Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Vamp! V - Chapter 3

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

You know how I keep saying that updates will be slow because of real life, but the updates aren't really slowing down?

Working on Vamp! and Allison is actively distracting me from stuff that needs to be done, so I'm going on hiatus until mid-May.

Yes, I know this is an awful point to leave you hanging at, but I really need to do my work instead of freak out over the next chapter of Vamp. I'm really sorry about this.

Enjoy, and see you in a month and a half.

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Chapter 3: The Killer Doth Steal Through Darkness


-----


Night. On the outskirts of Neuberg.


“Hold on, Watson. We’re almost at the castle.” Hilda said. Watson nodded.

They had stepped off the tram, and made it to the foot of the mountain where Waldstein Castle was.

‘Once we get to the castle, I’ll use the phone at the maintenance office to call home.

‘Mom and Dad told me not to stay out at night because of that serial killer, but they won’t be worried if I’m with Relic.’

Although the area was nearly deserted, Hilda was already used to this street—she had no reason to be afraid. If anything, Watson’s hunger was her biggest concern. But believing that Watson was still satiated with the meat they bought earlier, Hilda decided to press onward.

“Just a little further. I’m sure Relic might know something about your friends.”

“Relic…” Watson repeated, tilting her head. “A vampire?”

“Yes, he’s a really strong vampire! And guess what? He’s the Lord of Growerth now!” Hilda smiled, though Watson remained unexpressive as ever.

Suddenly, Watson sniffed the air and latched onto Hilda’s arm.

“Eek! Th, that tickles, Watson! What’s wrong?”

“…I smell. Humans.”

Watson looked on curiously. Hilda was at a loss.

“What is it?”

Watson only tilted her head; she did not voice any specific questions.

But Hilda knew that something mystified Watson.


‘I guess it really is strange for humans to get along with vampires.’


Even for a werewolf like Watson, a human being acting nonchalant about vampires must be a surreal sight. Though many people on Growerth knew that vampires existed, and Gerhardt was well-known to the islanders, very few people in Hilda’s generation believed in them. And the number of young people who actually interacted with vampires was close to zero. The few people her age who knew about vampires never actively tried to involve themselves, and seemed to have no intention of selling the truth to the media. Perhaps it was because they feared something about the world of Night.

Of course, Hilda didn’t think any reputable newspaper would believe someone who claimed that there were vampires on the island.

Outside of Growerth, people probably only thought of vampires as myths. It must be natural for vampires and werewolves to remain in hiding.

Though she was never alone, Hilda was lonely.

She was human, and Relic was a vampire.

Counting Mihail and Ferret, there were four of them. She was not alone. But at the same time, something made her uneasy.

She was not uneasy about Relic, the vampire.

She was uneasy about herself, the ordinary human being.

Could a human being like her really make things work out with Relic? She wanted to look to other human-vampire couples for reference, but there were no such pairs around her. She couldn’t even reference Mihail and Ferret because the two of them were so close already.

She began to feel as though she were all alone in the world in her position. But Relic would always ease her loneliness.

Yet even with that contradiction filling her thoughts, Hilda could not hold back her feelings for Relic. At the same time, she began to fear more and more that she was being a burden to him.

Naturally, Hilda was the most important person in Relic’s life. He was saved many times by her words. But though Relic saw her as a strong person, Hilda did not think of her own actions as anything extraordinary. She still did not know just how well Relic thought of her.

Because her house was far from the school, Hilda had lived the unusual student life of coming home straight after class to study under her parents alongside the Waldstein twins.

Perhaps that was why she had so few friends her own age. Hilda was drawn more to the world of Night than human society.

Perhaps she might not be so conflicted if she were like her brother, who treated humans and vampires exactly the same.

But Hilda knew that she was not such a good person.

Of course, she was not discriminating against vampires.

In fact, as a human being, Hilda was slightly biased against her fellow humans. Part of the blame lay with her parents.

Hilda and Mihail’s parents were incredibly fearful of vampires. At first, they did not know the secret of the Waldstein twins. They took the tutoring job thinking that the children were merely sensitive to sunlight.

Hilda was also ignorant at first. She treated the siblings like she would any other humans, becoming their childhood friend.

When she and Mihail came home from school, Relic and Ferret would come to their house. It felt as though their family grew larger in the evenings, which delighted her. But because they did not get to spend a great deal of time together, at first Hilda did not see Relic as anything more than a childhood friend.

If she had grown closer to him at that point and come to consider him like a brother, she might never have fallen in love with him. In that sense, being childhood friends who only met at night struck an interesting balance to their budding connection.

But things changed one day.

Their parents said that they would teach the Waldstein siblings away from home. Hilda and Mihail were to watch the house while they were out.

Hilda noticed something strange about her parents’ behavior then. That must have been when they realized through the island’s rumors that Relic and Ferret were vampires. Perhaps they did not believe at first, but happened to catch sight of Relic using his abilities.

Not knowing a thing about the circumstances at the time, Hilda could only wonder why she was not allowed to meet Relic and Ferret. When she asked her parents if she could go over to their house during the weekend, her parents sternly told her that they shouldn’t trouble the Waldsteins.

Because the ordinary presence of Relic and Ferret had been so suddenly cut off from her, the gap left behind made a deep impression in her life.


<=>


Several years ago.


“Mihail? Why won’t they come to our house anymore? …Do you think maybe they don’t like us now? Is that why Ferret’s acting so cold to you?” Hilda asked. Mihail replied with a smile.

“Nah. It’s Ma and Pop who don’t like ‘em.”

“What?!”

“Don’t tell, okay? I snuck out at night a few times to go see Ferret.”

“Mihail!”

Hilda’s eyes turned to dinner plates. Mihail did not seem fazed in the least.

“Ferret’s still flinging me out and slamming the door in my face, but Relic talks her out of it so we can start talking bit by bit. At least, that’s the way things’ve been working out the past few times.”

“She’s ‘flinging you out’?”

Hilda knew Ferret merely as a girl her own age. She did think it strange that Ferret started behaving rather arrogantly around Mihail since the twins stopped coming to their house several months ago. But what did Mihail mean when he said that Ferret flung him out? Was she taking lessons not only from their parents, but Traugott as well?

As questions overwhelmed Hilda’s mind, Mihail replied matter-of-factly.

“Hm… I can’t really give you a lot of details myself. But if you wanna talk to Relic and Ferret, let’s go together tonight.”

“…Go? To their house? But we can’t go out so late.”

‘Come to think of it, where did they live again?’

Hilda was struck by the fact that she did not even know the basics about her friends. Were they really so distant? Was that all the Waldstein twins were to her?

Noticing Hilda’s unease, Mihail chuckled.

“C’mon, Hilda. I never really thought about their house either, since they’re the ones who always came to us. But I needed to know Ferret’s address to send her a love letter, so I asked Relic.”

Hilda already knew that Mihail was doggedly pursuing Ferret in a romantic sense. But she resigned herself to watching from a distance, convinced that she had no part in it. However, Hilda did get the impression that, in spite of Ferret’s icy attitude, Mihail’s prospects were not particularly bad.

Thankful for her dependable brother, who seemed to know more about the twins than she did, Hilda followed up with another question.

