Saturday, 1 March 2014

Vamp! V - Chapter 2

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

One of several long chapters that make up this volume of Vamp!. Enjoy.

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Chapter 2: The Clan Member Doth Devastate


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[Night is near.

That girl was only the beginning.

This island will soon return to its rightful state.]


When this short message reached the media, the police, and City Hall, people laughed it off as a prank from someone who had read about the murder in the newspaper.

But when the second body was found, and another message was delivered, pointing to the location of the third body, it was determined that the mysterious letters were from the killer or an accomplice.

There were no new missing persons reported since, but the island trembled at the thought of the culprit, who still ran loose among the people.


And it was to worsen that trembling that a certain group remained on the island.


<=>


Somewhere on the island.


“What’re we going to do now, Juna?” Asked the sound recordist.

“Obviously, we’re going to keep chasing leads.” Replied Juna Riebeluka, the reporter from ZZZ Network. There was no hint of hesitation in her tone.

“We can’t let the incident at the square just pass us by. A girl who was turning into a werewolf was taken away by another girl. That’s normally the stuff of urban legends, but this time it’s different. The sheer quality of information we uncovered is incredible. We also can’t ignore the number of witnesses.”

Juna was not just a reporter, but the field leader of the ZZZ Network crew. From her relative youth, it was likely that she was backed up by a great deal of talent. In fact, this particular story was not assigned to her—Juna’s great interest in the case was what brought the crew to the island.

“You came to this island for your first story, eh, Juna?” One of the crew members commented. Juna nodded as she flipped through some documents.

“Yes. Although it’s been over five years now. It was for a Halloween special—‘Do Werewolves Really Exist?’. Back then, I was just a newbie. And I was angry that they made me cover such an idiotic story.”

She looked up, her gaze piercing the evening streets.

“…That’s when I was involved in an unusual incident.”

The revelation she held back seemed to be unrelated to the case they were pursuing now, but none of the crew members pointed that out.

“Now that I’ve built up some experience, I can tell. There’s something on this island. And this is just a gut feeling, but that mayor knows something.”

Though she could not be certain, Juna trusted the instincts she had honed over the years.

With a confident smile, she turned to the cameraman.

“Guard that camera with your life. If there really is something on this island, someone might try to get in the way or steal our footage.”

As the crew members exchanged curious glances, Juna declared:

“This might be a dangerous story to cover. But I think there’s something worth that risk, hidden in the dark side of the island. And think about it this way… our story could change the very way the world thinks. Doesn’t that get you excited?”


<=>


The skies over Growerth.


Relic had left the throne room to go see Hilda.

But at the moment, he was lingering next to Waldstein Castle.

He was not hesitant about going to see his girlfriend. Relic was just about to dive into the sky over the city, but the moment he turned his body into a flock of bats, his keen sense of hearing picked up something. The sound of wingbeats, discrete from his own.

“…?”

He looked up at the source of the sound. Some of the stars had been blotted out of the sky.

To be more accurate, part of his vision was obscured by patches of black even darker than the night sky.

A flock of bats, little different from himself, was flying very high above him. This second flock was headed straight towards the castle, just passing Relic by.

‘I wonder who that is.’

He could tell at a glance that the flock was not a natural one. The wingbeats of the bats were synchronized with military precision, and the flock was flying in a perfectly cubical formation towards the castle.

‘What kind of formation is that?

‘I wonder if that’s what’s popular with the vampires on the mainland.

‘But it’s definitely not someone from Growerth.’

Thanks to the darkness of night, the sight would go unnoticed to the eyes of the humans on the ground.

There was a gigantic black cube flying through the night sky.

Humans would probably describe it as an UFO, but the cube was, in reality, something much more horrifying.

Not even a vampire like Relic had seen one of his own kind fly in such a formation.

The moment they passed one another by, he got the feeling that the bats overhead had simultaneously shot him a look.

Was it just his imagination? Relic could swear that it was an icy look of utter condescension.

Relic flew in circles for a moment, wondering about the flock of bats.

It was heading towards the castle after all, slowly descending towards the garden.

If the flock really was a visitor, then perhaps it would be rude to leave the castle as its Lord, perfunctory though his role was.

And what if this visitor was here with malicious intent, like during the Carnale Festival?

Or if the guest was a friend of his father, who meant only goodwill?

He pondered the possibilities, circled over the city once more, and sighed to himself as he returned to the castle.


<=>


Waldstein Castle gardens.


Waldstein Castle was the foremost tourist destination on the island of Growerth.

Though it was supposedly still dwarfed by Neuschwanstein Castle, it was still an important historical and cultural artifact as well as a cornerstone of the island’s tourism industry.

The castle’s great gardens were open to the public during the day. Being in the mountains, it was not a particularly large garden, but there were countless points of interest contained within—like sculptures by Carnald Strassburg, hedges cut into mazes, and a fountain flowing with water from a lake near the mountaintop, with a canal connecting the two.

However, the gardens closed before sunset. There were no people, let alone tourists. And without a lively crowd to populate it, even a tourist destination was no different from a shady mountain path. With the exception of events like the Carnale Festival and Halloween, Waldstein Castle denied humans entry at night.

And as though in exchange, residents of the Night began to roam the gardens.

Under the veil of darkness here in Waldstein Castle—

The symbol of the hidden side of the island—vampires.


“Say, y’think maybe we need some sort of a charm point?”


Vampires who were currently involved in a discussion very far removed from the monstrous darkness of the Night.


“Where’d that come from?” “You got sunlight in your brain?” “What’s this about a charm point?” “What are charm points exactly?” “It’s those moe things Japanese people talk about.” “Like Japanese shaman girls.” “Or cop ladies.” “Little sisters.” “Big sisters.” “Glasses.” “Ninjas.” “Mount Fuji.” “Geisha.” “Wasabi!”

“Say, I’ver never eaten sushi before. Is it any good?”

“Better ask Mage sometime.”

One vampire’s question led to countless laid-back answers.

They were freeloading vampires who lived in Waldstein Castle. Originally subordinates of Watt, they came to turn against him after a certain incident. Now they spent their days lazing about in Waldstein Castle and its underground.

Free of anything that might lend them an air of gravity, the first of the freeloaders spoke up again.

“Idiots! I’m being serious here! There’s gotta be a reason we’ve been neither here nor there all this time.”

“Oh! You finally noticed?”

“And what’s this about a ‘we’? You sayin’ we’re neither here nor there, and not just you?”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“Go snort holy water through your nose and spit it out through your eyes.” “Swallow a crucifix and pull it back out.”

The answers were all rather petty for a group of supposed ‘Residents of the Night’. The first of the freeloaders sighed loudly.

“Guys. This is why they never stop calling us freeloaders. Look at Pirie and Mage. They’re getting all friendly with the bigwigs here and actually getting places. And look at us. Why’re we always in the background?”

“Stop it, man. Now I’m feeling all sad.”

“What do Pirie and Mage have that we don’t? That’s right—a charm point! Pirie’s a clown—that’s eye-catching enough. And once you talk to her, you find out that she’s surprisingly normal for someone who looks like that and get even more attached to her. And Mage doesn’t look like anyone special, but he’s an ass-kisser, and a good one at that. And he’s got that stage magic. Remember how much the guys in this castle hate boredom? That’s right. His magic is super effective against ‘em.”

“Aha. So you’re saying we need a charm point of our own.”

“Damn that Mage. Shrewder than a fox.”

“I bet he’s laughing behind our backs even now.”

As the vampires complained, the one female vampire among them spoke up.

“Wait. Mr. Mamiya isn’t that bad of a person.”

‘Mage’ was the nickname of the vampire whose surname was ‘Mamiya’. He was also a former subordinate of Watt, and a new resident of Waldstien Castle, just like the other freeloaders. Even before being turned, Mage was a gifted brown-noser to the strong and a condescending poseur to the weak. He was the opposite of Watt, in a sense. And as the female vampire defended him, her friends all whistled.

“You’re being pretty defensive.”

“So it’s true you have a thing for the guy?”

“I thought something was up when I saw you stickin’ with him at the fighting tournament.”

The vampires began hooting at their friend’s love life. The female vampire denied their accusations, baring her fangs.

“N, no way! What are you, twelve?! You should take after Mr. Mamiya more and grow up!”

“In other words, you took off after Mage and climbed the stairway to maturity.”

“Just like Cinderella.”

“Our times as humans have stopped, which means that midnight will never arrive… In other words, Cinderella can dance with the prince forever. …That sounded pretty cool, eh?”

“What?”

“Damn that Mage. Shrewder than a fox.”

