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Chapter 7 - Parting of the Ways

'I have no further need of your assistance.'

His mind still reeling from the skill that Rose had demonstrated in her earlier battle, the only way he could react to her words was with dumbfounded silence. There were plenty of ways he could have argued back. Not least by pointing out that they had yet to discover the vampire's identity, and that the reason she had originally agreed that they work together was so that he could use his position in the army to aid her in doing so.

As if reading his mind, she said, 'I discovered the identity of the vampire this afternoon. As such, there is no longer anything you can do to help me.'

His initial reaction was doubt. How could she have possibly been the only one to discover the vampire's identity when they had conducted their investigation together? But then it hit him - they hadn't always been together. They had split up to investigate a wider area today, too...and if she had discovered a vital clue during a period where they were acting separately, it made perfect sense that only she would have worked out the truth.

He tried again. 'B-But still! I have my reasons for wanting to see this through to the end too! I can't just go back to living as if none of this ever happened!' 

Rose knew this already, of course. He had told her about his parents' murder once already, and made her realize that the two cases might be connected.

She sighed, her reaction making it perfectly clear that pointing that out would do nothing to change her mind. She met his eyes again, unwavering in the slightest as she said, 'Then allow me to put my position to you more bluntly. You are not a help, you are a hindrance.'

It was as if a sharp blade had pierced his chest. 

Her words left him shocked and speechless.

She continued. 'I would have thought that anyone who looked around would be able to realize that this is not a matter that ordinary people can, or should, involve themselves in.'

As she spoke, she gestured in the directions of the ghouls - or rather, human corpses that were once ghouls - littering the surrounding area. Some were riddled with bullet holes. Some had smashed skulls. Some had no heads at all.

Her words caused Alphonse's memory to return once again to the battle he had witnessed. Even if he had tried to intervene earlier than he did, would he have been able to do anything? No. On the contrary, it was easy to imagine him getting into Rose's way, becoming a liability and interfering with her ability to fight. 

Alphonse looked down at the ground dejectedly. It was galling to hear, and realize, that he might be useless in this.

Rose opened her mouth to continue, her gaze somewhat distant. 'A long time ago, I tried to pursue another vampire with the help of a civilian just like you. I was hesitant at first, but after he insisted so vehemently, I eventually accepted.' 

Alphonse looked up, stunned at what he was hearing. He had assumed that he was the first person to offer to assist her.

'He was killed by the vampire we were pursuing. After that, the vampire disappeared, never to be seen again.'

It was clear by the pain in her voice that for someone whose life revolved around killing vampires, there could have been no worse outcome.

'Of all the jobs I have undertaken, that was my worst failure, and the most terrible stain on my record. I will not allow something like that to happen again. As such, I have always tried to keep you at arms' length. All I wanted from you was for you to make it easier for me to conduct my investigation and find out what I wanted to know. I was just using you all along.' 

She continued on, telling him that everything had gone the way she hoped it would, perhaps even better. Thanks to his contribution, she had been able to discover the identity of the vampire, and the army was able to find out what it looked like, helping them to keep people off the streets and allowing her to successfully lure the vampire out. For that, at the very least, she was grateful. 

Alphonse could only stand and listen as her cold words washed over him, the meaning of what she was actually saying not truly sinking in.

She fell silent for a moment and took a deep breath before starting again.

'The worlds we live in are just too different. We should never have even met - and yet, by coincidence, we did. But that's all. Now you need to forget that it ever happened and go back to the life you should always have lived. Besides, as a vampire hunter, the only life for me is one of solitude.' 

She gave a small self-deprecating smile before turning to walk away from him. Seeing that smile, and hearing what she said, something struck Alphonse as off. And yet, he could not call out to her. It was as if there was an impenetrable wall between them now, stopping him from interacting any further with her.

'I can take care of everything by myself now. All I ask of you is to stay away and let me do it. Farewell.'

She said her final words as she walked, without so much as turning to face him, and then disappeared into the dark night. Left behind, Alphonse stood alone, frozen to the spot in a sea of blood. 

The next day, ten unidentified bodies were discovered in Heimdallr, and the surrounding area filled with disorder the likes of which had never been seen before. Numerous soldiers moved to and fro, surveying the area under Garrard's direction, while crowds of curious onlookers tried to get a closer look at the gruesome display. Even Alphonse, who had been removed from the main investigation team, had been called in to assist this time.

Alphonse had expected the bodies to be heavily disfigured from Rose's attacks, but when he reached the scene, he could see no evidence whatsoever that the previous night's battle had even taken place. The only damage to the bodies were the bite marks left by the vampire.

