Chapter 5 - Farewell
'So this is the culprit behind the Vampire Murders, you say?'
Garrard peered at the sketch, brows drawn down. The morning after Alphonse and Rose had fought the vampire, he had made sure to report that fact to Garrard. The sketch Garrard was studying had been outlined based on Alphonse's testimony. It depicted a figure dressed all in black with the upper face obscured. The portrait showed everything Alphonse could recall of the vampire's distinguishing features, and he hoped that it would be helpful to the army's investigations. Naturally, he had left out how the suspect was actually a vampire and capable turning itself into black smoke on a whim. Having his commanding officer think him crazy would help no one. The purpose of the sketch was simply to help people watch out for the culprit, not to try and convince them of its true nature, after all.
He did wish he could tell them the complete truth, if only to better prepare them for a potential encounter against the monster and help them more effectively hunt it, but he knew better than anyone that no ordinary human would be able to stand up to it. He had learned that much firsthand the previous night. Trying to fight the vampire would only lead to unnecessary fatalities, and organizing large teams to try and exterminate it could even lead to it hiding itself away - or worse, fleeing the capital and going elsewhere. As such, the best chance to defeat it once and for all seemed to lie with Rose.
Garrard straightened and fixed Alphonse with a concerned eye. I'm just glad that you and Lucca are both all right.' Then he let out a relieved sigh, as if that genuinely was the most important thing to him. The description and portrait of the black-clad man would be used to encourage people to be more vigilant and watch out for the culprit. If the number of people going out at night were to decrease, the number of murders would likely decrease, too. Garrard tried to convince Alphonse to rest for the day, not least because he had been injured the previous night, but Alphonse had no intention of listening. He and Rose had already decided to meet up and investigate further, he insisted.
Garrard's brows descended once again at that. His parting words as Alphonse left his office were simply, 'Just don't do anything to put yourself in unnecessary danger, all right?'
While he was usually strict as a superior, it was obvious that he genuinely cared for him like a real son; a fact that Alphonse couldn't possibly be any more grateful for. Feeling newly motivated, he quietly muttered to himself, 'I WILL stop these murders,' as he walked towards the exit of the guardhouse.
Just before he could set off for his meeting with Rose, however, he encountered his fellow soldier, Elroy. The other man looked as glum as ever. Judging by his appearance, he had just finished the morning's training. Beads of sweat ran down his face, and his hair was matted to his forehead. Despite this, he didn't seem the slightest out of breath. Elroy had always been that way. Though he never seemed to train more than Alphonse and the other team members, he always seemed significantly stronger and more capable than any of them. He was well aware of this fact, too, and seemed to have developed a sense of superiority because of it. Looking down his nose at the others was Elroy's signature move.
Today seemed no different. He turned to Alphonse with a mocking smile on his face.
'...So you ran into the culprit behind those so- called 'Vampire Murders',' did you?'
'Yeah, I did.'
Elroy gave a contemptuous snort. 'Well, you're useless then, aren't you? Why didn't you catch him? This would have all been over if you had.'
As usual, Elroy wasted no time in trying to pick a fight with Alphonse, but this time he had no comeback. Elroy was right. If he hadn't been so weak, he would have been able to defeat the vampire and stop the murders the previous night. Seeing Alphonse's reaction to his provocation, Elroy folded his arms triumphantly.
'The commander might favor you, but I think it's about time you stopped letting that get to your head and learned your place.'
Alphonse was about to retort when he noticed something. Elroy's left arm was wrapped tightly in several layers of bandages.
'What happened to your arm?'
Alphonse pointed to the bandages with his finger, and for a brief moment Elroy seemed unsure how to respond.
'Th-That? It's nothing, really. I just hurt it in training earlier.'
Spots of blood peeked through the bandages, making it clear that it was a recent injury, at the very least. Alphonse looked at the damage with concern.
'Hmph. This is why I can't stand you.'
Apparently thrown off by his teammate's worry, Elroy gave an audible tut before walking away, leaving a slightly embarrassed Alphonse behind.