The other freeloaders were probably only teasing Mage.

Though nothing was accomplished, there was peace.

It was just another evening at Waldstein Castle.


But an icy voice filled the garden, denying the warmth in the air.


“I am disappointed.”


“Wha…?!” “Who’s there?”

The vampires turned their gazes upward at the voice from the sky.

Floating above them was a large flock of bats flying in a perfectly cubical formation. It grew smaller and smaller as it descended into the center of the garden.

Soon, the bats began to merge, one into another, as they slowly took on human form. By the time they were on the ground, they had taken the shape of a girl. Obviously, she was a vampire. If not, perhaps a bat-human or a shapeshifter who had evolved onto a higher level.

As the freeloaders looked around at one another, the girl looked at them and approached without a sound.

She was wearing a black dress, but unlike the kind worn by Relic’s sister Ferret, it was of a flashy, revealing design. The girl’s skin was abnormally pale, a striking contrast to the color of the dress.

The black leather straps around her exposed arms and legs made her look rather difficult to approach.

But the most eye-catching part of her appearance was the fact that her eyes were covered with a blindfold that matched her dress.

“Who’s the gothic lolita?”

Though the girl’s sense of fashion was unusual, the vampires were used to seeing even more outlandish characters.

“Don’t you need more frills to count as a gothic lolita?” “Frills don’t make the goth-loli, you know.” “What’s a gothic lolita?” “It’s a Japanese fashion subculture based on Rococo-style aristocracy.”

“Wow… Actually, I’ve always been wondering—how do you guys know so much about Japan?”

“Anyway, who is that? From the costume, she kind of looks like a friend of the clown or something.”

“Or maybe she’s another Organization officer? Just like how Mr. Iridescent came over a while ago.”

“Speaking of, I wonder if Milhail’s all right.” “Mr. Gerhardt and Miss Ferret are there, so I’m sure he’s fine.” “Are you worrying over Mihail now?”

“Are you cheating?” “I’m gonna tell Mage.” “You’re all so immature…”

As the conversation returned to its twisted rails,

“Might I ask that you stop ignoring me at once?”

Although she was not raising her voice, there was clearly a hint of annoyance in her tone.

It was impossible to determine through looks alone the true age of a vampire. But the girl had the appearance of a sixteen-year-old.

Her dark hair cascaded in the wind as she looked upon all with condescension.

“Waldstein Castle, known as the vampire’s paradise. I had wondered just what sort of vampires inhabited this place. But to think they would be an uncultured rabble, little different from those lowly humans. I fear I have overestimated this castle’s renown. I am truly disappointed.”

The freeloaders’ eyes turned to dinner plates at the insult as they quickly huddled together.

“Hey. We just disappointed someone we met for the first time.”

“How?” “Maybe ‘cause you look hideous.” “Asshole.”

“Maybe she thought this castle’d be full of attractive people like Christopher Lee.”

“Or maybe she was expecting Interview With a Vampire.”

“It’s true that a lot of vampires are really good-looking.”

“That’s because a lot of vampires are creeps who only turn good-looking humans.”

“But then again, we’ve got meatbags like you around.”

“You’re an idiot, you know that? I’ll have you know that I was the biggest heartbreaker in Japan a thousand years ago!”

“Being pudgy was the standard of beauty in ancient Japan only because fat was linked with having food to eat. It’s not quite the same as assuming that they found pudgy people attractive.”

“That’s our professor of Japanology for you.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Didn’t you just get turned five years ago?”

After a round of whispers, one of the vampires turned to the newcomer.

“Well, uh… sorry to disappoint you, Missy. Try to cheer up.”

“…?”

The girl frowned under her blindfold, not knowing why the vampires of this castle were looking at her with pity.

The freeloaders nodded sympathetically.

“Can’t believe anyone would overestimate this castle. How’re you going to survive in the real world?”

“Be careful, or you might end up getting defrauded.”

“You hear about stuff like that all the time, ya know? A human comes up to you, acting all nice, but he turns out to be a Hunter. It’s too late to say ‘I overestimated you’ when you’ve got a stake through your heart.”

“What we’re trying to say is… don’t give up, ya hear?”

The newcomer ground her teeth.

“Silence, you plebeian commoners! I require no pity from inferior beings like you!” She cried, immediately withdrawing all hints of civility from her tone. The freeloaders shrank back.

“Scary!” “In a different way from Watt.” “She’s even more overbearing than Ferret.” “I think I came a little.”

“Sicko.” “Sicko.” “Sicko.” “Sicko.”

The freeloaders whispered amongst themselves, but the newcomer’s ears did not fail to pick up on their voices.

“Y, you peasants… If Master Dimguil had not forbidden me, I would have annihilated you where you stood!”

“Chill out, Missy. You’re face is getting all wrinkled.”

“And who’s Dimguil?” “Sounds kinda familiar.” “Why’re you wearing a blindfold, anyway?” “Did you get hurt somewhere?”

The girl’s rage neared the breaking point. But she managed to rein back her anger.

“Is it not obvious? There are far too many things in the world not fit to be seen by one’s eyes. Lowly humans, lowly plebeian vampires, lowly werewolves, lowly cities, lowly countrysides, lowly air, and lowly sunlight. I have sealed away my eyes that they may look upon only the things borne of our Clan’s bloodline.”

“…” “…” “…” “…” “…” “…”

The freeloaders exchanged dubious glances.

Though the girl was talking like an actress straight out of theater, her honesty was as clear as day. She sounded like a cultist who was convinced she was doing the right thing. The freeloaders felt a different sort of pressure now.

“If she can’t see us, it means we’ve got nothing to do with her being disappointed, right?” “I got called fat for nothing. Thanks a lot.”

“Anyway, what do we do?” “What do you mean?” “This girl is really scary.”

Though the vampires felt sincerely sorry for the girl, they could not ignore her pride. They quietly began to debate their next course of action.

“Weren’t there people like her in the Organization?”

“The Steel Blue Steel Monster. Or Okuichimonji.”

“Mr. Melhilm and Mr. Caldimir are kind of like that, too. Wonder if they’re on the same level as her.”

“Or wait. Maybe she’s just cosplaying and getting really into character.”

“That’s it!” “That sounds about right.” “Anyway, now what?” “Let’s try and get the story straight.”

This time, the conversation was truly quiet enough to pass by the girl’s ears unnoticed. A human being could not pick up their voices from even ten centimeters away.

“What is the matter? Have you finally realized your own lowliness? My name is Pamela D. Rosskleim. The eternal maid and servant of Master Dimguil, one of the cornerstones of our exalted Clan. Though I am but a humble attendant, keep in mind that you rabble are of a different class altogether.”

The girl proudly rubbed salt in the freeloaders’ wounds. They put on stiffened grins.

“Wow. That’s amazing. Plain folks like us couldn’t even compete.”

“Even your clothes radiate class!”

The sarcasm flew over the girl’s head as she snorted proudly.

“So now you finally understand. By Sunfold tradition, lowly vampires like you would ordinarily be annihilated. But Master Dimguil, in his infinite mercy, will gladly allow your sustained existence so long as you remain quietly out of my sight.”

“!”

One of the freeloaders finally reacted.

‘Wait. Wait. Sunfold?

‘That’s the bullheaded Clan that’s hostile to the Organization!’

At that point, the freeloader realized that nothing about Pamela was an act, a joke, or a mistake—she was being dead serious.

It was not difficult to imagine such an extremist being from the Sunfold Clan, renowned for their pride.

‘So why the hell is someone from one of those Clans on Growerth?

‘Wait. That Dimguil guy she just talked about…’

As alarm bells went off in the vampire’s head, Pamela continued to pontificate condescendingly. All of a sudden, a cell phone began to vibrate.

“…Excuse me.”

She unclipped her cell phone from her belt and turned her back on the freeloaders.

She then slowly pulled back her blindfold and looked down at the screen with her own two eyes.

She was looking at a texting application, upon which she was communicating with someone.

“…She’s looking at the thing with her own eyes.”

“That’s the newest Nebula model, isn’t it?”

“Guys. Wait. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.” One of the freeloaders whispered harshly. The others listened carefully.

“Why d’you look so scary?”

“I just remembered something. The Sunfold Clan, and that guy named Dimguil. They’re—“

The moment he was about to reveal the all-important truth, the scene around them changed once more.

Another swarm of frenetic wingbeats approached the castle. Each beat was quieter than that of a bird’s or an insect’s, but the sheer number composing the swarm was enough for the vampires to hear it clearly. Unlike Pamela’s earlier approach, this one was very familiar.

“…”

Pamela heard the noise as well. She typed out a short message on her cell phone, sent it, and clipped it back onto her belt.

