Chapter 12 - Elder Vampire
Garrard was Alphonse's superior and the commanding officer of a unit of the Imperial Army responsible for maintaining law and order in Heimdallr, widely known as the 'Garrard Team.' More than that, he was like a father to Alphonse, as he was the man who had taken him in and raised him after Alphonse had lost his parents. Alphonse knew how hard Garrard had been working to try and catch the culprit behind the Vampire Murders, and how much anguish he felt at not being able to find any leads as to who the criminal might be, even if he tried not to show it to his subordinates. His desire to help ease that burden on his foster parent was part of the reason that Alphonse was so determined to catch the murderer himself. So what was Garrard doing here in the underground with them? He was supposed to be at the tavern that Elroy had attacked, taking command of the operation. What business could he possibly have here? Alphonse didn't understand. Or rather, he didn't want to understand.
Garrard regarded Alphonse with a strange mix of disappointment and affection, like a father looking at his naughty child. 'Well, I suppose this is a lot to take in for you.'
He often made the same face when Alphonse addressed him too familiarly while on duty. Everything about Garrard was the same as ever...and he found that very fact deeply disturbing.
It was then that he noticed that Lucca was standing next to Garrard, her eyes vacant. She didn't seem at all bothered by the carnage all around her. In fact, she didn't even seem to be aware of it at all.
'Charm...?' said a weak voice. 'So then that... means you must be...'
Returning to his senses, Alphonse looked over in the direction of the voice. It was Rose. She was still lying on the ground. Blood bubbled on her lips from the effort of speaking. It was immediately obvious just from looking at her that the damage she had sustained was lethal. Garrard, seemingly surprised that she was still alive, responded to her unfinished question.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Vampire Hunter.' My name is Garrard. I am the Elder Vampire that you two have been chasing all this time.'
He seemed to have no interest in hiding the truth any more.
It was Elroy. Barely clinging to life, he crawled across the ground to Garrard's feet. His clawed hand grasped weakly at Garrard's pant leg as if trying to cling to him.
'I... I'm sorry, sir...I...'
Garrard kneeled down and took Elroy's hand. Bending over, he lifted him up like a parent might take a child in their arms.
'It's all right, Elroy. You did wonderfully in luring that loathsome 'vampire hunter' to the capital. I was right to believe in you. I couldn't have asked for more.'
Listening to Garrard praise him, Elroy's expression was one of complete peace.
'...And that's why I have no further use for you. Sleep well.'
The warmth in Garrard's words seemed to drain in an instant. The next moment, a twisted grin emerged on his face, revealing beast-like fangs. No sooner had Alphonse noticed them than they sank into Elroy's neck.
For the first time, Alphonse was forced to witness a vampire drinking blood. Elroy howled out in agony, his screams so piercing that Alphonse wanted to cover his ears to block them out. With agonizing slowness Garrard drank his blood, and by draining him, also absorbed the life energy of tens upon tens of innocent human beings that Elroy had killed.
All of a sudden, Elroy's formerly youthful body began to shrivel up like a desiccated husk of corn. As his youth evaporated, Garrard's vitality grew exponentially. Black smoke began to pour from the youth's body, hiding it from sight. Elroy's cries grew hoarse, then stopped entirely. Finally, his body turned to dust, which fell onto the damp earth of the catacomb.
The smoke finally cleared leaving only Garrard. He was now clad in a black coat in place of his army uniform. And instead of the middle-aged man he had been previously, he now appeared to be roughly the same age as Alphonse. A small line of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. He lapped it up with his tongue, his expression one of pure bliss. He then started to look himself over, taking everything in as if trying to adjust to his new body. The man before him was no longer the Garrard that Alphonse once knew. He was the very image of the vampires that appeared in Erebonian legend.
'Aaaah... Simply delicious. It's been over a decade since I last had the chance to taste human blood, but it's just as wonderful as I remembered. That was well worth going through all that tedious preparation for.'
He gave a satisfied sigh. Alphonse could only look at him in horrified disbelief.
'So you were the one who turned Elroy into a vampire? You were the one who made him drink blood, just so you could take it all from him?'
'Now, now...' Garrard tsked. 'That's not quite true. I'll have you know that Elroy willingly chose to become one of us.'
Garrard placed his hand on his chest in mock solemnity and cast his eyes downwards in a thoroughly exaggerated fashion.
'Elroy was an orphan. He had lived a poor, lonely life, more so than anyone else I have ever known. But I saw that he was capable with a sword, and I invited him into the army. And so he came to be dependent on me, just as I thought he would.'
Garrard wiped an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye. 'It was as if he saw me as his real father,' he added with a laugh.
Alphonse shuddered at the sound, chills running through his whole body.
