Chapter 9 - A Fool
'So you showed up after all, did you, Vampire Hunter?!'
Elroy glared at Rose, teeth clenched in anger and pain. Red smoke was rising from his now amputated right arm. It gave off a faint hissing sound. Rose turned her attentions from Alphonse to him. She raised her templar sword and stared without expression at her target. Elroy glowered back. They both maintained a distance from one another, each trying to work out what the other would do next. Without taking her eyes off Elroy, Rose addressed Alphonse.
'I told you not to get involved in this any further. And yet despite that, you tried to fight a vampire alone. I cannot BELIEVE you would do something so foolish.'
Her words were tinged with anger. Alphonse rose unsteadily to his feet.
'You were the one who tried fighting him alone first. And besides, I never had any intention of seriously trying to defeat him by myself.'
He faced her and spread his hands. 'I was pinning all of my hopes on you coming for me. And you did. Just like when we first met.'
Alphonse's response seemed to catch Rose completely off guard. He could tell as much even from his position behind her. She quickly regained her composure, though, and the wavering sword steadied.
'I...don't know what you're trying to say.'
'You told me that you didn't want to work with me anymore because I was getting in your way, because there was nothing more that I could help you with. But that's not the real reason. The real reason is that you didn't want to put me in any more danger.
You didn't want me to lose my life helping you like the last person who worked with you did.'
'...That is just idle speculation,' she replied coolly.
But Alphonse knew he was right.
'Then why did you lie about discovering the vampire's true identity?'
Rose gasped. 'So you noticed...'
It hadn't taken much effort to see through her lie. Rose herself had said that vampires were only capable of unleashing their powers at night, meaning that the best way to defeat one was to discover their true identity and kill them during the day. And yet despite that, Rose had gone to the effort of trying to lure the vampire out, taking the great risk of using herself as bait. Logically, her actions made no sense whatsoever if she had known the true identity of the creature. Deliberately lowering her chances of success wasn't like Rose at all.
'I imagine you noticed something else during our investigation,' Alphonse continued. 'I don't know what, but whatever it was, it made you think that letting me cooperate with you any longer would put my life in danger. And that was why you lied, in order to try and keep me away from that danger.'
Rose didn't react, but also she didn't deny his words. To Alphonse, that was the same as an admission.
'Hmph. Enough of this!' The vampire before them opened its eyes wide and began to concentrate its power. The moment it did, the red smoke that been rising from the stump where its arm had been was replaced with a jet of liquescent black ichor. It bubbled and frothed from the open wound. On the cobblestones some distance away, the arm itself also began to expel the same noxious-looking secretion.
Suddenly, the black liquid from both stump and severed limb stretched and pulled, seeking out the other.
Knowing what was about to happen, Rose quickly swung her templar sword in the direction of the liquid. The sword's countless parts sliced through it, but the dark matter just reformed around the damage. Moments later, the liquid had done its work, and the severed right arm was back where it belonged, as good as new.
'How could he recover so quickly? I knew it, he really is a...'
Elroy swung the sword with his newly attached arm at Rose. Calm as ever, she pointed her templar sword at him and fired the bladed segments that formed it. They flew from the handle and wrapped around him, binding and tearing simultaneously. Before they could completely ensnare him, however, Elroy transmuted into mist. The blades of the templar sword fell from the spot he had been as the mist dispersed. It reconverged a moment later at a point just behind the vampire hunter. No sooner had the mist solidified than Elroy swung the sword. His attack caught her completely off guard, decapitating her. ...Or so he expected, but Alphonse blocked it, his saber back in hand.
Alphonse gritted his teeth, desperately trying to hold his ground. Elroy had the clear advantage in terms of strength, but try as he might, he could not break Alphonse's guard.
'How many times do you have to get in my way before you're satisfied?!' cried Elroy.
Seeing a chance, Rose drew one of her giant pistols and, holding it in a backhand grip, pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through Elroy's shoulder, propelling him backwards. Alphonse steadied himself and readied his saber again.
'I won't die on you, Rose! I'm not going to let some vampire kill me! So--'
'Can this not wait?!'
Rose aimed her pistol, resting it on Alphonse's shoulder, and fired it repeatedly at Elroy. His wound already fully healed, Elroy dodged all of her bullets with snake-like grace, and flew at them with great speed.
Rose's pistol was now empty of bullets, and the vampire's charge gave her no time to draw the other. Elroy swung his sword at them as if trying to cut them both down in a single stroke. Alphonse brought his own saber to bear and braced with all his might to block the path of the falling sword. The two blades collided with such force that Alphonse's saber was sheared in two.
The collision repelled Elroy as well, but if he were to swing his sword downwards a second time with the same level of force, Alphonse and Rose would have no chance of surviving. The vampire's lips curled up in a smile, sensing impending victory. That smile was replaced almost immediately by shock when he saw what Alphonse had drawn from the depths of his uniform.