The blindfold she had removed instantly turned to fog and reformed over her eyes.

And looking as though nothing was wrong, she coldly looked up at the bats descending from overhead. They slowly landed in the nighttime garden, and took on the form of a certain boy.

Relic von Waldstein, the master of the castle.


Having returned to his original form, Relic first elected to greet the girl standing in the center of the garden.

“We’ve… never met before, have we? My name is Relic von Waldstein. I’m the new Lord of Waldstein Castle. Do you have some business here?”

It was clear that Relic was not yet used to such greetings. And as though putting a price on him, the blindfolded girl quietly scrutinized his voice and tone.

“Pamela D. Rosskleim. So you are the Lord of Growerth and the head of the Waldstein family?”

“Th, that’s right. Although I don’t really do much as the Lord…” Relic said sheepishly. Pamela took a moment to observe his movements through sound alone. She then tilted her head and sighed loudly.

“Unsurprisingly, I am disappointed.”

“Pardon?!”

Relic was flustered by the sudden verdict. “Here we go again…” The freeloaders began to whisper amongst themselves.

“Born as a thoroughbred among vampires, and made to reign over a large group of vampires at a young age… I had wondered just what sort of a prodigy you might be. But to think you would be so… lacking.”

“Uh… I’m sorry.” Relic apologized without thinking. Pamela’s tone grew colder.

“And to think you would so easily submit to the words of a total stranger like myself… Have you no pride as a vampire? There is no security and no barrier around this castle, and you are so unguarded that you have little awareness of your own identity. Hmph! I suppose I must have overestimated your existence. I see now that you are but a mediocre creature, not even worth being cautious for.”

Pamela snorted as she condescended upon Relic.

Though such an act was normally cause for anger, Relic was only reminded of the things he heard on an everyday basis from his own sister.

“Honored Brother, you must carry yourself with dignity befitting your noble status!”

“One wrong move, and every resident of Waldstein Castle will be shamed by your behavior, Honored Brother!”

Being already completely accustomed to such criticism, Relic ended up making the same mistake as the freeloaders had just earlier.

“Uh… please don’t overestimate me. Maybe you should be more careful when you’re judging people. If you don’t make an accurate assessment, you might end up making a mistake.”

Relic was speaking partly to himself, as his poor sense of judgement had cause trouble in the past.

However, after the conversation she had with the freeloaders, Pamela saw his advice as nothing short of an outright offense.

“…How dare you?! I, I see what you are trying to do! You plotted with this rabble ahead of time to hand me humiliation!”

Pamela’s tone took a turn for the haughty. Relic was left in a state of flustered confusion.

But the freeloaders, whispering amongst themselves, grew confident in Relic’s presence as they began to turn their murmurs into audible chatter.

“…So what the heck is a Sunfold?”

“Well, I heard they’re supposed to be a dangerous Clan. But seeing that girl, I’m not so sure anymore.”

“Maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.”

“True. They’re small fry compared to the Xiang Clan.”

“Wait, Clans? Y’mean those vampires who’re still living in the wrong century?”

“That’s right. Just like Mr. Melhilm. Wait. Don’t tell him I said that.”

The conversation began to veer into the territory of insults.

“Wait, everyone. Let’s not talk like—“

Just as Relic frowned and made to admonish the freeloaders, Pamela unclipped her cell phone once more.


<=>


A series of text messages.


Pamela: [Master Dimguil! I humbly request permission to engage in battle. In massacre.]

Dimguil: [This is quite sudden, Pamela.]

Pamela: [I have been shamed by these plebeians, Master. I cannot let this pass unpunished.]

Dimguil: [I know you well enough to guess that your unfortunate habit of unnecessarily agitating your enemies must have been the reason.]

Pamela: [I only spoke the truth, Master! Perhaps I could stand for an offense against me, but if I were forced to back down in silence after the Sunfold Clan was insulted, I would have no reason to exist! I shall take my own life, Master. I shall pick out my heart with an ash stake! I shall stuff the eucharist into my throat!]

Dimguil: [Calm yourself, Pamela. I understand. I will give you permission on one condition: Under no circumstances are you to kill your opponents. Is that clear?]

Pamela: [I swear by the blood and honor of the Sunfold Clan, and your cursed soul, Master Dimguil, that I shall adhere to your command.]

Dimguil: [I understand. I will not permit a massacre, but you have permission to engage them in battle. I just happened to need to agitate the vampires on this island.]

Pamela: [Truly, Master?]

Dimguil: [I suppose a flashy entrance might be the best way to begin. Show them the power of Sunfold—no. Show them my power.]

Pamela: [As you wish, Master!!!]


<=>


Pamela finished off her text with three exclamation marks—much like a girl of her physical age might—and turned off her cell phone.

Relic opened his mouth to apologize.

“I’m really sorry. I offended you, didn’t I? I didn’t mean to. I apologize. And if you could excuse my family here as—“

In the midst of his apologies, Relic remembered something he heard just now.

One word he heard in passing bothered him.

‘Sunfold?’

Though he didn’t hear everything, he remembered this word.

Relic realized then that it was a familiar one.

‘Hm? Didn’t I just hear—’

Relic wondered if this coincidence was really just a twist of fate.

But he had no way of knowing that his situation was not quite left solely to chance.


A message from multiple Clans concerning the mass disappearance in southern Germany had been delivered to the Organization. The maids at Waldstein Castle, who maintained frequent contact with Gerhardt, knew about this.

It was the fact that Gerhardt wrote, [Ah, I suppose it is about time I taught Relic about the Clans] in one of his emails that the maids rushed to teach Relic about them, shocked that Gerhardt had neglected to discuss such a serious topic.

And there was something that not even the maids or Gerhardt knew at this point in time.

The fact that the Sunfold Clan was connected to the disappearance, and the fact that they knew Gerhardt, an officer of the Organization, was away from the castle.

Taking these points into consideration, the Sunfold Clan’s arrival could by no means be called a coincidence. But not knowing the truth behind the events unfolding before him, Relic was taken off-guard by the surprising coincidence.

Taking advantage of the brief moment of weakness, the blindfolded girl withdrew her anger and instead spat in a voice as cold as ice.

“There is no need for words of apology.”

“Pardon?”


“Your crimes will be paid by your own blood.”


Just as Relic made to question her, Pamela’s body was engulfed by a cacophony of wingbeats and a black aura of heat.


<=>


City hall. The mayor’s office.


“…?”

Watt sensed something off about his office as he returned from the conference room.

The window was left open, and the lights were turned off.

The reason for the change was, however, quickly made clear.

The intruder who had entered through the window spoke to Watt.

“Apologies for entering without permission, Mayor. I’ve turned out the lights because I’d prefer not to waste electricity.”

The mysterious figure sounded quite relaxed about the situation. Watt sighed.

“…Sir, I’m afraid it’s our policy to keep the lights turned on at City Hall for the citizens’ peace of mind.”

“Uh.”

The shadowed figure lost all hint of class as he awkwardly tried to excuse himself.

“Well, hm. I knew that. Of course I did. I was just testing you.”

As the intruder failed miserably in trying to convince him, Watt switched out his glasses for his usual shades and turned on the lights.

“So what’s one of the biggest freaks in the Organization doing in my office? If you can’t explain yourself, I’m going to have to ask you to fuck off.”

“A freak, you say? That is only an insult assigned to me by those whose observational skills fall short of the mark. …But in any case, I should report you for insubordination. The fact that you have a feud with Melhilm doesn’t change the fact that your name is on the Organization’s roster—“

Watt cut off Dorrikey’s mumblings.

“Like I give a shit. First of all, how the hell’re you still an officer when you’ve got close to zero subordinates? And second, if the count is back in the chairman’s seat, the Organization is my enemy. So… what the hell are you up to? Is this another one of Melhilm or Caldimir’s schemes? Or did the yellow freak I tossed out the building have a chat with you?”

But at that point, the humor left Watt’s expression altogether.

‘Wait. This guy… he’s the self-proclaimed detective.’

Key Dorrikey, the officer nicknamed ‘Inviter of Fresh Corpses’.

He was a self-proclaimed ace detective who dropped into unsolved cases in Europe by supposed coincidence, and drew the cases into a perfect close by temporarily subjugating those involved or collecting evidence by stalking them in bat-form.

Thanks to his actions, Dorrikey was a celebrity of sorts among those involved with the police. But the fact that he made deductions based on facts only the culprit could know, the fact that his official records were vague at best, and the fact that he made appearances at impossibly many crime scenes led people to suspect that he was the true mastermind behind the crimes.

