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Chapter 13 - True Ancestor

Rose had been prepared to accept her own death.  Garrard's lances of blood had perforated several of her organs, and she no longer had the strength to use Thaumaturgy to heal herself. Considering that her occupation was hunting vampires, she always knew that this might happen. That one day, one of the vampires she tried to kill might instead end her own life.  Nonetheless, her task was to try and defeat as many of them as she could before that happened. That was her penance, her way that she would try to atone. But that time had finally come. She had done all that she could, and yet she had been powerless to defeat Garrard. If she just closed her eyes, she would never wake up again. Perhaps that would be the easiest and least painful option.

Her consciousness fading, her lids began to droop...but then she saw something in the corner of her field vision. It was Alphonse, desperately struggling against something he could not hope to best. To see him fighting on, he who had battled beside her every step of the way, made her heart ache.

She watched his final last-ditch attack fail, and the silver sword she had given him shatter. The upper half of its broken blade flew towards her. It pierced the damp earth by her head. The silvery sheen of the sword fragment blurred in her vision, then came back into focus. It was wet with Alphonse's blood. 

Thump.

The sound of her heart pounding drowned out all other noises. It was a sensation that she was  determined to never feel again...or  rather, one that she felt, but desperately tried to ignore. But she couldn't surrender herself to death just yet.  Alphonse had sworn to her that he wouldn't allow himself to die, and he was doing everything possible to keep that promise. It was her turn to show the same kind of courage that he was. 

She reached out a hand, ignoring the pain running  through it, and grasped the broken blade. She bent it close to her upturned face and stretched out her tongue towards the blood dripping down its surface. Then she licked it.

The instant blood touched her lips, her vision became awash in a scarlet haze. She knew that she was taking a huge risk and yet her heart was filled with a new, different resolve. It was a risk worth taking. 

'You...can't be... You can't be!'

Garrard glared at her, still clutching at his wound with his left hand. She opened her mouth again to speak, her whole body shrouded in a faint crimson radiance.

'My name is Roselia,' she said. 'I am a descendant of the loathsome race of vampires - and a True Ancestor.' 

As she introduced herself anew, she gave a polite curtsey.

Alphonse watched the exchange from his low vantage point on the ground. It was not the first time he had heard the term 'True Ancestor.' He recalled Rose mentioning it once before. She had said they were the legitimate descendants of the vampire race.

In one hand, Rose held one of her pistols. In the other, the fractured end of the silver longsword she had given Alphonse. By licking the blood that it had been coated in, she had been able to return from the brink of death, just like Garrard had been able to revitalize himself by drinking Elroy's blood before. The connection was clear, and yet unlike Garrard's  gruesome action, Rose's blood drinking seemed more like some kind of holy ritual. 

Perhaps due to his inability to move or do anything other than lie and watch, Alphonse was able to process the situation quite sedately. Rose had been a vampire all along. He found himself somehow unalarmed by that bit of information and didn't question it. Garrard was not so calm.

'A True Ancestor?! Impossible! The True Ancestors are all...' 

Rose spread her hands in acknowledgement. 'Indeed, the True Ancestors are no more. They chose to allow themselves to perish. They realized the truth: that if human blood was required for the race to continue to exist, then the right thing to do was to allow it to die. That a life such as that has no meaning. I am the very last True Ancestor in existence.'

She spoke solemnly, her expression dignified.

'I cannot forgive your kind. You Elder Vampires fled because you were unable to suppress your lust for blood. And then you brought shame on the name 'vampire' by attacking innocent humans, all because of your own inability to resist your obscene desires!' 

'Spare me your lecturing!' Garrard yelled, and then quickly thrust out the right hand which Rose had damaged. From it emerged another barrage of blood lances which shot towards Rose at great speed. But the moment they were about to impale her body, she turned into red mist, generating a blast wave in the air. Instantly, she reappeared behind Garrard, both pistols in her hands, and fired bullet after bullet into his body. The bullets, emitting the same effulgent red aura as Rose, struck him all over. 

