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Chapter 8 - The Truth

The stillness of night came once again to the streets of Heimdallr. A bewitching yet eerie red moon hung full in the sky, its carmine glow staining the red bricks of the surrounding buildings an even deeper crimson.

After the gruesome discovery of the bodies that day, the Garrard Team had strengthened its night time patrols. Most of the soldiers in the team were on the streets, determined to prevent any further violence, and repair the damage to the Imperial Army's honor. Their patrol routes had them making tight circuits of the city roads, vigilantly searching for anything out of order. On one particularly dark street corner, a block away from the Alegria tavern, stood a young man in military uniform. Much like the others, he was making the rounds in his thoroughly deserted patrol area. A figure turning onto the street just ahead of him made him pause mid-step. Warily, he put his hand on the sword at his waist. As the figure drew closer, the features gradually became more visible - it was another soldier like himself. It was Alphonse.

Alphonse stepped forward and stood silently before the other young man. He fixed him with an unwavering gaze. 

'Oh, it's you,' the young man said, sounding annoyed. 'What are you doing here? This is my patrol area, not yours.'

He glared at Alphonse with intense dislike, but Alphonse did not look away.

'I came to ask you something,' Alphonse replied simply. He put his hand into his pocket and took something out of it. It was a dirty piece of cloth.

The other man looked puzzled. 'What's that supposed to be?'

'It was something I found in the area where the vampire appeared last night. It's also yours. Isn't it, Elroy?' 

Elroy stared back at Alphonse, then rolled his eyes. His voice dripped with contempt.

'What are you talking about? Did you really abandon your post over who some rag might belong to? ...And 'vampire'? You're supposed to be a soldier, not some kind of superstitious lunatic,' he scoffed.

'This is part of the bandage you were wearing around your left arm when you said you were injured in training,' Alphonse said calmly.

The cloth, Alphonse continued, must have been cut from his bandage during the previous day's battle and ended up between the two buildings in an area they neglected to check. He didn't, however, mention who had done the cutting - there was no need to tell Elroy information that he already knew, after all. Hearing this, Elroy clutched his left arm, hidden under the sleeve of his army uniform, almost as if trying to hide it from Alphonse. 

'Besides, the idea that you were injured badly enough to need a bandage like that in standard training makes no sense to begin with. You're the most skilled swordsman on the Garrard Team, after all. That's not to say you weren't actually injured, especially considering there really was fresh blood on the bandage itself. But you didn't injure yourself during training - you were stabbed by a rapier, and that was what the bandage was intended to disguise.' 

Elroy said nothing. Under any other circumstances, he would have been quick to argue back. But not this time. His brow furrowed, and he glared angrily at Alphonse.

'I'm sure that you must have replaced the bandage with a new one last night. But then, what was this doing at the scene of the crime? You weren't involved in this morning's investigation.' 

Alphonse was aware that what he was saying wouldn't be enough to prove to the world that Elroy was a vampire. They were, after all, creatures of legend. People would never believe him. What it did prove, however, was that Elroy had been where Rose and the vampire's battle took place. And considering that Alphonse already knew that vampires were no mere myth, that was all the proof he needed.

'I don't want to believe it myself. I can't bear to think that someone who I served alongside as a soldier, someone more skilled than any of us, is actually a monster who's been indiscriminately murdering people.' 

'...'

Elroy made no reply. He just stared down at the ground, silent and tense.

'But I am a member of the Garrard Team,' Alphonse continued resolutely. 'And we are entrusted with the task of protecting this city. I have a duty to do what I can to prevent any more lives from being lost. Unless you can prove that what I am saying isn't  true, I'm going to have to arrest you as a suspect--'

'...Heh.' 

Hands at his sides, Elroy let out a short, quiet laugh. The second he did, something changed, and the atmosphere became oppressive.

'Hahahahahaha!'

Elroy threw back his head and let out a loud, maniacal laugh. It was an inhuman sound, that outburst. The skin-crawling utterance was entirely unlike the usual quiet Elroy, and as his mouth yawned wide, Alphonse saw what he knew he would. Beast-like fangs. The fangs of a vampire.

Alphonse placed his hand on the saber at his waist and drew it as fast as he could. The sound of blade scraping against scabbard cut short the awful laugh, but he wasn't fast enough - before he knew it, Elroy was right in front of him, swinging his own sword with incredible force. Alphonse barely had the time to block its arc with his own. 

The sound of metal against metal filled the air, and the monstrous strength of the blow pushed Alphonse backwards. It was obvious to him that Elroy's power was vastly greater than it had been when he took the punch to the stomach several days before. If Elroy had been this strong that day, Alphonse knew that he would already be dead. 

Barely managing to hold his position, he clung to his saber with his now somewhat numb hand, but the vampire was already drawing back for another strike. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, Alphonse was just able to parry the blow...but it was all he could manage. If he strayed even a hair from focusing on defense, he would soon be overwhelmed. Elroy, meanwhile, maintained his onslaught seemingly without effort. Blow after blow rained down relentlessly.