The arrival of this vampire, who was deeply involved with human society as a detective, led Watt to a certain conclusion.

“Son of a bitch… you’re the one behind the murders.”

Watt came forward, radiating bloodlust with each and every step. Dorrikey hurriedly stood and shook his head.

“Absolutely not! Calm down! It’s the very opposite, I assure you. I only wish to free the people from fear by solving the mystery behind these grisly killings, which would lead to the bettering of my reputation! To be frank, I’m quite certain I could defeat even the most skilled of killers so long as they were human. Hah hah.”

Still uneasy at the detective’s show of brutal honesty, Watt got to the point.

“So what’s an oh-so-great ace detective doing in this little town?”

“You see, I would like to make use of my deductive skills. If you could please use your authority to permit me access to evidence and the crime sceeeeee-“

Watt grabbed Dorrikey by the face and dragged him over to the window.

“Fuck. Off.”

“Uaaaargh… Stop! Stop! I think I’d prefer ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ to ‘The Murder in the Mayor’s Office’. I’m not particularly well-versed in battle—urk!”

“My citizens are not playthings for your little detective game.”

“Wait! I have more to tell you! There’s still more!”

“Yeah?”

Stopping just before the window, Watt lent an ear to the protesting detective.

“One of my companions was just saying that he was thirsting for blood. Would it be possible to receive some from the local blood bank? After all, it would be a disaster if he failed to hold back his instincts and unleashed his power on the islanders. What do you think? I’d like to hear your opinion.”

“Get. The. Fuck. Off. My. Island.”

“…Let’s set that aside for now, then. Next, it seems that my young partner caused a bit of commotion in the city square earlier today, and I wished to apolooooooo-“

Watt watched as Dorrikey transformed into a flock of bats mid-fall and fled. He sighed, unable to hide his frustration.

“Brainless fuckwads. Every last one of them.”

Soon, he gathered himself once more and gave thought to the new information.

‘He said something about a commotion at the square. Was the werewolf one of his friends, then?

‘Shit. What the hell are they doing here? Does this mean he’s not behind the murders?

‘Does the Count know about this? And what’re the assholes in the castle doing?’

His pile of questions only grew larger and larger, but no amount of thought would answer them. Regretting kicking out the detective before hearing him out, Watt left himself to silence for a moment.

And several seconds later, he clicked his tongue in annoyance and left the office.


Not through the door, but through the wide-open window—in the form of a flock of countless bats.


<=>


In front of City Hall.


“There’s a lot of bats out here tonight.”

A member of a TV crew mumbled to himself, looking up at the shadows flitting between the lights of the buildings. He was not from ZZZ Network, but a large American TV station.

Other reporters and crew members were also looking up, having noticed the bats.

The man who seemed to be the leader of the American crew glanced up at the flock and calmly addressed his team.

“I heard that there are small caverns on this island. The bats living there must come out at night to feed on the insects attracted to the building lights. They’re really adding a touch of realism to the local vampire legends.”

“Come to think of it, there was a lady reporter earlier asking the mayor about something like that.”

“There’s definitely something strange about Growerth.”

“I mean, there’s no way vampires exist. But the culprit might be pretending to be one…”

As one of the crew members began theorizing in earnest, the leader stoically cut him off.

“We’re not far along enough to speculate. Don’t let your biases color your journalism.”

“Sorry.”

“Tch. Producer Zao Dugnald is in Germany, just like us. If he happens to drop by, we’ll be in a lot of hot water.”

“But he’s down south, isn’t he? We’re… probably okay.”

The crew shuddered at the thought of the influential producer from their network.

The producer of this particular crew looked up at the night sky and the bats once more, reaffirming their purpose.

“All we have to do is pursue the truth we see through our eyes and the camera. Even if vampires really exist, and even if they were the culprits, we can’t let ourselves be distracted.

“…The ZZZ woman, on the other hand… looked like this story was her distraction.”


<=>


The skies over the city.


‘What to do? Watt Stalf was more violent than I gave him credit for.

‘If he was involved in a murder, he’d be the first accused, and the second to be murdered.’

Dorrikey mulled over his disastrous encounter as he flew away from City Hall.

‘In any case. Just where is Watson, and what is she doing? I should have bought her a cell phone.

‘Then again, neither of us has any official records. Perhaps I should ask Mr. Gardastance a favor one of these days.’

He wondered if he could find Watson from overhead. But it was naturally impossible. Growerth was much larger than Dorrikey ever imagined, and the city was surprisingly packed.

Which led to another worry.

‘This is not good. If Mirald loses his mind in a place like this, I’ll have more than a small problem on my hands.’

He remembered what his friend was capable in his thirst for blood. The bats composing Dorrikey shuddered.

‘I did say that I couldn’t receive any help, especially since we’re here to observe. But it’s looking like I have no choice but to ask Waldstein Castle for assistance…’


“I think I can last until tomorrow morning. I’m sure things’ll work out.” Mirald had said with a vulgar grin.


‘Does that fool realize that he’s putting the entire island in jeopardy?!’


<=>


Waldstein Castle gardens.


At the same time as the bat sightings in the city, an innumerable flock of bats was filling the castle’s gardens.

To be more accurate, a cubic cage had been created in a part of the gardens—a cage made of countless bats.

The interior of the giant cube was completely hollow, trapping Relic and the other vampires who lived in Waldstein Castle inside.


The explosion Relic thought he saw several seconds ago was actually Pamela’s transformation. She had instantly turned into a flock of bats and dispersed her body into the vicinity.

“Whoa?!”

The wave of bats swept past him.

Relic closed his eyes without thinking. When he opened them again, wondering if Pamela had launched an attack, he and the others were surrounded by a dense black wall made of bats.

The law of conservation of mass mattered little when it came to a vampire’s transformation. The ability to turn even inorganic matter like clothing and accessories into organic matter already surpassed all known laws of physics. Of course, Relic could not conclude such a thing from his academic knowledge.

“Hey, we’re stuck!”

“Calm down. Right now, we’re inside a box made of the bats she created. In other words, we’re inside her!”

<Silence, you depraved peasant!>

The girl’s voice filled the room as though the walls themselves were projecting her words.

At that moment, many bats broke free of the wall and tore into the shoulder of the offending vampire.

“Sorry, ma’am! I’ve sinned! I’m sorry!”

The freeloader pressed down on his bleeding shoulder, the humor draining from his tone. Though the bats had drawn blood, the freeloader’s wound would heal quickly thanks to his regenerative powers.

At least, that was what he and the others thought.

“…H, hey… why ain’t this healing?!”

The freeloader grimaced in pain, holding his hand over his wound.

“Are you all right?!”

Relic hurried to his side and examined the wound. It was still bleeding, showing no sign of recovery.

“D, d’you think those bats have silver teeth or something?” One of the freeloaders wondered. The others stiffened.

From ancient times, vampires were said to be weak against silver. But in reality, only about one out of two or three counted silver as a weakness. Not only that, those with the weakness had varying levels of resistance.

Relic and the others fearfully looked on at the wall. Pamela spoke coldly.

<Is that the extent of your foolish theorizing? I suppose I should have expected nothing less from those who joined the Organization, a group created for weaklings to lick one another’s wounds.>

The entire wall shook shrilly in laughter. But there was no hint of amusement in her icy voice.

<These fangs were given to me by Master Dimguil. And the punishment for assuming that they were something so lowly as silver… is death.>

Countless bats leapt out of the walls at Pamela’s declaration.

“Hey, wait.”

“We can’t pull fog tricks like Pirie—“

The freeloaders trembled. Living weapons full of hostility shot towards them.

But moments before the fangs could reach them, Relic transformed the dirt around himself.

Pillars of bats rose from the ground, fending off Pamela’s assault.

<!>

The walls shook in surprise. The bats froze.

<…>

After a hesitant pulse, they flew again—this time crashing over Relic.

“Excuse me! I’ll apologize, so please! Let’s not use violence!”

Relic cried out in an attempt at peaceful negotiations. He struck down Pamela’s attacks with bats he conjured himself. Detecting the strikes coming at him from every direction, he deflected every last one of them.

His own bats were flapping their wings all around him, each looking into a different direction. Relic essentially possessed peripheral vision in this state.

When vampires transformed, they could also transform the clothes on their back and the objects they carried. The range of the synchronization was dependent on how much of one’s surroundings a vampire could see as themselves.

In Relic’s case, not only was the range of synchronization incredibly wide, the creatures he transformed into were also possessed of unbelievable power.

If he had recently drunk blood, he could probably transform the entire island into a gigantic wolf.