While they were hardly on the best terms, Alphonse didn't bear any particular grudge against Elroy. It was clear that the same couldn't be said for the other man, but Alphonse had no idea what he had against him.
Letting out a sigh, he returned his thoughts to the investigation at hand. Now wasn't the time to be thinking about Elroy. He had to focus. With a shake of the head, he opened the guardhouse door and set out to meet Rose.
They had decided to continue their search where they left off, so it was at the scene of the fourth murder that Alphonse met Rose. Despite scouring the area as thoroughly as they could, however, they found nothing that would help them identify the criminal. Eventually, Rose stopped to think for a while, before proposing that they make their way to the street where they had encountered the vampire the previous night and search the scene there. Alphonse agreed.
It seemed like a completely different place during the day. The still quiet that had marked the night had been replaced with cheerful chatter and the bustling of people examining the wares at the street stalls. Since the murders were known to happen at night, people seemed happy to go about their ordinary lives during the day without a worry in the world.
Taking care to avoid standing out too much, they walked side by side around the street looking for potential leads.
'It's hard to believe that we fought a vampire here last night...'
Rose's lips curled up slightly. 'Most would find it difficult enough to believe that vampires exist to begin with. I suppose that makes the existence of people like me, who live to hunt those vampires, more unbelievable still.'
...Was that meant as a joke? Alphonse wondered.
Unsure how to respond, he elected to remain silent. Unfazed, Rose set about analyzing the previous night's events.
'The scent given off by that vampire was the same as the one I sensed from all of the victims. At the very least, it seems beyond a doubt that that vampire is the killer we've been searching for.'
'His scent...?' Alphonse asked, before recalling that Rose had mentioned something similar earlier when they were trying to pursue the vampire the previous night.
'So, if we follow that scent, we can find out who the vampire is?'
Rose shook her head. 'I'm afraid not. As I said before, vampires are only capable of using their powers at night. During the day, they're no different than ordinary humans, and accordingly, the scent that gives them away as being a vampire vanishes, as well.'
They both knew that, ideally, the best way to defeat the vampire would be to strike during the day while it was unable to activate its powers, but without any clues as to the vampire's identity, they didn't have any chance of doing so. Realizing anew just how difficult the work of a vampire hunter must be, Alphonse admired Rose all the more for being able to cope with it.
'Nonetheless, we made contact with the vampire yesterday, and I believe that's a big step forward for this investigation. After all, the more fierce the battle, the greater the chance that one of the participants may leave behind some incriminating evidence. There's always the possibility that she may have seen something, too.'
Alphonse assumed that 'she' was referring to Lucca. He made to reply, but Rose was no longer alongside him. Turning around, he realized that she had stopped in her tracks some distance behind. Her face was as expressionless as ever, but her eyes were cast downwards, almost as if she was regretting something.
'It's nothing,' she said briskly and moved on. 'We should continue our search.'
They set about combing the street for any remnants of their battle. At one point, Rose suggested that they split up to cover a wider area, but even after doing so and reconvening to discuss their findings (or lack thereof), they found themselves no closer to pinpointing the vampire's true identity than they were the previous day.
The hour had grown late and the sun was beginning its slow descent in the sky. The warm glow of its fading rays deepened the red hue of the bricks even as the shadows cast by their sturdy walls lengthened.
Alphonse ground his teeth in frustration. 'All this searching and not a single result... Dammit.'
Rose had said that the vampire's power had been increasing over time. The previous night's battle had shown that she was capable of competing with it for now, and it was that fact that had allowed them to save Lucca, but there was no guarantee that would always be the case if it continued to claim more victims and grow stronger. Seeing Alphonse's vexation over their lack of progress, Rose spoke.
'Nothing will come from being too hasty. We each have our tasks. All we need to do is complete them.'
He nodded, knowing full well that she was right, but it was hard not to feel bitter about their lack of headway all the same. As he needed to go and report the results of the day's investigation to Garrard, they agreed to part ways for the time being. Alphonse proposed that they meet again at the tavern like they had the previous day, but Rose refused his offer.
