing about the job he was assigned, Mihail tried to leave the balcony as quickly as he could.

But at that point, Fannie also called out to Rudy.

"And Rudy."

"Ah…"

"You have to come along, too. And I’ll be going with you, so let’s try and get along."

"Wha…" Rudy breathed, taking to his feet.

Mihail didn’t seem to mind either way, but he suddenly remembered something and whispered to Fannie.

"Hey, so what’s my job s’pposed to be, anyway? I thought I was supposed to help hand out documents at the conference or something, but they already got that started."

It was a natural question to ask.

But it was, perhaps, much too belated a question.

If Ferret were there to hear, she would have scolded him for not asking for such important information before accepting the job. But Fannie didn’t seem to hold such concerns.

"Oh. Guess they didn’t tell you. Actually, I just raised my hand to volunteer a little while ago. We’re going to protect a girl in this city to the east. We need the two of you to help out."


<=>


At the same time, the dining hall.


“Ladies! Gentlemen! Doggie bones! Ah, my lofty yet insolent friends! I am greatly grateful that you joined us here from lands both near and distant! I welcome you here from the bottom of my heart, so I ask that you extend the same warmth to me!”

Half the members greeted the dramatic, iridescent man with cheers and applause, but the other half frowned visibly.

[Tsk, tsk. You are late, Doubs. …Actually, I have been meaning to ask you. I received an email from Growerth and was wondering if you’d brought along a guest.]

“Hah hah hah! Let us save that discussion for later, Viscount Waldstein.” Doubs said affably. He walked up to the middle of the dining hall and looked around himself.

Filling the hall were vampires of every sort, from the humanoid to the veritably unearthly. With the gazes of countless creatures of power on his person, Doubs trembled in ecstasy as he began his speech.

“Now, I have been keeping a keen ear on the proceedings from outside. And setting aside the specifics of the incident, it seems that you haven’t yet found out a thing about the hidden side of the case.”

A man in a violet coat—Melhilm Herzog—frowned at Doubs’ roundabout introduction.

“You act as though you already know everything there is to understand about this incident.”

“Well, yes.”

Doubs answered with surprising promptness. The dining hall was quickly filled with the sound of murmurs.

Reveling in the voices directed towards him, the Iridescent Extra snapped his fingers together and called for a certain officer.

“QAWSED(1)? The files, please.”

<Got it.>

A metallic voice was projected from every single laptop in the room.

But the owner of the voice was nowhere to be found. He only showed himself through voice.

<But it’s not like we’ve got a lotta time on our hands, yanno? I heard her house caught fire just yesterday.>

The being called QAWSED was the officer with the moniker ‘Hackey Mouse’. He spoke directly to the attendees through their computers.

<And the enemy’s started movin’, too. We’re gonna have trouble if they don’t get outta there soon.>

“What do you mean, ‘enemy’?” “Who’s that?” “What are you saying, Hackey Mouse?”

The officers looked around at one another in confusion. Doubs shook his head with a sigh.

“My goodness. This doesn’t seem to be the best time for a laid-back chat.”

Putting on a suspiciously malicious grin on his face, he began to reveal the secrets of the incident.

“Allow me to make this clear from the outset. Vampires were indeed involved in this incident.”

Striking a strange pose with his arms, Doubs lost himself in narcissism and trembled in excitement.


“…What do you think, everyone? Whatever the truth may be, don’t you think it will at least be an interesting way to pass the time?”


<=>


Several hours later. On the Mars family country house property.


Dorothy’s car had already passed through the front gates and entered the grounds.

“The conference must be underway already, or it might have finished; in that case, everyone should be exchanging greetings and taking some time to relax together.”

“Relaxing together…?”

It was not particularly an phrase Ferret could connect with her image of the Organization. She wondered if ‘relaxing together’ was a code of some sort for a more sinister activity.

But remembering her own father, Ferret changed her mind and told herself that the phrase probably did not have any hidden meanings.

“Is… is Father all right?”

“Yes. He’s a trustworthy man, after all. Even vampires like Mirald the Mirror or Garde the Black defer to Gerhardt.”

“But I was told that Father once betrayed the Organization.”

“He didn’t betray us. It was just that the island was more important to him. And… we just had to go our separate ways. The only one here who’s honestly hostile to Gerhardt is probably Caldimir.”

