Chapter 11 - Battle in the Catacomb
Watching Elroy turn, Rose knew with a sinking feeling that he had fully recovered from their previous battle. It was also obvious that he was much, much stronger. Considering how much blood he must have drunk to spawn all of the ghouls they had fought on their way to reach him, it was hardly surprising, though. Nonetheless, neither Alphonse nor Rose had any way of telling exactly how powerful the monster before them had become.
'Where's Lucca?!' Alphonse shouted.
The vampire shrugged as if bored. 'Who knows? Maybe I'll tell you if you beat me.'
He slowly raised his arms, then stretched them towards the heavens. An incredible wave of power erupted from his palms, reverberating throughout the catacomb. Alphonse and Rose tensed, but then the rush of energy suddenly stopped.
'What was that...?' Alphonse asked cautiously.
'No!' cried Rose. Though the discharge of power had no immediate visible effect, she knew what was coming. Her grip on her sword tightened.
A strange 'crumping' sound filled the air, like vast, unseen movement. Alphonse's eyes darted over the area trying to find the source of the noise.
Near one of the crosses he had noticed earlier, something white caught his eye.
It was a skeletal human hand.
With a start, he realized that similar grasping fingers and limbs were emerging from the other graves surrounding them. The twitching bones were pushing and clawing at the dirt, and not long after, the bodies they belonged to began to heave their way out of the ground, as well. The air was full of the cracking and clicking of bones and musty soil.
These were the cadaverous remains of those who had been buried long ago. It seemed the skill to wake and manipulate the corpses of the dead was yet another ability in an Elder Vampire's repertoire.
Their new undead foes presented another problem. Unlike the ghouls, the skeletons were equipped with varying weapons and equipment. Some had axes and others swords, while many wore helmets and several had shields. Judging from all the armament on display, it seemed safe to assume that those who were buried in this particular catacomb had all been warriors or those who had fallen in battle.
Alphonse drew his sword, his back against Rose's. They were completely surrounded.
'Hahahaha! What incredible power!'
Elroy's shriek of laughter cut like a knife through the shuffling of withered feet and creaking of rotten leather. His expression was suffused with ecstasy as he surveyed his handiwork.
Once free of their earthen graves, the skeletons stood completely still. Unlike the ghouls who operated entirely on the instinctive desire planted within them, the skeletons were soldiers in the truest sense of the word: they awaited the command of the vampire who had woken them from their eternal slumber.
With a sweeping cut of his hand, Elroy gave the signal to attack. The skeletons surged forward en masse towards Alphonse and Rose like a wave cresting the shoreline.
Each of them held their weapons out at the ready, but there were simply too many of them to block them all. Just before the undead army reached them, Alphonse felt Rose tap on his shoulder from behind. Instantly understanding what she was trying to tell him, he swiftly crouched to the ground.
As Alphonse ducked, Rose jumped high into the air. She twisted the upper half of her body, her right arm stretched over the left side of her torso. With a powerful swipe, she swung that arm back to the right, her body making almost a full rotation. The motion lent even greater power to her swing as she whipped her templar sword around in a scything arc.
The heads of the closest skeletons exploded into a fine white powder as the segmented blades made contact. The sheer force behind the blow also blasted back the second row of skeletons, giving the pair precious breathing space. Not letting the opening go to waste, Alphonse leaped up from the ground and charged forward through the sea of bones towards the vampire. Some skeletons tried to oppose his advance, but he simply bashed them aside, slashing, kicking, punching and otherwise doing whatever he had to in order to remove them from his path. It was ugly but effective - Elroy was nearly in his reach.
Rose, meanwhile, was doing all she could to draw the skeletons' attention, switching rapidly between using her sword and pistols. She also did her best to cover Alphonse from afar, attacking enemies bearing down on him from behind.
'Why, Elroy?! What happened to you?!' Alphonse cried over the clamor of battle.