'I'm afraid I have business I must attend to with the church.'
'Oh, okay... I was really hoping we'd be able to patrol and keep an eye out for the vampire again, though, since you're the only one who can sense its presence...'
Considering what had happened the previous night, and the increasing occurrence of the murders, remaining vigilant for the vampire was of the utmost priority. Or at least, that was Alphonse's thought on the matter.
Rose didn't react to the disappointment in his trailing words. Instead, she merely replied that she'd watch out for it alone before excusing herself with a solemn 'farewell.' There was a pause in which it seemed as if she wanted to say something else, but then she curtseyed deeply and disappeared from his sight.
Alphonse watched her go with an uneasy feeling in his gut. Something seemed off about her behavior. Unable to work out what it was, however, he was left with no choice but to watch her walking away into the distance.
That night, Alphonse made his way to the tavern after giving his report to Garrard. Rose may have refused his offer to meet there, but he still wanted to look in on Lucca after what had happened to her the previous day.
'Oh, hello, Alphie!'
Lucca was quick to spot him, and she showed him to a seat at the empty counter. After squaring his earlier bill from the dinner with Rose with the tavern owner, Lucca excitedly came over to take his order. Seeing her smile and chatter as energetically as ever, Alphonse felt relieved. He had been expecting, and fearing, a more subdued demeanor from her.
Watching her, he couldn't help but think how close she had come to losing her life, and for a pathetic reason like feeding a vampire. Just the thought made his blood boil.
'U-Umm... Alphie? A-Are you okay?'
Her nervous question made him realize that his anger must be showing in his expression. He quickly put on an awkward smile and set about eating to avoid having to explain anything. After a few bites he felt himself calming down, and gave her a more genuine smile.
'I'm fine, honestly. But never mind me...you haven't managed to recall anything about what happened last night, have you?'
She shook her head.
'Sorry... I wish I could, but I can't remember a thing.'
He hadn't really expected her to, but he was still slightly disappointed to not be able to gather any new information.
Rose had speculated that the shock of seeing the vampire had caused her to subconsciously block out any memory of what had happened. As such, it didn't seem particularly likely that she would be able to help them find out the identity of the vampire, either. He sighed.
Lucca, meanwhile, was desperately trying to remember something, anything, that would allow her to be of service to him. After mulling over it for a time, she suddenly let out an 'Ah!' sound.
'Umm... It doesn't directly relate to what happened yesterday...but that person you know was here earlier. On her own, too.'
Alphonse was momentarily puzzled. 'Who do you mean?'
'You know,' Lucca prompted with a swish of her hair. 'The girl you were with yesterday.'
It suddenly dawned on him who Lucca was referring to. But Rose had specifically told him that she wouldn't be coming to the tavern today because she had business with the church. A troubled feeling began to build in the pit of his stomach.
'Anyway, umm...she just came and asked me a few things about yesterday. I couldn't remember anything when she asked, either, but eventually she seemed satisfied, then just said 'farewell' and left.'
The moment Alphonse heard those words, it dawned on him. Every time he parted ways with Rose, she always left with a 'farewell for now.' But not today. When they separated earlier, she had instead simply said 'farewell.' He had thought something seemed off about her at the time, and it was then that he realized that was the reason.
After that, she must have come to the tavern where she was able to discover something from Lucca. But if that was the case, what would she try to do next?
Alphonse fairly jumped out of his seat, half of the food still left on his plate, and dumped enough mira to pay for the meal hurriedly onto the table.
'A-Al?!' Lucca goggled at him.
'Just keep the change!'
It was his second feeling of great foreboding in two days, and the first had been downright deadly.
He rushed out of the tavern as fast as his legs would carry him onto the streets of Heimdallr. The sun had long since set, and the deeply shadowed streets welcomed him into their murky depths.
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 4: The Black Vampire||Chapter 6: Bloodstained Rose ⇒|