Friday, 16 May 2014

Vamp! V - Chapter 4

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

The chapter you've all been waiting for. Here's the second-to-last update of Vamp!.

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Chapter 4: Despair & Hope Doth Clash


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The island of Growerth. Downtown Neuberg.


The occurrence was a minor one, but one strange and large enough to worry the people.

“…Is something… shaking?” People wondered, exchanging glances.

It was already deep into night, and many were already asleep. But people awoke to the sound of their windows shaking in their frames, and realized that their own bodies were also trembling slightly.

Not many noticeable earthquakes occurred in Germany; most people were not used to such tremors.

But they were not enough to make the people fear for their lives—yet. The sensation of the ground shaking beneath them merely nurtured the anxiety growing in their hearts.

It was as though the ground itself was afraid of something.


<=>


Underground caverns.


In the caverns under the castle, Valdred Ivanhoe’s eyes flew open.

Because the jester never did go to wake him, Val had no idea about what was going on.

But he was suddenly jolted awake by a sensation like part of his very body was being torn away. He quickly looked down at himself.

Soon realizing that he was only looking over his usual illusionary body—that of a young boy—he slowly calmed himself and turned his gaze to his true body—the island of Growerth.

“Is something the matter, Val? …Oh? What’s this shaking?”

From the great flower bud next to him came the voice of his fellow plant vampire, Selim Vergès. A vine as thick as a man’s arm brought a pair of glasses into the petals, and a bespectacled young girl poked her face out of the tip of the bud.

She was not the only one; others who were in the caverns, absorbed in a game of mahjong, gathered around curiously.

Everyone knew by then that the island was shaking sporadically—they all turned to Val, wondering if perhaps a volcano was erupting.

“What… what is this…?”

Val trembled, his eyes closed shut. Selim turned to him with a worried look.

“Are you all right, Val? What’s going on?”

“…Selim.”

Though the body of the boy was just an illusion created by Val’s consciousness, it directly expressed his emotions, just as Gerhardt’s words did for him. The boy’s face paled in an instant, and cold sweat began running down his body. The others around them also realized that something was very wrong.

What Val said to them was extremely simple:

“I have no idea what’s going on, either. But… you should get away from this island as quickly as possible.”


<=>


Inside Waldstein Castle.


“Oh? An earthquake in Germany? I’m rather surprised.”

For Mage, who was from Japan, earthquakes were nothing remarkable. But his indifference quickly dissipated as the tremors continued for more than thirty seconds.

“This is a bit long…” He said with a frown.

Having awakened only after dusk, he also sensed another strange thing about his surroundings.

“…Where is everyone?”

The maids in green and his fellow freeloaders were nowhere to be seen or sensed.

Wondering if something had happened outside, he quickly turned to a balcony.

At that moment, a familiar flock of bats swarmed in and materialized into the form of the mayor.

“Ack! Mr. Staaaaargh!”

“Good evening to you too, Fucking Mage. Where’s the princeling and his maids?”

Mage was sent flying with a roundhouse kick. The mayor then stomped on his back.

As he drove his groaning former subordinate into the floor, Watt realized that something was amiss.

“…What the hell. This castle’s shaking.”

“I, I was just wondering about it myself, Mr. Stalf! And it doesn’t seem as though there’s anyone in the castle!”

Being the type to yield to authority, Mage chuckled apologetically even as Watt’s shoe dug into his back.

“Th, this shaking’s gone on for more than a minute—it’s different from the earthquakes I—“

Ignoring Mage, Watt returned to the balcony he landed at and surveyed the island.


A moment later, as his gaze reached western Growerth, he took notice of something unusual.

Part of the stars over the west were gone.

There was a straight line of pitch-black darkness, reaching so far above the ground that he had to crane his neck to see the end.

As though a black pillar higher than the atmosphere had suddenly materialized on the island.

As Watt squinted for a better look, he realized that the object was indeed a pillar of sorts—

And with the shaking of the ground, he recalled the power of a certain vampire.


“Can’t be… Relic?”


<=>


Several minutes earlier.


The first to witness the tremors and the disappearance of the stars were the vampires who had followed after Relic from the castle.

Unable to catch up to Relic and Watson’s speed, they were slightly late to arrive at the scene.


“Where is Master Relic?!”

“Hey! I see the werewolf girl!” Pirie cried. Everyone turned—the silver-haired girl was opening the door of the church.

“Hilda’s in there?”

“To be honest, I’m getting a real bad feeling about this.”

The moment the freeloaders exchanged nervous glances,


“——————————————————————————“


A cry that shook the very air around them filled their ears.

But it was only for the first few seconds that they could tell that the sound was coming from the ruined church.

There was a moment of silence, followed by every window in the building shattering at once. Black fog began spilling outside.

But that sight, too, lasted for only the blink of an eye.

The fog instantly turned into a powerful shockwave as it swallowed the entire church in a dark mist.

“What?! What?! What’s going on here?!” Pirie yelled, losing her balance in a state of half-fog.

Though they were not very close to the church, the icy wave had crashed over them as well. The werewolf called Watson just barely avoided being engulfed, quickly backing away from the church.

When the gale stopped, the vampires sensed that the direction of the wind had changed. Those who were running on foot realized that the ground underneath was shaking.

“H, hey… this is crazy…”

Unlike the humans, who wondered if the island was struck by an earthquake, the vampires witnessed the source of the tremor.


The ground was disappearing under them, starting from the place where the church used to be.


The stone building was already nowhere to be seen, and the black mist ravaged the ground to the point of dissipation, creating a maelstrom in the center.

The maelstrom was only the size of two tennis courts, but as it ate away at the ground, it grew larger and larger. In the very middle was a great black pillar of mist, so tall that it erased a line of stars from the sky.

“What is this mist…?” One of the maids wondered. Pirie, who finally found her footing, replied with her eyes wide.

“Hey… you know? This doesn’t look like fog… what… what is that?”

She was not the only one to notice. Some of the vampires with above-average eyesight noticed the true nature of the black pillar.

It looked like the fog had condensed into water, flowing in a vicious stream. Its color came from the countless bats coursing inside the pillar.

The current and the bats swam swiftly, shifting from water to creature, moving more like a hologram sticker than a squirming entity.

One of the vampires, whose eyesight was even better, glimpsed something terrifying and looked away without thinking.

“Hey, what’s wrong?!”

“What did you see?!”

As the other freeloaders pressed for answers, the vampire frowned.

“…Those bats… they don’t have eyes.”


Countless bats without eyes flew into the night sky in a pitch-black current.

As though they were refusing to look upon the world.


<=>


Several minutes later.


‘What is this…?!’

Dorrikey only noticed the disaster as he flew to northern Growerth in the form of a flock of bats.

The black pillar was threatening to topple Everest in height. If not for the night vision inherent in his vampiric nature, he would have thought that the stars had disappeared.

Dorrikey could tell immediately that the pillar was no cloud or twister.

‘This is outrageous. I’m a detective, not a superhero.

‘This isn’t a deduction, but… it feels as though Watson may be involved!’

With that thought, he carefully approached the pillar—

(Correct. Your partner’s involved somewhat. I should have expected as much from an ace detective.)

A familiar voice spoke in his head.

(Mirald?! Where are you?!)

Although his friend was a telepath, unlike Hawking, his range was limited. Dorrikey quickly looked around, guessing that Mirald must be nearby.

Then, he spotted the silhouette standing on a transmission tower beside him and began circling it in bat-form.

“So you found me. That’s an ace detective for you. I expected nothing less.”

(This is no time for sarcastic comments! What in the world is that thing?! And is it true that Watson is involved? She can’t be trapped inside, can she?! Why are you hanging back here? We must hurry and rescue her!)

In less than a second Dorrikey transmitted countless questions to Mirald, but the latter answered them all without stumbling.

“All right. I’ll answer one at a time. That pillar over there is Relic—Mr. Gerhardt’s son. Your partner was with him until just now, but she’s moved to safer ground and is talking to the vampires from Waldstein Castle. They’re too far for me to read their minds, but don’t worry—she’s not being held prisoner.”

With a shrug, Mirald continued.

“In other words, your partner is in absolutely no need of assistance. Relax.”

(Preposterous! What is going on over there? You mean that the pillar of bats over there is Mr. Gerhardt’s son?! Why would he make something like this on the island? I know you’ve already read his thoughts—I demand answers!)

“Of course I have. I turned into thin fog and crept into range to read the details of his thoughts. Although Watson almost caught my scent.” Mirald chuckled. A flock of bats swarmed around his face.

“Hey, Dorrikey, stop that! Telepathy doesn’t give me the power to avoid your attacks! Do you have any idea how much of a pain it is to turn to fog—“

As some of the bats began pulling on one of his ears, Mirald nearly cried out in pain. And as though focusing all his thoughts into the ear, Dorrikey let his heart shout as loudly as he wanted.

(Stop dawdling and get to the point!)

“All right, all right. It’s simple. Not too long ago, his human girlfriend’s heart was carved out. By the serial killer everyone’s been talking about these days.”

