Chapter 10 - Into the Darkness
Ordinarily, the late hour was the peak of business for the Alegria tavern. On any other day the chairs would all be filled with familiar faces, chattering away and enjoying food and drink. But tonight, not a single seat was taken, for so great was the terror of the Vampire Murders that none dared leave their homes.
Left with nothing else to do, Lucca had set about cleaning the tavern, but the task was quickly finished. She slouched at the spotless counter, thoroughly bored.
There hadn't been any sign of her friend Alphonse that day. Still, considering the rumors she had heard of the Garrard Team's night time patrols, it wasn't all that surprising.
'He must be really busy,' she thought to herself.
Still, she couldn't pretend that she wasn't disappointed by the fact. Thoughts of Alphonse weighing on her mind, she let out a gloomy sigh.
The tavern's owner stopped washing cutlery on the other side of the counter and gave her a warm smile.
'Go along home for today. It's dangerous around these parts lately, so you're best getting back,' he called.
Just as she went to do so, however, the bell over the door chimed. A customer had entered the tavern. Lucca jumped out of her chair in a panic. What she saw made her gasp. Standing in the doorway of the tavern was a young man in a bloodstained soldier's uniform. Letting out a short shriek of horror, she rushed over to the man. The uniform he had on was the same as the one worn by Alphonse, leading her to immediately think it might be him. As she drew closer, though, she realized it wasn't. Relief washed over her.
Getting a closer look at his face, Lucca was startled to find that she actually recognized him. A long time ago, when Alphonse had first joined the army, he had brought the man before her with him to visit the tavern. She remembered hearing that the two of them weren't on very good terms anymore, however.
His name was...Elroy?
The tavern's owner hurried over with a first aid kit, clearly concerned, but Elroy showed no interest in him. His eyes were focused unwaveringly on Lucca.
'Hello, friend of Alphonse. I'm going to have to ask you to come with me,' he muttered. His following smile was anything but inviting.
By the time Alphonse and Rose arrived, the tavern was in a terrible state. Chairs were strewn everywhere. Tables lay in pieces all about the space, and the floor was covered in smashed glass and broken crockery. On the other side of the counter they found the owner, blood trickling from his temple.
Calmly, Rose used the church's Thaumaturgy to heal him. Its mysterious power closed his wound, and soon after, he regained consciousness. The second he did, Alphonse began to bombard him with questions.
'What happened here? Where's Lucca?!'
He couldn't see any sign of her, and that worried him intensely.
'...A boy in a military uniform came...no, that was no human. It was a monster... I tried to fight him off but he...he took Lucca...'
The moment he uttered Lucca's name, he fell unconscious once again. Not long after, the soldiers who had been patrolling the surrounding area heard what had happened and hurried to the scene. The area soon filled with the sounds of people's voices and soldiers running up and down the streets. Even a number of the local residents had woken up and begun to gather to see what was going on. Eventually, Garrard himself arrived, and set about questioning the tavern's owner and investigating the scene with a number of his subordinates. Alphonse and Rose, meanwhile, stood in the shadow of a building not far away.
'Damn you, Elroy...!' Alphonse cried as he punched one of the brick walls with all his might. Nearby, Rose stood with her arms folded, deep in thought.
'...Stay calm. We have every reason to believe that Lucca is still alive.'
Elroy had fled to search for new blood to heal his injuries and increase his power. If he was intending to use Lucca for that purpose, there was no reason to take her away - it would have been far quicker and easier to just drink her blood in the tavern. Thus, it was safe to assume that he had a different purpose in mind for her, and the most likely reason seemed to be to use her to lure them somewhere.
'I suspect that I know where he has headed,' said Rose. She pointed down at the ground below their feet.
During the previous day's encounter with Elroy, he had summoned a large number of ghouls out of seemingly nowhere, each of them victims without families or friends to note their absence. Elroy had been abducting them in secret and storing them somewhere for when he wanted them, and there was every reason to believe there were more. To stash them, he would need quite a sizable area, but it also had to be one where the chance of them being found would be quite low - in other words, a place that no one really went. A perfect match for both of those conditions was the network of underground passages beneath the city. The tunnels had been built during the Dark Ages several hundred years prior, and were not normally used by people. Somewhere in there, Rose theorized, Elroy was probably waiting for them.
Alphonse proposed that they depart immediately. After all, every second they waited increased the danger that Lucca was in. Rose, however, stood silently, her eyes cast downwards.
'...Is something bothering you?' Alphonse asked.
