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Finale - A New Dawn

When Alphonse awoke, he found himself in the center of the catacomb. No sounds stirred the musty air.

The first thing he saw as his eyes opened was the gentle smile of Rose as she looked down at him. She was no longer surrounded by the crimson glow that he had witnessed earlier. She seemed to have healed him, as well. He could hardly pretend to be back at full strength, but he was at the very least now capable of moving.

Next to him lay Lucca, fast asleep. She had no visible wounds, but she was clearly exhausted from all of the night's events. She had been through quite an ordeal, after all.

'...What happened to Garrard?'

Alphonse had lost consciousness around when he and Rose had clashed in the air, so he hadn't witnessed any of the aftermath. Rising shakily to his feet, he saw Rose indicate a point a short distance away by turning her head in that direction. There, he saw the body of Garrard, or at least part of it; everything below his chest had vanished.

'Al...'

His voice was weak, but somehow he was still alive. Looking at him, Alphonse couldn't help but feel pity. How anything could survive in such a state, he didn't know, but it was a testament to the incredible powers of the vampire race that he still drew breath. It was not a state that would last, however. 

'He is beyond saving,' Rose said with certainty.

She slowly loaded a bullet into her pistol and pointed it at Garrard's temple. It seemed as though she had deliberately waited until Alphonse awoke before finishing him off.

'But I thought it best to wait so that you could witness this yourself.' 

Alphonse looked from the gun to Garrard. 'Oh... Right...'

She gently began to squeeze her finger against the trigger. Garrard cast his eyes downward, a look of acceptance on his face. But before she could pull it completely, Alphonse stopped her.

Looking at her bewildered expression, he pulled out from his uniform the silver short sword that she had originally given to him.

'Let me do it.'

'...So you want to carry out your revenge yourself, do you?' sneered Garrard in response. 'What a fool you are. You have no reason to dirty your own hands. Why do you humans have to make such a big deal out of such trivial things? That's what makes you so easy to manipulate.' 

'Silence,' Rose said, raising her gun a second time.

Alphonse shook his head at her and turned to Garrard.

'I've always thought of you as a father. Maybe it was all a lie, maybe you had ulterior motives for everything you did, but I still think of you like a parent, even now. And I'm grateful for all that you did for me.' 

A look of shock flashed across Garrard's face. Rose appeared stunned as well.

Alphonse continued. 'So I'm not doing this for revenge. I'm doing this so that I can move on, and put all of this in the past, and start a new life.'

'Heheh...hahahahahaha!'

Alphonse looked down at the man...creature, who had cared for him, raised him, and who he had thought loved him. With an ache in his heart, he swung the sword. Rose watched on in silence. 

The only sound that broke the still quiet of the underground was the steady tread of their boots against the slimy cobblestones. Together, Rose and Alphonse trekked back through the gloomy passage towards the surface with Rose leading the way. On Alphonse's back was Lucca, still oblivious to the world. Whenever they came across the corpse of one of the innocents who had been turned into a ghoul, he stopped, closed their eyes and prayed for them. Rose had told him that the church would be sending people to collect their bodies and give them a full burial later. As the existence of vampires and ghouls was not to be made public, all of what happened there would be buried. The world would never know the truth behind the Vampire Murders.

They made their way through the torch-lit channel, and eventually reached the area near the entrance where natural light now shone through. Rose stopped so suddenly that Alphonse almost walked into her.

'Whoa... What's wrong?' he asked, readjusting Lucca's position on his back. 

Rose hesitated. 'There's...actually one more thing that I ought to tell you.'

She turned to him, looking heavily apologetic. Her words were followed by another period of silence, as if she was having trouble mustering the courage to tell him the truth.

Realizing this, Alphonse decided to say it for her. 'Is this about how the person who died trying to help you was my father?'

'...So you realized...'

Rose herself hadn't made the connection until she discovered Garrard's true identity. But the two cases were so closely connected that she had eventually understood. 

It had been over a decade ago that Alphonse's father had coincidentally come to meet the vampire hunter, Rose. He found out that she was pursuing vampires, and they had agreed to work together to the same end. Eventually, he had been but one step away from discovering the identity of the nearby vampire - in other words, his friend Garrard - but that was when Garrard had realized that he was in danger of being found out, and killed him before he had the chance to share his findings with her. 

'...But how did you know that was me? You have no way of knowing how many other vampire hunters may be out there, after all.' 

Alphonse gave her a sheepish smile. 'During the fight earlier, I finally remembered meeting you back then.'