At first, that fact confused him, but then he remembered that Rose was somehow connected to the church. It seemed quite possible, then, that she would have worked alongside others, one or more of who may have arrived later to disguise any evidence of their involvement. After all, the church had the ability to purify weapons to allow them to contend with vampires. The possibility that they might also be able to put corpses back together was hardly a stretch after all the things he had already witnessed. Realizing how ludicrous that would sound to the average person, he could only laugh to himself under his breath. 

There was no sign of Rose at the scene, although Alphonse hadn't really expected that she would appear to begin with. She had made it clear the previous night that their original arrangement was over. Most likely, Rose would go on to bring an end to the Vampire Murders herself in secret, with the culprit never apprehended, and the fact that vampires actually existed never being revealed to the world.  But could he live with everything ending that way? There was still one burning doubt in Alphonse's heart, a lingering unease that refused to go away: the expression on her face as she had turned to walk away. 

'...as a vampire hunter, the only life for me is one of solitude.' 

That may have been what she said, but the sad smile on her lips when she did so told a different story. Coolness underlined with resignation. Her words had been blunt, but to Alphonse they also seemed tinged with loneliness.

Alphonse found himself reflecting on what loneliness meant to him. It was a feeling he was all too familiar with after losing his parents. In the blink of an eye he had been left with no one who cared for him, no one who would be kind to him, no one who would look out for him... It was easy to imagine how being placed in a situation like that would gradually eat away at a person. 

Fortunately for Alphonse, his father's friend Garrard had held out a hand of salvation to him, and he had later met others like Lucca who cared for him, and he for them. It was thanks to them that he was able to free himself of the loneliness that may have otherwise consumed him. Nonetheless, the experience had taught him exactly how painful living like that could be, and that humans could not completely live alone. Rose, however, had said that living in solitude was the 'only life' for her. But did she honestly mean that? Or did she really long to break free from it, yet something was stopping her from doing so? With the memory of his own experience still painful even after all those years, Alphonse couldn't stop wondering. 

That was when he made up his mind. He couldn't, wouldn't, just leave things as they were. Rose may have cast him aside, but he had long ago decided what he needed to do to put the past behind him. And no matter how much danger he risked doing it, or how much she tried to stop him, he was determined to see it through to the end. If that meant he might be a hindrance to her, so be it. This was his fight as much as hers. 

Alphonse shook his head furiously from side to side, as if to divest himself of the doubts and hesitations that had been filling his mind since the previous night. Focusing on the task at hand, he set about frantically investigating the area. That, he felt, was the only way for him to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with  her.

Time dragged on as the search continued, and the receding rays of the setting sun began to blanket the scene in warm apricot hues. The ten corpses had been carried away, and the vast majority of onlookers had dispersed. The large numbers of soldiers who formed the investigation team had also reached a stopping point in their investigation and were ready to return for the day, but Alphonse waved them off, still silently combing the area for clues. 

'Come on, Al. It's time to go back to the guardhouse for the day.'

The concern in Garrard's voice was obvious, but Alphonse only spared him a tired smile.

'...Sorry, sir. Just let me look around a bit longer.'

Considering the intense battle fought between Rose and the vampire the previous night, there was every chance that something may have been left behind that might help guide him to the vampire's identity. The investigation team had found no such thing despite spending the entire day looking, but that did nothing to dampen Alphonse's spirits. There was something here, he knew it. Seeing Alphonse's determination, Garrard couldn't help but smile in return. 

'All right, then, have it your way. Just make sure you stop and come back if you get too tired.' And with a backwards wave, he walked off to join the other soldiers as they returned to the guardhouse. Silently thanking Garrard for his kindness, Alphonse went back to scouring the alley. 

Another half hour passed while Alphonse methodically swept his eyes over every nook and cranny. As the light from the dipping sun retreated from the sky, he began to fear his time was up, but just then his eyes were drawn to a point between two of the buildings. It was a narrow gap, overlooked in the investigation, where something might have fallen. Indeed, he spied the barest of shapes on the ground.

Upon spotting it, Alphonse remembered seeing something fly from the vampire when Rose had landed her glancing slash on its chest. He crouched down to inspect the space. The gap between the buildings was so narrow that his arm could barely fit inside. He stretched out his fingers, desperately trying to reach the fallen object, and eventually managed to catch it between his index and middle fingers. 

It was a narrow, rectangular piece of cloth. Alphonse stared at it, analyzing every last detail of its surface. It was filthy gray in color, most likely meaning that it had been white originally. It was also clear that it had been separated from something by Rose's sword, but other than that, it looked like an ordinary piece of cloth. It would have been nothing of interest at all to anyone just passing by. Anyone other than Alphonse, that is. Looking at it, he finally understood everything. The reason Rose had suddenly chosen to part ways with him. And the true identity of the vampire who was terrorizing the city. 

