Chapter 6 - Bloodstained Rose
The city of Heimdallr was deathly silent. During the day, word had been spread throughout the populace from the Garrard Team regarding the culprit behind the Vampire Murders. Knowing specific details about the perpetrator instilled an even greater sense of fear into the people of the city, making them even more wary of stepping out of their homes at night. That the streets would be empty was an inevitability. And yet, on one dark avenue in the city, a petite woman walked alone, as if to defy all of that.
She wore a plain, undecorated dress, and from all appearances belonged to the middle classes. She walked quite quickly, the sound of her shoes against the ground echoing loudly in the empty streets. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her chest, almost as if embracing herself, and she was hunched forward, clearly afraid of something. Of course, it was perfectly natural for her to be afraid considering that the majority of the victims of the city's serial murderer were young women like herself.
She looked around restlessly, carefully surveying her surroundings for signs of danger before disappearing down a dark alleyway. The faint moonlight illuminated her profile as she turned the corner and cast a long shadow behind her...which slowly and silently began to enlarge.
Gradually, the silhouette extended upwards, the inky depths taking the shape of a man. It loomed behind her.
The figure was swathed all in black, with the top half of its face covered. The bottom half remained exposed, revealing a wicked grin and sharp, pointed fangs. It was a vampire, a creature of legend. It stood silently behind the woman, very much real despite its supposed mythological standing. From the sable folds of the cloak swaddling its body, it slowly extended a pale hand.
The fingers stretched forward. Sharp, pointed nails gently swept aside the woman's shoulder- length blond hair. The tips brushed the back of her neck almost caressingly. The second they did, though, it seemed to sense that something was wrong.
Its prey was behaving oddly. It hadn't expected the frail creature before it to put up the slightest resistance. She should have frozen at its touch, or given in to despair, having no choice but to succumb to the inevitable and have her blood drained. What it felt from her instead, however, was defiance and danger - this woman was no prey. Hunter had met hunter. The creature tensed, ready to leap backwards. Too late, it realized another threat radiated from directly beside it.
There was no avoiding it. The sound of paving stones cracking resounded in the still night, and its outstretched right arm was suddenly shredded by numerous sharp objects.
The vampire let out an involuntary hiss of pain as a wave of silver blades arced through air and flesh, one after another, but the attack wasn't over. The vampire sensed danger from below, too, and the blades which impaled into the ground suddenly arced upwards with alarming speed, as if retracing their path through the air. Just as the blades were about to sever its right arm from its body once and for all, it was able to jump out of their way.
Clutching its mangled limb, the vampire edged further back to put distance between itself and the woman. It watched balefully with narrowed eyes as the razor-sharp segments that had pierced it soared back over to the bladeless handle in the woman's hand - when she had drawn it, it didn't know.
Connected by sturdy steel wires, the segments interlocked one by one, eventually forming a complete blade known as a templar sword. She swung it, shaking the blood from its surface. Every last trace of the weakness she had shown earlier when hurrying through the night was gone.
She turned around finally, revealing the dignified, expressionless face that had lain on the other side of the sleek blond curtain of hair.
It was the vampire hunter, Rose.
'So you were trying to lure me out, were you?' the vampire sneered. 'Heh. Such cunning.' Its words were sharp, but the delivery fell somewhat tremulously on the rough cobblestones of the empty alley.
'You flatter me,' Rose said.
Her templar sword still raised in her right hand, she put her left hand into her pocket and pulled out an unbelievably large caliber pistol, greater in size than those used in the army. She aimed it at the vampire's forehead and pulled the trigger without a moment's hesitation. The gunpowder flash illuminated the alleyway briefly, and a single blessed silver bullet flew from the muzzle with merciless intent. Such was the force of the discharge that an ordinary person's shoulder would have been dislocated, but Rose didn't so much as twitch.
The vampire moved with liquid speed, dodging the projectile just in time and slipping behind Rose. Not the slightest perturbed by its change in direction, Rose moved as well and kept the pistol focused on the creature, tracking the vampire's every movement.