<I see. I’d heard that you were created to possess such powers, but I will admit it’s quite a sight to behold. I shall correct myself. You are not as lowly as I assumed you were. And from what I’ve heard, you haven’t yet shown the full extent of your powers.>

“…”

Relic was silent. He had no idea what his opponent was intending.

Pamela’s tone, however, only intensified as a note of silent fury ran through her attacks.

<Why did it have to be you?>

“Pardon?”

Her polite tone vanished as she showered Relic with outrage.

<Ugh. Disgusting. A lowly experiment like you doesn’t deserve that power.>

It was a different sort of anger from before. A mix of admiration and hatred, filled to the brim with malice.

“‘Experiment’, huh. That kind of hurts.” Relic sighed, and raised his head. “First off, could you please calm down? There’s no point in any more violence. And if you hurt any of us further, I will hold you responsible.”

The girl’s upper body slid out of the ceiling of the cube.

With her eyes still covered, Pamela shot Relic a furious glare.

“Hah! You think your power affords you the right to remain calm? Or do you really think that you could solve this with words? Your condescension sickens me! Our Clan endured grueling sacrifices, spent countless hours, and shed an ocean of blood in the quest for power! And to think that a mere guinea pig was so easily granted such abilities!”

“…”

Pamela’s outrage was turning into a childish tantrum. Relic was silent.

If it was not clear before, the girl was indeed a Clan member. And though Relic had no idea exactly how much Pamela’s Clan had suffered, he could not argue against her final statement.

‘It’s not like I ever wanted to have this much power.’ Relic could say, but he did not dislike his powers, and he was not so insensitive that he could voice such a thought.

At Relic’s silence, the freeloaders decided to console Pamela themselves.

“Missy, I don’t know how old you are, but with a pretty face like yours, you don’t deserve to complain. Relic here’s a born stud and a nobleman with a cute sister, but us being jealous ain’t going to change a thing.”

“The world’s a cruel place. Suffering and sacrifice doesn’t necessarily yield results in proportion.”

“And you never know. Sometimes you can hope for a no-risk-high-return investment.”

“That’s why we won’t have to seriously consider finding a job.” “Ever!”

As the freeloaders called out in earnest, Relic awkwardly stopped them.

“I’m really sorry, everyone. But it only sounds like you’re trying to aggravate her.”

The freeloaders tilted their heads. The one who had been bitten in the shoulder all-too-calmly looked up at Pamela.

“Look, I’ll apologize properly, so could you please tell me how to stop the bleeding?”

“…”

Pamela withdrew her expression and thought for a moment.

But just as she opened her mouth, a completely new voice joined them from outside the cube.


“Ooh~! What’s this? What’s this? Is this a new game?”


It was an extremely energetic voice.

“Who’s doing this? Tee hee! Who is it? Tell me tell me tell me! What’s going on?”

Recognizing Pirie’s presence, the freeloaders rejoiced. They called to the outside, assured that she could somehow change the situation.

“Oy, Clown!” “Over here!” “Can you hear us?!”

“Hey, it’s the NEET Squad! What’cha doin’ in there? Is this a new game? Can I turn into fog and get inside and join you?”

She sounded like she was near the wall, unable to make it through.

“Who’re calling NEETs? Anyway, we’ve got a job for you! Go straight back to the castle and wake up Val! He could take down this wall without breaking a sweat!”

The freeloader was talking about a special vampire who lived under the castle. But Pirie did not quite understand what was happening.

“Huh? What? So what’s going on here?”

“Never mind that! We don’t know what we’re s’pposed to do, either!”


“Okay! I’ll bring him over!”

Although she still had many questions, Pirie decided to do as she was told.

Valdred Ivanhoe was an unusual vampire who called the entire island his own body. Because he originally evolved from a plant, at night he generally rested alongside a vampire called Selim. But when he awoke, his consciousness spanned every corner of the island, and could create incredible illusions and wield his powerful telekinetic powers. Though limited to Growerth, Val’s powers were a match for Relic’s. However, none of that mattered if his consciousness was not present here.

Pirie turned with a surprisingly grim look, having noticed that something was wrong.

“I promise I’ll be back in three days, so don’t let the king execute you in the meantime, okay?”

“Th, three days?!” “We’re going to die!” “Hurry up! This queen doesn’t look like the patient type!”

Pirie transformed her body into a colorful patch of fog and headed for one of the castle’s ventilation shafts.

That was when she heard something. The voice of a girl around her own age.

“…I cannot have you calling for reinforcements.”

She no longer possessed the anger she unleashed upon Relic, her voice instead deadly calm.

“Stop! She has nothing to do with this!” Relic cried.

A sense of danger ran through the jester’s veins, but she was in fog form. Assured of her safety, she hurried towards the castle.

‘Huh?’

She felt something on her body. Followed by a sensation of burning agony.

‘That hurts! What is this?!’

Not knowing what happened, she finally turned her attention behind her.

A small flock of bats had detached themselves from the cube, and were circling through the colorful fog—her body—in a perfectly geometric pattern.

The scene was no cause for alarm.

Initially, at least.

But the jester finally realized that the bats were tearing apart the fog that composed her body.

It was as though her transformation was forcibly undone only in the parts bitten by the bats.

Realizing that she had to run, the jester thinned out her body even more and sped up towards the castle. But the flock of bats slowly grew in number and began to eat away at her fog.

‘Ow! Ow ow ow ow ow! This hurts even more than Master Watt’s chops!

‘But not as much as his eye gouges, so I’ll endure it!’

Reassuring herself in a way that would not work on anyone else, the jester pressed on.

But the flock multiplied and began to create a new wall around her.


“She has nothing to do with this! She didn’t even insult you!” Relic cried from inside the cube.

“She is one of the vampires who live in this castle, is she not? Is it not natural that I treat her as an enemy, since I am attacking you, her master?”

“…!”

Though Relic wanted to deny that they were master and subordinate, he knew Pamela would neither listen nor be convinced quickly.

He did not know what was happening outside, but the cube had gotten smaller. It was obvious that something had happened to Pirie.

What was Pamela doing to her, Relic thought anxiously. He wanted to fly up into the air, but the bats surrounding him allowed him no such freedom. He attempted to create wolf muzzles in the ground to tear at the walls, but the bats avoided them with ease. The cube remained unbroken.

Relic considered turning the ground underfoot into fog to escape. But if he and the others inside disappeared, every bat in the cube would switch targets to Pirie.

Then should he create a maw large enough to swallow the entire cube, Relic wondered. But could he manage such a feat when he hadn’t had a proper drink of blood recently?

Countless thoughts filled his mind, but there was no time to lose.

“…We’re all going to get swallowed, everyone. Please hold on.”

“What? Seriously?!” No way!”

The vampires paled, having been in the past swallowed by the wolf jaws Relic had created. But Relic began to synchronize himself with the ground nonetheless.

But the synchronization was halted.


“Soft as ever. Though I suppose that’s one of your charms.”

The darkness of the cube was suddenly broken by a cold female voice and countless flashes of silver.

<Eeyaaargh?!>

There was a terrible scream as several bats fell to the ground near Relic and the others.

Each bat had been impaled by silver weapons—silver table knives and forks.


<Another Waldstein servant, are you?!> Pamela shrieked in agony.

The young woman standing before her snickered.

“A Waldstein servant? Looks like this box of yours isn’t the only thing that’s hollow. I’m just a passing vampire.”

The long-haired woman muttered scornfully, a contrast to the well-meaning freeloaders.

“I’ve been listening to you for a while now. Did you think we were having a Renaissance Fair? Or were you crammed in your casket so long you didn’t realize we were in the twenty-first century?”

There was something off-putting about the snickering newcomer, but Pamela reacted with outrage and pushed aside what little worry she had.

<You… you plebeian commoner! I shall tear open your impudent mouth!>

At her cry, hundreds of bats flew out of the walls and descended upon the long-haired woman.

But several flashes of silver later, the flock fell helplessly to the ground.

“You’re starting to sound just like Melhilm.”

In her right hand was a keenly sharpened table knife, its handle covered in wood.

“So, I’ve got a question for you. D’you really think you could get away with picking a fight with a lower lifeform like me?”

Impaled at the end of her knife was one of the bats that made up Pamela’s body. It was squirming in a desperate attempt to free itself.

The woman knocked it out with a flick of her finger.

Losing control over the impaled bat, Pamela felt that part of herself being paralysed. A hint of unease crept into her voice.

Just what was this woman thinking, knocking out the impaled bat?

This woman, with the laughable weapons that looked more like cutlery.

At that point, something occurred to Pamela.

If she had a beating heart, it would have been pulsating at several times its usual speed.

