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Chapter 2 - Vampire Hunter

As the world blurred he caught a fleeting glimpse of a geometric shape pass before his eyes. It was the sole of a boot moving at incredible speed.

With a bone-crushing thud, the woman was thrown aside, and Alphonse's field of vision filled with the night sky. Free from the woman's grasping fingers, he coughed furiously, sucking in as much fresh air as his tortured throat could manage.

'Are you all right?' asked a clear voice beside him.

The source of it was a second woman, who he was certain had not been there moments ago. She wore a navy blue overcoat paired with a matching navy blue beret. Her ash-blond hair reached as far as her neck, and her features were dignified, though they still retained clear vestiges of childlike innocence. At a guess, she seemed to be roughly the same age as Alphonse himself.

Still busy processing the recent events, Alphonse made no reply to her query. The woman watched him for some time before coolly stating, 'You appear to be mostly uninjured, at least. I'm glad to have arrived in time.'

Seemingly satisfied he would survive, she turned away and studied the crumpled form of the woman who had attacked him. 

'That,' she said with a note of distaste, 'is a ghoul - a thing a person becomes after their blood has been drained by a vampire.'

As she spoke, she kicked her left boot against the ground. The tap-tap-tap seemed to punctuate each word. It appeared to be the boot that she had used to kick the woman - 'ghoul' - away from him.

As he followed the restless drumming of her boot he suddenly thought, ...vampire?

'I have no issue with you idling about, but I would prefer it if you stood aside before doing so. You are in my way.' 

Her words were sharp, but no sooner had she said them than a creaking sound filled the area. The ghoul, which had been motionless on the ground while they were talking, was now slowly rising. Its contorted body lifted from the cobblestones using only the power of its legs. It was a grotesque spectacle and utterly unnatural, and if the ghoul was bothered by the earlier blow, it showed no sign.

Without warning, the ghoul suddenly kicked at the ground like a wild beast and propelled itself towards them. Alphonse jerked to his feet and leaped forward to shield the blond woman... 

The exact moment that the ghoul's nails reached Alphonse, the blond woman behind him calmly put her hand in her overcoat pocket. In one smooth motion she drew something out of it. It was a long, thin rapier. Its surface was a radiant silver polished to a mirror-like shine that reflected the smoldering glow of the red moon. Without a moment's hesitation, she thrust the rapier forward. Its pointed end flew past his neck, piercing the ghoul's throat effortlessly.

With an equally smooth motion she withdrew the blade. The ghoul fell to the ground and didn't move again. The menacing aura it had been radiating dissipated into nothing. 

Alphonse stood fixed to the spot, dumbfounded by what he had just witnessed. A small trickle of blood ran down his neck where the rapier had grazed it.

'I do believe that I told you to stand aside...  I suppose you must not have heard me.'

Sighing, she shook the ghoul's blood from her weapon before returning it to its scabbard.

'After all, if you had heard me and acted that way, regardless, I would be forced to conclude that you are most foolish, indeed.' 

Her blunt words and composed expression finally brought Alphonse back to his senses.

'I-I was just trying to keep you from getting hurt... But never mind that, what's going on here, anyway?! Who are you?! And why was that woman trying to--'

He had intended to finish his sentence with the words 'eat me,' but the possibility that it may have happened was too terrifying to voice. What was clear to him was that the woman before him had saved his life, and stabbed the 'ghoul' to do so. Looking at Alphonse's confused expression as he wrestled with the situation, she gave a resigned sigh. 

'You appear to be a member of the military. I presume, then, that you are familiar with the so- called Vampire Murders?'

'Y-Yeah, of course.'

'Well, then, if I were to tell you that those Vampire Murders really ARE the work of a vampire, would you believe me?'

Alphonse gaped at her. '...What?'

Without answering, she turned away from him and walked over to the ghoul. Gently, she lifted it from the ground so Alphonse could get a good look at the face. What had been a terrifying creature just moments ago was now a woman again. Her expression was completely peaceful - it was hard to believe she was the same woman who had attacked him earlier. 

'Look closely here,' the blond woman instructed.

She pointed at the corpse's neck. Specifically, at two red dots on its surface. They were completely consistent with the marks on all of the other victims of the Vampire Murders.

'It certainly looks like a vampire bite, wouldn't you say?' 

She said this as if it was the most common sense thing in the world. Alphonse still looked puzzled, but she ignored him and continued.

'Humans who die as a result of having their blood sucked by a vampire become ghouls, who then try to feast on other humans. This sword,' she said, tapping the scabbard, 'has been blessed by the church and is capable of putting them to rest.'

