Chapter 1 – Vampires Can’t Stay Out Past Morning
No matter how lively a shopping district is, there will always come a moment when the excitement of the night dies down, almost as if someone had cast a magic spell. Irrespective of the season, the time at which the world would be released from the magic of the night was 4:30 AM. At least, that’s what Toraki Yura thought.
During summer, that was simply the time when the eastern sky would begin to brighten. Even in winter, when sunrise came later, the first train on the Yamanote Line would start running at that time.
It was a time when adults looking to replenish their energy for the next day’s work were ensconced in their favorite bars, and the desolate town was awash in neon light. The sound of the railway echoing down the streets from far away was truly Heaven’s clarion call to drive away the vestiges of the previous day and usher in the coming of a new world.
Toraki had a rule about returning home by that time, no matter what, and that rule had always remained unbroken.
That is, until today.
“Hey, Tora-chan, whatever happens, you can’t turn out like me, okay? Just what have I been working so hard for all this time… Honestly, it makes me wanna cry.”
“Muraoka-san, this is now the fifth time you’ve said that today.”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? So what if it’s the sixth time or seventh time, let me get it off my chest… Uuuuu… Tora-chan, if you get a girlfriend, you need to treat her right, okay? I… I’ve…!”
On only this particular day, obligation and empathy had overridden the magic.
Toraki rubbed the back of the middle-aged man who was opening another two bottles of cheap shochu while drunkenly rambling at the counter of a ‘round the clock bar. It was already the tenth time he’d done this since they had entered this establishment “last night.”
Three years. Graveyard shift only. That was the total time Toraki had worked at the Front Mart store, a convenience store managed by Muraoka in Ikebukuro East, fifth district.
Toraki was limited to working only late-night shifts at his part-time job. For reasons that could not be explained to others, he could not, under any circumstances, work during the day. Muraoka had not pried into the reasons why Toraki could only work during a specific window and instead continued his employment while treating him as a fellow adult.
It goes without saying that a person who can regularly work late at night will be treasured by any convenience store manager. That said, Toraki did not have many acquaintances who were willing to interact with him without looking too deeply into his situation. For that reason, Toraki honestly regretted the fact that he could do nothing more than sit and listen while his benefactor was faced with the predicament of his life.
And so, he had ended up losing track of time.
“It’ll be alright. It was all just a misunderstanding. Your wife will surely understand.”
Three days ago, Muraoka’s wife had run out on him.
Even under ordinary circumstances, Muraoka’s job as the owner of a convenience store franchise would be a grueling enterprise with no vacations. On top of that, his workaholic nature had caused him to skip out on his sixteen-year-old daughter’s important piano recital, which was apparently the final straw that resulted in his wife slapping him with a divorce letter.
Considering the fact that this drinking party of regrets was being held a whole three days after his wife had left him, it was apparent that she had good reason to complain about how little attention he paid to his family.
“Ever since my wife left, my daughter won’t even look me in the eye… I mean, she was always like that, but still…!”
Toraki had seen Muraoka’s daughter on multiple occasions, but from what he’d said just now, it sounded like his wife hadn’t taken their daughter with her when she left. Toraki silently questioned that decision as he stole a glance at his wristwatch. The two hands informed him that it was already twenty minutes past the time when the magic would be dispelled.
“It’ll be fine! As long as you don’t forget that feeling, I’m sure your wife and daughter will understand! I’ll help out as much as I can too, although it can only be at night! Excuse me! Can you please bring us the check!?”
Judging from his previous research and his current location, the current time was at his limit.
“Muraoka-san! You’re always looking out for me, so I’ll pick up the tab for today!”
“No way… I’m the owner, and I’m older than you… You can’t do that…”
Toraki had never worked during the day, even if there was no other shift available that would allow him to leave early in the morning, or if he had been asked to come in as a replacement for someone who had to take a sudden leave of absence from work.
That was all the more reason why the debt he owed Muraoka kept him confined to the bar during his time of distress. By the time Toraki left the shop and parted ways with Muraoka, the eastern sky had already started to brighten.