<What… are you doing?>

She had a hunch about the source of her trepidation.

Members of the Sunfold Clan knew about the existence of certain creatures. Humans who gained the physical strength of vampires via a certain process.

‘No. It can’t be.’

Pamela looked upon the piece of her body, impaled on the table knife. A gruesome image flashed by her eyes as her heart sank like a stone.

And the moment the newcomer smiled confidently and licked her lips, Pamela realized that her hunch had indeed been right.

<It can’t be! You wretch! Stop this at once, you monster!>

An Eater.

A human who ate the blood and flesh of vampires to steal their power.

The Sunfold Clan created Eaters to serve as their slaves.

If this woman was an ordinary Eater, being bitten by one would be like being bitten by a dog—it would anger Pamela, for humans were like animals to her.

But things were different if her opponent was a vampire.

Though she still considered those outside the Clan to be lower creatures, allowing another vampire to eat her flesh was, in human terms, as taboo as cannibalism. The act of drinking a fellow vampire’s blood was considered a sacred ritual of mixing blood together, conducted only between fellow Clan members.

To Pamela, who held such beliefs, the devouring of her flesh by a monstrous ‘lower vampire’ was humiliation incarnate.

<STOOOOOOOOP!>

A soul-shattering scream.


As though the unladylike cry of the box of bats was the greatest seasoning of all, the former Eater followed her instincts.


Several seconds later.

Relic and the others spotted Shizune Kijima in the collapsing wall of bats, muttering, “Thanks for the meal”.

And at that moment, an ear-piercing shriek shook the castle.


<=>


Growerth. City center. Inside a tram headed for the mountains.


Hilda’s companion suddenly froze and looked up.

She was silently scrutinizing Waldstein Castle. Hilda whispered to her.

“What’s wrong, Watson?”

“…She’s crying.”

“Who?”

Hilda had not heard a thing, but something must have reached Watson’s ears.

Unease flooded Hilda’s heart as Watson’s gaze remained fixed on the castle.


‘I wonder if something’s wrong.’


Her heart was pounding, but Hilda did not turn back. She was convinced that, no matter what happened, Relic would find a way to resolve the situation.


Her only worry, perhaps, was that an ordinary human like her might get in his way.


<=>


Ten minutes later. The gardens.


“I saw the screwed-up flock of bats wailing through the air on my way here. Was that your doing, Shizune?”

Watt landed in the gardens, greeted by a chaotic scene.

The maids came out of the castle to treat the injured vampires. Some of the maids spotted Watt and glared, but they quickly turned to Relic and the others, as though they had no time to waste.

Not only that, werewolves, vampires, skeletons, and witches who normally stayed inside the castle had all emerged into the night. It almost looked like a masquerade—with the exception of their expressions, too anxious to belong at a party.

Watt was left to look around in confusion for some time. But he soon spotted Shizune leaning against the wall and questioned her.

“What am I, your dog? I’m not obligated to give you answers.”

“Answer the question, or your scalp is coming off your head.” Watt growled, holding back his frustration. Shizune snorted.

“Desperate, aren’t you? I just happened to spot a new face flying over the city like she owned the whole damned island. So I followed her and saw the party here. Thought I might as well join the fun.” She said with a shrug. “And I was hungry, too.”

Watt could feel the anger welling up inside him, but he resisted unleashing it and grabbed Shizune by the collar.

“That son of a bitch over there whining about his shoulder is my former subordinate. He’s one of the pawns I plan to take back, and someone had the gall to put a dent in it. So hurry up and give me the details, you asshole.”

“It’s just a tiny scratch. You look like you’re about to have an aneurysm over it. Anyway, I think our little intruder decided to hide as soon as she spotted you.”

“…What?”

Watt frowned. Shizune snickered and slapped his hands away.

“I guess it’ll be even more vexing for you if I spilled it. Let me tell you that happened here, and to who.”


Several minutes later, a deafening crunch rang through the air.

It was the sound of the mayor of Neuberg punching the Lord of Waldstein Castle with all his might.


<=>


Somewhere on the island.


“Aha. So that’s what happened.”

Mirald was walking the streets alone, having separated from Dorrikey.

When his companion left to greet the mayor, Mirald was left to wander the island alone. Of course, he was not walking aimlessly—he had a purpose. And at some point, he stopped by the roadside and mumbled to himself.

“Things are getting pretty interesting.”

He had been reading through the thoughts of every passerby in the crowded streets.

And about two hours into his investigation, he discovered a certain series of images.

“I see. So that’s how you did it.”

The images showed something that only the culprit could know. The moment of the murder.

At first, Mirald considered that a human who had read the newspaper had thought up an elaborate recreation in their mind. But unless the person had even convinced themselves with the recreation, Mirald could tell if a memory was real or made up.

He read the culprit’s mind as they reminisced about the moment of the murderer. Mirald grinned.

“What now? Should I tell Dorrikey, the mayor, or Relic? Or should I not?”

Mirald Mirror.

He was neither good nor evil. He was a vampire who stood at a slight distance from the morality of humans.

He did not care if human strangers were killed, and he had no obligation to save them. “I’ll take care of them if they’re my friends,” he had said, and he stood by this policy when it came to humans. Even if he read someone’s mind and discovered a plot for terrorism or murder, he did nothing about it if no one he knew was involved.

If he found potential for entertainment, he would contact Doubs Hewley the Iridescent and get involved personally. But in this case, he was not yet sure if he wanted to tell Doubs.

“Normally, I’d forget about it. But I wonder what Relic would do if he knew the truth behind the serial killings?”

Chewing over thoughts that were, in human terms, beyond impish, Mirald quietly looked on at the culprit.

“And what about me? Should I intervene once the fourth victim is about to be claimed? Heh heh… I’m feeling a little mischievous today.”

Though he was snickering, a certain hunger was eating away at his mind and sanity.

The thirst for human blood, a desire only natural for a vampire.


“Ah… I’m really starting to get thirsty.”


<=>


Waldstein Castle gardens.


It was around the point when Mirald learned the truth for no one’s sake but his own.

The masters of Growerth’s Day and Night were standing in the same place.

To be specific, the master of Growerth’s Day was holding the master of Growerth’s Night by the collar.

As Relic explained the situation to the maids, Watt suddenly walked up to him. Relic wondered for a moment if he should greet him, when Watt drove a painful uppercut into his jaw.

Relic was tossed aside by the unexpected blow.

Though Watt was only a dhampyr, he was capable of superhuman strength—enough to kill a human being. But as Relic was a vampire, his jaw quickly healed itself.

“Watt Stalf! You wretch!”

The maids responded even before the dazed Relic, rushing to step in between them. But Watt was quicker, going up to Relic and forcibly pulling him to his feet by the collar.

The freeloaders winced at their former superior’s actions. Even the injured vampire forgot his pain for a moment and hid behind one of the fences.

Meanwhile, the maids in green surrounded Watt and threateningly raised their voices.

“Watt Stalf! Let go of the Lord of Waldstein Castle this instant!”

“Lord of Waldstein Castle my ass.” Watt snorted, tightening his grip. “Count Gerhardt is the real Lord around here.”

“…!”

It was a simple statement. One strong enough to shake Relic to the core.

“I thought the count just left the castle to you while he was out. And look at the mess you’ve left it in. What were you doing, sitting around while your subordinates got screwed to hell and back? Oh, so you’re going to take the moral high ground and respond to an attack with conversation? What are you, a fucking saint? What are you, fucking Gandhi? Someone who actually had a reason not to fight back?”

“But we’re the ones who provoked her first—“

“As if that wasn’t already obvious. My old peons there are idiots. I don’t even need to ask if they offended an arrogant Clan member and got what they deserved.”


The freeloaders, listening from behind the fence, exchanged glances.

“…I think he’s talking about us.” “Should we go complain?”

“I don’t know how, but Mr. Watt’s gotten a lot stronger recently.”

“He used to be weaker than us, though.”

“Maybe a no-risk-high-return investment paid off for him?” “Lucky him.”

“Urgh, my shoulder’s killing me. Damn it, is this going to kill me?”


Not even listening to the chatter behind the trees, Watt continued to berate Relic.

“Listen up, Princeling. I don’t care if you’re a coward or a pacifist. And if you think you did something wrong, then go ahead and get the beating of your life. I don’t give a fuck.”

“…”

“But answer me this. Why’d a passing clown have to get messed up because of your mistake?”

“I…”

As Relic struggled for words, a girlish voice echoed from the castle.