'Graaaaaaah!'

Garrard was thrown forward by the impacts, which hit him with the force of shotgun shells. He twitched and groaned on the ground in agony. Satisfied that the vampire would be immobile for a time, Rose crouched down beside Alphonse.

His eyes were open, watching, but he was unable to move. Rose gently caressed his cheek with her hand.

'Thank you, Al. Thanks to you, I now know what I must do. ...I have a lot that I want to say to you, but for now it will have to wait.'

Alphonse turned his head towards her, and for a brief moment, he saw the figure of the girl he had played with when he was a child. He finally realized the truth. 

Too exhausted to even open his mouth, he had to content himself with silently encouraging her in his own mind. Almost as if she could sense him doing so, Rose nodded, and then stood up again. She looked over at Garrard with the same solemn expression as before.

His wounds had begun to close, but the time that it took for them to do so said everything - the power of a True Ancestor was enough to be able to contend with him. 

'Gah... Foolish girl! What's wrong with drinking blood to survive?! Humans take the lives of others so that they can continue to exist too. How is what we do any different?!'

Rose shook her head.

'It is completely different. Vampires have inhuman strength, can manipulate others to do whatever they desire, spawn ghouls as a by-product of what they do... Everything about our existence goes against the natural laws of the world. We are a violation of the will of the Goddess. And that is why we should be confined to the realm of the fairy tales!' 

Rose was a vampire who hunted other vampires because of her own strong beliefs and ideals. A vampire who had resolved to deny her own race, to wipe them out, hoping that they would all be forgotten forever.

Alphonse desperately tried to stay conscious, his eyes fixed on her. He finally understood the ideal that she strived for, and the true nature of the solitude she carried - a solitude that not even those of her own race could possibly understand.

'You little... Have it your way, then!'

Grinding his teeth in anger, Garrard held out a hand before him, and from the palm formed a monstrous sword made up of jet black blood. The black coat that he wore also began to squirm and transform. Giant wings, like those of a bat, emerged from the quivering mass. With a toss of his head, they unfurled, extending to either side of him. They flapped once, twice, and Garrard rose into the air. 

Suddenly, Lucca fell to the ground, unconscious. Garrard had released the Charm he had on her to concentrate all of his energy into his next attack.

'Allow me to bring an end to your bloodline for good, and return the name 'True Ancestors' to ancient history where it belongs!' he roared. 

Rose drew her templar sword. Her navy coat, still bathed in scarlet light, became bat-like wings as well. She held his gaze as she ascended to his level.

'It's time you gave up the name 'Elder Vampire.' You do nothing but soil it.'

Blades drawn, they confronted one another in midair, charged energy crackling throughout the catacombs. Alphonse lay back, unable to do anything but observe. The next moment, their shadows crossed at lightning speed.

In an instant, they had exchanged places in the air. Both had swung their swords. The blade of Rose's  templar sword, however, was nowhere to be seen. All that could be glimpsed here and there in the flickering torchlight was the glinting of wires stretched to their limit. 

'Hahahaha...'

Garrard was the first to make a sound. Lines ran across his body in a crisscross of faint stripes. As he laughed, the lines spread like cracks, slowly multiplying and widening, almost as if his body  hadn't quite realized that it had been cut at all. The countless parts that formed the templar sword's blade had passed through his body over and over in a single instant. Rose turned, and with a snap of the wrist caused the wires connecting the blade's parts to bend. With the metallic clicks of interlocking metal, the parts flew through the air and came together. The templar sword was once again whole. 

'Farewell,' said Rose. 'I'm sure we will meet again one day in hell.'

'Hahahahahaha!'

As her templar sword returned to its complete form, the body of the Elder Vampire crumpled to the ground, feet first. 