(What…?!)

Dorrikey’s thoughts came screeching to a halt. Mirald clapped his hands and laughed.

“You want to know why Mr. Gerhardt’s son is doing that? No reason, really. He’s just in despair at the world. All of that? It’s his anger at the world and himself. It was so human of him that it hit me—yes, he really must be Mr. Gerhardt’s son.”


<=>


“Hey—Watson, right? What just happened here?!” Pirie asked, half-flying over to Watson. The silver-haired girl looked down and replied plainly.

“Hilda was covered in blood. A hole in her chest. She won’t move. Hilda’s friend screamed.”

Though her words were simple, all who listened instantly realized what Relic must happened to Hilda. They exchanged bewildered glances.

“It can’t be…”

Unable to believe that Hilda was dead, Pirie made to scold Watson—but the werewolf didn’t seem the type to lie.

“And? And? What about Relic?” She asked instead.

Watson sniffed the air. Then, she pointed up at the great black pillar.

“All of that. It’s Hilda’s friend.”

Then, she lowered her hand to the bottom of the maelstrom—which was now twice its original size.


“Hilda… is somewhere there.”


<=>


At the base of the pillar of bats, in the middle of the great maelstrom that expanded as it ate away at the island, Hilda’s body was floating without a sound.

Relic’s body was nowhere.

To be specific, his body had already transformed into fog and countless bats, synchronizing with the island and transforming into something indescribably gigantic.

But his consciousness—the hazy sense of reason that could no longer control his actions—remained tangled around Hilda.


‘Hilda.

‘…I’m so sorry.

‘How? How did this happen?’


But even his sense of reason was not enough to stop the flood of despair.

A part of Relic’s mind was asking over and over—why did he have to lose Hilda? But most of his emotions, as though casting aside such brooding, cornered Relic with unstoppable fury and despair.


With no intention in particular,

The boy created to reign over all vampires decided to leave all his powers to his emotions.

Just like a frustrated child banging on the wall until even his hand turned bloody,

Perhaps he merely wanted to turn his outrage at something—anything—at full force.


Not realizing just how much power he held in his hands.


<=>


(Then is our only option to wait for his anger to abate?) Dorrikey asked. Mirald shrugged.

“I could calm down a rampaging monster if it had any sense of reason left in its head. I could try directly showing an illusion of his girlfriend in his mind, but I don’t know her well enough to pull it off. And right now, I can’t exactly read his memories to get a grasp on her… I’m so thirsty that I’m having trouble holding back my powers.” Mirald chuckled. Dorrikey, flitting around him, raised his voice in his head.

(Wait! I thought you said you’d last until—)

“Sorry. I lied. Actually, no. At that point I wasn’t lying, but I overestimated myself.”

(Damn you!…!)

“Hey, there’s an interesting thought. I can read other people’s minds, but I don’t know nearly enough about myself. It’s like one of those twists in those detective novels you like. Although I don’t think you’d ever find a detective or a criminal who can read minds in those stories.” Mirald commented, as though he had nothing to do with the unfolding disaster. Dorrikey finally made up his mind to call the ancient shark vampire to swallow Mirald whole.

Reading his friend’s thoughts, Mirald continued as nonchalantly as ever.

“I don’t really want to end up in George’s stomach—what if I get sliced between his teeth? …Anyway, I’ve heard that Relic could turn entire chunks of the island into a gigantic wolf. But look at him now, completely out of his mind—maybe what I heard was just an exaggeration. Relic’s only affecting a tiny portion of the island.”

(This is no time for casual observations!) Dorrikey cried, just about ready to swear at Mirald.

But suddenly, the laughter was wiped off Mirald’s face as his brow and lips began twitching.

(What. What is it.)

It took several seconds for Mirald to finally respond and smile again.

But there was something off about his smile.

“This isn’t good.”

(Details!)

“Well, I just had a long talk with Hawking.”

(…)

Although it had only been several seconds, the passage of time had little effect on the dense conversations that telepaths could have.

But what worried Dorrikey more was the fact that Mirald looked like he was at a complete loss—so instead of interjecting, he waited for him to continue.

“Hawking’s been watching the island from there, too. And, well…”

Mirald paused, closing his mouth. Then, his grin grew bitter as he resumed.


“Apparently the earth is in danger.”


(………What?)

For a moment, Dorrikey’s mind went blank.

“Well, you know how Hawking’s good at calculations and analysis. He gave this situation of ours a little thought, and… he says that Relic’s not using his powers… yet.”

(…’Yet’?)

“In other words, he’s just pulling back his fist. In archery terms, he’s pulled back the string as far as it can go. Just like holding down a spring, he’s compressed all his power to the limit. So he can unleash it in one go.”

The flock of bats composing Dorrikey’s body simultaneously turned to the black pillar.

(Wait. You mean to say that that gigantic mass over there is Relic’s power compressed to its limit?)

“It already feels like there’s a mountainload of explosives stacked up here. So Hawking ran calculations on it for fun, too. He wanted to see what would happen if Relic really lashed out with that fist.”

With his right hand, Mirald pushed up his glasses and sighed.

“About the size of the moon.”

“The moon?”

“In other words… something the size of the moon will instantly turn into bats or fogs or wolves or something—it’ll become a part of him.”

This was no time for jokes, Dorrikey wanted to think, but he knew that Mirald wouldn’t so far as to bring Hawking into a joke.

So shocked was he that Dorrikey could do little but keep his bats flapping in the air.

Meanwhile, Mirald cracked his neck, sounding surprised that he was finally a part of the impending catastrophe.

“God help us all. Wonder what it’ll be. The mantle? The crust? The atmosphere? Doubs the Iridescent might call even that entertainment, but to be honest, I’d prefer if the earth wasn’t destroyed. I hate the sun. and it’d be pretty irritating to have no one but Hawking to talk to.” Mirald worried, as though confident that he could survive the destruction of the earth.

He began to look around the ground from atop the transmission tower. Then,

“There.”

(What? Where?) Dorrikey asked. Mirald replied indifferently.

“I found your serial killer.”

(…What?!)

Listening to the sound of his friend’s thoughts falling into disarray, Mirald looked down—there was the TV crew, filming the pillar of bats from a different location than Watson and the others.

“I’ll drop down over there for a bit. Gotta let off a bit of steam for both me and Relic.”

(What do you mean?) Asked Dorrikey. Mirald’s eyes were hidden behind his glasses, but the usual smile had returned to his lips.

“I’m going to play loudspeaker for them. That might quench a bit of my thirst.”

(Damn it. This is no time to be thinking idly. What exactly are you planning?) Asked the self-proclaimed ace detective. The bespectacled vampire, still smiling, replied,

(I’m just going to point him in the right direction. Help the confused kid find the heartless killer who murdered his girlfriend.)


<=>


The western side of the island was far from the cities, had no significant tourist attractions, and after the church burned down, had very few residences.

In other words, the only ‘human’ eyes on the unfolding catastrophe belonged to the members of the ZZZ Network TV crew.

The sound recordist bit his tongue again and again, wondering if he was dreaming. But with each sharp pain he became more and more certain that the scene before them was reality.

A chilling breeze had suddenly engulfed them.

When the black pillar had first appeared, the wind had blown toward them from it.

But now, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction—from behind their backs and to the squirming pillar, as though the air around them was being sucked into it.

The apocalypse.

Although the disaster only engulfed a part of the island, and they alone were witness to the sight, it seemed very much like the end was near.

‘The hell… the hell’s going on here?!’ The recordist wondered.

Until not too long ago, he and the other crew members were in what he was sure was reality. But his memories cut off as soon as they began to approach the supposed werewolf for an interview, and when they opened their eyes, they were in a parking lot halfway up the mountain.

And a blond-haired boy transformed himself into a flock of bats right before their eyes, taking to the skies.

The sound recordist had wondered if he was still half-asleep. But the other crew members said that they saw it as well, and his superior—Juna, the bespectacled reporter—was already engaged in an excited interview with the girl who had been standing there.

‘And… and… I don’t remember. Juna woke me up, then the ground started shaking…’

As his senses came into focus, he again looked forward.

Only after dozens of seconds of staring at the sight did an incredible sense of unease well up in him. He finally spoke, his fingertips trembling.

“…What is this… What the hell is this, Juna…?!”

Juna shot him a stern look.

“Cut the crap and get back to work! We’re witnessing history in the making—no! We’re watching logic itself fall to bits!”

Dumbstruck by Juna’s determination, the other crew members exchanged glances. The cameraman silently continued to shoot the pillar and the maelstrom, his expression inscrutable.

“If you want to run, then go ahead. I’ll just take the camera and get this footage myself.”

There was a glint of manic ecstasy in the woman’s voice, as though the story of the century was close at hand.

There was no talking her out of it, the sound recordist thought, and turned to the other crew members.

The cameraman’s eyes were hidden, but the others were clearly just as worried and hesitant as he was.

‘We’ve gotta get out of here…’

The others were probably thinking the same thing. They sounded quite different to his ears, mumbling “I want to leave” and “I can’t take this anymore”.