Alphonse had expected that his saber would not survive Elroy's attack and had immediately reached for the silver short sword given to him by Rose.
'So I'm never going to allow you to be alone again!' he cried out as he swung the silver sword downwards across Elroy's body, a trail of glittering argent light following in its wake.
Elroy recoiled backwards, clawing at his chest. Alphonse's attack had missed his heart, but the damage it had done was the greatest he had received yet.
'How could I be wounded by the likes of HIM?! Damn you, damn you, damn you, damn you!'
Elroy's expression was one of pure hatred mixed with intense agony. There wasn't a trace of humanity left on his face. Alphonse, meanwhile, had exhausted the last of his strength with that attack, and was on his knees, out of breath. Rose stared down at him, a peculiar look on her face.
Alphonse was desperately trying to accept and understand her solitude. He recognized the intense loneliness she had been burdened with when she let her companion die all those years ago and was trying to save her from it. The words 'I'm never going to allow you to be alone again!' resounded in her head over and over. She knew that what he had said was purely based on emotion, but it was enough to fill her heart with warmth - a heart that she had thought long gone cold.
'You really are a complete fool,' she laughed.
The sound of her laughing so naturally was enough to make Alphonse snap around to stare at her.
'But perhaps that isn't such a bad thing after all,' she said with a small smile.
He goggled at her. It was Rose, and yet, he felt he had never seen this woman before in his life. The warmth, the gentle smile...
'Wh-What's that supposed to mean...?' he stammered.
Feeling as though he had seen something he should not have, Alphonse turned around again, flustered. Elroy was now back in his direct view. The vampire was still in the same spot, watching, motionless.
Alphonse had almost forgotten about him. Now was hardly the time to be talking with Rose. He needed to finish off the vampire - Elroy - for good. He looked back at Rose, and they nodded to one another.
Rose began to walk towards Elroy, leaving the exhausted Alphonse behind. Elroy remained still, his head bowed, mumbling something absentmindedly to himself. Rose pointed her remaining pistol at his head. All that she needed to do was pull the trigger and it would all be over. But she didn't. She stopped, confused. Something wasn't right.
'The scent is...gone?'
Suddenly, Elroy looked up and faced Rose. His eyes were wild and unfocused.
'Wait. I haven't lost, of course I haven't. I could never lose to the likes of him. I just need to drink more blood, then the likes of Alphonse will never...'
His eyes suddenly darted back to Rose's face with terrible intensity. The monstrous grin stretched wide. The next moment, the wound that had been left by Alphonse's slash began to erupt red mist with incredible force.
The mist filled the surrounding area at an alarming rate, and their field of vision was completely obscured by the crimson haze. All that could be heard was Alphonse's voice crying out.
'Rose, what's happening?!'
'Stay calm,' she ordered. 'It isn't harmful!'
The red mist was yet another special ability of vampires, employed only in moments of desperation. The creature would use its own wounds as a kind of smoke screen. Knowing this full well from experience, Rose tried to track Elroy by his scent. It should have been easy. She didn't need to see the vampire to find it, and yet...there was nothing. Despite having every reason to believe that he was right in front of her, not a trace of the vampire's trail was to be found.
'Why?' she wondered, desperately trying to make sense of the situation.
Slowly but surely, the red mist began to dispel. When it cleared, only two figures remained - Rose and Alphonse. The vampire was nowhere to be seen.
'...Damn it!' she cried.
Elroy had managed to escape from them. But where?
With a wince, Alphonse rose to his feet. 'Rose, we can't lose him!'
All things considered, it seemed safe to assume that Elroy was searching for more victims to drain in order to replenish his own power. Meaning that if they didn't catch him before then, there would be more fatalities. Not to mention the possibility that he might grow too strong for them to handle.
Rose waved Alphonse to silence. 'Hold on, I'm trying to follow his scent!'
Though she meant to reassure Alphonse, in her own mind, Rose felt deeply uneasy.
How could the trail have just disappeared all of a sudden? She'd never known anything like it.
Is my power growing weaker? she wondered to herself.
Just as she was pondering potential causes, though, the scent suddenly returned. That fact did nothing to allay her confusion, but as long as there was a trail to follow, pursuing it needed to be their top priority. She focused her mind on the odor, trying to ascertain its location. Eventually, she was able to find the answer she sought. The source was startling.
'It's coming from the direction of that tavern!'
The Alegria was only one street away from where they stood. Alphonse didn't even spare Rose a glance. He just dashed off towards the restaurant, his face a mask of fear.
「ロゼ！ 奴の気配を追ってくれ！ でないと……」
Continue Reading Red Moon Rose
|⇐ Chapter 8: The Truth||Chapter 10: Into the Darkness ⇒|