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Chapter 4 - The Black Vampire

Two people ran through the streets of Heimdallr down cobblestones dewed with moonlight. In the lead was Rose, her navy blue coat flapping in the wind like the wings of a hawk as she pursued their foe. Just behind her (and shocked by her speed) was Alphonse, head whipping left and right as he searched for Lucca. There had been no sign of her on the short path between the tavern and the grocery store where she had apparently been sent.

When Rose had sensed the ominous presence of the vampire outside the tavern she immediately set about following it. Alphonse didn't know what kind of trail she had picked up, but she flew down streets and narrow paths without hesitation, as if following a  puppet's strings back to its master. To find his friend they now followed the vampire, spurred by that terrible certainty that the two were connected.

'Eeeeeeeeeek!'

The sound of a piercing shriek filled the air, sending a chill up Alphonse's spine and freezing him to the spot. There was no mistaking its owner - it was Lucca's voice.

'Lucca?!' Alphonse cried. 'Where are you?!'

'The scent is coming from this way!' Rose called before rushing down a narrow alleyway. 

Alphonse followed, stumbling over his own feet in his desperate attempt to keep up with her. He could barely breathe from running so much, but he ignored the tightness in his chest and sped on. Kicking aside boxes and garbage piled here and there on the path, he eventually reached the other side of the alleyway and emerged into a neighboring street.

In it stood someone - or something. It was draped in a black overcoat, the upper half of its head wrapped in a large cloth. Not even its eyes were visible. The only part of the body that remained uncovered was the bottom half of its face, a deathly pale expanse of flesh with a twisted smile at its center. At first glance, it almost seemed human.  Alphonse was not fooled. 

This is it, he thought. This is the vampire.

It was then that he realized the black-clad  figure was holding something in its arms.

Lucca.

Just as that realization hit, the vampire's rictus of a grin yawned wide as it opened its jaws. Alphonse caught a fleeting glimpse of beast-like fangs, too long, too sharp to be human. Seeing them, Alphonse instantly recalled the bite marks on the murder victims' necks. As he watched, horrified, those needle-like teeth descended towards Lucca's throat. 

Rose was the first to act. In a movement so fast he could barely track it, she withdrew several thin objects from the inside of her cloak and threw them at the vampire. Alphonse remembered her showing him them as a part of her 'vampire hunting' kit. The knives flashed in the moonlight as they sped towards the creature.

As it was about to sink its fangs into Lucca, the vampire turned towards them, dodging the knives just in time. Lucca fell to the ground, and the vampire jumped high into the air, descending just behind Alphonse. 

It happened so fast that Alphonse was still staring at the spot the vampire had been when it landed silently behind him. The creature that was terrorizing Heimdallr, the murderer of countless women, the thing that had attacked Lucca...it was so close.

Anger overrode fear. Alphonse clasped the hilt of his military saber and drew it. He spun around, slashing horizontally across the vampire's chest. The blade made contact. 

The vampire laughed. Alphonse watched transfixed as the wound on the creature's chest healed. The next instant, the vampire punched its right fist out towards the pit of Alphonse's stomach at incredible speed.

'Gah...!'

The impact was so great that it forced him back, expelling all of the air from his lungs. And while he was able to protect his vital organs, he had still suffered the full brunt of the blow. He doubled over in agony. 

'Get down!' Rose cried out from behind him.

With no choice but to obey her as best he could, he let himself fall limply to the ground. As he did, the stir of air from Rose's lightning fast rapier thrust ruffled his hair as it passed.

The vampire didn't laugh this time. Perhaps sensing danger from the rapier's silver radiance it threw up its left arm in defense.

The blade pierced flesh, and Rose followed through with her strike, skewering the limb right through to the other side. The tip stopped just before reaching the creature's chest. 

White smoke poured from the wound. Unlike Alphonse's earlier attack, it seemed Rose's had actually been able to damage it. Rose tried to move the sword, but it was stuck fast.

The vampire smiled again. '...Heh. So you must be the vampire hunter responsible for sealing those ghouls.'

She ignored him and tried the sword again.

'I had heard that many of my brethren had fallen at the hands of a vampire hunter...' he continued in a low, sibilant voice. 'But I certainly did not expect the hunter in question to be a mere girl.' 

Rose gave a derisive laugh. 'Brethren? I think you will find that word is meant for humans, not beasts like your kind.'