One of the crew members was even wanting to see his little sister back home—

‘…Wait.’

At that point, the man… realized something.

‘A little sister? What?’

There was no voice. The face of another crew member’s little sister forced its way into his mind with ease, as though he had heard her speak.

And for some reason, though he had never met the girl before, he was certain that she was the sister of his friend.

‘What is this… what’s going on here?’

Flowing into his confused thoughts was one powerful sequence of images.

Sensing the current of memories entering his mind, the man paled and shook his head.

‘Am I hallucinating now?!’

(I’m seeing things, aren’t I?) (No, no, no… that’s the girl from before…)

When he looked around, the other crew members were also shaking their heads in fear, muttering to themselves the same things he was thinking in his head. In fact, upon closer inspection, he realized that none of their mouths were moving. And yet their voices were ringing clear in his head.

‘Right. Let’s just get out of here.’

The sound recordist made up his mind, and slowly backed away—


(((((◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎)))))


“AAARGH!”

Something indescribable forced its way into his head, making him scream.

The other crew members must have experienced the same thing, as they were all also crying out or curled up on the ground. Juna was also clearly scared, but her eyes would not leave the pillar of bats.

‘No.’

That was the only word that came to mind.

What flowed into his thoughts was not a sound, and not an image.

It felt like raw emotions had forced themselves into his heart.

Though there were no words to the emotion, the sound recordist understood what it was saying—and came to a conclusion.

The emotion was a reaction to the decision he had just made earlier.


I won’t let you escape.’

Not you, not anyone.’


<=>


Dozens of seconds earlier.


Darkness.

At the time, there was no consciousness within Relic.

To be specific, though he knew that he was doing something in the deep darkness, he did not know what he was doing, or what he wanted.

It was the sensation of his body moving on its own, as if in a dream. A vague feeling that only bordered on the waking world—both conscious and unconscious.

His despair overshadowed any anger or grief he might have had—and his emotions, ruled by that despair, united with his power and became a great black current surrounding Hilda’s body.

The consciousness of Relic the individual, and the incredible power of Relic the vampire.

The two factors, which should normally have existed on completely different vectors, began melding into a complex tangle as they distorted Relic’s very identity.

Though his consciousness was spreading to the world, his power was slowly gathering.

His hazy consciousness was swept up in the currents of power.

Though he had no clear sense of self, once in a while, a piece of his consciousness bobbed to the surface of the current and disappeared again.

Floating like mud in that irregular stream of self were remorse and words of apology.


               I’m sorry, Hilda


                        I… couldn’t protect you


        I’m sorry, Mihail


                        I couldn’t protect Hilda


        I should apologize again


               I don’t think I can hold myself back


        I’m sorry if I kill you by mistake


                              Father, Ferret, I’m sorry


               I guess I wasn’t the best family to you


                       Goodbye everyone


               Everyone—


—just disappear


His consciousness sank to the bottom of the sea of despair.

Relic raised Hilda’s body into his core.

But at that point, even Hilda was but a symbol to him.

It was impossible for a mindless body to have hope.

And even if his mind was there,

All that awaited him was the despair of Hilda with her heart carved out.


But change came to that darkness.

A certain scene played out before Relic’s dissipating consciousness.

An image of Hilda appeared. Several pieces of awareness floating down the current of power instantly snapped together.

‘Hil…da…?’

His drowning sense of self was pulled along by the scene.

Though his consciousness had not fully awakened, he believed that something there would save him.

But the scene was not a ray of hope.

The image that was forcibly inserted into his mind was a reenactment of despair.


A slender arm leaned the barely-conscious Hilda against the altar in the church.

The owner of the arm placed a strange device to Hilda’s chest.

‘Stop.’

The contraption looked like a warped torture device.

‘Stop… don’t do it.’

But along with the scene came the will of the owner of the strange device, echoing into his mind.


‘UnbelievableStopitbloodlustIsStopitgoingtokillStopitherStopitnothewillStopittomurderherStopitisflowingintoStopitmyhead


‘AslenderlegStopitonthedeviceStopitStopitoverHilda’schestStopitStopitStopitsteppingStopitStopitStopitdownStopitStopitStopitStopitfirmlyandaStopitStopitnauseatingnoiseStopitStopitfillsthechurchStopitStopitStopitStopitStopitI’llkillyouI’llkillyouI’llkillyouI’llkillyouI’llkillyouI’llkillyouandyougoanyfurtherandI’llslaughter—‘


There was a splatter of blood as her heart was carved out.


But that was not the end.

The same scene repeated itself again and again.

Relic realized something—that these were the memories of Hilda’s killed. That the killer had run the scenario over in their mind countless times.

And the emotions that accompanied the scene also told him:


That the culprit was happy to have killed Hilda.


‘I’ll slaughter you.’


Hatred enough to shake off all his guilt awakened Relic’s consciousness.

In the massive current of power, he finally regained a firm sense of self.

And from the emotions that flowed into his head, Relic’s sense of reason came to a certain conclusion.

That Hilda’s murderer was not a vampire, nor a werewolf. That the murderer was a completely ordinary human being.

‘I’ll slaughter you. You’ll suffer for what you did to her.’


For the first time in his life, Relic von Waldstein held the intent to kill.

Searching for the target of his uncontrollable bloodlust, he decided to further accept the emotions that were flowing into his mind. Why he was seeing the foreign thoughts, he did not care. He could feel not only the emotions of the moment of Hilda’s murder, but the shock the murderer felt at the spectacle he was creating now.

In other words, the culprit was close.

At that moment, a new thought entered his mind.


(Right. Let’s just get out of here.)

The will flowed into his thoughts.

The humans were trying to flee.

The human who killed Hilda was trying to escape.

Relic’s sense of self had been restored, but not necessarily to normalcy.

To Relic, overcome by the desire to avenge Hilda, the most important thing was that the killer was human.

And so,


I won’t let you escape.’

Not you, not anyone.’


(((((◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎)))))


His twisted emotions took physical form—

And the incredible power that controlled his sense of reason came under the control of his endless outrage.


Of course, no one could tell the difference anyway, and Mirald, the one who manipulated him into the change, had nothing backing up his gamble.


<=>


“Hey.”

The freeloader with the best eyesight noticed a change in the pillar of bats.

“Their eyes…”


Blue light began to radiate from the faces of the countless bats filling the current.

Their missing eyes emerged at once, emitting eerie light. Though that glow, as well, was instantly swallowed by the current, the lights signaled a change in the pillar.

In the midst of rising to the sky, the pillar began to branch as it transformed into a great black tree.

And the moment each and every branch began reaching for the ground, Pirie and the others realized—

That each branch was in the shape of a black human hand.

Hundreds—thousands—tens of thousands of hands shot out toward the ground.

The castle’s residents braced themselves for a moment, but they quickly realized that they were not the targets.

“Hey… look! Over there! There’s people with a TV camera!”

“…! No!”

Sensing danger, the maids in green, who numbered at over a dozen, gathered in groups of four and leapt to rescue the humans.

But the branches merged into one, turning into a giant hand as it lunged at the humans at incredible speed. The humans seemed to have tried to escape, but small arms made of shadows had slithered from the maelstrom and grabbed them by their ankles.

“…We won’t make it!”

‘We mustn’t let Master Relic commit murder! Even if he kills humans, it can’t be in such an ambiguous way!’ The maids thought, charging forward, but they had little hope of making it in time.

“No… no, Relic! You can’t!” The jester cried, flying off toward the great tree, but Relic showed no signs of listening.


A single vampire’s despair and rage took on the form of a hand, making to crush the humans underneath.


“What a ridiculous story. Although I do sympathize.” Mirald mumbled indifferently, getting a slight distance away. “Now… even if he kills those humans like this and gets revenge…”

At that point, Mirald held back his words and said them aloud only in his head.

‘If he remains in despair afterwards, the earth just might be finished.’


Whether or not a third party anticipated the end of the world, the vampire who reigned over the island transformed his despair into power.

The vampires of the island were seized by the despair of being unable to stop him.

Those who were merely human simply despaired at the fact that they had no way of escaping death.

Except for Watson, who remained completely oblivious, most of those present were caught in the web of despair.


But at that moment, a sort of hope descended like a shooting star.


The small, unassuming, and incredibly petty star of hope known as Watt Stalf.


<=>


If Relic von Waldstein was a great tree made up of countless bats, the object falling from overhead was a meteor.

A jet-black projectile, so dark that human eyes could barely see. The mass, about the size of a four-ton truck, rammed the black arm with the force of a missile.

And in the blink of an eye, the bats from the sky transformed into a four-ton truck.

The great hand was forced to a stop by the mass of metal. Creating countless smaller hands under the tree, the maelstrom absorbed the impact.

If the tree had transformed into fog, the kinetic energy would have gone through it—but the tree purposely deflected the attack.

Relic must have been subconsciously trying to protect Hilda’s body.

Not knowing what was happening inside, and not even trying to know, Watt took human form and stood before Relic, who could not do the same.