“According to the forecast, there’s still twenty minutes until sunrise… I can still barely make it if I run…”
That was a difficult choice for someone whose body was already feeling the effects of a long shift at work followed by a drinking session, but Toraki prepared to put all his energy into one final rally. He sucked in a deep breath and took his first step forward…
“What are you doing!? Stop! Let me go!”
“Stop making a scene and come here!”
“No, don’t touch me! Stop…”
…And came to a stop after taking only three steps.
He took a quick look around his surroundings, but he only saw the usual scene of a cold Ikebukuro morning. Nothing seemed to be out of place.
However, Toraki understood what was happening.
Somewhere in this neighborhood, someone was assaulting a young woman.
There definitely existed a single voice among the multitude that were headed towards Ikebukuro Station, intent on catching the first train home.
Three minutes to reach the scene, one minute to call the police, and then run straight home.
Turning away from the path that led toward his home, Toraki accurately determined the direction from which the screams had come and ran straight for it.
“Which idiot started this stupid crap so early in the morning?”
The digital thermometer displayed on top of a building showed that the temperature was １℃, which was normal considering that it was an early winter morning. Despite that, Toraki’s body temperature was rising steadily.
“Dammit, was the forecast wrong!? Hello! Anyone there!? There’s something bad going on, I think!”
As he ran, Toraki threw a gaze of loathing at the sky that was slowly beginning to brighten with the light of the sun, and he soon arrived at the scene of the crime.
“Shit, are you fucking serious!?”
The Slimphone that he held to his ear was already connected to the 110 emergency number, but Toraki didn’t bother to watch his language.
There was a girl lying on the asphalt, surrounded by three men in suits. Their suits were disheveled and they walked with an unsteady gait, a look characteristic of people who had just finished drinking. It was clear at a glance that they were surrounding the girl with vulgar intentions.
“A girl is being assaulted! Behind the coin-operated parking lot close to the ward office—”
Trying to interfere in a clearly abnormal situation, no matter what sort of situation it was, would definitely take up a lot of time. Calling the police and then promptly leaving the area would be the best thing to do in such a situation, and any other adult who happened to come across this scene would have undoubtedly done the same.
The moment she caught sight of Toraki, the girl’s expression filled with revulsion and fear.
“He… Eh… Ah…!”
Toraki’s attention was diverted by the girl’s clothes that were as black as night, and he only belatedly realized that her eyes, which were opened wide with fear, were blue in color, and her disheveled hair was the color of gold.
Maybe she had mistaken Toraki for yet another ruffian?
“It’s okay, be calm! I am calling police!”
One advantage of having lived a fairly long life was that he could speak—albeit broken—English. He had no idea if the girl was from an English-speaking country, and her initial scream for help had been in Japanese, but with this, she should have understood that he was speaking specifically to her. In his head, that sentence was supposed to let her know that he wasn’t a ruffian…
…Unfortunately, it also made it clear to the attackers that he was looking to get in their way. Each of the men glared suspiciously at Toraki.
“I said that I have the police on the phone! Let that person go!”
“Huh? Whazza hell…”
The three men had differing reactions.
The first one had a large build characteristic of a former sports player. The second man was tall and somewhat smart-looking, but he was around that age when middle-aged men began to show the excess flab around their bellies. The last one was a short man who looked like he lived in the shadow of the first two, both physically and metaphorically. The first two men glared belligerently at Toraki, while the short man sucked in a nervous breath.
“Hey, you can’t be serious…”
Toraki was at a loss.
While the three men certainly looked like they were lacking in prudence, they did not appear to be the sort of people who were used to violence. If anything, they looked more like ordinary workers from some company.
“Stahp bein’ a wet blanket! Get lost!”
The problem was that the two belligerent men appeared to be getting angrier with each passing second. The man with the large build squared his shoulders in a threatening manner, but Toraki just glared back at him defiantly.
“The days when you could justify your actions by saying you didn’t mean any harm or that you were drunk are long gone.”
For a multitude of reasons, Toraki was in a situation where he could not stall for time even if he wanted to. Despite that, he attempted to speak to the girl some more in order to reassure her, but the man with the large build threw a bag at him.
The sudden act of violence took Toraki by surprise and he dropped the Slimphone that he’d been holding in his right hand. It fell to the ground with the touchscreen facing downwards and made a dull sound as it hit the asphalt.