Her words brought the bizarre spectacle he had just witnessed back to the front of his mind. While he was interested in the 'church' part of her statement, he had more pressing questions to ask. 

'...You're seriously saying that this was the work of a vampire? You really expect me to believe something so ridiculous?'

'Whether you choose to believe it or not, it is the truth. A very unfortunate truth, but the truth, nonetheless,' she said in the same cool, disinterested tone.

Alphonse struggled with it. The 'truth' as she presented it beggared belief. And yet...everything she said added up and seemed consistent. It was equally hard to believe that everything was a lie. He subconsciously touched his throat. The ache there only bolstered her position. He found himself willing to believe her. 

'There is a vampire in this city. Of that I am certain. And I,' she continued, placing a hand on her chest, 'am here to put an end to it.'

A period of silence followed. Undeterred, the woman began to talk again.

'...Still, this is not ordinarily a matter that laymen should be involved with, so I would recommend that you forget all that you have seen and heard here.'

'And I would prefer,' she added with a meaningful glance, 'if you kept all of this to yourself, as well.' She turned to walk away.

'Wait!' Alphonse called out to her. He swallowed, stood a little straighter. 'Will you... Will you allow me to help you?'

The blond woman came to an abrupt halt. She turned her head to look at him. It was clear that his sudden question had caught her off guard. Slowly, she faced him completely.

'...Well, I certainly wasn't expecting you to propose something quite that ludicrous. What could I possibly stand to gain by allowing you to help me?' 

Her tone was as sharp as ever, but Alphonse was unfazed.

'Around ten years ago, both of my parents were killed. They died the exact same way as the victims of the Vampire Murders.'

'...?!'

Shock showed through the woman's normally blank expression. Alphonse continued.

'I don't remember much about that day, but there's one thing that I can't forget. One thing I'll NEVER be able to forget.'

As he spoke, the memory returned vividly to him. 

Roughly ten years ago, Alphonse and his family had lived in a village in a remote region of the Empire. His father was a member of the army, serving in a unit stationed nearby, but it was an uneventful post, and they lived a quiet life. It was as normal and peaceful an existence as one could have until that fateful day when Alphonse returned from playing outside. It was then that he saw a sight that would be burned into his memories, his dreams, forever. There in his home he found the corpses of his parents laying in a room stained with blood. Their bodies had been drained, and their necks were marked by strange bites.

The incident was so unpleasant and bizarre that even then, there were those who believed that it was the work of a vampire. The army conducted an investigation, but were unable to find any clues that would lead them to a suspect, and eventually the case was deemed unsolvable. Left with no living family, Alphonse was taken in by his father's best friend and fellow soldier in the army, Garrard, and ended up living in Heimdallr.

If what she was saying was true, and vampires really did exist, then maybe one WAS actually responsible for his parents' deaths. From the look on her face, it seemed she too thought that could be the case. 

Alphonse shook his head, though it was more for himself.

'It doesn't really matter if it was the work of a vampire or not. I feel as though by solving this case, I'll finally be able to move on from what happened that day. That's why...'

Another long silence fell between them. The blond woman seemed to be deep in thought, and Alphonse waited patiently for her reply. Eventually, she let out a short sigh. 

'...As part of the army, you have access to restricted information on the murders. Perhaps your assistance might allow me to find the vampire more quickly.'

She put her hand inside her coat and took out a short sword with the same silvery glow as the rapier she had used earlier.

'This will allow you to fight against ghouls and  vampires. If you'll be cooperating with me, I expect you to protect yourself.'

Alphonse glanced at her face. Her expression clearly said that she wouldn't brook any nonsense.  His resolve would need to be firm and unwavering, and he would need to be prepared to encounter more ghouls like the one from before. Furthermore, he would have to be ready to face the vampire that lurked in the city once and for all... 

With a resolute air he accepted the sword from her. 'My name's Alphonse, but everyone just calls me Al.'

The blond woman looked down at her now empty hand, and the corners of her lips quirked up slightly. She raised the edges of the skirt underneath her coat and gave him a respectful curtsey. 

'My name is Rose. I imagine that our time together will be brief, but I look forward to working with you, nonetheless.'