The vampire hissed and she bared her teeth at it as they both fought for control of the sword. Rose tried pushing forward, urging the blade on while the vampire kept the muscles in its forearm as rigid as steel to thwart her movement. Still lying on the ground, Alphonse gathered just enough strength to begin crawling his way to Lucca's side. When he reached her, a quick check lessened the mad pounding of his heart. She was unconscious but otherwise unharmed. Relief washed over him. 

Rose's voice brought Alphonse back to the situation at hand. She and the vampire were still locked together, each refusing to yield.

'If we were to stay here like this until morning, your power would be sure to weaken significantly. I would be happy to spend the night with you until then, if you wish,' she suggested to it.

It made an unsettling sound somewhere between a snort and a laugh. '...I'm afraid I will have to refuse your kind proposal, my beautiful lady. Not least because thanks to you and your pitiful human friend, my evening meal has been rather spoiled.' 

As it uttered those words, the vampire's outline began to blur. Alphonse blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision, but it was no trick of the shadows. The creature's form was dissipating into a fine, black mist.

Though its mouth was disappearing like the rest of it, its voice somehow carried on.

'Should either of you ever seek to disturb my dinner again, I hope you are prepared for the consequences...' 

And then it was gone. Silence fell.

Gradually, Alphonse got used to the pain in his chest from the vampire's blow. He counted it good fortune that he'd only lost his breath and not broken any bones. With a final steadying wheeze he hoisted the unconscious Lucca on his back and rose slowly to his feet.

'I...guess that's not the end of our vampire, then,' he said unhappily.

Rose was inspecting her sword for damage. Finding none, she returned it to its sheath.

'Turning their body to mist is one of the many abilities vampires have. It escaped from us this time, but I expect that it will take some days for its left arm to heal. At the very least, I think it's safe to assume that no one else will be attacked tonight.' 

'It sounds like vampires are unbelievable foes to be up against... That's a relief, though, at least. Still,' he added. 'You're pretty unbelievable yourself.'

Rose shook her head. Their loss obviously rankled her.

'Next time,' she said with steel in her voice, 'it WON'T get away. I'm going to find some stronger equipment...and I will finish it for good.' 

Alphonse nodded. Next time they would have it. They might not have been able to defeat the vampire, but at the very least, they had earned a short respite from danger having saved Lucca and prevented another murder from occurring. And without Rose's assistance, none of it would have been possible.

'Thank you, Rose. If you hadn't been here--'

She cut him off with a dismissive wave of the hand. 'There is no reason to thank me. I was simply doing my duty.' 

Dejected, Alphonse fell silent.

'But these murders are not over yet. We will need to discover the true identity of the vampire for that to happen.'

'Yeah,' he said at length. 'You're right. Either way, should we go and investigate another crime scene tomorrow like we discussed earlier?'

'Indeed. Farewell for now.'

And with that, she left. She didn't even wait for Alphonse's response - a fact that left him feeling even more downhearted, considering all that they had been through that night. 

Afterwards, Alphonse took Lucca to her home. As he walked, she finally woke up. Finding herself on his back, she flushed and stammered her way through his questions. She remembered nothing of what had happened to her, it seemed. Unable to tell her the truth, Alphonse simply said that he had found her collapsed outside. It was probably just fatigue from work, he told her. Thankfully, she seemed convinced.

All the while, as he tried to feign cheerfulness to put her at ease, his mind was still focused on the battle earlier. He hadn't stood a chance against the vampire. He had even forgotten the silver short sword that Rose had given him. In the heat of battle he had simply fallen back on his military training and used his saber...for all the good that had done. While he had at least been able to avoid getting in Rose's way, he felt ashamed as an Imperial soldier. Next time, he swore to himself, he would not let her down. He would help bring an end to the murders once and for all. 

As Alphonse hardened his resolve that night, Rose navigated the dark streets alone, her mind fixated on the past. The sight of Alphonse on the ground after being struck by the vampire, the image of his friend who had almost lost her life and been turned into a ghoul, the vision of that one cursed memory she  desperately sought to forget... 

'Am I on the verge of making the same mistake a second time..?' she wondered aloud.

She stopped in her tracks, brow furrowed and  expression meek, and looked up to where the crimson moon hung like a great malevolent eye in the sky.