'You should've waited, Alphonse! Surely you know that vampires can only use their powers at night!'

Alphonse grunted as he narrowly deflected another attack. Naturally, he did know. He was fully aware that waiting until morning might have actually given him a chance to defeat Elroy. But he just couldn't bring himself to wait. Not when there was a possibility that he might have claimed another victim  that very night. His conscience wouldn't allow him to sleep peacefully in his bed knowing that he could have done something to stop that murder from happening. 

As if to punctuate his point, Elroy knocked the saber from Alphonse's hands with a vicious swipe that drove him to his knees. The blade clattered down on the paving stones far from the fighting pair. 

'You're finished!' Elroy crowed, turning his sword on Alphonse. The blade flashed up, then descended.

Alphonse watched the fall of the sword as if in slow motion. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop it. It would bite through his flesh and send his head soaring through the air, much like his saber had just done.

Suddenly, a high-pitched whistling sound of something moving very fast cut through the night. And then another, and another followed. The next moment, Elroy's right arm was gone. 

Blood speckled Alphonse's cheeks like a fine rain. And just as he had imagined, something soared through the air and hit the ground - but instead of it being his head, it was Elroy's right arm, sword still  clutched in its rigid fingers.

'Graaaaah!'

Elroy instinctively jumped back, clutching at his wounded limb while Alphonse stared wide-eyed at the many parts of a templar sword stretched before him like the flexing of a metal snake. The wires connecting the razor sharp blade segments gleamed in the moonlight. A line of tension then ran through the wires, and they all retracted just as fast as they had appeared. Soon after, a lone figure approached to take their place. It was a woman in a navy blue coat that was thrown wide, exposing countless weapons  attached to the battle gear she was wearing underneath. She had sleek, shoulder-length blond hair, capped by a navy blue beret. The look she gave Alphonse when she saw him was somewhere between exasperation and disbelief. 

Alphonse smiled weakly. 'What took you so long, Rose?' 

第8回 正体

 帝都の夜に、再び真っ赤な月が出ていた。妖しくも不気味な、真红の満月。それは数日前よりもさらに色浓く辉き、绯のレンガの町并みを染め上げている——まるで、血のように。 

吸血鬼事件による10人もの被害者が発见されたことを受け、この夜、ガラード队の队员たちによる深夜の巡回が强化されていた。 

これ以上の犠牲者を出すわけにはいかない。ことは帝国军の面子に関わる问题である。そんな思いを胸に队员のほとんどが出払い、担当するルートを各々が巡回していた。

その中でも、特に薄暗い一角——宿酒场〈アレグリア〉から道一つ离れた通りに、军服の青年がいた。彼は不机嫌そうな颜をしつつ、もはや夜中に出歩く者のいなくなったそこを巡回している。

ふと——彼の前方の曲がり角から、人影が现れた。

 それを见た青年は警戒し、腰に携えた剣の感触を确かめる。人影は青年に近づいて、徐々にその姿を明らかにしていく。

 それは青年と同じくらいの歳の同僚——アルフォンスだった。その双眸は、静かに青年の姿を见据えている。 

「フン、お前か」青年はあからさまに不快そうに舌打ちをした。

「持ち场はどうした。ここは确か、俺の担当だったはずだが」

 アルフォンスに明らかな敌意の眼差しを向けてくる青年。だが彼は、その瞳で青年を捉えたまま、「——お前に、闻きたい事がある」と、懐から何かを取り出す。

アルフォンスが持っているのは、薄汚い布切れだ。「なんだ、それは?」怪讶な颜で寻ねる青年。

「昨日の夜、吸血鬼が现れた现场に落ちていたものだ。 

 これはお前のものだな——エルロイ」

 青年——エルロイにそう言い放つアルフォンス。当のエルロイは至って普段通りに、彼に冷たい视线を返す。

「言っている意味が分からない。その布がなんだというんだ?

 それに、吸血鬼だと?仮にも帝国军に属する者が、何を世迷言を」 

 そう鼻で笑う。しかしアルフォンスはあくまで真剣だ。

「これは、お前が训练で怪我をしたと言っていた——

 左腕に巻かれていた包帯だ」

その一部が昨晩の戦いで切り离され、捜査の死角に入り込んでいた。そう続けるアルフォンス。ロゼによって、とまでは言わなかった。それはエルロイも知っているはずの事実だったからだ。

 それを闻いたエルロイは、军服の袖の下に隠れた左腕を押さえ、隠すような姿势をとる。

「……そもそも、ガラード队随一の剣の腕を持つお前が、

 日常的に行っている训练でそんな怪我を负うこと自体が不自然だった。 

 いや、怪我を负ったこと自体は事実だろう。 

 包帯には真新しい血が渗んでいたからな。

 おそらくそれは、レイピアによって贯かれた伤を伪装するためにわざと负ったものだ」

エルロイはそれを闻いて黙り込んだ。いつもなら、すぐさま何かしらの反论を返しただろう。だが彼は、黙った。眉间に皱を寄せ、苛立った目でアルフォンスを睨みつけている。

「もちろん、昨晩のうちに包帯は新たなものに取り替えられただろう。

 だが、だったらなぜ、この包帯は现场に落ちていた?