Alphonse's father had always been worried about the possibility that his family might be harmed because of his research. That was why he had come to ask Rose to watch over his child whenever he was investigating. It had taken him a long time to recall the girl who had played with him all those summers ago, but Alphonse had finally placed that familiar, gentle smile. 

She nodded, admitting the truth to him. '...I was the one responsible for getting your father involved in this to begin with. I should have searched for and fought the vampire by myself. And yet, I wasn't able to refuse his offer...and despite that weakness  resulting in the death of him and his wife, I wasn't  able to refuse your offer this time, either...'

Rose had been fighting a solitary battle against her own race for decades. It wasn't difficult to imagine her eventually hoping unconsciously that someone, anyone, would hold out a hand and help her. That was why when Alphonse and his father had done just that, she couldn't bring herself to turn them down. 

'I never intended to drink blood again, either... I didn't want to admit that I was a monster just like him, and just like the other vampires. I grew weaker by the year as a result, but still, I was determined not to do it.'

A look of disgust crossed her face.

'...And again, I ended up breaking my own vow and drinking it, regardless. Perhaps I'm no different from the rest of them, after all.' 

Alphonse knew the solitude she had endured better than anyone else, so he replied with a smile.

'Don't worry about it,' he said. 'You did it to save me, didn't you? That alone makes you different from other vampires. I'm sure my parents would be grateful for all that you've done. If not for you, I would've been killed. And if not for you, we wouldn't have been able to solve the murders here, either.'

'...'

'So, thank you.'

Unable to reply in the face of his warm words, Rose turned away from him. For the first time, she felt as though she could accept herself. The thorns which had been constricting her heart receded as if melting away. 

Alphonse began walking again, his eyes pointed straight ahead, tactfully avoiding looking at Rose's face while she stood still, her shoulders quivering. 

After that, neither of them said another word to the other as they made their way to the exit. The natural light peeking into the tunnel here and there gradually grew brighter, and eventually the gate came into view. 

Emerging entirely from the underground, they could see that the eerie red moon no longer hung in the sky. In its place was the sun, burning the morning haze away and bathing the city in dazzlingly bright sunlight.

'Well, this is where I must take my leave,' Rose  said, giving Alphonse a slight bow. The vampire's presence gone from the city, Rose's mission was now over, and she had no reason to remain. Much as Alphonse wished she could stay longer, he nodded, responding with a simple 'All right.' 

'Where will you go next?' he asked.

Rose shook her head. 'I don't know,' she replied.

Wherever she went, she would no doubt be pursuing yet another vampire. And there would also be no doubt that she would find herself fighting against it in a battle to the death, too. That was her duty as a vampire hunter and as a True Ancestor.

'When you've done everything that you need to do, come back here.'

'...What?' 

Rose had already walked a short distance ahead of him, but she turned around again at his words.

'I'll always be waiting here for you,' he said.

Alphonse had no idea how long it would take for her to fulfill the duty that she had sworn to see to the end. But it didn't matter. He wanted her to know that there would always be a place for her to return to. And as long as that was the case, she would never be alone again.

'Thank you!'

Rose smiled, unable to conceal the happiness welling up within her. Alphonse returned the smile, and once more she turned, striding away into the brilliant sunlight. She didn't turn around again. 

On Alphonse's back, Lucca had awoken, and had been awake for some time. She couldn't help but feel a little jealous at their exchange, but she had decided to feign being asleep so as to not interrupt their farewells.

Thus, the Vampire Murders that had terrorized the people of Heimdallr silently came to an end, no one the wiser as to the culprit or conclusion of the whole affair. The criminal dead, the murders would  simply stop and the case itself would be doomed to be left unsolved for all eternity. No doubt the people of the city would one day forget that they had ever happened at all, or they would live on as a kind of urban legend, no one believing such stories could possibly be true. 

But Alphonse would always remember what had happened. He would never forget the case where he had lost several people who were deeply important to him. He would also never forget that he had found someone else important to him during it all. And he prayed that one day in the future, she would be able to find peace, freed from the deep solitude and arduous duty that burdened her. 

'Every dark night is followed by a bright new dawn,' he murmured. 'So I'm sure that one day a new dawn will come to you, too.'

Alphonse stood still, watching silently as Rose walked off into the distance and vanished into the morning sun.