'Eventually, he started to resent you for the fact that I had always raised you like a real son. He wanted to receive that treatment himself, so he tried to find a way to steal that position from you. One day, I decided to reveal my true identity to him, and invited him to become a vampire as well. He gladly agreed, hoping that by doing so he would be able to be more useful to me than you. Hoping that I would favor him more than I did you.'
From a short distance away, Rose still lay on the ground, unable to move and frustrated by what she was hearing. In all likelihood, Garrard had given a fraction of his power to Elroy when he had turned him into a vampire. The scent of that was the reason that Rose assumed that he was the Elder Vampire that they were searching for. But she had been wrong. And if not for her mistake, they wouldn't be in this perilous situation to begin with.
For his part, Alphonse was stunned at the revelation that Elroy had held a grudge against him all this time, as well as the reason for it. It wasn't as though Alphonse had done anything wrong himself, or ever tried to hurt Elroy, and yet he was filled with a deep sense of regret. If only he had realized how Elroy felt earlier, perhaps he could have prevented him from becoming a vampire, and avoided all of this happening. Furthermore, he had no choice but to admit to himself that Garrard was the true culprit behind all of this and the man who had manipulated a lonely boy to kill countless people so that he didn't have to dirty his own hands. All of a sudden, the fact that they had been unable to stop the Vampire Murders no matter how much they strengthened their night time patrols made perfect sense. After all, what chance did they have when the mastermind himself was in charge of organizing them? As that truth dawned on him, Alphonse felt a dull, terrible ache in his heart.
A thoughtful 'hmmm' from Garrard brought Alphonse back to things at hand. The vampire licked his lips. 'Now that my hunger has finally been sated, I suppose all that remains is dessert,' he purred.
He glanced sideways towards the vacant-eyed Lucca, with undisguised desire, then wrenched his eyes away and focused on the still form of Rose.
'But before that,' he said, suddenly raising his left hand and pointing it at her, 'I think it's about time our dear vampire hunter left the stage for good.'
Before Alphonse could even react, countless lances of blood like the two that had struck before formed and flew from his palm towards the fallen woman. Alphonse cried out but could do nothing to stop their flight.
Rose saw the danger and reacted. Still lying on the ground, she dropped the pistol that she had secretly been aiming at Garrard, and at the last second, used every bit of strength that remained to her to roll out of the way. She avoided instant death, but it would only be a momentary reprieve if the vampire decided to strike again.
Garrard shook his head in amazement. 'Haha. You really are a tenacious one, aren't you? Then how about--'
Just as Garrard was about to launch his next attack, Alphonse jumped at him. Sword raised, he slashed with everything he could muster. The sword made contact, but aside from a dull ringing sound, it didn't seem to do any actual damage.
'Oh my. That's no way to show your appreciation to the man who raised you all these years,' Garrard said, laughing. He flicked his index finger at Alphonse's forehead, causing an unimaginably powerful shockwave which sent him flying backwards through the air. The silver sword Rose had given him was supposed to be able to kill vampires, and yet it wasn't able to so much as scratch Garrard. It was then that Alphonse realized what he was up against: a true Elder Vampire, filled with the life energy of countless humans that Elroy had collected that he stood no chance whatsoever against. The weight of that understanding filled him with despair. The vampire, meanwhile, seemed to think of something.
'Oh, I know. While I'm telling you all of this, there is one other little thing that you might be interested to know. Think of this as a reward for surviving for so long.'
Winded from the blow, Alphonse could only gasp, 'Wh...at...?'
He struggled to rise, but he only got as far as kneeling. Garrard looked down at him, a vulgar smile playing at his lips.
'The one who killed your parents...was me.'
Just as Alphonse had thought that nothing else could surprise him, he was proved wrong. Garrard's words dragged the sight of his mother and father, all of the blood drained from their bodies, lying dead in their home over ten years ago up from his memories. Garrard continued, seeming to enjoy Alphonse's reaction.
'There really was a vampire in that village back then. Naturally, I'm referring to me. Your father seemed to realize the first part, and set about trying to find out the vampire's identity in secret.'
This was the first that Alphonse had heard about this. He had no idea that his father had once tried to do exactly what he and Rose had.
'He was an exceptionally capable soldier, you know.' Garrard continued. 'Far too capable to be stuck in a backwater village like that. But that ended up being his undoing. He very nearly succeeded in discovering that it was I whom he was seeking. And that's why I killed him with my own hands. Him and his wife who was helping him.'
Alphonse stumbled to his feet and broke into a lurching charge at Garrard. With frenzied slashes and thrusts, he attacked the vampire, almost as if to avoid having to listen to what it was saying.