“No, Master Watt! That’s not it! Relic really did try to stop that girl! He said I didn’t have anything to do with her, and told her not to—“

“You stay quiet, Clown! Relic tried to stop her?! Fat lot of good that did!”

“…”

The jester went silent. Watt ignored her presence and returned to berating Relic.

“Sure, the Clan girl’s responsible for this mess. It hasn’t even hit you yet that you’re the Lord of Waldstein Castle, but she went and attacked the Clown anyway for being your subordinate. She was in the wrong. But… if you’d used your powers from the start, you could have stopped her easily. Even if you didn’t have a sip of blood, you could have done that much.”

Relic could not answer.

He knew Watt was right.

If Relic had leapt in without hesitation—if he had mercilessly unleashed his powers the moment Pirie was targeted, perhaps things would have turned out for the better.

Out of fog form, Pirie’s legs were covered in injuries. She could not even walk. If Watt saw with his own two eyes, he might have very well murdered Relic on the spot. Knowing this, Relic had nothing to say.

“You hesitated. You tried to play goody-two-shoes and thought, ‘do I really need to use my oh-so-great powers in a little fight like this’. Am I right?”

“I…”

“You know what? Your old man—he’d have avoided a fight. But whether things worked out or not, he’d have negotiated with everything he had. He’d have done everything his disgusting body is capable of. Did you? I don’t know if they’re your underlings or buddies, but could you look me in the eye and say you gave it your all to protect ‘em?”

“I…”

“Again with the ‘I’s. C’mon. Finish your sentence. ‘I’ what? You think if you can copy the count and act like a pacifist, you’ll become him? You think being Lord of Waldstein Castle is fucking child’s play?!”

“Watt Stalf! You’re going too far!” One of the maids cut in firmly, but she did not try to stop him. She knew that ending the conversation here would not help Relic.

“You’re born lucky. Just looking at you makes me envious. And I know you’ve got zero intention of lounging around on your throne, but lemme ask you this.”

Watt ground his teeth, looking about ready to punch Relic again.

“Have you ever been really angry? Have you ever blown your lid? For yourself or for someone else. In fact, do you even know how to get angry?”

“I…”

Relic trailed off with the same word again.

‘I… I what?’

He did not know himself how to answer.

When was he at his angriest?

The first thing that came to mind was the incident when Mihail was badly injured by an Eater from the Organization.

Ferret was left in tears, and his friend was confined to a hospital bed in a nearly unrecognizable state. Relic was furious. But he was not outraged. Mihail had put a stop to his anger before things got out of hand.

“…I don’t give a shit if you see humans as prey or friends. But lemme ask: Do you even cherish anything?”

“What…?”

Relic looked up, not understanding the question.

“…Tch.”

Watt let go of Relic’s collar.

“The look on your face says you never even thought about it. Heh. That’s surprisingly human of you. …In fact, I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re a human or a vampire—either way, you’re a coddled brat who hasn’t even lived two decades. I guess it’s true what they say: great people never raise worthy children.”

One of the maids caught Relic as he stumbled and glared at Watt.

“…That goes for you as well, Watt Stalf. Your parents were the pride of the island, to both humans and vampires.”

“You know what? You’re right. Though they never had the time to waste on me. In other words, me and the little prince here are unworthy birds of a feather. This is a freaking tearjerker.”

With a snide grin on his face, Watt landed the final blow.

“You’re not a vampire or a human. You’re just a soft sack of meat. You’re just as half-baked as I am. But if you’re just as soft as your blob of a father, how the hell’re you so different? You don’t live up to his name. And I guarantee the count would be disappointed if he could see you now.”

“…”

“Then again, you reap what you sow. The damned count just has no eye for people.”

“…!”

Shizune had not given Watt so much detail. The acuteness of his criticism was only a coincidence, but Relic’s heart sank, knowing that it was justified.

“I’m going to take it all one day. This castle, the clown, the magician, the watermelon, the maids, the werewolves, the witches, and those dumbasses behind the fence. Take care of ‘em while you still can.”

“…”

“…After everything I said, you still don’t respond. Is there even a brain in that head of yours?”

With a frustrated sigh, Watt turned.

‘I have to say something.

‘But what?’

Relic, still in a dazed state, could not respond.

Watt stood in silence, as though waiting for Relic to speak.

But once it became clear Relic had nothing to say, Watt clicked his tongue and looked over his shoulder.

“You don’t know enough about anger. Or maybe you just don’t cherish anything at all.”

“I…!”

“And now you’re repeating yourself. ‘I’ this, ‘I’ that. What are you, a fucking parrot? I don’t care what secret powers you’ve got hidden up your sleeve; if you never use ‘em, you’re just a waste of space.”

Finally, Watt declared to Relic and the maids the fact that he was their enemy, and the fact that he intended to take his former subordinates back.

“And if you manage to prove that you really are a waste of space, all I have to do is steal back my playthings.”

Having said his piece, Watt departed without waiting for a response.

The jester tried to latch onto him in fog form, but he shooed her away.

“Stop wasting your time and get your injuries checked out, Clown! The Clan bitch get your brain, too?”

The colorful patch of fog dejectedly retreated into the castle.

“There is nothing for you to worry about, Master Relic.” One of the maids said, as Relic stood blankly. “Hesitation is no crime, and Watt’s claims are not necessarily right.”

“…Thank you.”

“I do not think it is a bad thing to be soft. But I will also say that it is not a good thing to waver.”

The maid not only consoled Relic, but she also gave him honest advice.

“Master Gerhardt chose to be soft of his own will. This may sound contradictory, but that was Master Gerhardt’s ironclad rule. That does not mean, however, that you are obligated to do as Watt Stalf says. You do not have to follow precisely in Master Gerhardt’s footsteps. Your life is your own. Every choice is yours to make.”

“Heh heh. That’s a bit tough, I think. What if I said I’d fire everyone?”

“We would respect your command, Master Relic, but it may be a little difficult for you to stop us from going on a strike.” The maid said with a smile. Relic chuckled.

But Watt’s words still echoed in his mind.

‘Do I really cherish people?’

His sister Ferret, his girlfriend Hilda, and his close friend Mihail.

The jester, Mage, Val, the freeloaders, Doctor, Professor, the maids who raised him since childhood, the witches, and the werewolves.

‘I always thought I cherished them all equally.

‘But when Pirie got hurt, I didn’t get angry.

‘Then… I wonder if I wouldn’t get angry even if Hilda was injured.

‘Maybe I was just imagining things when I nearly lost my temper at Mihail being attacked.’

He had pondered about such things in the past, though he never got anywhere.

Was he part of the world of vampires or humans?

Relic could not even answer that simple question. He remembered his father Gerhardt saying, [the difference between vampires and humans is a trifling one indeed. It is unfortunate to say, but do humans not also fight wars amongst themselves? The gap between humans and the vampires who drink their blood may be a deep one. But I believe it is one that can be crossed quite easily].

But Relic did not yet understand humans or vampires to such depth.

He had traveled the world for several months in the past. But in the end, the journey did not open his eyes.

‘I deserved that punch.’

Even as he chastised himself, the face of a certain human surfaced in his thoughts.

Along with the natural desire to confess his worries—

The face of his beloved Hilda, the person he loved most.

As a result, Watt’s words began to encroach on his thoughts.


'Do I really love Hilda Dietrich?' Relic wondered to himself.


<=>


As Relic lost himself in thought, the freeloaders whispered amongst themselves from behind the fence.

“…Is it just me, or is everyone so worried about Pirie that they forgot I got hurt too?”

“Huh? …Come to think of it, you got hurt, didn’t you?”

“That’s right! How’s your wound?”

“Okay. I’m going to cry now, guys.”

“Don’t do that.” “It’s just a flesh wound anyway, right?”

“If the bleeding won’t stop, just drink it as it’s spilling.”

“I bet you wouldn’t act so calm if you were the one who got hurt.”

“Y’know, if you were the only one who got hurt, I bet Mr. Watt wouldn’t have hit Relic.”

“Princess Pirie’s Mr. Watt’s favorite.”

“And Pirie really loves him, too.”

“Still bleeding to death here, folks.”

As the freeloaders began to relax once more, a cold voice addressed them from behind.

“I’ve been thinking this for a while now, but that mayor’s got a real soft spot for the jester.”

“Eeek!” “Shizune?!” “Whoa!” “I’m not tasty at all! Please don’t eat me!”

“Is that any way to greet someone? Even if I killed you, I wouldn’t want to eat you half-rotten meatbags.” Shizune said with a grimace, sounding quite sincere. The freeloaders’ fear was replaced by dejection.

“Let me see that wound.”

“Hm? Oh, sure.”

The injured freeloader nervously went up to Shizune.