“So where do they live?”

Mihail answered nonchalantly, as though his incredible answer was nothing unusual at all.

“Where else? Waldstein Castle!”


<=>


Present day, on the slopes of Mt. Wasserspitze.


Just as Hilda’s thoughts reached that point, she and Watson arrived at the slopes of the biggest mountain on the island.

During the day, the area was filled with sausage stalls and souvenir stands targeted at tourists. But at this hour, it was quiet and empty—only a few bars were open.

“…The viscount’s castle and the streets around here never change.”

Looking up at the castle, which was partway up the mountain, Hilda remembered the first time she went to visit it for reasons other than sightseeing. The night she followed her brother there, in the cool evening air lit by dim street lamps.

‘That must have been the day I stopped being afraid of the night.’

Hilda tried to lose herself in her memories once more.

“…”

But Watson silently tugged on her sleeve, bringing her back to reality.

“Sorry, Watson. I was just thinking about some things. …Anyway, there’s lots of good werewolves and vampires up in that castle, so don’t worry. Or were you feeling hungry?”

Hilda remembered how Watson had wolfed down the chunks of raw meat they bought. But Watson shook her head.

“Five…”

“What?”

Hilda was confused by Watson’s answer.

But that was quickly addressed by the figure entering her line of sight.


“Excuse me, miss. Do you have a moment?


The woman had come from behind Hilda’s back, pointing a microphone at her.

“We’re from ZZZ Network. Could we ask you for a brief interview?”

“?!”

Hilda finally looked around. Standing there accompanying the bespectacled reporter were four men, likely part of a television crew. One of them was pointing a camera in her direction—Hilda reflexively stood between it and Watson.

“S-sorry. But I’d rather not—“

Assuming that the reporter was here to ask about the serial murders, Hilda took Watson’s hand and tried to leave. But the reporter got in her way.

“Um, what are you—“

“Don’t worry, this isn’t a live broadcast. If you’d like, we’ll respect your privacy and edit out your face. That is, if you and your friend here really are human.”

“…!”

This was no normal interview, Hilda realized immediately. But Watson obliviously sniffed the air and looked at the TV crew.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We’ve received reports claiming that the silver-haired girl behind the commotion in the square was taken away by a young lady, taking a tram headed for Waldstein Castle… and here you are.”

The reporter, standing off-camera, smirked and landed a decisive blow.

“Just now, you said, ‘there’s lots of good werewolves and vampires up in that castle’, didn’t you?”

“I…”

“Would you like a reminder? Should we play back the recording we made?” The woman asked matter-of-factly. Hilda shrank.

“…You actually believed a joke like that?”

She wanted to end the conversation somehow, but the other crew members just watched in silence. If this were a live broadcast, at least, they would not try anything—but this footage being recorded could be edited to suit anyone’s needs.

As Hilda hesitated, the reporter continued with a gleam in her eye.

“We came to this island knowing that vampires and werewolves aren’t mere myths.”

“What… are you talking about?”

“I’m certain that there’s something on this island. …Sorry, but could you turn off the camera?”

The reporter gestured to the cameraman, who nodded and turned away.

Hilda glared suspiciously at the reporter, unwilling to let her guard down.

‘I won’t let these people reveal Relic and the others’ secrets… I can’t.’

Afraid that she would end up burdening Relic, Hilda was even considering dismissing the woman’s claims entirely and calling the police.

“There’s nothing to be scared of. I’m on your side. Supposing that vampires and werewolves exist, I just want to let everyone know that they aren’t enemies of humanity.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. And how would you know if they’re enemies of humanity or not?”

Hilda remained guarded, but asked the questions that came up in her mind.

ZZZ Network was a relatively new television station infamous for its ends-justifies-the-means approach to journalism. Though their methods caused a stir, they also managed to uncover all sorts of incredible stories. Public opinion on ZZZ Network was polarizing, to say the least.

Having heard the rumors herself, Hilda could not allow herself to open up to the woman.

But the woman did not react with frustration—instead, she quietly looked up at the castle on the mountainside.

“You see… I received some help from them once.”

“What?”

“A few years ago, I came to this island to cover a story on werewolf myths. That’s when I was attacked. But someone saved me—someone I couldn’t call human. A humanoid… creature. A creature with a patch of blue fur on his head. I was dazed from being hit, so I thought I might have been seeing things.”

“…!”

Hilda was astonished.

A werewolf with blue hair. She remembered him.

Although she didn’t know if the man had dyed his hair or if it was natural, there was a blue-haired werewolf who had lived in Waldstein Castle for a very long time. Among the castle’s werewolves under Grandmother Job’s command, he was essentially the Relic and Ferret’s head bodyguard. When Hilda stayed late at the castle, he even took her home by motorcycle.

“Sorry, Missy. This should be Relic’s job, but our young master’s still a bit dense when it comes to this stuff.” He had once teased her. Adding that to his appearance, Hilda had a very clear image of him in her memories.

‘Then… is this woman telling the truth?’

Realizing that this woman was, like her, connected to the world of Night, Hilda lowered her guard ever-so-slightly.

But still unable to trust the reporter completely, she cautiously approached the subject.

“Then… what do you want to interview me about?”

“Well, I’d actually like a few words from your friend here.”

Throwing a glance at the girl, who was sniffing the air with an inscrutable expression, the reporter turned to Hilda.

“I want to know the castle’s secrets.”

“…”

“It looks like you were headed to Waldstein Castle. You’re going to see someone you know… a vampire, right?”

The woman based her questions off the audio she recorded. Hilda was taken aback, but refused to give an answer.

“…Who knows?”

But that awkward answer was as good as a confirmation.

“Hee hee. You’re really being stubborn. You must trust that vampire very much. Is he a man?”

“What?”

“Is he your boyfriend? Is he a prince living in that castle?”

“…?”

Hilda sensed something strange about the snickering reporter.

The way the woman acted and asked questions was somehow different from the way reporters behaved on television. Hilda then realized that the other crew members were also snickering.

‘Something’s wrong. What is this?

‘It’s as if this woman knows about Relic.

‘And the rest of them… their eyes are looking at me, but it’s like they’s staring at something far away.’

Certain that something was off, Hilda decided to escape from the crew as fast as she could. Remembering that she had to take the girl next to her as well, she glanced at Watson.

But the werewolf tilted her head expressionlessly.

“What’s wrong?” Hilda asked quietly, ignoring the reporter.

Watson sniffed again.

She then mumbled to Hilda, her face still a blank.

“Strange.”

“What?”

“The people. They smell strange.”

“?”

Perhaps her superior sense of smell detected a small difference in the scents of the crew.

But the crew was from outside the island. There was nothing unusual about them smelling a little different.

Hilda, however, was not so naive as to dismiss a werewolf’s sense of smell.

“How are they strange?”

“Umm…”

The reporter asked absolutely no questions of the girls whispering to one another in front of her.

It was as though she was waiting for them to notice something.

Hilda could hear her own heartbeat rise in a crescendo.

Her experiences were warning her of danger.

Her human instincts were setting off alarm bells in her head.

Complying with the quickening of her pulse, blood pumped faster through her body and her muscles tensed, ready to move in an instant.