第13回 真祖

 ロゼは、死を覚悟していた。

 ガラードの“血の枪”で全身を射抜かれ、そのいくつかは内臓を深く伤つけている。すでに治愈の法术を唱える力すら残されていなかった。

“吸血鬼狩り”を生业としてきた以上、心のどこかで分かっていたことだ。自分はいつか戦いの中で死ぬ。それまでに、一体でも多くの吸血鬼を狩るだけだ。

それが——彼女が心に课していた“赎罪”だ。

 だが、もう死は目の前だった。 

 やれることはやり尽くした。それでもガラードは倒せなかった。

 このまま眠ってしまえば、そのまま永远に目覚めることはないだろう。いっそ、その方が楽かもしれない。意识は、すでに失われかけていた。 

 彼女が、ゆっくりと睑を闭じかけたとき——ぼやけた视界の隅に何かが见えた。

——彼と协力を结んだ青年、アルフォンスは戦っていた。真正面から吸血鬼に挑み、一心不乱に剣を振っている。胜ち目などあるわけがなかった。それでも——。

 やがて、彼の最后の一撃が防がれ、叩き折られる白银の剣。折れた剣先が倒れ伏すロゼの目の前まで飞んできて、湿った地面に突き刺さった。 

 それはアルフォンスの血に濡れていた。 

どくん。 

ロゼは自分の鼓动の音を闻いた。その感覚は、彼女が昔に舍てたもの。いや——见ないようにしてきただけのものだ。

 まだ、死ぬわけにはいかない。アルフォンスは、自分のために绝対に死なないと言ってくれた。ならば自分も、覚悟を示さなければならない。

 ロゼは、自分の手が伤つくのも构わず、折れた切っ先を掴んだ。

 そして、刀身に流れるアルフォンスの血に、自らの——舌を、つけた。その瞬间、彼女の视界が真红に覆われる。

危険な赌けだった——だが、彼女の心は、先ほどとは违う覚悟に満ちていた。

「まさか、贵様は——!!」 

 拳铳で大穴を穿たれた右手を庇いつつ、ガラードはその姿を睨みつけた。

 うすぼんやりと真红の辉きに包まれた、“吸血鬼狩り”のロゼの姿を。

「改めて、名乗らせていただきます——

 私の名前は、ローゼリア。 

 忌まわしき吸血の一族、“真祖”の末裔です」

倒れたままのアルフォンスは、倾いた视界に恭しくお辞仪をするその姿を见ていた。

 真祖。吸血鬼と呼ばれる一族の、正统な血统——彼女が言っていた言叶を思い出す。

 ロゼが拳铳と逆手に持っていたのは、白银の剣の切っ先だ。そこについていたアルフォンスの血を尝め——彼女は濒死の状态から复活したのだ。エルロイの血を取り込むことで、精気を涨らせたガラードのように。 

 だが、ロゼのものはガラードのそれとは违う、神圣な仪式のように见えた。

体が一切动かないせいか、アルフォンスは冷静に状况を受け入れていた。ロゼが、吸血鬼——その事実を、落ち着いた头でただただ纳得する。 

「“真祖”の吸血鬼だと?

 马鹿な、そんなものが今の世に——」

「ええ、すでに失われました。

 自ら、灭びることを选んだのです。 

 気づいてしまったから——人间の血を粮にしてまで、种を存続させることに意味はないと。

 私はその最后の一人です」 

瞑目して答えていたロゼは、続けて目を见开いて、凛とした表情でガラードを睨みつける。

「私は许しません。

 血への渇望に耐え切れず一族から出奔した“|高位の吸血鬼《エルダー・ヴァンパイア》”を。

 欲望の赴くままに人间を袭い、一族の名を秽すあなた方を——!」 

「——戯言を!!」 

叫ぶが早いか、ガラードは大穴を穿たれた右腕を突き出した。そこから、再び无数の“血の枪”が现れ、凄まじい速さでロゼに袭い挂かる。それが彼女の肉体を贯こうとした瞬间、ロゼは爆风とともに赤い雾となる。