'You're quite adept at fleeing, if nothing else,' she said coolly.
'Would you prefer I did something like this, then?' the vampire asked. As it spoke, it fluttered the black garments it was draped in, and they began to expand, the folds stretching to impossible size before her eyes. Pitiful moans echoed in the dark depths. Rose watched with narrowed eyes as a number of ghouls crawled out from within as if emerging from thin air.
Eventually, she counted ten in all.
It hadn't even been 24 hours since their previous battle. The vampire couldn't possibly have attacked that many people in that time...
Rose's mouth tightened. 'I see. And here we believed the reported murders to be the only victims, but that wasn't the case at all. You were abducting others who had no living relatives to notice that they were gone and keeping them locked up somewhere, weren't you?'
'Precisely. With a vampire hunter on the loose, I had to make sure I had some food in reserve. I'd rather not run the risk of going hungry, you see.'
'The very thought makes me feel physically ill,' Rose replied quietly.
With a vicious yank she tore the dress she had worn as a disguise from her body. Underneath it, sturdy leather clothes designed with mobility in mind were revealed. Attached to them were numerous belts holding large guns, knives, and other anti- vampire weaponry in place. It was clear at a glance that she was well prepared for battle.
The sight of Rose's arsenal coaxed a sickly smile from the vampire.
'Go forth, my minions.'
And with a wave of its pallid hand, the ghouls leaped forward.
'Where are you, Rose?!' Alphonse shouted between pants as he ran back and forth across the city, desperately searching for her. Try as he might, though, he could find no sign of the blond woman. Even his fellow soldiers patrolling the streets had seen nothing.
Alphonse had a very specific reason for pursuing this case, and he didn't intend to lose this opportunity to put the past behind him. That was what led him to propose that he and Rose work together, a proposal which she had accepted. And yet despite all of that, she was trying to fight the vampire all on her own. It was too risky, even for her. His mind was full of worry for her, and that fear conjured forth the image of his parents' dead bodies.
Never again. He never wanted to see a sight like that again. Wishing over and over again that Rose was still all right, he raced on, and it was then that he heard a sound that caught his attention: the clash of battle. As soon as the noise reached his ears, he quickly surveyed his surroundings. The source seemed to be an alleyway nearby. Without a thought spared for his own safety, he charged into the alleyway. There, an unbelievable sight met his eyes.
Two ghouls lunged at her. Sheathing her templar sword into its scabbard, Rose drew a second large pistol in its place. The ghouls swung their fists and ragged nails towards her with inhuman power, but she dodged them gracefully. As she spun out of their range, she aimed one pistol at each ghoul's forehead and pulled the triggers simultaneously. Flesh and bone were obliterated instantly. The sheer force of the blast sent the mangled remains somersaulting backwards through the air.
The move left Rose slightly unbalanced and, as if seeking to take advantage of that, three more ghouls flew at her from outside her field of vision. The mere sound of their movement was enough to alert her, however, and without even turning to face them she sent two more bullets through the heads of the two ghouls charging her from the sides. The third ghoul's mouth distended, seeking to crush Rose's skull with its teeth, but she danced out of reach, holstering the pistols. Fluidly, she then flipped back through the air, drawing her templar sword at the same time and slicing the lower half of the ghoul's body from the upper half in one swift stroke.
She landed gracefully and kicked the ghoul she had just cut in half out of the way without even waiting for its body to hit the ground. Two more ghouls approached from the fringes, but without waiting for them to draw closer this time, she swung her blade horizontally through the air. It split into pieces, and the countless segmented parts pierced the ghouls' necks. Their heads dropped to the ground like fruit falling from a tree.
Seven of the ghouls incapacitated in what seemed like an instant, Rose turned her attention to the defiantly grinning vampire and the remaining three ghouls with him. She drew the two pistols from around her waist a second time and sprinted towards them, showering them with the remaining loaded bullets.