As he smashed his way through the legion of skeletons, he couldn't help but wonder how the two of them had come to this point to begin with. They had first met several years before when Alphonse joined the Imperial Army. Elroy had been an orphan who had lived in poverty before being scouted out for the military by Garrard for his exceptional skill with a sword. As such, the two of them shared a lot in common. While Elroy didn't even know who his parents were, they were both orphans, and they were both saved from solitude by Garrard. They soon felt an affinity towards one another, becoming good rivals and aiding each other in improving their skills. Yet at some point after that, their relationship took a turn for the worse. Even so, Alphonse still saw Elroy as a comrade, and respected his strength and skill. No matter how many times Elroy acted unpleasantly or coldly to him, that feeling never changed for him. And that was why even now, after all he had seen and done, he still couldn't bring himself to believe that Elroy was a vampire. That Elroy, someone he had practically grown up with, was someone who could heartlessly take the lives of innocent people, or toy with them as food.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally dispatched the last skeleton standing between him and Elroy. His path was clear.
He raced towards the vampire, silver sword held high and a war cry erupting from his lips. Watching him with undisguised amusement, Elroy smoothly drew his own blade. Once again their swords locked together in opposition.
'I won't let you harm anyone else! As a friend, I can't allow you to!'
'...Don't you give me that!'
Elroy blocked Alphonse's attack with a contemptuous swipe of his own sword, held effortlessly in one hand. He then repelled Alphonse's blade with incredible force. Alphonse's arm was knocked back, but he turned it to his advantage and used the momentum from Elroy's attack to spin around and attack him with a sweeping horizontal slash. Again Elroy rebuffed him - this time employing but a single finger. The digit was burned by the blade, but though it smoked, Elroy didn't show the faintest sign of concern. Instead, he began to focus his strength into it, causing the sword to begin to crack.
Alphonse looked up with gritted teeth, expecting to see the familiar superior sneer on Elroy's face, but instead of a glimpse of a man assured of his own victory he only saw pure hatred. The look was so intense that he almost faltered.
'Friend?! How DARE you call yourself my friend after you tried to steal what matters most to me!'
Elroy's words caught Alphonse so off guard that he wasn't able to react in time to parry the downward strike from Elroy's sword. The blade made contact, slicing through Alphonse's guard and uniform from shoulder to navel. Blood sprayed in the wake of the slash, and he howled in pain.
Hearing his cry, Rose called out in concern. The path he had carved to Elroy, however, had long since filled with skeletons that she was diverting, and Alphonse knew he could expect no help from that quarter. Fortunately, the wound was fairly swallow. As if to demonstrate his fitness, he nimbly retreated backwards, and raised his sword again.
'What are you talking about?! I don't remember ever taking anything from you!'
'Silence! Your chance to repent has long since passed!'
Elroy renewed his attack with relentless force. Alphonse tried valiantly to resist, but his injury impaired him from fighting to his full potential, and Elroy managed to land one slash after another. Blood began to soak through his shirt. Though all superficial, the number of wounds on his body increased steadily and he began to feel lightheaded. Nonetheless, he raised the sword yet again, but only pure willpower kept the blade from wavering.
Elroy watched this display with glee. His mouth quirked up in a smile of anticipated victory.
'Don't worry, you won't be alone for long. That vampire hunter and the girl from the tavern will be joining you very soon.'
Alphonse trembled at the promise in those words, but they also filled him with renewed determination.
'...Elroy, I don't know what you've got against me, but no matter what it is, I'm not going to let you kill me. I'm not going to go back on my promise.'
'What are you talking about...?' Elroy asked, the smile slipping from his face.
'You think you can kill me? Go right ahead and try because I'm not going to die, and I WILL stop you!'
'Enough...!' Enraged, Elroy finally clasped his sword in both hands. Fury and monstrous energy radiated from him in waves. Alphonse knew that this would be his strongest attack yet.
'You're finished!' Elroy cried, swinging his sword downwards with all of his might.
Death approached from above and Alphonse saw it coming, but he made no move to block it. His silver sword still raised in front of him, he took Elroy's attack head-on. Once again, the vampire's blade made contact with Alphonse's left shoulder, cleaving through body, muscle, bone, and all. Or, at least, that was what he expected to happen.
What happened next defied all logic. As the sword carried downward it sheared through Alphonse's left collarbone...then stopped. Trembling with effort, Alphonse looked Elroy straight in the eye and it was not the look of a man who had been bested.
Alphonse hadn't decided to not defend against Elroy's attack. Instead, he had resolved to receive it, and focused his concentration to its limit. The moment the blade entered his body, he had suddenly stiffened all of his muscles, thus allowing him to halt the sword's advance.