第2回 吸血鬼を狩る者


一瞬见えたのは、几何学的な模様だった。

ブーツの靴底だ。それが、アルフォンスの目の前を通过した。

それは、强烈な破壊音と共に、牙を剥く女性を吹き飞ばした。突然目の前の景色が夜空に切り替わり、体の束缚が解かれた。押しつぶされる寸前だった喉に空気が流れ込み、アルフォンスは思わず咳き込んでしまう。

「ご无事ですか?」

透き通った声——それは、すぐ傍らから闻こえてきた。

立っていたのは一瞬前までは确かにいなかったはずの人物。どうやら女性のようだ。

浓绀の外套に身を包み、同じく浓绀のベレー帽を被った服装。

首筋までかかるセミロングの金髪の下に、あどけなさを残しつつも凛とした颜立ちが见える。见た所、歳はアルフォンスと同じくらいのようだ。

しかし彼は、状况を全く把握できずにただ混乱するばかりだ。

女性は无表情でそれをじっと见ていたかと思うと、「ご无事のようですね。间に合って何よりです」と胜手に纳得し、すぐに颜を背けてしまう。

彼女が视线を向けた先には、アルフォンスに袭い挂かった虚ろな女が仰向けに倒れていた。

「あれは尸人《グール》——吸血鬼に血を吸われて生まれた、怜れなもの〔#「もの」に傍点〕です。」

金髪の女性はそう言いながら、左侧のブーツを地面に打ちつけ履き心地を确かめている。どうやらあのブーツで、虚ろな女——彼女が“尸人”と呼んだもの——の颜面を蹴り飞ばしたらしい。

……待てよ、今彼女は何と言った? ——吸血鬼?

「ぼーっとするのも结构ですが、できれば下がっていて下さい。邪魔です」

彼女の辛らつな言叶のあとに、何かが轧むような音が响き渡る。今まで倒れていた尸人が、无理な体势から足だけの力で立ち上がろうとしていた。颜面を强烈に蹴られたにもかかわらず痛みを感じている様子はない。

次の瞬间、尸人は獣のように地面を蹴ってこちらに飞び挂ってきた。地面にへたり込んでいたアルフォンスは、咄嗟に立ち上がる。そして、彼女の盾となるため飞び出す——。

尸人が放った爪がアルフォンスに届く刹那、背にいた金髪の女性は落ち着いたまま外套の腰に手をやった。

そこから、すらりと何かが引き抜かれる。

それは刺突用の细身の剣——レイピアだ。刀身が美しい银色に辉き、赤い月の光を反射する。そしてそれを、アルフォンスの背中侧から、何の踌躇もなく突き出す。

切っ先は彼の首筋を掠めて、何の抵抗もなく、一瞬で尸人の喉を贯いた。


——剣が引き抜かれると、尸人はその场に倒れて动かなくなった。

それがさきほどまでまとっていた、祸々しいまでの気配は消え去っていた。

アルフォンスは、目の前で起こった事态に呆然とし、全く动けなかった。レイピアを掠めた彼の首筋には、薄く血がにじんでいる。


「下がっていてください、と申し上げましたが……どうやら闻こえていなかったようですね」

 金髪の女性は呆れながらも、剣を振って尸人の血を払い、鞘に収める。

「もし闻こえていた上での行动でしたら、 あなたは度し难いまでの愚か者と言えますが」

澄ました颜で歯に衣着せず物を言う彼女に、アルフォンスはようやく自分を取り戻す。

「お、俺は君を助けようとしてだな……

 いや、それよりもこの状况は一体なんだ!? 君は一体何者だ!? どうしてあの女性は俺を——」

——喰らおうとした? その事実は恐ろしく、とても口に出すのは惮られた。

そして、目の前にいる彼女が自分を助けたのも事実だ。“尸人”とやらを一突きにして……

 様々な考えが头を巡り混乱するアルフォンスを见て、「仕方ありませんね」とため息をつく金髪の女性。

「あなたは、见たところ军の方のようですが、近顷帝都で起きている连続杀人事件……

 『吸血鬼事件』を知っていますか?」

「あ、ああ、もちろん」

「では——その事件が、“本当に吸血鬼の仕业だ”と言ったら信じますか?」 

「…………………………は?」

 意味が分からない、と言った表情の彼をよそに、金髪の女性は地に伏した尸人を抱き起こした。その遗体は……とても安らかな颜をしていた。先ほどまでと同じ人物とは思えない。