Hilda desperately held back her fear and waited for Watson.

Soon, the werewolf tilted her head and—

“A bit like Dorrikey and Mirald. But different. There’s human smells. Mixed with them.”

“…Dorrikey? Mirald?”

The names were unfamiliar to Hilda. She could feel her throat going dry, but she had a vague idea as to what had happened to the crew around her.

‘They smell like a mix of humans and something else. And they’re acting strangely.

‘What if they’re saying things they couldn’t possibly know… because someone is making them say it?’

And as though proving Hilda’s assumptions correct, Watson mumbled ever-so-plainly.

“Dorrikey. Mirald. I came with them. They’re vampires.”

The word sent a chill down Hilda’s spine. Her entire body reacted at once.

‘We have to run.’

As Hilda leapt, Watson’s hand in hers, one of the crew members grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Let me go!”

“So you do know, don’t you? You know about vampires, and the feeble little Lord of Waldstein Castle.”

The reporter cackled, her eyes positively glowing.

But the words she spoke could not possibly have come from her. Even her tone had done a 180, clearly signifying that she was being controlled.

The other crew members began to laugh as well.

“No! Let go of me!”

Desperately wresting herself free from the crew member’s grip, she glimpsed two small wounds on the man’s arm. Anyone else might have written them off as nothing more than a pair of bug bites. But Hilda knew the significance of the marks.

‘They’re under subjugation!’

Hilda was fully convinced now.

When a vampire drank the blood of a human, they could exert a certain amount of control over the human’s actions. The potency of this ability varied greatly among individual vampires—with some not possessing the skill at all—but Hilda’s parents had been subjugated this way in the past, and Hilda herself had been subjugated more recently by an unusual vampire called Sigmund.

Hilda was on edge because she assumed that the crew was intent on maliciously exposing vampires to the world. But that was perhaps preferable to the current situation.

‘Why a TV crew? Is it just them? What if this is just like the Carnale Festival, and everyone on the island is being subjugated? What about Mom and Dad?’

Even as countless questions flashed through her mind, Hilda searched for an escape route.

Meanwhile, Watson seemed to have realized that Hilda was in some sort of trouble. She opened her mouth, intent on protecting ‘the nice person who feeds me’.

“…Can I bite them?”

“What?!”

“…Are these bad people?”

Watson’s eyes were narrowed and there was no emotion in her voice, but Hilda knew that she was being quite grim.

“They’re only being subjugated, and they’re not vampires yet… Anyway, Watson, let’s just get out of… Ahh?!”

Two of the crew members pounced on Hilda mid-sentence and held her down. The cameraman turned the camera back toward her.

“It might be fun to show the Lord of Growerth footage of his girlfriend getting raped.”

The bespectacled reporter was no longer present in her own words. Fear ran through Hilda’s veins as she took a deep breath to scream.

But at that moment, a guttural whisper filled the air.


“No. Bad people.”


A second later, Watson’s body began to change rapidly.

Silver fur covered her entire body and her face transformed into the muzzle of a young wolf.

Her body expanded slightly with muscle, but they were not enough to tear her baggy clothes.

Watson completed her transformation, human only in her stature.

Hilda gasped, though not out of terror. Her breath was taken away by the beauty of the sight.

Watson, her silver fur fluttering in the wind and dressed in human clothing, looked less like a man-eating carnivore and more like an artistic masterpiece.

And for some reason, though she was under subjugation, the reporter’s eyes turned to dinner plates at the sight of the transformed werewolf.

While Hilda lost herself in awe at the sight, Watson leapt with nigh-invisible speed at the men holding Hilda down. She forced them off Hilda and flung them into the distance.

The men fell onto the road on their backs, losing consciousness with pained gasps.

Watson then turned to the reporter and the cameraman, ready to charge.

“No, Watson! You don’t have to hit them! Let’s just get out of here!” Hilda cried, pointing at the mountain path.

Watson nodded and turned.

But at that moment, a flock of countless bats emerged from the darkness and swept over her.

“Watson!” Hilda yelled. Watson spoke at the same time.

“…Run.”

“But Watson—“

“I’m fine.”

With an emotionless nod, Watson leapt away from the bats.

Although the bats were making a racket, the sound didn’t seem to reach the bars on the street. The deserted road was treated to the unusual scene of a flock of bats chasing after a werewolf.

“Watson…”

Hilda wanted to remain, but convinced that she could do nothing here, she ran for the mountain path leading up to the castle.

If she had a cell phone, she would have called the castle’s maintenance office by now. Regretting not buying one when Mihail did, Hilda shouted at Watson.

“Hold on, Watson! I’ll go get some help!”

Seeing the werewolf nod, Hilda turned and ran with all her strength, refusing to look back—chased by the footsteps of the subjugated reporter and her crew.


She desperately drew up the image of the Lord of Waldstein Castle—the vampire who, despite having no financial or political power, was the most dependable person she could think of.


<=>


“This is getting exciting.”

A figure watched the commotion unfolding below with a clap of the hands.

Mirald stood atop a power line on the mountainside, recounting the situation with a grin on his face.

He was too far to read the thoughts of Hilda and Watson, but he had a good look at Hilda’s thoughts before he climbed up to this location.

“That human girl thinks very highly of Relic von Waldstein. Now I know exactly what he looks like—he’s a lot older now than he was in the picture Mr. Gerhardt showed me.”

Perhaps it was a side-effect of his telepathy—Mirald had a habit of speaking his internal monologues out loud. He snickered gleefully in the deserted woods.

“Instead of a knight in shining armor, we have a vampire lord cloaked in bats. But will he make it in time for a dramatic rescue? I hope it ends up a story worth telling… Where are you, Relic von Waldstein, and what are you thinking?


“I hope you’re at least aware that something is wrong with this island. And that your girlfriend is in danger.”


<=>


Waldstein Castle.


Relic sat on the rooftop and thought to himself.

‘I’m glad Pirie’s injuries are healed.’

She had screamed and shrieked as Shizune cut her legs to negate the subjugation, but Pirie ultimately made a complete recovery. She thanked Shizune with a pout and flew off on her own.

Though Relic was relieved that his friend was all right, his thoughts were filled with all sorts of worries.

‘Maybe Watt was right.

‘Do I really cherish anyone?’

The faces flashing through the teenaged boy’s thoughts were those of the countless vampires he knew, the werewolves and witches residing in the castle, and an ordinary pair of human siblings. Of them, the younger sister Hilda’s face lingered longest in his mind.

One of the witches who went in and out of the castle had once said to her, “You know, you have potential. You might make a really good witch”. But Hilda had declined the offer, saying that she was happy with the current state of her relationship with the castle.

Witches made contracts not with demons or spirits, but with certain vampires and werewolves. Because some witches underwent rituals that couldn’t even be described to minors, Relic remembered being relieved that Hilda declined to become one.

‘Hilda always stood on the human side of the world.

‘But she still accepted me.’

Mihail and his utter lack of prejudice was an exception to the rule. The islanders who knew of vampires generally looked at them from a human perspective. Although the older humans were quite fond of Gerhardt, that was only a result of their age and experience. Most looked at vampires with fear or curiosity.