Garrard laughed as he batted away the weak blows. 'The only problem with my plan was you, Al. I had intended to kill you at the same time. You were still a child at the time, but I couldn't allow anyone who might know my true identity to live. And yet when I came to take care of them, you were away from the house.'
No matter how many times Alphonse hacked at Garrard he could not connect. His silver sword, his fury, his grief...it all seemed meaningless against this foe. Nothing he did could hurt the creature who had taken everything from him.
Completely ignoring Alphonse, Garrard continued talking. 'I couldn't very well kill you on a separate occasion, either,' he sighed. 'Not with the chance that the vampire hunter I'd heard was skulking about might catch wind of it and come after me. Too many strange murders in such a small town like that would be quite suspicious, after all. And that's why I decided to keep you close to me, instead, so that I could keep an eye on you myself.'
Effectively, it seemed, Garrard's plan was to make sure that Alphonse never remembered anything that might help him realize the vampire's true identity. If he had, he would have been killed. The man he thought he knew, the man who had cared for him like a father, was a lie. Slowly, as the full, bitter truth began to sink in, he could feel the hot prickle of tears stinging his eyes.
'But that won't be necessary anymore. I have no reason to allow you to live any longer.'
Garrard had previously been disregarding all of Alphonse's futile attempts to hurt him, but suddenly he went on the offensive. Lightning quick, he bypassed Alphonse's guard and his fist made contact with the young man's right side. Bones crumpled under the sharp blow, and once again, Alphonse was sent flying.
He landed hard but was almost immediately up once again through sheer force of will. The pain was incredible, and something was broken inside him, but it didn't matter - he simply couldn't forgive the man, the creature in front of him, for what he had done.
'You c you must know that. Just give up and die.'
This time Garrard came to him. His attacks were relentless, like water gushing from a broken dam. Again and again his tightly clenched fist pounded Alphonse with the force of a wrecking ball. Unable to defend himself from the onslaught, Alphonse was showered with punches, blood spraying through the air with every strike.
Faintly, he heard Rose call his name. She barely seemed able to maintain consciousness. If he lost here, Rose would be killed for sure. As would Lucca. Losing wasn't an option. Being killed wasn't an option. Defeat of any kind wasn't an option considering what was at stake.
A sharp pain in his side signaled another bone breaking. Blood dribbled down his lips as he bit back a groan. The more time passed, the closer he was drawing to death's door. Nonetheless, he slowly raised his sword again, swinging it downwards with the last of his strength... As he did, Garrard aimed yet another punch at him from directly in front. With a dull metallic sound, the blade snapped in two. The power of the blow sent the top half flying. It flipped end over end and back, clear through Alphonse's right shoulder. It ended impaled into the ground next to where Rose lay.
The moment it sliced through him, it felt as though his strings had been cut as well. He had no more energy left to fight. He couldn't even maintain his grip on the broken sword in his hand. He crumbled to the ground, too exhausted to go on. As he did, another faint memory of the past resurfaced in his mind. During the short period before his parents' murders, there had been a girl who often came to their home, who had introduced herself as an acquaintance of his father's. She used to take him out to play practically every day, so that he wouldn't disturb his father while he was working. Thinking back, the work he had been doing must have been investigating the vampire. It was on one of those days that the murders took place. If he had been home with his parents at the time, he would no doubt have been killed alongside them. It was thanks to her taking him out that day that he had been able to live in ignorance for so long and avoid being killed by Garrard.
He had long forgotten her, perhaps because his parents' murders had left such a deep scar inside him that all other memories of the period had been pushed into the depths of his subconscious. He found himself wondering how she was doing now, whether she was all right. He hoped she was.
These were the idle thoughts that filled him as he lay defeated on the ashen earth, Garrard's mocking laughter filling his ears.
I think it really is time to finish this. Your mother and father are waiting for you up with the Goddess.'
The vampire held the fingers of his right hand straight and rigid, thumb folded inwards as if performing a karate chop. He then swung it downwards towards Alphonse like the blade of a guillotine, aiming directly for his neck.
White light suddenly filled the area, obscuring all else. At the same time, Alphonse heard the sound of something rending the air. Realizing that he was still alive, he slowly opened his eyes.
The hand that had been about to slice through Alphonse's neck now had a gigantic hole at its center. Garrard had his left hand wrapped around his right wrist and was staring at the hole in horror, unable to process what had just happened. The edges of the wound smoked and sizzled.
Before him stood Rose.
Her injuries had been beyond most humans' ability to even survive, yet there she stood, unwavering, a smoking silver pistol in her hand. Her lips were still bright with blood, but her voice was steady.
'I will not allow you to lay another finger on him.'
Her eyes blazed with a bright crimson fire.
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 11: Battle in the Catacomb||Chapter 13: True Ancestor ⇒|