There was a glint of silver as Shizune dug her knife deeper into the wound.

“OW! AAAAAARGH!!” “What?!” “She really is going to eat us!”

“Calm down. This knife is made of aluminum.”

“Aaagh… wha…? Oh…”

At that moment the freeloaders finally realized that the wound had healed instantly.

“How’d you…?!”

The freeloaders gaped. Shizune explained herself mechanically.

“I ate part of that gothic lolita. Some of my old Eater abilities might be the reason, but I can read the flow of her power. Her ability’s not really a technique as much as it’s a poison or a curse. That girl subjugated your body as she cut you.”

“She subjugated me?”

“She used her own subjugation ability to suppress yours—your ability to transform into bats or fog. In other words, she nullifies her opponents’ powers.”

The freeloaders recalled what had happened earlier.

Relic transformed the dirt underfoot into bats and staved off Pamela’s assault.

If he had created those bats out of his own body, Relic would be covered in wounds by now.

“I think I might be able to pull it off myself with a bit of training.” Shizune chuckled, her eyes narrowing. The freeloaders, chilled to the bone, tried to change the subject.

“Forget all the technical stuff. You gotta help out the clown over there. C’mon.”

“Why should I? I only carved out the curse from your shoulder to confirm my hypothesis. Did you already forget that we’re enemies?”

The laughter drained from her eyes as Shizune’s gaze grew cold.

The freeloaders stepped back in fear as one.

But one of them cried out and made a very convincing argument.

“H, hold on! We’ll pay you!”

“…”


Several seconds later.

“The clown nearly killed me once, so don’t blame me if my hand slips.” Shizune had said, stalking off towards the colorful patch of fog.

Sending her away, the freeloaders breathed a sigh of relief.

“I can’t believe we managed to solve things with money.”

“She’s unemployed, so I thought she might be strapped for cash.”

“She’s a freeloader too, eh? At the dojo in the city.”

“The place where Traugott teaches kung-fu?”

“Not kung-fu. Rakue-ryū something something. Anyway, You know how Traugott’s always out of the country, traveling to tournaments and stuff? She just lounges around the dojo when he leaves.”

“So, a freeloader.” “How the mighty have fallen.” “Don’t let her hear you say that, or you’ll be on her next menu.”

“But we’re freeloaders, too.”

“Traugott’s really damn strong, isn’t he?” “Yeah. No powers, but he’s stronger than us.”

“And he tied against Miss Melina at the tournament.”

“A true vampire killer.”

“Whoa!”

As the conversation began to trail off, one of the freeloaders suddenly cried out.

“You scared me. What’s wrong?”

“…’Vampire Killer’… I remember now! It’s Dimguil!”

“Dimguil? …Oh, the person that girl was talking about.”

The freeloaders nodded. The first man continued fearfully.

“The Sunfold Clan’s pretty small as far as numbers are concerned. But from what I hear, this Dimguil guy is a monster.”

“A monster?”

What kind of man was he, if even fellow vampires called him a monster? As though reading his friends’ minds, the man answered them nervously.

“I don’t know what he looks like, but… if he’s got the same powers as that Pamela girl, I understand why he got that nickname.”

“What nickname?”

“He’s a vampire, but his name sounds like one you’d give to an Eater. ‘The Vampire Killer’.”


<=>


A series of text messages.


Pamela: [Farewell, Master Dimguil.]

Dimguil: [This is quite sudden, Pamela.]

Pamela: [i have been humiliated Master Dimguil i cannot go on… i will never forget your kindness Master Dimguil but i do not have the courage to end it all i am sorry i am sorry i am sorry]

Dimguil: [What happened?]

Pamela: [i have been defiled Master Dimguil a lower lifeform has violated this body given me by you Master Dimguil]

Dimguil: [I am having some trouble understanding you, Pamela. I’ve got some free time, so I will join you soon.]

Pamela: [how could i ever face you Master Dimguil]

Dimguil: [This is an order.]

Pamela: [but Master Dimguil]

Dimguil: [As your master, I order you to prioritize our meeting above even your own life.]

Pamela: [yes Master Dimguil i shall fly like the wind]

Dimguil: [Very good.]


<=>


Somewhere on Growerth. On a building rooftop.


“Of course. Of course, of course! So that’s Dimguil!”

Mirald cackled as he read the mind of the vampire in his sights.

He had transformed himself into fog and hidden inside the fumes escaping a ventilation shaft. The target could not notice him. Mirald had made sure of this fact by reading his mind.

“Interesting. Very interesting. To think this was the truth behind the serial killings! What’s taking Dorrikey so long?”

Mirald chattered excitably as he went over the facts in his mind.

“I only came to this island to see Mr. Gerhardt’s son. But to think I’d be able to observe a show like this! Now, for whom should I start playing the storyteller?”

Muttering to himself so no one could hear, Mirald lost himself in entertainment.

But then, he heard the voice of a human couple arguing downstairs.


“How could you?! You cheated on me with three girls?!”

“H, how’d you know?!”

“You just said so! In a weird voice!”

“Impossible! I was sure I wasn’t speaking out louuuuuud!”


“…Hm.”

Mirald lightly slapped himself with both hands.

‘By ‘weird voice, she means the man’s thoughts.’

The voice of one’s thoughts were slightly different from one’s speaking voice. It was just like one’s voice sounding different when played back on tape. But realizing that a human woman with no telepathic powers had heard such a voice, Mirald straightened up.

“It looks like I’m more thirsty than I thought.”


<=>


The harbor office.


As though in sync with Mirald, Dorrikey thought to himself as he sifted through a pile of documents.

‘…Wonder if old Mirald will last until morning.’

He had briefly subjugated the harbor official to sneak inside and do some research. But though he was looking into the murders, his thoughts were filled with different worries.

‘If that bastard gets thirsty and loses self-control, he turns into a simple loudspeaker.’

It meant that any humans near Mirald would be able to read the minds of other humans in the vicinity.

A chill ran down Dorrikey’s spine as he pictured humans getting a peek into the honest thoughts of their brethren.

‘Now that I think about it, that was how we first met. When I took the case of an old man who set fire to his house after finding out how his family really felt about him.’

Dorrikey had been investigating an incident where an elderly man claimed he heard his family scheming to kill him for the life insurance payout. That was when he discovered Mirald.

“That’s right. It’s my fault. I was just sleeping on the roof of that house at the time.

“I was so thirsty for blood that I couldn’t control my telepathy.

“When I get thirsty, I end up transmitting the thoughts I read to the people around me.”

Dorrikey beat down Mirald and somehow managed to prove that the old man’s accusations were correct. Afterwards, he decided that he could not let such a dangerous vampire go loose, and introduced him to the Organization. Caldimir complained that he brought in an unnecessarily dangerous nuisance into their midst—a telepath was likely the worst enemy for a schemer like him.

Nevertheless, Mirald’s abilities were such that he was promoted to officer status in the blink of an eye.

‘I thought he stopped going loudspeaker after he started hosting those soirées.’

Though Dorrikey did not know how far Mirald’s loudspeaker abilities reached when he went out of control, he was certain that he had to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.


‘If the loudspeaker effect encompasses the entire island… All I can do is call George the Deep Deep Deep Blue to swallow Mirald and move him somewhere else.’

Picturing the twenty-meter long officer, Dorrikey sighed and continued to sift through the papers.

“Honestly. Computers give me a headache. It’s a relief they still have paper documentation here.”

Suddenly, the inhuman flitting of his fingers came to a halt.

“This must be…”

He began to flip through the papers at incredible speeds again, and found the page he was searching for in less than a second.

Dorrikey’s eyes widened as he put his pipe into his mouth and came to a conclusion for himself alone.


“The mystery remains unsolved, but I have found the culprit!”


It was a conclusion that did not very much sound like a deduction.


-----




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Pamela Rosskleim: ロスクライム


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6 comments:

  1. Thank you for translating!

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  2. Great chapter, the freeloading vampire's antics are always welcome.

    Small typo:
    “I’ll take care of them of they’re my friends,”
    I suppose that should be an "if"?

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  3. Thanks for the chapter. I won't have time for a while to actually read it but your work is highly appreciated.

    On that name you put at the end: RosskLeim works but RosskReim sounds better, IMO. To my ears, at least.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been thinking about it a bit. If the name has a single s (Ros) then -kleim sounds good, but if a double s (Ross) is used then -kreim is better I think.

      I have no idea what the actual kanji say about pronounciation, but this is the conclusion I reached for the two possibilities the romaji (courtesy of Google Translate) present to me.

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  4. thanks for another great chapter

    ReplyDelete