Others, of course, were like Hilda’s parents—openly disdainful.

That was the image of vampirekind prevalent in the world.

Their very existence was deemed an evil, and in many stories they were portrayed as figures of malice who devoured humans. Relic was once bitter that he and fellow vampires were so hated, when their only crime was their existence. But his bitterness never turned to hatred at the world.

It was fortunate for Relic that he was born and raised on the unusual environment of Growerth. Very few vampires in the castle hated the world—in that sense, it was a utopia of sorts. When Relic was younger, he even considered living in the castle forever without having any contact with humans.

But he was fortunate yet again to have met the girl named Hilda.

When his tutors found out that he was a vampire, he desperately tried to hide it. But he could see the terror and disgust in their eyes. And putting their fear into action, Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich began to hold lessons at a different location so Relic and Ferret could not meet Hilda and Mihail.

Mihail was already head over heels for Ferret, and there was a strange air between the two of them that Relic could not bring himself to intrude in. And as he treated Mihail after the latter was hit by Ferret, Relic realized that Mihail was a little different from other humans.

‘I thought something really selfish—that maybe Mihail would be the perfect support for Ferret.’

Although Ferret stubbornly resisted looking at anyone but her brother, it was clear as day that she had been slowly changing since Mihail began to pursue her in earnest. As and older brother and a family member, Relic was truly happy for Ferret as she began to open her heart to the world.

And one night, as he began to think this way—

A girl he thought he would never meet again walked up to Waldstein Castle of her own will.


<=>


Several years ago. Waldstein Castle.


Relic was taking a nighttime stroll through the air in the form of a flock of bats when he heard a familiar voice.

“Ferret! I love you!”

The voice was followed by the sound of something falling to the ground with a loud noise.

‘Heh. Mihail really doesn’t know when to give up.’

Though astonished, Relic smiled faintly and descended to the castle.

The flock of bats gathered at one point under the moon, transforming into a boy.

It was an ordinary transformation for Relic. But the moment he finished, he heard a gasp from next to the fallen Mihail.

‘Huh…? …Ferret?’ He thought for a moment, but Relic quickly spotted Ferret a slight distance away, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

‘No way…’

His eyes widened in shock.

But there was no particular need for him to look closer; Relic’s night vision was good enough to tell that the figure next to Mihail was Hilda.

“Ah…”

‘…Mihail brought her after all.’

Relic knew that this day would come, but this was too early, he thought.

But this was no time for navel-gazing.

Hilda stood rooted to the ground in shock.

Relic was saddened by the look on her face.

This was not the first time he had shown his powers to humans. When an islander who didn’t know about vampires first witnessed him, most reacted first with bewilderment, then horror. If not, they assumed they were hallucinating and turned away without a word, or ran off screaming.

Though Relic was used to such reactions now, he could not bear to be treated that way by the girl he saw as his friend.

Deeply saddened, he felt the urge to flee on the spot.

But he was stopped by a single voice.

“Relic.”

Her voice was no different from usual—she called his name just like the day they first met at her house. There was a hint of surprise and confusion in her tone, but not even a twinge of fear or hatred.

‘But… once she finds out I’m a vampire…’

He did not want to despair.

But Relic found himself frozen, unable to escape.

Cradling a faint glimmer of hope, Relic went up to Hilda.

“…Did Mihail tell you about me?”

Hilda shook her head. She met Relic’s gaze with a look both curious and amazed.

“I wanted to know why you two stopped coming to our house. That’s when Mihail said it would be easier to explain if I saw you myself.”

“I see.”

‘That’s just like Mihail.’

Relic sighed at his friend, who was unconscious on the ground with a happy smile.

He did not want to tell lies or deceive Hilda.

Coming to a resolution, Relic turned to Hilda—the human his own age he had known the longest—and confessed.

“It’s exactly what it looks like. I’m not human—I’m a vampire.”

“…A vampire? You mean like Count Dracula?”

Relic chuckled bitterly at the mention of the most famous vampire in the world.

“Yeah. Although Dracula’s just a piece of fiction. Father says that the Dracula story and the book called ‘Carmilla’, and the movies based on them, have a lot of influence over vampires today. The books used myths that came from real vampires, though.”

Count Dracula was said to have been modeled after a Romanian aristocrat, but many claimed that the aristocrat and the fictional vampire had nothing in common save for their name and place of birth. Of course, Relic’s adoptive father once commented, [There are rumors that a certain family of vampires was quite close to the aristocrat in question. However, there is no way of knowing if the man was a human nicknamed ‘The Impaler’, if he was not human altogether, or if he was, quite literally, Dracula—‘Son of the Dragon’].

“The man Dracula was based on was actually a war hero. That’s why his enemies started spreading vampire rumors about him. They called him a vicious murderer who impaled people to death. That’s part of the reason why vampires always end up being the bad guys in movies and books…”

Relic surprised himself at the mention of the phrase ‘bad guy’.

‘I guess, to humans, vampires really are the bad guys.’

Remembering who he was, Relic hung his head.

“…Yeah. I’m the bad guy. I’m a vampire. You saw me transform just now—I’m not human.” He said, crestfallen.

But Hilda smiled.

“Thank goodness… You’re still the Relic I know.”

“…Aren’t you surprised?”

“I am! I couldn’t believe my eyes when all those bats turned into you! And I don’t really understand everything you said about vampires… it was really sudden. I think… if you were a stranger, I might have been scared.”

“…”

As Hilda rambled quickly, Relic found himself being confused.

“But I’m glad you’re still you. I’m glad you’re still the same person I could talk to normally.”

At that point, the look on Hilda’s face grew uneasy.

‘What’s wrong?’ Relic wondered, his heart sinking.

But Hilda’s unease had nothing to do with what Relic feared.

“Hey, Relic? Do you hate us now? Because we’re humans?”

“What? No, no! No way!”

He shook his head vehemently. The twelve-year-old girl’s face lit up with a smile, filling Relic’s heart with light.


“Thank goodness. Then does that mean we can hang out together from now on?”


<=>


Present day. Waldstein Castle.


‘I wonder when it was that I started to really fall for her.’

Relic put on a lonely smile as he reminisced on the rooftop.

‘I wonder when Hilda started to like me.

‘I wonder if she still likes someone like me.’

Unable to bring himself to be confident, the boy tinted his smile with a layer of sadness.

But he would not resent Hilda if she no longer loved him. Relic made up his mind that, should she ever fall for someone else, he would bow out without a word. Perhaps humans were better off being joined with fellow humans.

Though Relic knew this in his head, he knew also that, if Hilda were ever to break up with him, he would lose himself to grief.

‘I wonder what I’d do then.

‘I wonder if I’d end up sucking her blood… subjugating her… making her look at me… just like a third-rate villain.

‘Or maybe I’d just start wailing like an idiot.

‘Or maybe… maybe I’d get angry, just like Watt said.’

He imagined all sorts of scenarios in his head, but Relic did not arrive at any definitive conclusion.


‘Hilda was always my salvation and hope.

‘Even though she’s human, she accepted me… from her human standpoint.’