In his usual human form, the mayor looked endlessly tiny compared to the great tree.

Cracking his neck, the mayor turned his gaze to the monster forming before him. Though physically he was looking up, his eyes beneath his sunglasses were clearly looking down on Relic.

“Little Relic. I know you’re just itching to show off, but isn’t this a bit much?”

Where was his confidence coming from? Watt sounded condescending to the end.

“First off, put that church back where it was. Then I just might let you off the hook halfway.” He demanded without a hint of fear. Relic did not react.

Although it was hard to tell if Watt’s words had reached Relic, the latter raised one of his countless hands to silence Watt.

“Master Watt!” The jester cried, snapped out of her daze by the sight of the attack.

Yet Watt looked up defiantly, not taking a single step.

One of the freeloaders, assuming that Watt was petrified with fear, mumbled that he was going to die.

But the mayor spoke, not moving an inch.

Neither relaxed, anxious, nor prepared to heroically sacrifice himself. Without nothing but irritation coloring his voice.

“…You’ve got no right to fuck around with the place, you little shit.”

At that moment, countless bats rose up from behind him, creating a massive wall.

A second later, a wolf’s jaws bigger than an elephant emerged and tore off the great black hand that lunged toward him.


“?!” “!” “What?!” “Shit!” “…! …?!” “Whoa?!” “!” “?!”


The castle’s vampires gasped.

Even the ever-indifferent maids watched Watt, astonished.

The jester, flying through the air in half-fog form, stopped in midair with her jaw on the ground.

And whether he noticed the reactions or not, Watt snorted at Relic’s massive shadow.

“…Heh. You surprised I can pull tricks like that, little princeling?”

With his usual sneer, Watt confidently spread his arms and created a maelstrom of fog under his feet, just like Relic’s.

Although it was smaller in scale, the maelstrom steadily grew larger and larger as it ate away at the ground.

And as though unaffected by Watt’s show of power, Relic created yet more branches on the tree, materializing nearly twenty gigantic arms over Growerth.

He was probably planning to destroy Watt with all the arms at once. Or perhaps he would use several as decoys while the rest attacked the humans.

Watt stood his ground, not caring. The maelstrom under him expanded rapidly, finally at the width of a small pond.

“All right. Fine. Looks like you’re holed up too far in those bats to listen to reason.”

Standing in the middle of the maelstrom, Watt gave one very simple command:


“Go to hell and come back to apologize to me, you little shit.”


<=>


“Is that… the mayor?”

Spotting the mysterious vampire who appeared out of nowhere to rescue them, Juna realized that the man resembled someone she had interviewed that day.

“Quick! Get him on camera!” She cried, turning to the crew.

But there was something cold in the eyes of her coworkers.

“…? What are you dawdling for?! He’s saying something over there, but I can’t hear a thing. Adjust the mic!” She ordered.

The sound recordist’s knees were knocking.

“S, say… Juna? We… we just saw…”

“Saw what?”

“Well, uh… I… in my head… how that girl we saw in the parking lot… died.”

Another crew member followed up.

“Umm, actually, we… we saw someone murdering her.”

“What are you getting at?”

“…We didn’t see the killer’s face, but we kind of saw their arms and legs…”

As the crew member hesitated, another voice finished his sentence.


“The serial killer who drove the island of Growerth to terror… is you!”


“?!”

Turning at the voice of the stranger, Juna found herself looking at a man carrying a pipe.

In appearance alone he looked like a theater actor, but the man looked deadly calm in spite of the situation. With his free hand he pointed at Juna Riebeluka.

“Who… who are you? What are you talking about?”

So unexpected was the man’s accusation that Juna’s thoughts were momentarily torn from the great tree and the mysterious man fighting it.

Seeing his chance, the man dressed like a detective declared firmly, as though he were the leading man on the greatest stage of his life.

“I had a detailed look through the entry and exit records for this island’s harbors… twenty years’ worth of them, not a single day or detail omitted. And I noticed something strange about the records involving ZZZ Network, so I investigated further.”


<=>


One hour earlier.


As he trespassed into the harbor office and checked the passenger lists at unthinkable speeds, Dorrikey stumbled upon something strange.

On the day the second victim was discovered, countless reporters and news teams had visited the island. And on the exit records pertaining to the influx of people, he found the name of a news personnel that was not recorded in any of the entry records.

The exit records had five people from ZZZ Network leaving via ferry. But the crew had been composed of only four people when they entered the island. Dorrikey investigated how the fifth member could have come to the island, but found nothing. The person in question had visited the island several times in the past, he found—and that person had also been on the island when the first victim went missing.

He also found entry records filled out by someone with an incredibly similar handwriting.

Although he had studied some basic handwriting analysis for his work as a detective, Dorrikey was far from an expert in the field. He made a phone call to a friend who could help.


He dialed a certain number. And before the dial tone rang even once, a shrill voice hissed from the receiver.

<Well, if it ain’t Dorrikey! What’s up? Gettin’ into trouble while you’re ditching the conference?>

“Good to see that you’re as quick on the uptake as ever, QAWSED.”

<We’re in a bit of an interesting spot ourselves, yanno? The whole gang’s rushin’ over to the commotion right now. Though it’s all brute-forcing here. No place for an ace detective, anyhow.>

“It’s a good thing I forwent the conference and came here instead, then. Now, I have a request to make of you.” Dorrikey said to the mysterious Organization officer whom no one had ever seen in person. “…I want you to look into the employees of ZZZ Network whom I am going to name now. Get me everything you can find.”

<Detectives. Talk about backseat driving. Sittin’ back not solving anything, and leaving all the legwork to someone else. You gotta have some pride, yanno?> QAWSED snickered. Dorrikey replied with a bitter grin.


“I’d sell my pride to the devil if that were all it took to solve the case.”


<=>


Present time. Western Growerth.


“And to add, Miss Juna Riebeluka—on the days when the women went missing, and were presumably murdered, you must have received spam in your cell phone inbox, as you usually do. But the base station that was used to send the messages to you was located on this very island.”

Even as he cast the occasional glance at the black tree and the mayor, the detective continued to plainly explain his hypothesis. Juna averted her eyes and snorted.

“…You’re out of your mind. Are you telling me that you somehow recorded the relay stations for each and every message and phone number? That’s not an easy record to access in the first place.”

“There are those in this world who can, in fact, easily investigate such information. Even if the telephone companies don’t, someone might have recorded—no, remembered them all.” The detective muttered to himself solemnly.

And before anyone knew it, a girl was standing beside him. A silver-haired girl with an inscrutable expression. Although she looked familiar to the crew somehow, their memories were too hazy to draw from.

The girl went up to the detective and tugged on his sleeve without a word.

“Hm? Ah, Watson! Thank goodness you’re safe!” The detective exclaimed in delight. But instead of celebrating their reunion, the girl called Watson mumbled,

“…I smell blood from her.”

She stared expressionlessly at Juna.

“Impossible! I couldn’t have gotten blood on myself!”

“How can you be so sure? It’s an interesting expression you used just now. For all you know, you could have cut yourself without noticing, or maybe someone’s blood splashed onto your back while you were unconscious. I’m afraid that I just can’t shake the feeling that somewhere deep down, you were certain that you took care not to get any blood on yourself.”

The detective’s hypothesis was exactly that—a hypothesis.

But the confidence backing up his voice was enough to shake Juna.

“The police will catch on soon enough. Or perhaps they’re already suspicious of you, and are searching for evidence. But it’s also true that they haven’t set a tail on you yet—and that is why I came to stop you before you could claim your fourth victim.”

Then, he added solemnly,

“Although… I suppose I’m already too late.”

As the detective shook his head mournfully, the other crew members stared dubiously at Juna.

“You can’t possibly believe what this guy’s—“ She began, astonished, but the others replied,

“I’m sorry, Juna… but… we… we saw it.”

“What are you talking about?” She asked, empty laughter escaping her lips. One of the crew members, unable to take any more, finally burst out,

“We saw your leg stepping on that weird machine and carving out that girl’s heart!”

“…”

Silence.

In the world filled with the sound of bats and their flapping wings, the humans were overcome by stillness.

Seconds passed. Juna wiped her face clear of all expression.

“All right. I don’t get everything, but I guess the cat’s out of the bag. I’m the killer.” She said nonchalantly. The crew members exchanged glances, and the cameraman silently turned his lens to Juna.

Several more seconds passed in silence. Then, a hint of a grin rose to Juna’s confident face.

“And so what?”

“Wha-“

“Look. Look at what’s in front of us. Logic itself is falling to bits—no. We’re destroying logic with our own hands. This is no time to be debating whether killing is right or wrong. Forget morality—it’s not going to help us now!”

Juna enunciated clearly, her voice carrying even through the chatter of the bats.

That was how the other crew members knew—judging from their experience on the field, they could see: that the woman before them was in her right mind, and that something had merely been twisted in her heart.

That was how they could tell that she must have been the serial killer.

Whether the crew members trembled or not at the reality of their superior’s identity and the juxtaposed fantasy unfolding before them, the detective sighed and took a step toward Juna.