Elroy was stunned by what had happened. The outcome was just so far removed from the victory he had envisioned that he could only gape at the other man. And it was that shock that Alphonse had been courting. It was the opening he had so desperately created.
Ignoring the pain surging through his body, Alphonse prepared his strike. Elroy released his own sword's hilt, unable to free the blade embedded in Alphonse's shoulder. He took a half step back, weaponless, defenseless.
The tip of Alphonse's silver sword flew forwards, piercing the vampire straight through the chest. As it sank deep and true, the catacomb fell silent. With a dry sound almost like a sigh, the skeletons Rose had been fighting crumbled to the ground. Finally free from the need to fight against them any longer, she stopped and turned to Alphonse. She watched in mute astonishment as Alphonse withdrew his sword from the vampire's chest. Elroy dropped to his knees and then collapsed.
His enemy defeated, Alphonse then turned his attention to himself. With clenched teeth, he pulled out the sword that had been embedded in his left shoulder. Blood spurted in a bright arc as he freed it. He tried to stop the bleeding by holding his hand over it, but the wound was just too deep. Blood continued to flow out between his fingers.
'Maybe I overdid it...a little...' he said a bit unsteadily.
Rose sighed. 'You truly are unbelievable.' She picked her way over to him, carefully sidestepping bones and weapons in her path. Gently, she placed a hand over his and Alphonse felt a warm sensation suffuse his body. She was using her Thaumaturgy to heal his injuries.
'You only have one life,' she chided him. 'You shouldn't treat it so carelessly. I always knew that you were foolish, but perhaps foolish idiotic imbecile is more appropriate.'
Despite the admonishing tone of her words, Alphonse could tell from her face just how relieved she was that he was all right. Feeling somewhat guilty for worrying her so much, he watched as his wound rapidly began to close. While her Thaumaturgy could only heal physical wounds and not restore his lost stamina, it was still more than sufficient as first aid.
Suddenly, they heard a soft groaning sound from nearby. It had come from Elroy, who was looking up at the ceiling with a vacant expression. His skin had begun to crack and slowly crumble away. He seemed to be trying to say something, but his voice was so quiet that it was impossible to make out what. Rose slowly drew one of her silver pistols and pointed it at Elroy's head.
Alphonse started. 'Wh-What are you...?'
'His fate is sealed, regardless. But I can't allow him to pass like this.'
There wasn't a moment to waste. As a vampire hunter, she had a duty to finish off her targets. To Alphonse, her decision seemed heartless, but he also knew that she had no choice. And yet it still frustrated him that it had to end like this. He still had a lot of questions that he wanted to ask Elroy. Had he been a vampire for the whole of the time that they had known each other? What had driven him to start taking the lives of innocents now? And why did he hate him so much? Nonetheless, he knew that vampires were simply too dangerous to be allowed to exist. As such, he stood by silently, allowing her to do what she thought had to be done...but Rose simply stood with her pistol pointed at Elroy's head, never pulling its trigger.
'...This doesn't make any sense,' she murmured.
Alphonse looked at her. 'What doesn't?'
'I don't understand...'
'But what don't you understand?'
There was puzzlement and not a bit of wariness in Rose's reply. 'There's no scent. None at all.'
'Scent of what?'
'The scent of an Elder Vampire.'
At that moment, something flew at incredible speed through the darkness. Two long, narrow objects made up of filthy black blood flashed towards them in a blur. Rose, who sensed their approach first, immediately pushed Alphonse out of the way. As he was thrust from the path of the objects, Alphonse watched in horror as the sharply pointed lances of blood mercilessly pierced Rose's chest. He fell to the ground with a whump, and a moment later Rose thudded down beside him. Blood began to pool around her inert body.
Alphonse couldn't process what was happening. Nor was he able to rise to his feet, so weak was he from his earlier battle.
'Well, well...' said a voice. 'I certainly couldn't have seen that coming. I was hoping to finish you both off at the same time.'
Out of the darkness that the lances had emerged from stepped a figure. A figure whose outline and gait was achingly familiar; a man in a military uniform, who he knew better than anyone else...
'Looks like you managed to cheat death again, huh, Al?'
He didn't want to believe what he was seeing.
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 10: Into the Darkness||Chapter 12: Elder Vampire ⇒|