第14回 朝日の向こうへ

 アルフォンスは、静かになった地下墓所の中央で目を覚ました。

 最初に见えたのは、自分を覗き込むロゼの优しい微笑み。 

 彼女からはすでに真红の辉きは失せていた。 

 どうやら法术による治愈をやってくれていたらしい。さすがに全快とまではいかなかったが、なんとか立ち上がることはできそうだ。 

 隣には、ルッカが寝かされていた。外伤はなかったものの、エルロイに诱拐され、ガラードによって术をかけられた彼女も著しく体力を消耗していた。 

「……おじさんは、どうなった?」

アルフォンスの意识はロゼとガラードが交错したあたりで途绝えていた。よろよろと立ち上がって辺りを见回す彼に、ロゼは颚で一点を指し示す。 

 少し离れたところに、胸から上だけとなったガラードが倒れていた。

「アル、か——」彼はまだ生きていた。

凄まじい生命力を持つ吸血鬼だったが、こんな姿でなお生き永らえていることに、アルフォンスは怜れみを感じずにはいられない。

「もはや助かることは万に一つもありませんが」とロゼは断じる。

 そして、おもむろに拳铳に弾をこめると、ガラードの眉间に铳口を向けた。どうやら、アルフォンスが目覚めるまでは止めを刺さないつもりだったらしい。 

「あなたは见届けるべきだと思いましたから」 

「そう、か……」

 引き金に徐々に力が込められる。

 ガラードは、観念した様子で静かに目を伏せる。 

アルフォンスは——引き金を引くロゼの指を制止した。

 少しだけ惊いたロゼを见て、彼は懐から、最初にロゼに渡された银の短剣を取り出した。

「俺に、やらせてほしい」

「……复讐は己の手で、というわけか」

 嘲るように言ったのは、ガラードだ。

「愚かだな、アル。わざわざ自分の手を汚すこともあるまい。

 人间とは実に下らんことに拘る。だからこそ、御しやすい」

「黙りなさい」 

なおも高慢な态度を崩さないガラードに、改めて铳口を向けるロゼ。アルフォンスは再びそれを止めると、静かに首を振って言う。

「——俺は、あなたを父のように思っていた。 

 暗い思惑があったとはいえ、それは决して変わらない。

 感谢すらしている、今も」 

 それを闻いて、一瞬惊いた颜を见せるガラード。隣にいたロゼも同様だ。

「だから、これは——仪式なんだ。

 あなたと决别して、明日を见るための」 

「クク……カハハハハハハハ……!!」

 ガラードは笑った。もはや、笑うことしかしなかった。

アルフォンスは、そんな彼を见て、少し寂しそうな颜をしてから——短剣を、静かに振り下ろした。ロゼは、その様子をじっと见守っていた。


 ブーツの足音だけが、静寂な空间に响く。

 ロゼが先导する形で、薄暗い地下道の道を逆に辿っていくアルフォンス。彼の背には、いまだ気を失ったままのルッカが背负われている。 

道中、尸人と化していた遗体を见かけるたびにアルフォンスは立ち止まり、瞑目してその冥福を祈った。ロゼによれば、この后教会の手が入って彼らは手厚く葬られることになるとのことだ。吸血鬼や尸人という存在は决して公になることはなく、今回の事件も暗に葬られていくという。


 松明のあった通路を抜け、外の光が差し込んできた辺りでロゼが立ち止まる。后ろについていたアルフォンスはぶつかりそうになってしまう。 

「ととっ……どうした?」そう言ってルッカを背负い直す。 

「——もう一つ、あなたに言っていないことがあるのです」 


振り向いたロゼは、申し訳なさそうな表情をしていた。少しだけ间があいたが、ロゼは中々话题を切り出さなかった。

 だから、アルフォンスは自らそれを引き継いだ。 

「君が过去、犠牲にしてしまった协力者——

 それが、俺の両亲だったって话か?」

「——気づいて、いたのですか……」 


 ロゼも、ガラードの正体が分かるまでは気づかずにいたが——

 アルフォンスの両亲の事件は、今回の事件にあまりに密接に関系していた。

十数年前、アルフォンスの父は“吸血鬼狩り”ロゼと偶然に出会っていた。そして、吸血鬼を追う彼女の事情を知り、ロゼに协力することにしたのだ。彼は、あと一歩で吸血鬼の正体——すなわち、彼の友人であったガラードに辿りつくところまで调査を进めたが……

 结果、その寸前にガラードに察知されてしまい、ロゼに详しい情报を伝える间もなく杀されてしまったのだった。

「……でも、どうしてそれが私だと感づかれたのですか?