“In any case, this place in dangerous. Allow me to escort you to the nearest police station, Mi-“

There was a gunshot. A black hole was left in the detective’s head.

“Don’t get in my way. This might be my last chance to meet him.”

“Wha… Whaaaaaaa?!”

The crew members screamed in two stages.

The first time, reacting to the man being shot right in front of their eyes.

The second time, reacting to the chilling sight of the man’s head transforming into a flock of numerous bats and reforming.

“…! What are you?!”

“Because I am just like those beings over there causing the commotion, things like lead bullets logically do not work against me. I’m sure some legwork and observation might get you some more information.”

Rolling up a crumpled bullet in his hand, the vampire again drew closer to Juna.

But a complicated expression rose to her face as she mumbled,

“Why… couldn’t you have been him?”

“?”

“What is wrong with this island?! I… I was so sure he’d come to see me… I could finally meet those who weren’t human… but why?! Why not me?!”

“I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say, but I’ll have to put you under mild subjugation for now. I’ll have you addled into turning yourself in to the pol-“

At that point, they were assaulted by a terrible gust of wind.

“?!”

There was an explosive impact as the crew and the detective were flung off their feet. Something must have happened between the black tree and the man resembling the mayor; the screeching of bats and powerful crashes rocked the darkness.

And Juna noticed something.

That the countless arms branching from the tree were lunging straight for her.


And that the silhouette resembling the mayor was fighting against them, defending her.


<=>


In the darkness.


Father, how can I become like you?’

Through the violent currents bobbed up memories of when he had asked such a question of his father.

He had wondered how his father could always stay calm and composed.

Although Relic was not at leisure to wonder why such a thought came to him at such a time, his father’s words rose up to the surface in the midst of his fury and despair.

[It is a simple matter. All you have to do is set up a table, a chair, and a tea set in your heart.]

                              ‘I can’t do it, Father—‘

A frail voice echoed from within him.

Though Relic had left his entire being to his endless outrage, somewhere in his heart he thought of his normal self complaining to his father.

A table, a chair, and a tea set.

Perhaps they had, at one point, been set up in his heart.

But the one who should have been sitting across that table was gone.

A wave of grief flooded in, crushing his heart.


[Eighty percent of the world’s problems would be solved if every human being on earth became like gentlemen.]


                              ‘I can’t—‘


[Of course, those who subscribe to certain lines of thinking also choose to enter conflict because of their gentleman status. That is a difficult matter indeed, but a true gentleman must accept all situations at hand and smile.]


                              ‘I can’t become like you—‘


[Do you not think so, Relic?]


                              ‘I can’t do it, Father—‘


Relic coldly rejected the voice coming from the depths of his sense of reason.

‘I want to kill her so much it’s driving me insane.

‘I’ll kill that woman who murdered Hilda!’

He had already found out, after all, from the humans’ conversation outside.

His bats had a clear view of all 360 degrees around him.

And in one part of that field of vision was the bespectacled woman who killed Hilda.

Relic’s hazy bloodlust began converging onto a single human being.

It didn’t matter to him who the woman was or why she killed Hilda.

It didn’t even occur to him to make her die slowly and painfully.

He had to erase her presence from the world as soon as possible.

Relic did not know just what kind of form he was in.

All he did was unleash his power as his emotions—or his instincts—desired.


But a second before his power reached the woman, he was stopped.

There stood a dhampyr in human form, who looked much smaller than usual.

The man who had punched him in the face earlier that day had returned with a completely different look.

With an anxious yet defiant sneer, the man who had chosen to fight of his own will stood there, ready to take on whatever came his way.

Watt Stalf.

The man Relic had always thought furthest from a gentleman—

For a split second in Relic’s head, the image of Watt overlapped with that of the viscount.


Watt was standing there, not as a vampire, a dhampyr, or a human—

But as a mayor defending his city.


<=>


Numerous jaws materialized around Watt and tore away the countless arms shooting toward the reporter.

There was a massive flock of bats surrounding Watt, and all sorts of things emerged from them like a gate.

But the flock of bats were not coming from his own body.

They were emerging from the island itself, transforming into different objects.

Just like when Watt first appeared, the bats turned back into scrapped vehicles and flew into the great black tree.

But the tree was already collapsing by that point.

The tower that seemed to reach into the heavens was now about the height of a fifty-story building. Its countless hands had converged into a pair of massive arms, and the tree was turning into a pitch-black giant.

A giant composed of bats and fog.

There was nothing of Relic in its appearance. In its face, two blue lights shone hazily in place of its eyes.

“So is that your idea of being more agile? If you wanna intimidate me, you’re gonna have to try harder than that. Try Godzilla or a giant octopus monster.”

Whether it heard Watt’s provocation or not, the giant raised its hand—large enough to crush a house in its fist—and slammed it down at him faster than anything it had done before.

But a set of wolf jaws—also large enough to crush a house—emerged from the ground and caught the arm, tearing it apart and scattering it into a flock of bats.

“How ’bout I cool your head?” Watt shrugged, and a new flock of bats emerged behind him.

The vast flock charged at the giant, flying overhead.

Then, it transformed into a massive quantity of water and swept over the giant.

Watt must have transformed river water from the island into those bats—as the water fell everywhere, the giant slowly leaned back and shook the island with something like a pained groan.

Watt sneered.

“Whoops. My bad. Completely forgot you couldn’t stand flowing water.”


<=>


Mirald, who was watching out of range of his telepathy, sounded genuinely impressed.

“Incredible… who is that man?”


Dorrikey, who had been flung away, struggled to his feet with Watson and also exclaimed at the sight.

“If both those powers were produced by Melhilm… does that mean that the Organization has done the equivalent of unleashing nuclear weapons on the world?”


“…”

A slight distance away, Pamela quietly listened to the sounds of battle with her eyes still covered.

What was her heart set on? Her sealed lips showed no sign of revealing her thoughts.


<=>


“Hey… aren’t those Relic’s powers?”

The vampires of the castle gaped incredulously at Watt’s battle.

As one of the freeloaders commented, the others nodded.

“I’d heard he got stronger… but isn’t this cheating?”

“It looks like he’s even stronger than Relic…”

“What do we do now? Rethink our loyalties or something?”

As the freeloaders whispered amongst themselves, the jester twirled through the air with her eyes alight.

“Wow! Wow wow wow wow wow! Master Watt’s gotten so strong! What’s going on? What? Did he train under a vampire sage? Did he get modified by vampire aliens? Did he get bitten by a vampire zombie? Or did some secret vampire society experiment on him?!”

Although Relic was the experiment of the vampire Organization, Pirie set that aside and rejoiced at Watt’s power.

The maids of Waldstein Castle also looked on in shock, as though Watt would overpower Relic—

But one cold voice shattered the moment of expectant awe.


“Is that bastard planning to die over there?”


The vampires turned at the icy voice. There stood Shizune, twirling a fork with her eyes as cold as her tone.

“What do you know, you stupid Eater?! Why would Master Watt die?! I mean, I’m worried about Relic, but Master Watt would never even think about dying!” The jester complained. Shizune gave a wry chuckle.

“You think he can use all that power for free?”

“What…?”

“I don’t know how, but the idiot up there’s somehow got his hands on Relic’s powers. But that’s like putting an F1 engine in your grandmother’s car. He’s going to break any second now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he burst straight into ash.”

There was a mysterious solemnity in Shizune’s claim. She did not seem to be joking.

“He’s probably in pain. Fighting with his entire body falling apart.”

“Master Watt…”

The jester turned in horror.

As if on cue, she spotted Watt finally kneeling before the giant.


<=>


“Shit… I mighta drank too much. Teach me to never get tanked at work again.”

Watt forced himself to grin as he knelt, masking the agony running through his body.

Naturally, he was completely sober, and he was not kneeling because he was drunk.

It felt as though his entire body was made of nuts and bolts.

Every last joint, every last blood vessel, and every last nerve creaked in his body like ill-fitting machinery rebelling against the brain.

And yet he did not cry out, holding back the pain as he got to his feet.

A terrible chill ran down his spine and threatened to overcome him.

His brain was on the verge of popping like a balloon.

He felt sick to his stomach, like even his heart and lungs were coming up to his throat.

And yet Watt sneered, looking down on his foe.

“Looks like you have no idea why you’re losing.”

<…>

Relic also came to a stop.

His body was smaller than before, indicating that Watt’s attacks had not left him unscathed.

“You’re probably never used all that power you got… but I made the effort to practice the damn thing. I studied it. Though tuition was goddamned expensive.”

Hiding the cost of knowledge—his agony—Watt continued.

“Sure, you’re an F1 driver. But you ain’t winning any races if you don’t even know how to step on the gas.”

His provocations were little more than a ploy to buy time.

But Watt had never wielded his powers on such a scale before—rather than recovering, his pain and nausea worsened.

He tasted blood rising to his mouth. He didn’t know if it was coming from his lungs or his stomach, but he forced it back down his esophagus.