「——ほらここ、见てください」

 彼女は抱き起こした遗体の首筋を指す。そこには、2つの赤い斑点があった。それは、『吸血鬼事件』の被害者たちにあるものと、同様の痕迹であった。

「まさしく吸血鬼に咬まれた迹でしょう」

 当然のように言われても。困惑してしまうアルフォンスだったが、金髪の女性は一切気にせず话を続ける。

「血を吸われ、命を落とした人间は尸人《グール》と化し、他の人间を捕食するようになります。

 そして教会で祝福を施したこの剣によって、再び安息を与えられるのです」

彼女の言叶に、アルフォンスは先ほどの现実味の无い一连の光景を思い出していた。

 教会、という言叶が少し気にはなったが、ひとまずそれは置いておくことにした。

「……本当に吸血鬼なんてものの仕业だというのか?そんな荒唐无稽な话を信じろと?」

「信じろとは言いませんが、事実です。诚に残念なことではありますが」

 あくまで淡々とした语り口の金髪の女性。だが、言叶の通りであれば辻褄が合っていた。何より彼女の言叶には、真に迫るものがある。とても嘘を言っているようには见えない。

 アルフォンスは、彼女の言叶を信じようとしている自分がいるのに惊いていた。

「吸血鬼は、确かにこの帝都のどこかに隠れているのです」

彼女は改めて语ったあと、そして——と、自分の胸に手を当てる。

「それを灭ぼすために、私はここに来ました」

しばらくの沈黙がその场に访れる。

 金髪の女性は、それを见てまたも胜手に纳得した様子を见せた。

「……まあ、本来世俗の方が関わる话ではありませんし、さっさと忘れてしまわれることをお勧めします」

 そして「できれば他言无用に愿います、では」とその身を翻す。

「——待ってくれ」

 アルフォンスは、意を决した表情で彼女を呼び止めた。

「俺に、君の手伝いをさせてくれないか?」

彼女はぴた、と足を止める。

 殆ど无表情だった彼女もこの発言には惊いたらしく、翻していた身体をゆっくりとこちらに向けた。

「……それはまた、突拍子も无いご提案ですね。どうして私が、あなたに手伝われなくてはならないのですか?」

 あくまで辛らつな彼女だったが、アルフォンスは静かに瞑目して答える。

「十年ほど前……俺の両亲は杀された。——今起きている『吸血鬼事件』と同様の手口でな」

「…………!?」

 彼女は先ほどよりも眉を上げて、さらに惊いた様子を见せる。构わず続けるアルフォンス。

「俺もその时のことは、あまり详しく覚えていない。だが……脳裏に焼きついている」

言叶にした瞬间、その光景はあまりにも鲜明に、彼の脳裏に浮かびあがった。


十年ほど前、アルフォンスの一家は帝国の辺境の村に住んでいた。彼の父は帝国军に所属し、近隣に驻屯する部队に勤めていたが、大きな事件も起こらず家族は平穏に暮らしていた。

 そんなある日、游びに出ていたアルフォンスが家に帰ったところで、発见したのだ。

——血に涂れた部屋に横たわる両亲を。

その遗体からは全身の血液が抜き取られていた。そして、その首筋には“咬み迹”が残されていたのだ。

あまりに猟奇的で凶悪な事件であり、当时も“吸血鬼の仕业”などと啸かれる中、军による捜査が行われた。しかし、结局犯人に繋がる手がかりは见つからず、事件は迷宫入りとなった。孤独の身となった幼少のアルフォンスは、父の同僚で无二の友人であったガラードに引き取られ、帝都にやってきたのだった。

 彼女の言うとおり“吸血鬼”が本当にいるのだとしたら、自分が直面した事件は……可能性はゼロではない。それは彼女も気づいているようだった。

「……いや、例え过去の事件が“吸血鬼”の仕业じゃなかったとしても……

 この事件を解决すれば、俺の过去に区切りをつけられる気がするんだ。

だから……」


 その场に再び、长い沈黙が访れた。金髪の女性は、しばらく何かを考え込んでいる。

 アルフォンスは、ただ彼女の次の言叶を待っていた。

 そして——ため息が一つ、その场に小さく吐き出される。

「……军に所属しているあなたなら、事件の情报を手にいれ易いでしょう。

 吸血鬼を见つけるために、协力していただくのは手かもしれませんね」

そう言った彼女は、懐からおもむろに何かを取り出した。银色の短剣……その煌きは、彼女の持つレイピアによく似ている。

「尸人や吸血鬼と戦うことができる武器です。协力していただけるなら受け取ってください。

——ただし、自分の身は自分で守ってください」 

 彼女の表情に、アルフォンスは自分に求められているものを悟った。

 それは——揺るぎない覚悟。再び先ほどのような尸人と相対する覚悟。

帝都に潜む“吸血鬼”を、必ず灭ぼすという覚悟——だが、彼の答えはすでに决まっていた。


「俺はアルフォンス——知り合いはアル、と呼ぶ」


决意と共に重い短剣を受け取り、自己绍介をするアルフォンス。

金髪の女性は空になった手のひらを见ると、少しだけ无表情を崩して口の端を持ち上げた。そして外套の下のスカートを持ち上げつつ、恭しくお辞仪をする。


「ロゼ——と言います。 

しばしの间よろしくお愿いします、アル」

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