第4回 黒き吸血鬼


 月に照らされる帝都を、2つの影が走っていた。 

先を走る紫绀の外套をはためかせる影——ロゼは、目をカッと见开いたまま机敏にあたりを见回し、吸血鬼の姿を探す。女性のものとは思えない俊足についていく2つ目の影——アルフォンスもまた、ロゼに仿って辺りを探し回る。幼驯染の少女、ルッカの姿を探して。

酒场のマスターが言っていた食材屋と、そこへ至る短い道に彼女の姿はなかった。代わりに、祸々しい吸血鬼の気配をロゼが感じ取り、糸を手缲るようにその大本を目指していく。ルッカを探しているのに、吸血鬼の気配を追うことに、2人は何の疑问も感じていなかった。それだけの、途辙もない嫌な予感が、2人をまとっていた。

「きゃああああああああああああ!!」

つんざくような悲鸣が辺りに响く。同时にアルフォンスは背筋を冻りつかせ、立ち止まる。闻き间违えるはずがなかった。それは、见知った幼驯染の声だ。

「ルッカ、どこだ!?」

「匂いは——こちらからです!」

ロゼは凛とした声を上げると、细い路地の一つに駆け込んでいった。足をもつれさせながらもついていくアルフォンス。もはや息は限界に近いほど上がっていたが、そんなことはどうでもよかった。积まれていた木箱やゴミの山を蹴飞ばしながら进むと、视界が开け、隣の通りに出た。


 そこには——何かが立っていた。“それ”は、全身黒ずくめの外套に身を包んだ不気味な格好をしていた。颜面の上半分にまで大きな布を巻いており、両目すら覆い隠してしまっている。唯一露出した下半分の颜はあまりにも青白く、その口元には歪んだ笑みが浮かぶ。人间の形をしているように见えるが、アルフォンスの本能がそうではないと告げる。


 吸血鬼だ、こいつが。


黒衣の吸血鬼は、手元に弱々しい何かを抱き抱えていた——ルッカだ。アルフォンスがそれを确认すると同时に、吸血鬼はその口を大きく开けた。

人间のものではありえない、獣のごとき锐い牙が一瞬だけ见えた。事件の被害者たちの首元、そこにつけられた“咬み迹”がアルフォンスの脳裏に浮かぶ。そして牙は、気を失っているらしい彼女の首もとに、まっすぐと突き下ろされ——

先行していたロゼは、その场に足を踏み入れると同时にマントの裏侧から何かを数本抜き、その全てを迷いなく吸血鬼へと投掷した。アルフォンスに渡したものより、もう一回り小振りなナイフだ。彼女の言うところの“吸血鬼狩りのための武器”。それが吸血鬼に向かう何本もの线となる。

吸血鬼は牙を突き立てる直前、こちらに一瞥をくれると、すんでの所で身を翻してそれをかわした。抱きかかえられていたルッカはその场に倒れこみ、吸血鬼は高く跳跃してアルフォンスの背中侧に降り立つ。


あまりにも一瞬の出来事で、アルフォンスの体は咄嗟に动くことができなかった。真后ろにいる。帝都で连続杀人を起こしている——吸血鬼が。奴は今まさにルッカを毒牙にかけようとしていた。绝対に许さん——! 头の中を駆け巡る言叶がそこに帰结したとき、ようやくアルフォンスは腰に供えた剣へ手をかけた。振り向きざまに浑身の横剃ぎを放つ。剣は吸血鬼の胸部を通过し、确かな手応えをアルの手に感じさせた。

だが——吸血鬼はこちらを见て不敌に笑っている。たった今切り裂かれたその胸の伤は、瞬く间に塞がってしまった。次の瞬间、吸血鬼の右の拳が目にも留まらない速度でアルフォンスの鸠尾に放たれる。

「ぐはッ……!!」

钝い冲撃と共に肺の空気が全て吐き出される。咄嗟に急所を外すことはできたが、まともに喰らってしまった。アルフォンスはあまりの激痛に、思わず身を屈めてしまう。

「伏せてください——!」

 后方からロゼの声が闻こえてきた。もはや言叶に従うしかなく、膝の力を抜いてその场に倒れ落ちるアルフォンス。彼の头上すれすれを、レイピアによる神速の突きが通过する——狙いは吸血鬼の心臓だ。