Even the fear that his dhampyr self might be forcibly divided into vampire and human halves, he swallowed. He prepared to attack—

But the giant was faster.

‘Shit.’

He swore in his head, but Watt Stalf did not give up.

He transformed his aching body into a flock of bats to avoid the attack.

But a second before he moved, a colorful fog emerged in the air and clung to the eyes of the giant’s blue eyes.

“…Clown?”

Ignoring the frowning Watt, the giant swung its arms to shake off the fog.

As the jester expertly avoided the swipes, her voice fell from overhead.

“Oh, Master Watt! All that prattling’s exactly why everyone calls you a petty villain! It’s like bragging makes you seem stronger! It’s just like you to ignore your enemy!”

Irritated at the jester’s distractions, countless jet-black wolves emerged from Relic’s body and rushed straight for Watt.

But they were quickly repelled by an invisible force.

“…?!”

He turned. There was a familiar green-haired boy standing next to him.

“What are you doing, Mr. Watt?”

Val had only just arrived; he had not seen all the things Watt had done.

Not knowing what was going on, Val was using his invisible power to try and hold back Relic.

“Dumbass… Clown! Val! You two stay out of this!”

You’re the passing stranger who should be butting out.”

Shizune leapt in, grabbed Watt by the collar, and jumped away.

A third arm that had emerged from the giant’s shoulder rammed into where Watt was standing only moments ago.

“Shizune, you bitch…”

“You think I’d let you die like a hero protecting the island?” She spat, uninterested in flattery.

And as though speaking for her enmity toward Watt, as soon as she landed, she threw him against the pavement.

“Urgh! Y, you bitch…”

Watt got to his feet, his mouth twitching. At the end of his gaze he could see the maids in green, moving in teams of four to try and stop the giant’s advance.

When they spun around the giant’s limbs, they created a vicious whirlwind that tore at its arms and legs.

The giant regenerated almost instantly, but the maids continued to dance in a battle of attrition, refusing to stop.

“Those maids aren’t any smarter than you. Looks like they want to prevent Relic from becoming a murderer, no matter what.”

“What?”

“I’m talking about you. You’re half-human—they want to save you from Relic. Heh. So does that mean they wouldn’t care about you if you were a full vampire?” Shizune snickered.

At the same time, the freeloaders stumbled and transformed into bats to distract the giant, while others chucked rocks at it.

“One of ‘em’s gone downtown to call the werewolves. Job—the old werewolf—is going to be here any minute now. and once that Doctor and Professor get here, they might figure out a way to calm Relic down somehow.” Shizune explained quietly. Watt opened his mouth.

“…Castle’s still full of fucking goody-two-shoes.”

“What, are you going to shoo them away now?”

“As if. I’ll use ‘em for all they’re worth.”

The mayor snickered, sounding enthused.

His pain was subsiding somewhat—Watt prepared to set off again and made a declaration.


“After all… One day, I’m gonna make ‘em all mine.”


<=>


In the darkness.


‘How strange.’

Another emotion forced itself into the current of hatred.

Familiar faces were fighting to try and stop him.

‘I thought I didn’t have any hope anymore.

‘This was supposed to be rock bottom. There shouldn’t have been anything sadder.’

The jester, Val, the maids, and the freeloaders came up to face him, one after another.

‘Stop. I’m not worth all that effort.’

Though he thought he should stop his attacks, the hatred that had fused with his power drowned Relic’s few clear thoughts in a flood of rage.

‘Stop. I… I don’t want to destroy even—‘

His desire to destroy everything came face-to-face with a contradiction. The currents around Relic stumbled for a single moment.

‘Please, stop. Even if you fight me—‘

Reflected in Relic’s eyes, which were now part of the giant, was the face of the female reporter. The killer who took Hilda’s life, fleeing from the scene with a hand on her arm.

‘—I can’t stop myself from killing her!’


His anger exploded in an instant, creating a single ultimate attack.

Shaking away Pirie’s fog.

Deflecting Val’s telekinesis.

Ignoring the maids’ assault.

Flinging aside the freeloaders.

Passing by the detached Shizune.

A black spear swept forth, aimed directly at the heart of Relic’s target.

The tip of the spear, composed of an incredibly dense mass of bats and fog, cut through the island’s air as it headed for the woman’s chest.

But Relic’s despair incarnate—his ultimate attack—

Was once again stopped by one man.


Watt Stalf.

He stood confidently between Relic and the reporter, facing down the black spear.

Creating the largest flock of bats yet, he arranged them before himself and used them as a wall.

The bats converged like holograms, turning into a powerfully dense shield, blocking the way of the spear.

A spear and a shield made in the very same way. The famous paradox forgotten, every onlooker gulped at the fatal clash.


A powerful impact shook western Growerth.


<=>


“Getting angry feels good, doesn’t it?”

The mayor’s voice.

The mayor was badly injured, his stomach run through by the spear.

His power was not enough to stop Relic’s attack.

So he used his own body as the final layer of defense. The spear had been stopped.

He was overwhelmed by excruciating pain—the price of using the same power as Relic.

But without letting his agony show, the mayor approached Relic, step by step.

“Getting angry’s a pain in the ass, but when you use that anger to destroy things… nothing feels better…”

Though now completely still, Relic was still a gigantic silhouette composed of bats. Black fog was swirling at his feet.

But his violent energy from before was gone. Watt shrugged and continued condescendingly.

“I got the gist of things from what those humans and the detective were talking about. …So what the fuck were you trying to do? In your state, you wouldn’t have stopped at killing just the culprit. You could’ve destroyed the entire island… and I know that you know you might have gone further.”

The giant neither moved nor answered. But Watt continued to speak, assuming that his voice reached Relic.

“Or what? ‘I weally weally hate the person who killed Hilda, but one person won’t do, so I’m gonna kill evewy person in the world. I’mma massacre six billion’, is that it? Although that’s a pretty entertaining way of thinking. Reminds me exactly of Shizune when I first met her.”


“…Maybe I should just kill him now.” Shizune muttered, deadpan. The freeloaders trembled silently in fear.


It seemed that the giant would remain silent in the face of Watt’s provocations. But—

<No…>

A voice echoed from the giant, a slight hint of Relic audible inside.

Strangely enough, it sounded similar to how the vampire called Pamela had used her cube of bats as a speaker.

<Why… are you getting in my way.>

The voice did not carry the gentle tone Relic always used. But his sense of reason was clearly present. The residents of Waldstein Castle placed their hopes on that presence, and Watt withdrew his sneer.

“Let me ask you a question. Why would I not get in your way?”

<You’re the one… who told me to learn anger…>

“I am. But you thought I’d take your side when you got angry? How spoiled can you get? I don’t care if you’re just a sheltered little prince or a revenge-obsessed lunatic. If you get in my way, I’ll beat you to death until you kick the fucking bucket. Simple as that.”

“That’s awful.” “Worse than the Devil.” The freeloaders reacted to Watt’s condescending threats.

Hearing them, the mayor clicked his tongue.

“As if that was a surprise, shitheads.”

“And FYI, Master Watt’s also a liar, a rulebender, and an irresponsible villain! Don’t trust—gah!”

Landing a throat thrust on the jovial jester, Watt exhaled and looked up at the black silhouette.

“You think I’d take responsibility for anything other than a public promise?”

Relic paused. Then came his resentful voice.

<You’re the one… who’s getting in my way.>

“Say that again?”

<I… want to avenge… no. I’ll be honest. I’m not trying to avenge Hilda. She didn’t want this. But I… I’m doing this for myself… I want to kill that woman. Whatever happened earlier doesn’t matter… I just want to kill her. So… get out of my way!>

“As if, you little shit. Don’t underestimate me.” Watt shot back, grumbling about how sheltered Relic was. “But you’re right. The death sentence doesn’t exist in Germany, so if that woman is judged by humans, your revenge ain’t going to happen, But I’m not gonna let you off her.”

<Why not?!>

“She’s a human, and I’m a mayor over humans. Obviously, I have to judge her by human laws.”

The onlooking vampires were the most shocked by Watt’s statement.

They had always thought of Watt as someone who abused his privileges as a vampire, claiming that human values did not apply to vampires. Val, Shizune, the freeloaders, and even the maids were floored. The jester alone looked on excitedly.

<How does that help you?! What do you get from putting your life on the line to protect a ruthless killer?!>

Relic’s question was understandable—but Watt’s answer was unexpected.

“The people of this island… they’ll have peace of mind.”


He answered all too easily.

Watt continued, as though reciting common sense.

“Let’s say you crush that woman so hard that no one would believe a human could have done it. Would anybody believe it if we said, ‘The reporter, who was the fifth victim, was actually the killer’? Would anybody believe that the killer was gone? Would anybody believe that there wasn’t some godforsaken monster on the loose?”

<…>

As Relic stood in silence, Watt’s tone grew firm. As though scolding Relic for interfering in the world of humans as a vampire.