Although Ferret did not know much about Caldimir, she remembered hearing the name from Gerhardt on occasion.

But what kind of an organization was this that gave a deserter his membership back so easily?

Until now, Ferret had assumed that the Organization existed for some dark purposes. But after a long talk with Dorothy, one of its members, she found herself realizing just how far she had gone off the mark.

But on the other hand, the Organization was indeed responsible for everything involving her and Relic, Doctor’s tragedy, and the armored Eater and his partner.

Not knowing what to believe in anymore, Ferret made up her mind to judge for herself through the things she saw with her own two eyes.

Of course, considering that the Organization had made an attempt on her brother in the past, she could not let her guard down.

Being as cautious as possible, Ferret continued to speak with Dorothy.

“…Why… did you decide to create the Organization in the first place…?”

Dorothy’s smile darkened for a moment. She remained quiet for a few seconds, before finally opening her mouth to speak.

“That’s right… I left you hanging just earlier, didn’t I? Yes. I was the one who suggested the idea to Gerhardt. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t like him very much. He was striving to achieve co-existence with humans. I thought he was a despicable hypocrite.”

“…”

There was no anger in her voice as she recounted her memories with Gerhardt. Ferret knew clearly from her long drive with Dorothy that her love for Gerhardt was true.

“…But the fundamentals of the Organization haven’t changed since those days.”


<=>


Centuries earlier. Somewhere in Northern Europe.


“An alliance?”

The sound of a young man’s voice echoed on the lakeshore that evening.

The stars were shining brightly tonight, but the hut on the shore was veiled in snow.

One of the many figures gathered inside, a Russian man, pushed up his round glasses and shook his head.

“And here I was, wondering just what incredible scheme you were going to suggest. Go back to Gerhardt and tell him this, Dorothy Nifas. What reason do we have to create an alliance if we have no goals in common?” The man snorted.

Others cut into the conversation, chiding the man.

“We should listen to this proposal to the end, Caldimir.”

“Yeah. If you don’t hear people out properly, you’ll miss out when they talk behind your back, Mr. Caldimir.”

The two who spoke up were an unusual duo, likely a pair of twins.

There were five or six other vampires with them in the hut. They were leaning against the walls or sitting in chairs as they lent their ears to Dorothy.

Dorothy, supposedly here on Gerhardt’s behalf, explained in a mechanical, ice-cold tone.

“I don’t mean to imply that we need a common purpose. We vampires, though much more powerful than humans, are being persecuted by these weaker beings because we cannot use our abilities effectively. Let me remind you that vampires who do not belong to Clans are being wiped out without even a show of resistance.”

“Hmph. Weaklings’ excuses. Gerhardt is a man who thinks only of foolish ideas like living side-by-side with humans. His purposes will never align with ours. …Damn it. This was a waste of time.”

Caldimir, who from the start had no intention of agreeing, turned away and walked off to the snowy lakeshore.

Instead of trying to stop him, Dorothy turned to the other vampires.

“Do you all agree?”

The others looked around at one another, uncertain. But two of them spoke up, at least on their own behalves.

“…We are indebted to Sir Gerhardt. Though we agree that his ideals are naive, we don’t think his opinions should be ignored so simply.”

“Mr. Gerhardt’s the one who saved us when we were brats about to be killed by humans. I don’t like humans a lot, but I like the clothes and pictures they make. And if you think about it, some vampires eat humans, too. This isn’t exactly a one-sided witch hunt.”

“…Of course. This is precisely why Gerhardt wants to create an organization that acts as an information network and a venue for communication. His goal is nothing so grand as creating a new country.” Dorothy clarified, and looked up at the vampires.

She spoke clearly and beautifully, though her voice was tinged with ice.

“…It is of utmost importance that we gather numbers in order to create as large a network of information as possible. In other words… I would like to ask every vampire here to go to as many places as they can. Contact every vampire with whom we can communicate… of course, with the exception of the Clans.”


As the conversation in the hut continued, Caldimir was about a hundred meters away, still walking.

He took in the sights around the lake for a moment, but grew sick of it. He was just about to transform into a flock of bats.

“Wait, Caldimir.”

A snow-white bat flew over and stopped him, speaking in human tongue.