 お前は今朝の调査には加わっていなかったはずなのに」

 それは、公にエルロイが吸血鬼だと证明できるような证拠ではなかった。そもそも伝承の存在であるそれを立证することはできない。 

だが、あの时、あの场所にエルロイがいたことを示す证拠にはなる。吸血鬼の存在を知るアルフォンスにとっては、それで十分だった。

「……俺も、信じたくはない。同じ部队に所属するお前が……

 谁よりも优秀なお前が、吸血鬼として人を袭ったなんてことは」 

「……………………………………………」 

なにも返事をせず、沈黙したままのエルロイは、ゆっくりと俯いたような姿势になる。

「だが、帝都を守るガラード队の一员として、これ以上の犠牲は出させるわけにはいかない。

 反论がないなら、重要参考人として拘束させてもらう——」

「………………………………………………フ」 

 エルロイが全身から力を抜いたような姿势から、そう息を漏らした时——场の雰囲気が急激に重くなったのを、アルフォンスは感じ取った。

「ハハハハハハハハハハハハハハハハハハハ!!」 

 一気に身体を仰け反らせて高笑いするエルロイ。 

 普段、物静かな彼では考えられない、深渊から这い出てきたような祸々しい声が、夜の街に响き渡る。裂けそうなまでに大きく开けられたその口元に、アルフォンスは见た。 

あの、獣のように锐い——吸血鬼の牙を。

 腰の剣に手をかけるアルフォンス。刀身と鞘が擦れあう音を鸣らしながら、すばやくそれを引き抜き、构える——だがエルロイは仰け反らせた身体をバネのようにしならせ、こちらも剣を抜きつつすでにアルフォンスに肉薄していた。

右腕の筋肉を轧ませ、棒切れを振るうような动作で力任せに剣を叩きつけるエルロイ。あまりの速度に、それを防ぐことしかできないアルフォンス。

 激しい金属音とともに、その身体は持っていた剣ごと后方に吹き飞ばされた。凄まじい膂力——それは、自分が胸部を殴打された数日前よりも格段に増している。もしあの时同じ力で殴られていたなら、彼はすでにこの世にいなかっただろう。

 かろうじて立ち上がり、痹れた手で持っていた剣の感触を确かめるが、すぐさま吸血鬼エルロイは刚剣にて追撃をはかる。

身体の重心を落として何とか受け止め、上手く捌いて冲撃を受け流す——だが、それで手一杯だ。とても攻撃に転じる余裕はなく、アルフォンスは防戦一方になってしまう。エルロイは何度防がれても构わず、间髪いれずに剣を叩きつけていく。 

「急いたな、アルフォンス!吸血鬼が夜に力を発挥するのを、知らぬわけではあるまい!」

 确かに日が升るのを待っていれば、少しは胜负になったかもしれない。

だが、アルフォンスは待つわけにはいかなかった。この夜にも新たな犠牲者が出たかもしれないのだ。それを知りながら安穏と胜机を待てるほどの非情さは、彼にはなかった。

 彼の握力が限界を迎えたのはそれからすぐのことだった。重い一撃で剣が弾かれ、回転しながら敷石の上を滑っていく。

「终わりだ、アルフォンス!!」 

 エルロイはそのまま剣を翻し、右腕に浑身の力を込める。次の瞬间、それはアルフォンスの首へと振りぬかれるだろう。 

弧を描いて宙を舞う、自分の首のイメージが鲜明に浮かぶ。

 刹那、音が闻こえてきた。几つもの、空を切り裂く甲高い音が——そして、今まさに振り抜かれようとしたエルロイの右腕が——消失した。

あたりに鲜血が撒き散らされる。エルロイの右腕は剣を握ったまま、アルフォンスが思い浮かべたイメージの如く弧を描いて宙を舞い、地に落ちた。

「ぐぁっ!?」 

失った右腕を押さえながら、本能で后方へ飞び退くエルロイ。アルフォンスの目の前には——无数の刃が鉄线に连なった不可思议な剣——法剣《テンプルソード》の刀身が、赤い月が辉く夜空からまっすぐに伸びていた。

 刀身は再び空を切り裂く音を鸣らして、鉄线をしならせながら夜空へと戻っていく。それと入れ代わるようにして、その场に可怜な人影が舞い降りた。 

紫绀の外套に身を包み、同じ色のベレー帽を被った女性——。外套の下は様々な武器で固めた戦闘服を身につけている。彼女は肩までの金髪をはためかせつつ、持っていた法剣についた血を振り払うと、アルフォンスに呆れたような颜で一瞥をくれた。

 膝を突いたまま、彼女に向かって薄く笑みを浮かべるアルフォンス。

「遅かったな、ロゼ——」

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