“The first victim had a little sister—a tiny thing about this tall. When I went in for an official visit, she was shaking in her boots. She asked me, ‘are you going to catch the bad guy?’. As a vampire, I’d have told the brat to go look for the killer herself if she had time to be sobbing at home. But I was there as the mayor. So I made a promise with the damned kid. I told her we’d catch the killer no matter what.”

Noticing that he was getting emotional, Watt lowered his tone.

“I told you before. I keep public promises. If I had to choose between you getting your revenge, and peace of mind for everyone on this island… I’d obviously choose the latter.”

In contrast, Relic raised his voice.

<That’s all…? You’d give your life for something that insignificant?!>

“Don’t make me laugh, dipshit.” Watt growled. “You think I just put my life on the line? Don’t flatter yourself. Facing a bratty a tantrum’s nothing compared to doing an extra night shift at city hall.”

This time, Relic was silent for longer.

Then, the giant collapsed into the form of an orb.

And everyone saw—in the center of the orb, which was composed of fewer bats, was Relic in human form.

But his usual gentleness was nowhere to be seen. Relic’s eyes shone an eerie blue as he directed his fury at Watt.

<Then… just try. And stop me.>

“…”

<I’m. Going to kill. That woman. With all my strength. Again and again. Just try. And stop me.>

His voice was dripping with intense resolve.

The jester, Val, and the maids tried to speak. But Watt Stalf gestured for silence—

And made one unbelievable correction.

“You mean, ‘Help, Mr. Stalf. I don’t know what to do, so please stop me’. You’re not as honest as your old man, I see. That’s why that girl floating in the middle of that maelstrom ended up dyin’ on you.”


It was as though the air itself had frozen.

Watt had so easily broken an unspoken taboo.

But before anyone could wonder what he was thinking, the fog and the bats around Relic converged at once. Power squirmed in dizzying density as his body was once more swallowed by a black current.

But that was for but a second—Relic drew the current into himself.

It was different from the giant—Relic had compressed all the power wielded by the giant into his own body.

Without even trying to hide the mass, reminiscent of a black hole, Relic von Waldstein lunged at Watt with a silent scream.

It was as though everything he touched was being erased. The air around Relic turned to black fog, then to bats as they trailed after him.

Perhaps Watt would simply be disintegrated by the force, the vampires feared, but the mayor’s actions were extraordinarily simple.


He raised his right hand and cracked a grin, pointing at something behind Relic.


‘…?’

For a second, Relic had no idea what Watt was pointing at—

But the moment an answer occurred to him, he stopped in his tracks and turned in panic.

Watt’s finger was pointed at Hilda’s body, floating in the center of the black maelstrom.

And around her unmoving body was a flock of bats that Relic did not recognize.

‘It can’t be…’

The bats’ transformation came undone as they returned to the form they had before Watt subjugated them.

A pile of steel beams the size of utility poles, picked up from a construction site.

‘NO!’

The beams were dragged to the ground by gravity. Under them was Hilda’s body, a gaping hole in her chest.

Because she was a corpse, he had thought that all hope was lost.

Yet Relic turned to try and protect Hilda—

And saw the beams transform back into a flock of bats.

‘…What?!’

In Relic’s confusion, the bats flew off into the distance—

“Good night, little princeling.”

And with Watt’s voice, a powerful attack struck Relic’s relieved back.


<=>


When Relic opened his eyes, he saw the faces of the maids.

“Thank goodness you’re awake, Master Relic.”

“Everyone…”

The maids looked so very kind. Relic only wished that the circumstances behind their smiles were different.

But what happened earlier could not have been a dream. The sight of Hilda’s body and the voice of the sobbing jester told him that his despair was still very real.

But unlike before, his body would not move easily. It would be some time before he could even turn into a flock of bats.

Was it a side-effect of using such enormous power? Or had something been done to him to suppress his abilities?

“Uh… how long was I out?”

“Only a few minutes, Master Relic.”

“I see…”

With the maids’ help, Relic slowly sat up.

At a slight distance, he could see the mayor.

Watt seemed to have nothing to say. With a disinterested glance at Relic, he turned to the church. He must have turned it back to normal—their surroundings were exactly as they were before Relic’s rampage.

Relic mouthed silently for a moment, but finally decided on a stance and spoke to the mayor.

“I guess… I couldn’t be like Father after all.”

“Who says you need to be like that idiot?”

“I… I can’t forgive the murderer after all.”

Though his rampage was stopped, none of Relic’s hatred had been assuaged. Only his despair was eased somewhat, thanks to the vampires around him.

He was ready to face Watt’s reproach, or perhaps even an attempt at murder. But—

“So what?”

“Huh?”

Not only Relic, but all those around him gaped at Watt’s nonchalance.

“It’s only a matter of time before the murderer’s arrested. Once her trial ends, the people here will have peace of mind. After that, you’re free to turn to fog or something and do whatever you want with her in prison. That’s not my jurisdiction, so I don’t care what happens.”

“Aren’t you usually supposed to try and stop him from taking revenge?” Shizune asked, baffled. Watt snickered.

“What’s the point in forcing human values a couple decades old on an oh-so-mighty vampire?” He replied easily.

“That’s… that’s not what he said earlier.” “He really does bend every rule when he’s wearing those shades.” The freeloaders whispered amongst themselves.

Relic gaped silently, unable to follow the flow of the conversation.

In the midst of all that—

“Hilda… why won’t you wake up?”

One girl asked an innocent yet cruel question.

The girl Hilda had called ‘Watson’ was standing there.

‘…Oh. I see. This girl probably doesn’t understand what it means for a human to die.’ Relic thought, remembering his own reaction just earlier.

“Hey, Watson. You see, Hilda is human. That means…”

He could not bring himself to continue. But the girl tilted her head, sniffed, and replied,


“…But she’s a vampire now.”


“…” “…” “…” “…” “…?” “?” “?” “?” “?”

Everyone froze.

Ignoring them, Watson sniffed again.

“Her heart. I smell it. So close.” She said plainly.


“Hey. What just happened over there?”

“Dunno. Oh, looks like the TV crew’s run off. Shouldn’t we confiscate their camera?”

Two of the freeloaders, who had not heard Watson, turned to where the TV crew had been.

“That camera must’ve been expensive. Let’s delete the data and sell the thing.”

“Like a damned burglar. I like it.”

They greedily searched for the camera, but did not find it anywhere.

“Huh. Guess the camera guy’s got one heck of a journalist spirit.”

“That ain’t good. We’d better tell Mr. Watt.”

With that, they turned to Watt, Relic, and the others—

“Hey.”

—and spotted the cameraman, filming the bewildered residents of Waldstein Castle.


At the same time, Relic also noticed the cameraman who was filming him.

So shocking was the scene that someone was about to speak up—but Watson spoke up first, pointing at the camera bag by the man’s foot.

“Hilda’s heart. Probably there.”

The vampires froze again.

At that point, the cameraman, who had been shooting the vampires without a single proper light, finally opened his mouth.

“Hm? Ah, so you’ve got me. Incredible, really. From your silver hair, I suppose you must be connected to the Silver Wolves that serve the Shreemeice Clan. But seeing as you are acting alone, you must be a distant relative, nothing more.”

Even Watt was silent at the cameraman’s sudden turn for the talkative.

“Excellent expressions, all of you. Very natural.”

Then, the man finally turned off the camera, slowly lowered it, and revealed his face.

He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties. There were prominent shadows under his eyes.

“Cameras are wonderful. Don’t you agree? Even if you are a vampire filming a human, a camera lets you break out of that simple frame and give you a truly objective view.”

The man’s had a pale complexion. In human terms, he was so pale that he looked ill. But there was nothing resembling a patient in his expression, and an unusually long set of canines flashed between his smile. And other than the shadows under his eyes, his face was quite attractive.

‘A vampire!’

Just as everyone came to the same conclusion, a man dressed like a detective appeared out of nowhere and grumbled to the cameraman.

“I thought the accomplice would have run off with the culprit.” He said disdainfully, revealing the man’s identity to the world. “Now… Dimguil Sunfold. One of my friends from the Organization looked into you while he was doing some legwork for me. To think that there was a killer and a Clan member in one small TV crew.”

The maids, one of the freeloaders, and Shizune reacted to the name.

“My goodness. The Organization’s vampires really have ears everywhere. But I have to correct you on one note. I was no accomplice. Juna has no idea about me, and I only added a few superhuman details to her killings so I could capture her snowballing actions on camera.”

“Like blocking a well with a boulder?”

“I do admit that was a little crude of me. I didn’t have much time to think of something then.”

With a wry chuckle, the man called Dimguil put down his camera and applauded warmly.

“But really, thank you for that wonderful show. The lighting wasn’t good enough for a proper picture, but it’ll stay a good memory in my head. At first, I came to see that fascinating beast called ‘Relic’. But the mayor’s heroics were something else. A true myth for the ages.”


‘Sunfold?

‘Hilda’s… a vampire?’

‘Her heart’s in that bag?

‘What’s he saying?

‘“Fascinating beast”. Is he talking about me?

‘Am I dreaming after all?’

Relic was confused.

Why was everyone quietly listening to the man?