Relic did not have strong feelings on being accepted by or coexisting with humans. He was merely disgruntled with the fact that humans hated vampires like him, even though he himself had done nothing wrong.

But Relic did not have the strength to overcome such things on his own, nor was he villainous enough to rise up and play the part that humans expected out of a monster like him.

If humans and vampires were different—in the way that humans were different from lions and fish—Relic would not have been so conflicted. But because humans and vampires possessed similar bodies and could communicate freely with one another, he could not say that the two groups were entirely different.

But he knew that his fellow vampires drank the blood of humans(though some had no need to), and that humans saw vampires as monsters. Even between humans, wars were fought over different religions and ideologies. There was no way that the many issues surrounding the relationships between humans and vampires could go over smoothly.

And yet Relic could not bear to be hated unconditionally by people he was capable of interacting with. It drove him mad.

He remembered his own grief when Hilda’s parents began to sequester him and Ferret from Hilda and Mihail out of fear.

That was why Relic was delighted at Hilda and Mihail, who crossed that border and treated them no differently from usual. And Hilda, who eventually accepted even his love, became Relic’s salvation, his hope for humanity, and his link between humans and vampires.

‘That’s right. As long as Hilda is here, I’ll never despair at humanity.’

Hilda was different from witches and vampire worshippers. She accepted Relic from the perspective of an ordinary human, not enraptured by the world of Night.

‘Even if Hilda betrays me one day, the fact that she saved me will never change. …Although I want to believe she’ll never betray me.’

As his thoughts piled up one after another, they began to coagulate into one singular desire.

‘I want to see her face, even if it’s just once.

‘Ah… I want to see Hilda.’

It was true that, when he received the lecture on Clans, he was reminded of the saddening fact that humans saw vampires as monsters. His unease was worsened by the Clan member’s attack earlier.

Though he did nothing to deserve it, his very existence made him an outcast.

Fearing that, perhaps, he should not exist in this world, Relic quietly hung his head.

‘But maybe I shouldn’t go visit her this late.’


At that moment, a flock of green bats ascended to the rooftop and transformed into a maid.

“There you are, Master Relic.”

“Oh, sorry. Were you looking for me?”

The maid was clearly worried. Relic tensed, wondering if perhaps the Clan member had returned for revenge.

But the maid’s answer only served to push Relic into the depths of fear.

“Miss Hilda’s parents just called the management office, Master.”

“What?”

Speak of the devil and he shall appear—although Hilda hadn’t come in person this time.

Relic was rattled by the fact that her parents were the ones who called.

“They say that Miss Hilda went out to buy groceries and hasn’t returned. They were wondering if she was in the castle.”

“It’s not every day that they call us.” Relic said, trying to wave off his trepidation by blaming Hilda’s parents. But his body was half-ready to transform into a flock of bats, prepared to search for Hilda at once.

“I’m sure they must be worried, with the serial killer still on the loose.”

“…A serial killer?”

“Haven’t you heard, Master?” The maid asked, taken aback. Relic felt a chill run down his spine.

“What are you talking about? What’s this about a serial killer?”

“We don’t know if the killer is a human or a vampire. Some rumors on television say it’s the work of a werewolf. But whatever the case, three young women have been killed over the past week—“

The maid never had the chance to finish.

Relic transformed in an instant, becoming a ferocious wave of shadows as he flew down the mountainside in the form of a flock of countless bats.


‘Who cares about having hope for humanity?’

Relic ground his teeth, flapping his wings at incredible speeds.

‘She’s not my link to humanity. I just cherish Hilda. That’s all.

‘I’m still completely blind to everything about this island.’

Accepting his own immaturity, Relic regretted his hesitation and continued to think.

That, in spite of it all, Hilda was still his salvation and hope.


And that, even if he had to give up his very life and everything he ever loved, he would save Hilda.


<=>


Perhaps she hated humanity.

Hilda Dietrich was, on occasion, gripped by such thoughts.

Vampires were symbols of evil. They were seen as unholy creatures.

But Relic, Ferret, Gerhardt, and the vampires at the castle were completely different.

Hilda sometimes found herself despising humanity for hating vampires for no other reason. It drove her mad.

Normally, a hatred of humanity was reserved for young people in their teens—a sentiment that disappeared naturally with maturity. But things were a little different in Hilda’s case.

One reason for her dislike of humans was the fact that her own parents hated Relic and Ferret.

Another reason was her parents’ motivation for continuing to tutor the twins in spite of everything. Though Mihail and Relic hypothesized that they were too scared of vampires to quit, Hilda knew the truth.

Money. It was a simple enough answer.

The pay they received from Waldstein Castle was unheard of for a simple tutoring job.

Though vampires were horrid, they could not afford to lose the money.

When Hilda happened to overhear her parents saying so, she was stunned. Her family—the people she should love and trust the most—not only despised vampires, they also worked for vampires solely for the purpose of making money. Hilda was disgusted to the core.

And yet she could not bring herself to hate her parents. Because, as the conversation continued, she heard her parents discuss how much they wanted to protect her and Mihail. She saw just how much they loved her.

All she had left afterwards was intense guilt toward Relic and Ferret. Hilda herself had done nothing to them, and she never considered herself a representative of humanity. But it was the simple fact that her parents disliked the person she loved, and for the simple reason that he was a vampire. Their unconditional hatred of vampires planted a seed of guilt in Hilda’s heart.

It blossomed into her guilt toward Relic.

Hilda disliked humans.

But she hoped that Relic would not dislike them.

She knew she was being selfish, but there was no changing her attitude now.

Yet in spite of her twisted emotions, Hilda loved Relic. Even in the midst of the chaos of sentiments, she continued to love him.

And so, she kept running.

Ignoring the screaming of her muscles as she scrambled up the mountain path.

She had to save Watson. She had to call for help. But her reasoning began to grow faint with confusion, fatigue, and fear.

‘Relic.’

All she could think of now was the face of the one she loved.

When did they start going out? Who was the one to confess first? Such trivial details had already long disappeared from her thoughts.


‘I want to see his face, even if it’s just once.’

Driven by that sentiment alone, she had sprinted through the dark of night—


But her sentiments were powerless in the face of reality.


“…Let’s take her to the car.”

Hilda was so easily captured by the subjugated television crew. But instead of going back down to the streets, they dragged her up the mountain.

They did not, however, take the path leading to the castle. They were headed for the parking lot, normally used by tourists who brought their vehicles via ferry.

The castle was closed to visitors now, and the lot was illuminated only by a small street lamp. In a corner sat a station wagon painted with the ZZZ Network logo. It was a rather large vehicle, and to Hilda, it looked for all the world like her casket.

“…! No! Let go of me!”

She tried to break free, but she could not overpower the crew members.

‘…Not again.’

In her anguish, Hilda remembered all the times she had become an obstacle to Relic.

She had been subjugated, and she had been taken hostage. Relic rescued her each time. And, instead of chastising her for getting in his way, he smiled in relief.

She, as a human being, fell in love with Relic. But being human, she was powerless. Hilda despised herself and her weakness.

Couldn’t she have done something?

Perhaps things might have been different if she had taken self-defense lessons at Traugott’s dojo?

Perhaps things might have been different if she had at least received some tips from the witch who complimented her potential?