第7回 决别

——あなたの协力はもはや必要ありません。 


 ロゼの凄まじい戦いぶりを思い出していたアルフォンスは、その言叶を呆然と受け止めることしかできなかった。

反论はいくらでもあった。吸血鬼の正体はまだ分かっていない。それを突き止めるために帝国军に所属する自分と协力を结んだはずだ。

「吸血鬼の正体なら、昼の时点ですでに掴みました。

 ですから、あなたにお愿いすべきことはもうないのです」 

 考えを见透かしたように、あっさりとロゼは言う。

正体を掴んだ——? 唐突过ぎるその言叶に戸惑うアルフォンス。一绪に捜査をしていたのに、彼女だけが吸血鬼の正体を突き止めたことに疑问を覚える。……いや、常に一绪にいたわけではなかった。今日にしても、最后は二手に分かれて捜査をしていたのだから、ありえない话ではない。

「た、例えそうだとしても……俺にはこの事件を追う理由がある! 

 あっさりと引き下がるわけにはいかない!」 

 ロゼにもすでに话したことだ。幼少の顷、両亲が杀された事件——もしかしたら今回の『吸血鬼事件』はそれに関系している可能性があるのだ。

 ロゼは、そんなことは分かっていると言わんばかりにため息をつくと、まっすぐと、冷彻な目でアルフォンスを见つめる。

「では、直截《ちょくさい》に申し上げます——

 足手まといです」 

刃物のように锐利な言叶に胸を抉られ、何も言えなくなってしまうアルフォンス。

「この场を见ればご理解いただけるはずです。 

 世俗の方が関われる领分をとうに越えていると」 

 辺りに倒れた、头盖を砕かれ、首を刎ねられ、全身を银の弾丸で射抜かれた尸人——いや、もはやボロボロの、ただの人间の遗体となった者たちを指して彼女は言った。 

再び先ほどの戦いがアルフォンスの脳裏に浮かぶ。もし、早い段阶であそこに介入していたとしても、きっと彼にはなにもできなかった。それどころか、ロゼの邪魔になっていた……そんな光景が容易に想像できてしまう。 

 俯いてしまったアルフォンスに、ロゼは少し远い目をして语る。

「私は过去にも——

 世俗の方と协力して吸血鬼を追ったことがあります。 

 强く协力を申し出られ、私はそれを受けることにしたのです」

アルフォンスはそれを闻いて、颜を上げて惊く。以前にも自分と同じことをした者がいた——?

「——协力者《その方》は杀されました。

追っていた吸血鬼にです。

そして正体の分からないまま、

その吸血鬼はどこかへと姿を消しました」

それは“吸血鬼狩り”を生业とする彼女にとって最悪の结末であったろう。

「私の过去の仕事の中でも、最大の汚点です。

もう一度同じ过ちを缲り返すわけにはいきません。

ですから今回、

あなたとは明确に一线を引かせていただきました。

现场を円滑に捜査できるよう取り计らってもらう、

求めていたのはただそれだけです。

そう言う意味では、

“协力”というよりは“利用”と言った方が正しいでしょう」

そして、それは上手くいった。ロゼは独自に正体を掴むことができ、尚且つ、吸血鬼の容姿が手配されたことはこの上ない成果であった。おかげで一般人が夜に出歩くことを控え、上手く自分に吸血鬼をおびき寄せることができた、感谢しています——そう冷淡に続けられたことだけ、アルフォンスは理解した。

 语り终えたロゼは、一息ついてから——

「もともと交わるはずのなかった世界が、偶然に交わった。 

 あなたは偶然そこに出くわしてしまった。それだけです。 

 だから、忘れてください。 

 何より|吸血鬼狩り《わたし》に必要なのは“孤独”なのですから——」

そう言って再び自嘲気味な笑みを浮かべると、身を翻して歩き出す。アルフォンスは、その言叶を、ロゼの表情を见て、どこか违和感を覚えた。

 しかし、彼にはロゼを呼び止めることはできなかった。2人の间には、越えることのできない见えない壁のようなものが确かにあった。

「后のことはお任せください。

 これ以上の深入りはなきようお愿いします——さようなら」

こちらを振り向かずにはっきりとそう言うと、ロゼはそのまま夜暗の中へと消えていった。残されたアルフォンスは、血の海の中、ただ立ち尽くすことしかできなかった。


翌朝——帝都の一角で10体もの身元不明の遗体が発见され、现场は今までにない喧騒に包まれていた。ガラード队长の指挥で军人たちが忙しなく行き交い、凄惨な现场を覗き込もうとする野次马たちが押し寄せている。最近は别働队として行动していたアルフォンスも、今回ばかりは正式な调査队に加えられ、同僚の军人たちとともに调査を行っていた。