As his emotions grew calmer, the answer came naturally to him.

The man exuded a sense of danger.

The vampire named Dimguil, who was casually rambling in front of him, was dangerous.

Relic did not know why, but it felt as though he were leaning from a cliff without a single lifeline. Even though the man was talking in front of him, Relic felt as though Dimguil was driving a stake into his back.

But in spite of the aura he cast, Dimguil spoke rather jovially.

“In exchange for the footage… yes. Let me return one of your citizens.”

He raised the camera bag with telekinesis, and transformed it into a flock of bats above his hand. Relic thought he glimpsed a dark red mass between the scattering bats, and tried to stand. But unable to use his own strength, he had to receive help from a maid.

The man continued to smile kindly at Relic as he said,

“Although you can’t call her human anymore.”

The dark red mass turned into a single bat and flew freely into the air.

As Relic’s gaze locked onto the bat, Dimguil turned to leave.

“Hold it, asshole. I’m not letting you get away with aiding the culprit.”

“I’m afraid I will. After all, the only legitimate part of my human record is my name. In other words, I don’t exist as a human. Our Clan dislikes coming in contact with human culture, so when I want to go incognito, I have to prepare all the paperwork myself. It really is bothersome. Our head could try to be more open-minded.” Dimguil complained as he turned. But Watt took a step forward, his temple twitching.

“In other words, I can beat your vampire ass to death. Simple enough.”

Watt also was clearly aware of how dangerous Dimguil was. But if he were planning to back off, he would have done so from the beginning.

“I’m afraid that is not a good idea. The two of you are indeed the strongest vampires in the world, but not all matchups are dependant on power alone. I’m only the strongest member of the Sunfold Clan, and far from being the strongest in the world… but I believe I’ll be able to defeat you two with my abilities.”

“All right, bring—urgh…? Grk…!”

Watt was interrupted mid-lunge by an arm piercing through his chest.

“Too bad. Looks like you’ve stashed your heart somewhere else again.” Shizune remarked nonchalantly. Watt struggled to turn his head.

“…Shizune… you bitch…”

“I told you not to get yourself killed like an idiot. Don’t you have any brains?”

Watt seemed to have reached his limit. He collapsed on the spot. The jester rushed over and shook his prone body while pounding on Shizune’s legs, but Shizune ignored her and glared at Dimguil.

“Excellent choice, young lady. You saved his life. …But if you’d fought alongside him, I suppose I might have been the one in danger.”

Dimguil did not seem to be humbly flattering her, but Shizune did not regret her decision in the least. She shot him an icy stare.

“I doubt it. I’d never have fought alongside this bastard anyway. And I’d rather off him properly myself than leave the job to your powers.”

“…Aha. So you’re the Eater who ate Pamela. I never suspected that the Eater would be such a beautiful young woman. I was expecting someone a bit more feral. But in any case, Pamela may pay you a visit one day to repay you. Please be sure to say hello.”

“Tell her to taste even better next time.”

“I will.” Dimguil chuckled as he turned. But just before he left, he raised his hand into the air.

No one knew what he was doing. But suddenly, Val, standing beside Relic, paled and began to tremble.

“Val?”

“He… he just cut my power.”

Though Val was one with Growerth itself, Dimguil had cut his telekinesis. Relic first doubted the possibility, but remembered how the girl named Pamela had cut Pirie while she was still in fog form. A chill ran down his spine.

“Excuse me. It looks like she’ll be coming to get me. …This island really is full of the most curious beasts. I might pay an official visit someday. Well, adios, amigos!”

With a strangely cheerful goodbye, Dimguil transformed himself and his camera into a flock of bats.

Shizune lobbed a fork at one of them, but the target divided itself into a flock of even smaller bats and avoided the attack.

And as though ignoring the attack outright, Dimguil lazily flew over the starry sea.

But Relic was in no state to watch Dimguil depart.

His claim that he would ‘return one of the citizens’ and the dark red mass amidst the bats. The two facts tugged at his thoughts.

Don’t have hope, whispered the remnants of his despair.

But Relic put all his strength into his body, ignoring the throbbing pain as he ran to Hilda’s body.

Then, a bat that had been flying through the air was suddenly sucked into Hilda’s chest.

Don’t have hope. This is a trap, the voice whispered, but it did not reach Relic.

No matter how many times he was betrayed, and no matter how many times he was flung into despair, Relic would always have hope for Hilda.


The seeds of hope bore fruit.

But Relic had not brought forth hope with his own efforts.

This time, the roulette simply happened to have stopped on the side of hope. Nothing more.

Hilda slowly opening her eyes and dazedly looking around—

Mumbling Relic’s name in a nearly inaudible voice—

It was all thanks to a stroke of good fortune. Relic had not created a miracle.

But none of that mattered to him anymore.

A pair of slightly long canines glinted between her lips, but to Relic von Waldstein, that was but meaningless trivia.

“Relic, what just—“

As Hilda whispered nervously, Relic drew her into a tight embrace.

“Hilda… Hilda…”

“Oh… what’s wrong, Relic?”

“I’m so glad… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry, Hilda…”

As Relic apologized and rejoiced at the same time, Hilda seemed confused for a moment. But—

“Hah hah. Oh, Relic.”

Hilda smiled.

And, losing himself to joy, Relic once more lost consciousness.

With Hilda wrapped in his arms, and tears streaming endlessly down his face.


<=>


“Oh! Master Watt? Master Watt?”

“Stop that. I told you, I’m not your master anymore.”

Though he had roared in search of Shizune when he first opened his eyes, Watt had turned his irritated steps to City Hall when he heard that Shizune had long since fled.

The jester talked affectionately behind him.

“The murderer got away in the end, didn’t she? Is that okay? Is that okay? You know, you know? She might just give up and go around killing everyone! She might! Then you’ll really never be able to face Relic—no, the viscount!”

“That’s nothing for you to worry over. Me and the detective’s already got it taken care of.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

The jester tilted her head as she floated upside-down. Watt grinned menacingly.

“As if I’d tell a Waldstein flunky.”

“Whaaaaat?! Wh, whatever! Shrimpy Watt! Watt Shrimpy! …Oh! You know, you know? Aren’t there a lot of TV crews on the island right now? If any of them shot the fight just now, won’t there be a big mess?”

The jester’s second worry was a grave one, but Watt shook his head dismissively.

“…That’s probably not an issue. They might’ve gotten the pillar, but no one’s gonna make sense of that.

“And besides, every news team on the island’s probably rooted at City Hall right about now.”

“?”


<=>


City Hall.


“Huh. The tremors’ve stopped. I guess they must have been doing construction underground after all.”

“Hm? Right, right. But back to work, now. Keep your eyes on the rooftop. The moment of truth might be here any second now.”

Though it was the middle of the night, the press was camped out in front of the city hall building, their cameras focused on the rooftop.

Spotlights were pointing at the edge of the roof, and a detachment of police officers had lights trained on a man announcing something from there.

“But really… why such a loud suicide attempt in the middle of the night?”

“Forget that. What’s that Japanese guy shouting about?”


While the reporters on the ground complained, Mage stood on the edge of the rooftop as he rambled to the police and the news crews in Japanese.

“The tremors shaking this island are a sign of the wrath of the daidarabotchi! The alignment of the planets will bring forth Amaterathotep from the Ibusuki UFO! Ambrose will invade for a piercing through the center of the earth! It begins this day! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

‘Aaaaaaargh… This is embarrassing… I can’t take it anymore!’

“Sneak into city hall and keep the press occupied. Right. A suicide attempt might be just the thing.”

Mage was half-threatened into his position atop the city hall building. He was forced to cry out in jumbled Japanese and make a show of trying to take his own life.

The press, assuming that he might have something to do with the serial killings, swarmed to the building to capture the moment the man either fell or was rescued.

‘How much longer do I have to do this, Mr. Stalf? Watt Stalf?!’

‘When I take power… I’ll make sure you taste this humiliatiooooooon!’


Mage’s internal monologue reached no one’s ears, and night on Growerth passed quietly(?) without incident.

The so-called earthquake and the momentary disappearance of the stars had worried the islanders, but the suicide attempt took the majority of the attention. By morning, not many people were worried.

And by afternoon, even the suicide attempt was forgotten in the wake of the news that the serial killer had been arrested.

In any event, peaceful days returned to the island, and the people found peace of mind at the capture of the murderer.

Not knowing about the peril that came and went in its shadow, the people of Growerth returned to daily life—


—believing in the warm smile of the mayor of Neuberg, who knew no greater joy.


-----


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5 comments:

  1. Thank you for your speedy releases.

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  2. thanks again. >.<

    Watt really cool in this chapter.

    So, after this, Dimguil go back and saw their clan was destroyed.

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  3. I am so happy with this thank you so much! I was left thinking about what was going to be come if hilda, and if she'd return as vampire or stay dead? ahhh I swear this was really exciting to read, also about relics powers they never cease to amaze me. Thank you <3

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  4. Thank you! By the way - do you know if Vamp is an ongoing series?

    ReplyDelete