 他に“吸血鬼狩り”がいる可能性もあったでしょう」 

「さっき、思い出したんだ——俺と君はその时、出会っていた」

アルフォンスの父は家族に危険が及ぶ可能性を常に心配していた。そこで、吸血鬼の调査中はロゼに我が子の警护を頼んでいたのだ。 

幼き日のアルフォンスを、度々游びに连れ出していた记忆の女性——それこそが、ロゼだったことをアルフォンスはようやく思い出した。彼女も、それを认めて静かに肯定する。

「……元はといえば私が巻き込んでしまったのです。

 本当なら私は一人で戦わなくてはなりませんでした。 

 なのに、私はあなたの父上の申し出を断りませんでした。 

 それが最悪の结果を招いたというのに、 

 今回のあなたの申し出も断りきれませんでした」 

ロゼは何十年にも渡って、同族との孤独な戦いに身を投じてきた。彼女はいつしか、无意识にそこから救われたいと思うようになっていたのだろう。

 だから、アルフォンスや彼の父が协力を申し出た时、彼女は救いの手を差し伸べられたように感じて、断れなかったのだ。

「血も……死ぬまで饮まないつもりでした。

 自分が、|彼ら《ガラード》のような怪物だと认めたくなかったんです。 

 年々力は弱っていきますが、それでも私は——」 

 ロゼは自分の掌を忌まわしげに眺めながら、自嘲する。

「……ふふ、その禁を自分で破ってしまうなんて、皮肉なものです。

 结局私も、ただの“吸血鬼”でしかないのかもしれません……」 

彼女の抱える“孤独”をアルフォンスは痛いほど理解していた。だから——「気にするな」と、微笑みながら答えた。

「俺を、助けてくれるためだったんだろう?

 その时点で君は、他の吸血鬼とは违うはずだ。

 死んだ父さんも母さんも、君を恨んだりはしない。

 君のおかげで、俺は杀されずに済んだ。 

 君がいたから、今回の事件を解决できたんだ」

「——————」

「だから、礼を言わせてくれ——ありがとう」 

 ロゼは、何も返事をせずにアルフォンスから颜を背けた。彼女は、吸血鬼である自分を初めて受け入れることができた気がした。彼女の心に、棘のように刺さっていたものがゆっくりと溶けていく。

アルフォンスは、静かに肩を震わせる彼女の颜を见ないように、前を见たまま歩みを进めた。


 それから2人はしばらく无言で歩いた。地下道を照らす光が徐々に强まり、やがて、ようやくヘイルダム港に続く出入り口から外に出た。 

不気味な赤い月はすでにない。代わりに眩いほどに白い朝日が颜を出していた。


「——それでは、私は、これで」 

 ロゼは小さく会釈をする。吸血鬼の影は帝都から消え、彼女の任务は完了した。早すぎる别れの挨拶だったが、アルフォンスは「そうか」と颔いて答えた。「次は、どこに行くんだ?」

「分かりません」小さく首を振るロゼ。

再び吸血鬼の匂いを追って、何処かへ。そして、新たな死闘へと身を投じていくのだろう。それが吸血鬼狩りとしての、“真祖”としての彼女の使命だ。 


「全部终わったら……また、来るといい」 

「えっ」


すでに歩き出していたロゼが、アルフォンスの言叶に振り向く。


「俺はここで待っている」


どれほどの时间を要する使命であるかは、想像もつかない。だがアルフォンスはその言叶をかけた——“ここに、帰る场所がある”と。「彼女を孤独にはさせない」——その言叶に伪りはないと。


「——はい——!」 


 ロゼは、涌き上がる嬉しさを隠すこともせず、微笑んでそれに答えた。そして、そのまま阳光の中へと歩き出した。もう、振り返らなかった。 

アルフォンスの背中で、ルッカはいつの间にか目を覚ましていた。彼女は少しだけ嫉妬心を覚えながらも、2人の别れを邪魔しないように寝たふりを続けていた。


——こうして、帝都を恐怖に陥れた『吸血鬼事件』は、人知れず静かに幕を闭じたのだった。


犯人が捕まえられることもなく、ただ“终わった”この事件は、やがて人々の间から忘れ去られていくのだろう。都市伝说じみた、ある未解决事件の记录として。


 だが、アルフォンスは决して忘れないだろう。いくつもの大切なものが失われたことを。その代わりに、新たな绊を手にしたことを。


 そして、彼は强く愿った。 

深い孤独と重い使命を背负った吸血鬼の彼女に、いつの日か安らぎがもたらされんことを。


「——朝は必ず来る。きっと、君にも——」


ロゼが真っ白な朝日の中に消えて行くのを、アルフォンスは最后まで、静かに见送っていた。

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