検死が行われている遗体たちは、ロゼによって激しく损壊していたはずだったが、なぜかそれらの痕迹は一切见あたらなかった。残されていたのは、吸血鬼の咬み迹だけだ。 

アルフォンスだけがそれを不审に思っていたが、すぐさまロゼが教会のどこかしらに属していたことを思い出した。そちらに彼女の元々の仕事仲间がおり、何かしらの工作が行われたのだろう。吸血鬼と戦える武器を精制するような技术があるのだ、遗体の修复くらいやれてもおかしくはないのかもしれない。アルフォンスは非现実的な想像をする自分に、思わず乾いた笑みを浮かべてしまう。

 ロゼは、やはり现场には现れなかった。アルフォンスとの协力関系は昨晩限りで终わった、それに伪りはないのだろう。吸血鬼事件はこのあと、彼女によって秘密裏に解决されていくことになる。伝承でしかない吸血鬼の存在も公になることなく、谁も知らないところで。 

——本当にそれでいいのだろうか。 

 アルフォンスの心の中に、一つの疑念が引っかかっている。

それは、别れ际に彼女が一瞬だけ见せた表情だ。 

 何より|吸血鬼狩り《わたし》に必要なのは“孤独”なのですから——

 そんな言叶と共に见せた、谛めたようなロゼの笑み。 

 ただ、冷彻なだけではない、何か……“寂しさ”のようなものを感じた気がしたのだ。

“孤独”。あらためてその言叶を反刍するアルフォンス。 

 过去に両亲を失ったアルフォンスにも突然访れた孤独。

 何の见返りなく己を优しく包み込んでくれる存在がいない、寂しさと恐怖。

 それは容易に人の精神を蚀み、病ませていく。

 だが、父の友人であったガラードに引き取られ、ルッカのような大切な人たちと出会うことで、自分はそこから救われた。人は、一人で生きていくことはできないのだと、アルフォンスはこれまでの半生で痛いほどに理解していた。 

“孤独”が必要だと言ったロゼ。それは彼女の本心なのだろうか? もしかしたら、彼女にも何か事情があるのではないか?

かつての自分と同じ“孤独”を抱える者を、アルフォンスはどうしても気にかけてしまう。


そして、决意する。やはり、このままでいいわけがない。ロゼに突き放されたからと言って、自分のやるべきことは代わらない。両亲が杀された过去の事件を清算するためにも。どんな危険があっても、たとえ彼女の足手まといになったとしても、関わり続けなければならない。

アルフォンスは头を振って、昨晩から滞っていたもやもやとしたものを、无理やり払いのけた。散漫になっていた集中を取り戻し、捜査にがむしゃらに没头していく。そうすることが、ロゼと同じ立ち位置に立つ唯一の方法である気がしたからだ。


やがて、その现场には夕焼けが差し始めた。10体の遗体が运び出され、野次马たちもそのほとんどが撤退していった。大势の调査队による捜査にも一区切りがつき、その日は撤収することになったが、アルフォンスは一人、黙々と现场を调べ続けた。

「アル、いい加减诘所に戻るぞ」 

 ガラードの気遣う声が闻こえるが、アルフォンスは振り向きもせずに捜査を続ける。

「……すまない、おじさん。もう少しだけやらせてくれ」

この现场は昨晩、ロゼと吸血鬼が激しい戦闘を缲り広げた场所だ。その最中に何か、重大な手がかりが残された可能性は十分にある。调査队全员で一日中捜査をしても、それはまだ见つかっていなかった。だが、绝対に何かがあるはずだ。アルフォンスはそう确信していた。

 ガラードはその様子を见ると、やれやれと口の端を持ち上げる。

「まあ、気の済むまでやれ。あまり根を诘めすぎないようにな」

 そう言って、队员たちと共に诘所の方向へと歩き出していった。アルフォンスは心の中で礼を言いつつ、再び捜査を続行することにした。


それから更に半刻ほど経ち、夕日も沈み始めた时——もはや现场の全てを调べつくしていたアルフォンスの目が一点に注がれた。 

 建物と建物の隙间、捜査の死角となっていた场所に、何かが落ちている。

 そういえば、昨晩の戦闘でロゼが剣による一撃を加えた时、吸血鬼は何かを落としていた……それを思い出す。 

隙间は、アルフォンスの片腕がぎりぎり入る程度のものだ。必死で手を伸ばし、人差し指と中指で何とかそれを挟みこみ、取り上げることに成功する。


 それは、细长い长方形の布切れだった。アルフォンスはそれをためつすがめつ眺める。薄汚れて鼠色になっている。おそらく元々の色は白かったのだろう。切り口からロゼの剣で切り离されたものには违いなさそうだが、それはあくまで何の変哲もない、ただの布切れに见えた。

——だが、それは他の人间が见たとすれば、だ。アルフォンスの感想は违った。それを见たとき、彼は全てを理解した。


 ロゼが突然に彼との决别を宣言した理由——

そして、帝都を恐怖に陥れた、吸血鬼の正体を。

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