Or perhaps if she had asked Relic to turn her, even if she had to force him—

Hilda ended her train of thought there in horror.

‘No. That’s something for Relic to decide.’

Though her body was struggling, her heart was eerily calm.

Perhaps it was because she was despairing, not at humanity, but at herself.

‘In the end, was it just that I despised humans?’

She was pushed into the back of the car, her arms and legs bound with cables.

‘Maybe… maybe I was attracted to Relic just because I wanted to spite my parents.’

Her consciousness grew faint as someone tightened their grip on her neck.

There was no murder in the subjugated crew’s eyes—their only intention was to knock her unconscious. But from Hilda’s perspective, she saw nothing but death in her immediate future.

She did not want to die. That one desire began to fill her thoughts.

And yet a corner of her heart remained resolute.

‘But I don’t care. I love Relic, no matter what.’

The moment she reaffirmed her determination, her vision grew dim.

Looking up at the hazy scene before her, Hilda thought to herself,

‘The stars are so pretty tonight.’

Before she died, she wanted to look up at a sky like this alongside Relic.

And just as even the pain began to grow distant, a question presented itself—

‘The… stars?’

The moment she remembered that she was inside a car, the pressure on her neck disappeared and blood began flowing into her brain. With the sensation of blood pumping through her veins once more, her consciousness rapidly returned.

And right before her eyes—


The roof of the station wagon turned into a flock of bats, scattering into the night.

It was not only the car. The bodies of the crew turned to fog—the clothes on their backs and all—and disappeared. Even the cables around Hilda’s arms and legs turned to bats and flew off.

Before she knew it, the entire station wagon had turned into a flock of bats. Hilda felt herself descend softly to the ground, then found herself sitting on the pavement.

The bats circled overhead like a tornado, then touched down in the parking lot at a slight distance.

The pillar of shadows contracted as it hit the ground, and reformed into a station wagon as though nothing had happened. At the same time, the crew members, including the female reporter, returned to human form, leaning against the car.

But that mattered nothing to Hilda.

Her eyes were locked on the vampire she thought of to the end—Relic von Waldstein.

“Are you all right, Hilda? I’m really sorry—I should’ve noticed earlier.”

As Relic mumbled apologetically, droplets of tears fell from Hilda’s eyes.

“Relic…!”

She leapt into his arms and buried her face in his chest, apologizing endlessly.

“I’m sorry. Thank you. I’m so sorry, Relic. I’m sorry. I—“

“Wh, why are you apologizing, Hilda?!” Relic asked, bewildered. But Hilda would not stop.

“I… I got in your way again. I’m so sorry…”

Understanding everything with that simple sentence, Relic smiled and brushed her cheek with his hand, wiping away her tears.

“C’mon, don’t be stupid. You’re never in my way.”

“But…”

“How could you possibly be an obstacle, Hilda? You’ve always been my goal.”

At that point, Relic came to a realization.

‘Oh, I get it.

‘Hilda really is my hope.

‘Because she’s with me, I won’t despair at humanity… or the world.’

At the same time, he became certain that he could answer the mayor’s question.

‘I do cherish someone. And that someone… is Hilda.’

As long as Hilda was there, perhaps he would never truly know anger. As long as she was with him, no amount of agony and no number of injured friends would rob him of his hope.

‘Now that I think about it, this is really selfish of me. If Pirie or the freeloaders heard, they’d start complaining at me. And Watt might punch me again.’

But at least, at this very moment—as he held Hilda in his arms—he did not mind one bit.

He would turn the world against him if it meant making Hilda his. Enraptured by an uncharacteristic mix of love and desire, Relic found himself putting his mouth to her throat.

At that moment, Hilda gasped and whispered, wiping her tears.

“That’s right… Watson’s still—“

“Watson?”

“She’s the werewolf who rescued me! She’s being attacked by a vampire on the street with the bars by the mountain… That vampire’s the one who subjugated those people! Watson was trying to help me get away, and—“

Hilda sounded a little confused from the shock, but Relic understood the gist of her explanation and looked around.


“Where are we…? What did we just—”

“Huh? What are we doing here?”

The four crew members came to, looking rather baffled.

Relic must have done the same thing as before, when he undid Sigmund’s subjugation over the islanders. Seeing that Relic had harmed no one, Hilda breathed a sigh of relief. Relic then gave her his instructions.

“I’ll go save Watson, so you go to the castle with these people. Everyone’s making their way here right now.”

“I’ll—“

‘I’ll go too’, Hilda wanted to say, but remembering how she was powerless to help, she stopped herself.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon. I won’t lose.”

With a reassuring grin, he transformed into a flock of bats and took to the skies.

“What?!” “B-bats!” “It’s a vampire!”

The television crew screeched behind him, but Relic did not care. They had no camera with them, so he did not have to worry about being captured on tape. The crew members would convince themselves that they were hallucinating. At this point, Relic was more concerned about the werewolf who had saved Hilda.

‘Wait. Maybe they’ll end up bombarding Hilda with questions… I guess I’ll have to apologize to her later.’

He turned his attention to her. Seeing Hilda’s face looking up at him, Relic was filled with a sense of peace.

Or perhaps he was relishing the sensation of being alive.

‘That’s right. The next time I see Watt, I’ll tell him with my head held high.

‘What I cherish most is one human being…


‘…And everything about this world she lives in.’


<=>


Looking into Relic’s thoughts from the shadows of the woods, Mirald snickered.

“Ah, romance. I should have expected nothing less from Mr. Gerhardt’s son.”

Chuckling in utter glee, the storyteller continued to ramble to himself.

“If he really cherishes her that much, I think he should just turn her and lock her up in a safe somewhere. I wonder if that’s just a matter of personal taste. Anyway, he really is too human of a vampire.


“And… I think he might be placing a little too much trust in humanity.”


<=>


The mayor’s office.


Touching down on the roof of the city hall building, the mayor took human form and immediately headed for his office.

Anxiously opening the door, he found himself facing the same vampire as before, this time under bright electric lights.

“Ah, Mayor! I’ve been waiting for you. I even made sure to turn on the lights so your citizens wooooaaaaaah!”

“I. Told. You. To. Fuck. Off.”

This time, Watt’s voice was tinged with not only unease, but bloodlust. He grabbed the detective by the neck and prepared to fling him out the window again.

But this time, Dorrikey resisted. He transformed his upper body into a flock of bats and escaped Watt’s grip.

“Asshole…” Watt growled, ready to unleash his full power. But Dorrikey’s cry froze his thoughts.

“Wait! Do you want to allow a fourth victim to be claimed?!”

“…What?”

“I don’t yet know the exact identity of the culprit, but I’ve narrowed down the list of suspects! The police force may be powerless this time, Mayor. There is a Clan involved with this case!”


<=>


Ten minutes later, somewhere on the island.


<…So you finally present yourself.>

The voice began to echo as soon as Relic discovered the cube of bats.

In their battle, Watson and the vampire must have gotten further from the place Hilda described. It took Relic some time to locate them.

They were in the woods on the mountainside, far from any human residence.

From inside the cube, identical to the one he saw in the gardens, Relic could hear the sound of something being torn again and again.