 直前まで笑みをこぼしていた吸血鬼も、その银の煌きに何か危険なものを感じたらしく、咄嗟に左腕で防御する。

锐い切っ先は左腕を贯き、胸部に突きたてられる——寸前に、止まってしまった。


 レイピアが串刺しになった左腕からはシューシューと白い烟が上がっており、ついさっきのアルフォンスの攻撃とは全く违う、确かなダメージを与えているようだった。

『……クク、なるほど。贵様が“吸血鬼狩り”……尸人どもを封じていたのは贵様の仕业か』

 完全に胶着した场に、吸血鬼の祸々しい声が响く。

『过去に几人もの同族が灭ぼされたと闻いたが……まさか贵様のような小娘だったとはな』

「“几人”? ド畜生が人间気取りとは、世も末です」

ロゼはいつもよりさらにキツい调子で冗谈めかして答えながらも、さらにレイピアに力を込め続ける。

 だが、吸血鬼は腕の筋肉を无理やりに绞り、それ以上の进行を许さない。

倒れ伏していたアルフォンスは何とか力を振り绞って、横たわるルッカの元にたどり着く。彼女は気を失っているだけのようだ。痛みに颜を歪めながらも、安心するアルフォンス。

「このまま夜明けが来れば吸血鬼の力は格段に弱まるでしょう。

 よろしければ、それまでご相伴をお愿いしたいのですが」

『……丽しきお嬢さん、嬉しい申し出だが今回は远虑させてもらおう。

 贵様たちのせいで今夜のディナーもお预けのようだしな』

 吸血鬼がそうつぶやくと、その轮郭がじわりと歪んだのをロゼは感じた。そして、吸血鬼の身体は外侧から徐々に、黒い雾へと化し、消えていく。

『吸血鬼狩りのお嬢さん。そしてあまりにも矮小な人间よ。

 これからも私の食事を邪魔するつもりなら、覚悟するがいい——』 

そう残すと、吸血鬼は完全に雾となり、何処かへと消え去ってしまった。


——しばらくして、访れた静寂。

アルフォンスが胸部に受けた打扑の痛みにも、徐々に惯れてきた。骨折は免れているようだ。気を失っているルッカを背负いながら、アルフォンスはよろよろと立ち上がる。

「倒した……わけじゃなさそうだな」

「身体を雾と化す技は、吸血鬼が操る术の一つです。

 逃がしてしまいましたが、左腕の回复には时间がかかるはず。

 今夜はもう、どなたかが袭われることもないでしょう」

「吸血鬼というのはとんでもないな……だが、よかった」

「次は逃がしません。必ず仕留めます——

 もう少し强力な武装を准备して」

「……とんでもないな……君も」 

だが、ひとまずの危机は脱した。ルッカを助け、新たな吸血鬼事件の犠牲を未然に防ぐことができたのだ。これも目の前にいるロゼがいなければ成せなかったことだ。


「ありがとう、ロゼ。君のおかげで——」

「お礼など结构です。无意味です」

 私は自分の仕事をしたまでですから、と相変わらず厳しく断じられ、肩をすくめるアルフォンス。

「事件はまだ终わっていません。あの吸血鬼の正体を何としても见つけ出さなければ」 

「ああ、そうだな。さっき酒场で话した通り、明日は别の现场を见に行こう」 

「ええ、ではまた」

ロゼはそう言うと、アルフォンスの别れの挨拶も闻かずにさっさとその场を去っていってしまった。あれだけのことがあった割には、あまりにあっさりしているな、とアルフォンスは再び肩をすくめた。


 その后、アルフォンスはルッカを家まで送り届けた。 

 帰り道、彼の背中で目を覚ましたルッカは颜を真っ赤に红潮させながら慌てた。今まで気を失っていた彼女の记忆はあいまいで、アルフォンスも详しく事情を说明するわけにもいかず、「道で倒れていたのを助けた」「最近働きすぎて疲れてたんだろう」などと误魔化し、ルッカは何となく纳得した。

彼女を安心させるように笑いながら、アルフォンスは先ほどの戦いのことをずっと考えていた。彼は吸血鬼相手に手も足も出なかったのだ。咄嗟のこととはいえ、渡された银の短剣の存在をも失念していた。せめてロゼの足手まといにならなかったことが救いだったが、帝国军人として情けなかった。吸血鬼事件の解决のためにも、次は必ずロゼの助けになることを、アルフォンスは心に誓う。


——ロゼは、一人で暗い夜道を歩きながら、思い出していた。

 吸血鬼の强打を受けて倒れたアルフォンスの姿を。

 危うく命を落とし、尸人と化すところだった彼の幼驯染の姿を。

 そして、思い出したくない“あの光景”を。




「私は、また同じ过ちを犯そうとしているのでしょうか——」




立ち止まって、少しだけ眉をひそめた神妙な表情で、ロゼは月が颜を出す空を见上げるのだった。

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