“…What do you want, Dorothy Nifas? You are not going to change my mind at this point.”

“No. Right now, I am speaking to you not on Gerhardt’s behalf, but my own.”

“…What?”

The bat clung onto Caldimir’s shoulder and whispered into his ear.

“You also want revenge, don’t you? Against the Clans who rejected you.”

“…”

Caldimir stopped.

“…How much do you know.”

“A little bird told me, Caldimir. Now, to make myself clear, I despise humans. Gerhardt’s position nauseates me.”

“That’s funny. I thought you and Gerhardt were lovers.”

Caldimir was suspicious. But the bat that spoke for Dorothy continued to whisper with ice in her voice.

“I only wish to use his position as the adopted son of a human noble. To penetrate human society with the power of vampires. That is all.”

“…”

“Your goals are different, yes. You wish to humiliate the Clans, who exercise power even over humans. But for that, you need power yourself.”

The white bat hissed in a bid for conspiracy.

“In other words… all you need to do is follow my lead to use Gerhardt’s position and his little organization. Am I wrong, Caldimir?”

Caldimir stood for some time without saying a word. But his lips eventually twisted into a grin as he turned around and headed back to the hut.

“…You’re a filthy whore, Dorothy Nifas. Selling your body to Gerhardt for something like that?” He sneered. The bat replied in a bone-chilling tone.


“I do not recall selling even my heart to that naive child.”


<=>


“I was young back then. I didn’t even realize that I was a child, just like Gerhardt.”

Dorothy revealed even the darkest pieces of her past to Ferret.

Ferret had no idea how to respond. She sat there in silence.

Dorothy was smiling as she told her story, but Ferret could not see it as a laughing matter.

This was even worse than her initial suspicions of Dorothy being after the family’s wealth. But after some thought, Ferret looked at Dorothy.

“But now… you are different, no?”

“Hm?”

“To use your own words… You have sold even your heart to Father.”

Dorothy averted her gaze and smiled shyly.

“I suppose you’re right. Of course, I never imagined at the time that I would really come to love Gerhardt.”

“What happened to change your mind?”

“Well… Oh my.”

Dorothy stopped before she could begin, looking around and stopping the car.

“I’m sorry. Could we finish this conversation later?”

“What is it? …Oh.”

Ferret looked up. The doors of the country house were already right in front of them, and there were a group of people—likely vampires—crowded around the entrance.

“It’s a very long story, and… well, it would be embarrassing to talk about it in front of Gerhardt.”

With that, Dorothy backed the car into a parking space.

Ferret could not hide her awe at this manor, vast like Waldstein Castle but so different from her home. This was the kind of residence she imagined for the noblemen and vampires she tried to imitate.

“Let’s get to Gerhardt, first. Mihail should be with him.”

“Oh. Yes…”

Ferret nodded and stepped off the car.

‘What do I do?’

She would see Mihail soon. As the fact sunk in, she realized that her heart was pounding.

The first thing she would do was beat him to a pulp.

Her conversation with Dorothy had cooled her down greatly. Ferret began to think, remembering why she had gone to Mihail’s house in the first place.

‘That doesn’t matter anymore. When I see him, I’ll tell him how I really feel.’

Although she put on a mask of utter calm, inside she was lost in confusion and resigned to her fate.

If she met him now, she might burst into tears.

She could tell what would happen. But Ferret steeled herself and stepped forward.

“What?!”

At that moment, Dorothy, who had gone to the door first and spoken to the vampires there, cried out in surprise.

“Doubs, that troublemaker… Ohh…”

Dorothy sighed with a hand on her forehead. Ferret came up to her.

“Um… is something the matter?”

“Well… I’m sorry, Ferret. I think we must have just missed him.”

“?”

“Get in.”

Dorothy called Ferret to the car before even explaining what had happened. She looked at her future daughter with a mix of anxiety and resignation, and mumbled apologetically.


“It’s about Mihail. …I think he might be in a bit of danger.”


-----


Chapter 5.


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(1) Pronounced as "keyboard".


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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the chapter, mate. A nice start for the new year.

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  2. thanks for another great chapter

    ReplyDelete
  3. "But Instead of the hope he held before,"

    ... Is the only mistake I found. The capitalization on "instead".

    Thanks a bunch for the translation, I can't wait for more.

    ReplyDelete