<This lowly beast has been giving me a bit of trouble, I’m afraid.>

No sooner had she spoken did Pamela undo her transformation, the cube of bats disappearing in a flash.

From the box emerged a werewolf whose arms and legs were covered in cuts. The wolf was looking straight at Relic, eyes wide open.

“Oh, uh… you’re Watson, right? Hilda asked me to come help you.”

From the transformation, Relic supposed that the werewolf was still young—younger than himself. But it was difficult to discern the werewolf’s gender from their clothing, and Relic did not know enough about the race to determine sex from the face of a transformed werewolf.

Meanwhile, the werewolf reacted to the name ‘Hilda’. She turned herself back into human form and nodded blankly.

Hearing the conversation through the flow of the air, the blindfolded Pamela giggled.

“So, what brings the opportunistic Lord of Waldstein Castle to this humble maiden?”

“Well… a few things. I’d like you to apologize to the people you hurt earlier, but before that, I’d like you to apologize for dragging Hilda into this mess.”

“‘Hilda’? Oh, that human girl. So you are connected to her after all. I thought she might become a useful bargaining chip, but I suppose I’ve failed.”

Pamela spoke as though she never expected any results from her plan to being with.

“Just how exactly is this human girl related to you? Is she your pet? Or a talented servant? Or perhaps one of your toys? At one point, it was quite fashionable among the members of the Sunfold Clan to feign affection for a human, only to betray them at the moment of truth and throw them into despair.”

Relic refused to be provoked by Pamela’s unpleasant comment. He only calmly conveyed his own intentions.

“I’m sorry in advance, Miss Pamela. Let me warn you beforehand.”

“?”

As the girl tilted her head, wondering why he was apologizing, Relic quietly glared.

Transforming the large trees around him into gigantic wolves, he continued firmly.


“This time… I’ll get serious from the very start.”


<=>


Relic’s full powers were indeed enough to terrify Pamela.


Multiple perfectly ordinary trees in the forest turned into five-meter-tall wolves, which went on to lunge at her simultaneously.

That alone she could evade by turning into a flock of bats. But Relic’s attacks did not end there.

One wolf buried its muzzle into the ground, and threw back its head toward Pamela.

Chunks of dirt fell like rain upon her. But that alone did her no harm.

As Pamela wondered if Relic was playing a trick, the pieces of dirt transformed into bats one after another and crashed over her from every direction.

“Urgh…”

Though she was capable of turning to bats, Pamela was not so skilled at becoming fog. And being completely incapable of turning into a wolf, Relic’s attacks damaged her pride more than her body.

‘What disgusting omnipotence!’

A being she looked down upon was flaunting his overpowering talent before her very eyes.

Refusing to give up, Pamela stubbornly attempted a sneak attack on the flock of bats from near the ground. But she was countered by yet more bats that rose up from the ground itself.

She had no time to create a box of bats, and no time to think of a strategy.

Even diverting Relic’s attention by attacking the silver werewolf would be pointless. The werewolf was capable of defending herself, as Pamela discovered to her humiliation in the difficult battle she fought earlier.


Meanwhile, Relic found himself asking questions as well. But this time, he had no reservations about battle.

‘I wonder why this vampire went after Hilda.

‘Before that, why did she even come to Growerth in the first place?’

Pamela was defending herself with everything she had. But she showed no sign of wanting to escape. Although she fled from the battle with Shizune, under normal circumstances, Pamela probably could not allow herself to retreat.

‘But it’s not like I can try to copy Shizune, either.’

Cannibalism was as much of a taboo among vampires as it was among humans. Because he knew just how terrifying the actions of Eaters like Shizune and Rudy were, Relic could never resort to the method himself.

‘Can vampires drink other vampires’ blood to subjugate them?’

Even as he thought, his attacks did not slow.

Waiting for his opponent to grow fatigued, he swallowed her inside gigantic wolf’s maw.

But just as a concrete plan formed in his head—

A ringtone began to sound from Pamela’s waist.

Noting the sound, which cut off less than two seconds after it began, Pamela ground her teeth with a glare at Relic. She stopped attacking completely and turned solely to defense.

“?”

“I’m afraid I will have to let you off easy today.”

Relic tilted his head, confused by the girl’s haughty attitude. But before he could say a word, Pamela reached up to her blindfold.

“I shall acknowledge that you are not merely plebeian beings—you are enemies whom we must destroy, using all the power at our disposal. As proof, I shall allow your form to be engraved into my eyes.”

Then, the girl gently pulled down her blindfold and looked at Relic and Watson—

“…”

—and froze.

“?”

Relic tilted his head again. It occurred to him that the girl might have some sort of power connected to her eyes. He cautiously began to increase his range of synchronization to the ground under the girl’s feet.

The moment she made one false move, he would create a maw in the ground and drag her under. But instead of taking action, Pamela covered her eyes once more and spoke plainly.

“Do you love that human girl?”

“Huh?! Uh, I… yes.”

Relic was caught off-guard by the question. It was an unnerving change of tone, especially after all Pamela’s talk of servants and toys.

“…I see. So you destroyed the human puppets and rescued her from their hands.” Pamela said blankly. Relic gave a wry chuckle and shook his head.

“Not at all. I just freed them from your subjugation. They must have escaped into the castle together by now.”

Pamela opened her mouth in surprise. Then, she chuckled bitterly.

“…So you are even capable of negating subjugation. I am surprised.”

Then, every expression disappeared from her face as her voice filled, not with disdain, but sympathy.

“Poor thing.”

“What?”

Relic had no idea what she meant.

Pamela slowly walked over toward Relic and Watson.

“Relic von Waldstein. I believed that you were merely a vampire who was polluted by humans and brainwashed into living by their ideology. But I was mistaken.”

If they were human, her breathing would have reached him at this point. Pamela stopped.

“You place too much trust in humanity.”

At that point, a powerful gust of wind rose from under Pamela, and a twisting flock of bats rose up into the air.

Relic hurriedly created a wolf’s jaws in the ground underneath, but they could not capture the rapidly scattering flock.

And in the midst of her countless wingbeats, Pamela whispered to Relic once more.


“…More than even the humans do.”


A single sentence, planting a seed of apprehension in his heart.


<=>


Several minutes later.

When Relic returned to the parking lot, he was met by Pirie and the others.

“Hey, where’s Hilda?”

As his heart beat furiously in his chest, Relic turned to the freeloaders.

The station wagon that had been parked there was nowhere in sight, and the television crew and Hilda were gone.

“We haven’t seen her anywhere. We saw you coming this way from the sky, so we just came here ourselves.”

“Maybe we just missed one another.”

“But there’s only one path down the mountain.”

Something in Relic sank.

It felt as though something other than his heart had sent ripples through his entire body.

As though his every cell were trembling in fear.

‘Right. The TV crew must have taken her somewhere safe.

‘Hilda must have told them to go to the castle, but they must have stopped her.’

His heart refused to lose hope. But Relic realized that his fingertips were trembling.

‘I have to find her.’

Suddenly, someone tugged on his sleeve.

“Huh?”

There stood the werewolf girl who had followed him as he flew in bat-form. She pointed blankly at the place the station wagon was parked.