そして、ガラードの背后から瞬时に现れると、构えていた二丁拳铳から十数発もの弾丸を连射した。それらは彼女と同じ真红の辉きを缠って、ガラードの全身を贯いていく。

「があああっ!」体中に受けた散弾铳のごとき冲撃で、前方に吹き飞ばされるガラード。彼がしばらく立ち上がれないことを确认すると、ロゼはしゃがみこんで、足元で动けなくなっているアルフォンスの頬を优しく抚でた。 

「ありがとう、アル。あなたのおかげで覚悟が决まりました。

……后で、色々と话がしたいです。少し、待っていて下さい」

 アルフォンスは、ロゼのその姿にかつての记忆の女性を见た。

——ああ、そうだったのか——彼には返事をする体力すら残っていなかった。代わりに心の中で彼女の背を押してやる。ロゼもそれを感じ取ったのか、こくりとうなずいて立ち上がり、再び凛とした表情でガラードを见やる。

 彼は全身に受けた伤を回复し始めていたが、それもようやくと言った様子だ。真祖の力を発挥したロゼの攻撃は、明らかなダメージを彼に与えていた。 

「くっ……愚かな! 我々が、血液を粮として何が悪い!

 他の生命を犠牲に生を得ている人间と何が违う!?」 

その问いに、ロゼは静かに答える。 

「——全てです。

 人知を超えた膂力を持ち、他者を意のままに操り、尸人を生み出す……

 存在の全てが自然の摂理を、社会を著しく乱します。 

 私たちは、女神のご意思に背く存在なのです。

 だからこそ、ただのおとぎ话でなければならない——!」 

ロゼはその信念のもと、吸血鬼でありながら吸血鬼を狩る。自らの一族を否定し、灭ぼし、静かに忘れ去られていくことを愿って。

 アルフォンスは必死で意识を繋ぎとめながら、ロゼを见つめる。

 同族にすら决して理解されることはない、彼女の理想——彼女の抱える孤独の正体を、彼はようやく理解できた気がしていた。

「小娘が、知ったふうな口を叩いてくれる……いいだろう!」

歯噛みするガラードが虚空に手を伸ばすと、掌から立ち上ったどす黒い血液が、祸々しい剣の形を成した。 

さらに彼の身につける黒の外套が蠢き、蝙蝠の羽根となって左右に伸びる。それを羽ばたかせて中空に浮游するガラード。

 虚ろに立ち尽くしていたルッカが、ふっと気を失ってその场に倒れる。彼女にかけていた术の力までも、次の攻撃へと注がれているのだった。 

「死にぞこないの“真祖”——その古びた血、この手で绝ち切ってくれる!」 

 ロゼもまた、それに呼応するように法剣を引き抜いた。真红の辉きを缠い、紫绀の外套が蝙蝠の羽根へと姿を変える。

「“高位の吸血鬼”……その名を今ここで返上して顶きます」

真红の瞳でガラードを捉えるロゼ。 

 互いに剣を构え、空中で対峙する2人の吸血鬼——。凄まじい力の流れが地下墓所を支配し、刃物のような杀気がぶつかり合う。その様子を、仰向けに倒れたまま见守るアルフォンス。

 次の瞬间、2つの影は雷鸣の速度で交错した。

 一瞬で立ち位置が入れ代わる、ロゼとガラード。 

互いが持つ剣は、それぞれ振りぬかれた状态になっていた。ロゼの法剣に刀身は见当たらない。そのかわりに、鉄线が限界まで伸びている。

「——ハハハハッ……」 

先に声をあげたのは、ガラード。その体に次々と直线が走っていく。それは、斩られたことすら忘れていた肉体に少し遅れて刻まれた、亀裂。あの刹那、法剣から分裂した无数の刃が、彼の体を几度となく通过していたのだった。

ロゼが振り向く。スナップを利かせて鉄线をしならせると、金属がぶつかり合う音と共に、规则正しく法剣の刀身を形成していく。

「——さようなら。いずれ冥府でお会いしましょう」

「ハハハハハハハハハハハッ……!!」

 法剣の刀身が、完全に剣の形を成した时——

冷酷なる“高位の吸血鬼”の肉体は、足元から崩れおちていった。