Her mouth tightened. 'Two things, in fact. Firstly, I suspect that Elroy is what is known as an Elder Vampire.'
There were, Rose explained, several kinds of vampires. Those who were legitimate descendants of the race were known as True Ancestors. The True Ancestors were said to have all perished, but those who were closely related to them were known as Elder Vampires, and unlike True Ancestors, some Elder Vampires still remained. Elder Vampires were filled with a lust for blood every ten or so years, and in surrendering themselves to that lust, they had been responsible for countless deaths throughout history. As a vampire hunter, therefore, they were Rose's most important targets.
Furthermore, they were apparently among the most powerful of all vampires, with exceptional growth potential. As an example of this, Rose explained that when Lucca was first attacked, she had been guided to a deserted area by a high-level ability called Charm, which allowed the user to control the thoughts of their victim to a certain degree. It was finding out that Lucca had lost her memories of what happened when she was attacked that had first alerted Rose to the possibility that Elroy might be an Elder Vampire, and that was what had first led her to try to distance Alphonse from her investigation.
The fact that they might be dealing with an Elder Vampire was only one of her concerns, however, though the other was closely related to it.
'The astonishing power Elder Vampires possess is amplified even further at night. Because of that, it should be impossible for them to be able to disguise their presence completely.'
And yet, in the battle against Elroy earlier, he had been able to do just that, allowing him to make his escape. It had so surprised Rose that she had missed her chance to finish him off.
'It's possible that he's no ordinary Elder Vampire. Or perhaps he is something even more terrifying...' she mused aloud.
They had no way of telling what Elroy was truly capable of, or even what he truly was. As such, it was impossible to gauge how much danger they would be putting themselves in by following him, especially knowing that they would be walking right into a trap. While she had no choice but to follow, she found herself questioning whether bringing Alphonse along would really be a good idea. The reservation must have been plain on her face, because Alphonse cut off her thoughts with a determined shake of the head.
'Rose, I've told you already that I'm not going to die. I won't let you be alone ever again. I don't care how strong our opponent is, I'm not going to go back on my word.'
The resolve was clear and unwavering in his eyes. With or without her blessing he would see it through to the end. He could not, would not, abandon someone living a life of solitude like he once did.
The pure innocence of that emotion and empathy was enough to recall her own bleak loneliness. The dark feelings passed over her features like a cloud obscuring the stars. There was, after all, one other secret she had yet to part with. And that, more than anything, was the cause of her solitude. The warmth of his words almost coaxed it from her lips, so moved was she, but now wasn't the time. For the moment, his heartfelt declaration was enough for her. Their priority needed to be saving his friend. Everything else could wait.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I thought I had overcome my hesitations, but it seems that wasn't the case.'
With a mental shake of the head, she pushed her doubts deep within and slowly moved her hand downwards towards her waist. Her fingers sought out her spare blade, an elegant longsword. Unclipping it from her belt, she handed it to Alphonse.
'This should serve as a replacement for that broken saber. I imagine you'll be able to fight more comfortably with this.'
Alphonse hefted it in his hand, admiring the balance. He slipped it a hand's width out of the scabbard for a closer look. Like Rose's other purified weapons, it had a silvery glow that seemed to suck in the light of the red moon. A blow from a blade like this would surely stop a vampire in its tracks.
Rose had always known that the short sword she had given Alphonse was hardly the ideal weapon for him. She had done this deliberately, hoping that having an unsuitable weapon would dissuade him from trying to get actively involved in battle. And yet, not once had he balked at entering the fray. With whatever resources he had at his disposal, Alphonse was always ready to jump right in. Giving him the longsword, therefore, was a sign that she now regarded him as someone worthy of trust, and an apology for underestimating him previously.
Alphonse acknowledged the gift, and perhaps apology, with a nod of the head and attached the blade to his sturdy leather baldric. They regarded one another for a moment then, and swore to do what needed to be done. Their mutual resolve reaffirmed, they took off into the deep darkness where Lucca... and the vampire...waited.
Next to Heimdallr, there flowed a great river known as the Anor. Facing out onto it was Heimdallr Port, and in one corner of that port was a door that led down into an underground passage. The entrance was usually locked for safety reasons, but they forced it open without much trouble and stepped inside.
The air within was a mixture of mold, rusting metal, and a pervasive smell of damp. Cautiously, they moved along the slick stone path, ears and eyes strained for any movement.