“Hilda’s scent. Ended there.”

Revealing that Hilda got on the station wagon, Watson sniffed the air and continued expressionlessly.


“There aren’t many cars. Right now. I can follow the scent. From the car that was there.”


<=>


Less than twenty minutes ago. The parking lot.


“You saw it too, didn’t you? That boy just turned into a flock of bats!”

The reporter approached Hilda excitably. Hilda awkwardly looked away.

Things were no different from when they were still under subjugation.

‘Oh, Relic.’

Though inwardly she complained, Hilda was overjoyed that she was at least able to think such thoughts.

She had no idea what was happening on the island now.

But now that Relic had saved her, she could rest easy.

That peace of mind was what allowed her to complain in the first place.

Looking around at the five confused crew members, Hilda sighed in relief.

‘Anyway, it’s a good thing they didn’t catch Relic on ca-‘

At that point, her thoughts came grinding to a halt.

She was struck by an intense sense of incongruity.

‘The camera…’

She recalled how the crew members had regained consciousness after Relic freed them from subjugation.

‘Back then… I didn’t see a camera…’

Then, she remembered something even more obvious.

Currently, she was surrounded by five crew members from ZZZ Network.

But weren’t there only four of them around when Relic took off?

‘It can’t be!

‘The cameraman… he might still be under subjugation!’

Instantly jolted into a guarded state, Hilda turned to the cameraman.

Perhaps she should explain the situation to the other crew members and have them restrain the man. But how would she explain things to them?

As she furiously brainstormed for ideas, she looked at the man pointing the camera at her face.

“Something wrong with my camera?”

The man tilted his head in confusion. It occurred to Hilda that perhaps she was just imagining things.

But—

A second later, there was a pained gasp as the sound recordist fell to the ground.

He was followed by the other members, whose knees buckled as they collapsed in a heap.

“Wha…”

As she turned, wondering what was happening, she felt something piercing her body.

What overpowered the pain was the surprise.

Some sort of fluid was being injected into her.

The moment she realized that the object in her neck was not a vampire’s fangs, but a medical syringe, Hilda realized that she was never out of danger to begin with.

Her consciousness grew dim even faster than when she was being choked.

‘Relic…’

Once more, her thoughts called out to the one she loved.

But this time, no one came for her.

Hilda once thought—when she breathed her last, she wanted to die looking at Relic’s face.

But fate did not permit such a convenient end.

Before her eyes were two faces.

One was her own, reflected in the lens of the camera.

The other was the deranged grin of the serial killer reflected behind her.


That was the last thing the human girl named Hilda ever saw.


<=>


Present time, the mayor’s office.


“Will this be enough to convince you?”

“…”

Watt sighed as he read through the documents Dorrikey produced.

As Watt remained silent, Dorrikey fiddled with his pipe and continued.

“There is a Clan member involved with this case, no doubt. But that vampire… is merely an accomplice. The one who assisted in hiding the bodies. Of course, that does not mean that the culprit ever noticed the presence of the accomplice.”

“That actually sounds plausible, if your documents are legit.”

“The police will arrive at the same conclusion eventually, but because of the vampire’s involvement, it will take them some time. The killer may very well be carrying out another murder as we speak.”

“Shit. You don’t have to tell me twice.”

Ignoring Watt, Dorrikey continued plainly.

“Whatever you may say to me, I shall do my duty as a detective and do everything in my power to prevent another murder. The reason I came here to speak to the vampire who rules over the humans of this island—you—is because we are members of the Organization.”

With that, Dorrikey headed for the window with the pipe in his mouth.

“Wait.”

Watt said to his back.

“I’ll take the north side of the island. You take the south. I’ll get this intel to the crowd at the castle along the way.”

“I’m surprised. I was told that you are on rather unfriendly terms with Waldstein Castle. Of course, I will not complain about additional help.” Dorrikey said, furrowing his brow. Watt grinned.

“As if I’d go up to them to get all buddy-buddy at this point.


“I’m only using them for the sake of my city.”


<=>


Twenty minutes later. An abandoned church in western Growerth.


Watson had followed the scent of the station wagon to a small, ruined church on the west side of the island.

The car was parked in the woods a short distance away. According to Watson, Hilda’s scent had traveled into the church.

The building had been abandoned after a fire gutted the interior and a new chapel was built on the south side of the island.

The stone building was humble and nearly buried by the foliage, but there was a foreboding air about it that weighed even on Relic, who was not weak against crucifixes.

Of course, the church was not the main reason for his unease.

An indescribable sense of fear was twisting through his veins.

The nameless regret that he had done something irreversible, pressing on his gut.

And dealing the critical blow to his thoughts, bursting with apprehension, was—


“…I smell blood.”


Watson’s words before the church.


Before he knew it, Relic was running.

He grabbed the handle of the metal door and pulled it open with all his might.

The interior was charred, ravaged by fire. The black of the brick walls, and the white of the moonlight.

And at the forefront of it all—

A flash of pale skin, leaning against the half-burned altar.

Spreading all the way to the floor underneath, a dark and vibrant—

Red.


Relic could not comprehend the scene.


‘Why is Hilda sleeping in a place like this?

‘What if she catches a cold?’

Relic’s mind tried to deny the truth, desperately trying to avoid a complete mental breakdown. But the overpowering splash of red at the very center of his sights would not allow it.


“Hil… da…?”


He approached her slowly. He gently pulled her up by the shoulders.

Her head and arms drooped limply, like a marionette with its strings cut.

“Wake up, Hilda. This isn’t funny.”

He knew at a glance that she was not asleep.

Such a prank was impossible for humans, said the gaping hole in her chest.


A human could not survive without a heart.


Even Relic knew that much.

But he could not believe that simple fact.

“…”

Dozens of seconds passed in silence.

The calm was an icy one, heavy and cold as it threatened to freeze the very air.

Soon, Watson stepped through the doors and entered the chapel—

And Relic destroyed the silence he himself had created.

Taking Hilda’s body in a crushing embrace, he sunk his fangs deep into her pale neck.

He sucked her blood without a hint of restraint, following his instincts to try and turn her into a vampire. But Hilda’s body did not so much as twitch. All he tasted was cold, rusted iron, empty of human life.

“Agh…”

Relic did not know where this sound was coming from.

It was a soundless scream. As he realized that the simple moan had come from his own throat, Relic covered his neck in an attempt to stop the noise.

“Agh… aaa, aahh…”

But the air from his lungs knew no end, and along with his voice overflowed the emotions his instincts tried to hold back.


“——————————————————————————————“

An indescribable scream filled the church with grief, and the few glass windows that remained were shattered by an invisible force.


And when his endless scream finally ceased,

Something very simple happened to Relic von Waldstein.



He despaired at the world.



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Interlude 3.


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4 comments:

  1. thanks for another great chapter, see you in May

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  2. Greeat! a cliff hanger hanger to gnaw at my mind for the next month and a half.
    Well played translator-san

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  3. That's an awful cliffhanger indeed. Oh well. Good like with real life stuff.

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  4. Oh! The cliff hanger it burns! Let's see how fast I can learn Japanese (joking)

    ReplyDelete