The vampire evaded the projectiles by using the remaining ghouls as shields. Out of bullets, Rose drew her templar sword and swung it in the direction of the vampire's neck in one fluid motion, seeking to decapitate it. The next instant, the high-pitched screech of metal against metal filled the air.
The vampire had drawn its own weapon from inside the black garments. It met Rose's blade in midair. The two swords locked against one another, filling the air with sparks and leaving them in a stalemate reminiscent of the previous night's battle.
'I'm impressed at how unfazed you seemed fighting against those ghouls,' the vampire said, teeth bared but with a slight curl to its lips. 'I would have expected a human to at least hesitate when being forced to fight their own kind.'
'They ceased to be my 'kind' the moment you drank their blood. They are nothing but soulless puppets now - why should I hesitate against them?'
The creature inclined its head almost respectfully at that. 'Heh. You certainly think like a vampire hunter.'
The sound of metal against metal continued to reverberate throughout the area. Drinking the blood of the ghouls had allowed the vampire to become even stronger than the previous night. Its once crippled right arm had already healed and regained its original form. Even so, Rose met it without any sign of strain, her strength matching that of the fell creature before her.
The loud war cry split the air, startling both combatants, and a third figure suddenly burst onto the scene. The charging figure was dressed in an army uniform and brandished a silver sword. It was Alphonse. Catching the vampire off guard, he slashed at its side. Having no experience with the weapon itself, it was a shallow attack and the damage it dealt far from lethal, but it was enough to break the stalemate.
Seizing the opening, Rose forcefully knocked the vampire's sword out of the way and in one flowing motion slashed horizontally from its exposed chest to its left arm. A crimson gout of blood arced from the wound, splashing the cobblestones. Something also sheared off from within the vampire's garments and flew into the air.
The vampire clutched its chest in pain, but it was clear that her attack had only grazed it. It seemed that, once again, the creature's preternatural speed had saved it from mortal injury. Eyes darting from one to the other, it backed away with an audible 'tsk'.
'...It looks like the odds are stacked against me. I will retreat for today,' it said, its outline growing dim, before it turned to mist and vanished into nothingness.
After a moment of heavy silence, Alphonse sheathed his sword, staring at the spot where the vampire had previously been.
'It got away again...'
Finally looking at him, Rose let out a sigh of disbelief.
'...Why did you come?'
Hearing the coldness in her voice, Alphonse lost his composure. He seized her shoulders in his hands.
'Of course I came!' he yelled. 'What were you thinking trying to fight him on your own?! It's too dangerous to take him on without help!'
Her cool blue eyes locked with his. 'Dangerous? For me? Do you honestly believe that?' she asked. Her face was as mask-like as ever, but her tone had dropped from chilly to downright glacial.
It had a cooling effect on Alphonse's anger. He took a half-step back and looked at her from top to bottom. Illuminated by the light of the moon, he could see that she was covered in gore. He released her shoulders and stared down at his own hands. They, too, were now wet with blood from touching her. And yet, there was not so much as a scratch on her whole body. The filth covering her entirely belonged to the ghouls she had defeated.
'I am a vampire hunter, and this is not the first vampire I have hunted. I have killed more of them than you could possibly imagine.'
Alphonse couldn't deny what she was saying. He had seen for himself the skill and grace she had shown when mercilessly slaying all of those ghouls, unmoved by the fact that they were once humans. She had been an artist in battle and the sword her paintbrush. What he had witnessed was beyond his comprehension, a struggle between monsters rather than human beings. That was why he could do nothing but stand and watch at first, unable to intervene. He was lost for words. Rose broke the silence with a short, frosty laugh.
'Al. I have no further need of your assistance. I suggest you forget about all of this and return to your ordinary life.' She then gave a respectful curtsey much like the one she had when they first met.
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 5: Farewell||Chapter 7: Parting of the Ways ⇒|