The tunnel was connected to the river itself, and the torpid water flowed all the way into the deep darkness further along the passage. It had been constructed during the Dark Ages, and the network of passages under the city was so vast that no one knew just how far it stretched, or exactly what lay within it. The entire area had long been abandoned. No maintenance or modernization had ever been done. To Alphonse's eye, it looked as though they were setting foot in some ancient labyrinth untouched by time or man for hundreds of years.
They proceeded deeper inside, following Elroy's trail along the waterway with only the faintest of light from the red moon trickling through the periodic grates to illuminate their path. The scent coming from him had returned in full force, filling the air with tension as they drew closer and closer to their quarry.
They proceeded cautiously, and more slowly now, as even the light from the moon eventually abandoned them during their descent. The pitch darkness did not last for long, however. As they advanced, they soon started to come across torches here and there, attached at intervals along the wall. The glow from the flickering light was both inviting and sinister.
'It looks like he really has been using this place as a hideout for quite a while,' Alphonse commented.
He and 'others', Rose thought with distaste. It seemed very likely that the people Elroy had abducted were somewhere around too. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind then she sensed movement. She sighed.
'It looks as though we're too late.'
The meaning of Rose's words soon became clear. Slowly but surely, a number of figures drew closer to them from ahead. They shuffled and jerked with unnatural cadence.
While Elroy had abducted Lucca without drinking her blood, it seemed as though he had used the other people he had been keeping here in her place. Alphonse couldn't help but feel a slight sense of relief when he realized that Lucca wasn't among them, but that didn't prove for certain that she was still unharmed. After all, all Elroy needed to do to get them to chase after him was have them believe that there was a chance that she was still alive.
As the creatures approached, it was clear that they had no time to waste. Alphonse quickly drew the longsword, while Rose already had her templar sword and pistol in hand, ready for battle.
'We need to deal with these first!'
Their course of action decided, they both charged into the horde of advancing ghouls. It was the first time that Alphonse had been forced to engage in actual combat with ghouls, and he found it emotionally draining. After all, the ghouls were nothing more than victims of the vampire. They hadn't chosen to have their lives taken, or to be compelled to seek to devour their fellows - it had all been forced upon them. As such, he was not fighting to kill them, but to free them. Thinking of it logically didn't do much to reduce the pain of taking up arms against another human being, though. His heart ached every time he cut one down. Rose, meanwhile, was mowing down ghouls like a scythe through the summer harvest. They were nothing more than obstacles in her way, and their shambling attacks were no match for her peerless work with the blade. No matter the speed and skill with which she dispatched them, though, more ghouls emerged from the darkness to block her path.
Watching her, Alphonse couldn't help but wonder how long she had been enduring the same pain that he was feeling now. It didn't show on her face, but he remembered the tenderness with which she had handled the ghoul after defeating it on their first meeting. She was as disgusted as he with their plight. He wanted to know what had driven her to continue subjecting herself to that pain over and over again - what had driven her to the depths of solitude. But most of all, he wanted to find some way that he could be of help to her. Right now, however, all that he could do for her was to continue to fight.
Shoving down the sorrow he felt with every swing of the sword that met flesh, he kept advancing forward through the mass of bodies before him.
Using the torches on the walls as their beacons, Alphonse and Rose hurried as best they could through the maze of passages. Tens upon tens of ghouls tried to obstruct their path, but they continued to carve their way forward. They advanced, but slowly, each battle taking a toll on their stamina and energy. Eventually, the path ahead of them opened, and they found themselves in a wide, spacious area. The ground here was gray and soft beneath their feet. It was earth, not stone. A number of crosses were lined up in tidy rows in the sweeping space, probably erected during the Dark Ages. Their bindings looked so weathered that they could have crumbled to the ground at any moment. The area was lit only by a few sputtering torches, but it was enough to see that they must be in a catacomb of some sort.
The atmosphere in the subterranean tomb was even gloomier than it had been in the passages they had passed through to reach it. At its center stood a single, silent man wearing a black coat over his tattered army uniform.
Alphonse had been leaning exhaustedly against Rose after their seemingly endless battles with the ghouls, but when he spied the familiar figure he let out a mighty yell.
His voice boomed throughout the chamber, but the other man didn't flinch in the slightest. Instead, he calmly turned to face them. The air grew heavy with malevolence.
'I've been expecting you,' he said. Smiling, he regarded them with amusement. As his lips crept farther and farther up, his needle-sharp fangs were slowly revealed. They were stained a deep, wet red.
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 9: A Fool||Chapter 11: Battle in the Catacomb ⇒|