Toraki’s appearance could not be called overbearing, even as an exaggeration. He was shorter than the two drunken men, and his casual clothes caused him to give off a slender and delicate impression.
“…T-This seems like a bad idea…”
The short man looked nervous after witnessing an acquaintance use violence against a stranger, but naturally, the man with the large build ignored him.
“Shaddup, ya know who I am? I’m the freakin’ section head of the company!”
Toraki glared at the man as he introduced himself in slurred speech, apparently driven by anger at being interrupted. His behavior was most likely not just due to being heavily drunk, but because he was used to intimidating people on a daily basis. The tall man also joined the man with the large build in trying to threaten Toraki.
“So basically, you’re the worst kind of scum, is that right?”
The man with the large build swung an open hand at Toraki, who blocked the blow. Toraki then grabbed the man’s thumb while he was off-balance and twisted his arm inwards as hard as he could.
The momentum of the man’s blow worked against him and he completely lost his balance. He had been unsteady on his feet to begin with, so a gentle tap to the outside of his lower leg was all it took for Toraki to send the man tumbling face-first into the ground.
The tall man looked shocked by how easily the large man had been defeated and he hesitated to follow-up. The fallen man’s large build gave the scene an even greater impact, so the tall man appeared to be simply scared.
Taking advantage of that gap, Toraki took the hand of the girl who was lying on the ground and pulled her upright, and then flung his left hand out protectively in front of her. All the while, the short man had just been staring at the goings-on in blank amazement.
“W-What are you doing? Do you think you can get away with doing something like that…”
“Look who’s talking.”
Toraki frowned threateningly at the man with the large build after hearing what he said.
“I don’t work for your company, so there’s not a single reason for me to be afraid of you. If you go any further than this, I’ll make sure that the lot of you lose your social standing for good. Look over there.”
Toraki pointed to a surveillance camera that was mounted on top of a pole next to the payment machine belonging to the parking space.
“Even someone as drunk as you should realize what will happen if the police get involved. Or would you rather go to prison instead of the drunk tank?”
The tall man responded with a groan, but the man with the large build struggled to get to his feet.
“Hey, you should run away if you can. It looks like things are going to get a little troublesome—”
It happened just when Toraki spoke to the girl behind him.
At the same moment that the girl cried out, a dark shadow pounced upon Toraki.
Toraki felt the blow press down on his whole body with a force incomparably stronger than the large man’s attack, and the next instant, he received a heavy blow to his back after falling onto the asphalt.
“Don’t… Don’t get in the waaaaaayyyy!!”
It was the short man who had been hiding behind the other two men. His hair was disheveled, and he used his body as a spring to jump into the air in a way that clearly surpassed the abilities of ordinary humans. More importantly, the demented smile that he wore on his face exposed his teeth, which were…
“You’re… Don’t tell me!”
“I’ve been resisting for so long… But I can’t hold myself back anymore!”
The canines on his upper and lower jaws were much longer and sharper than those of any human. The eyes behind his spectacles glowed with a dark red light.
“I want to drink the blood of a human femaaaaaaale!! If I don’t, I’m going to go maaaaad!!”
The short man’s blow connected with a force completely disproportionate to his weak appearance, overwhelming Toraki once more.
Toraki felt like his brain was shaking inside his skull. The short man looked like he weighed less than half of the large man’s weight, but he was accurately sealing Toraki’s movements. The blows were individually not strong enough to knock Toraki unconscious, but…
…The temperature of his surroundings continued to rise perceptibly.
Morning was coming, and fast.
More than violence, or the fear of death, the dread caused by a certain “pain in the ass” was what crossed his mind. However, the next instant…
The heavy weight that was pressing down upon him disappeared all of a sudden, and a flash of “night” crossed Toraki’s vision.
“Are you okay!?”
The dark shadow moved like a meteor while speaking fluent Japanese, and then…
The girl clothed in dark clothes held a silver hammer in her right hand as she swung it down. It was a small-sized hammer, the sort of thing found in any toolbox. Even Toraki had one just like it in a closet at home. However, the engraving on the hammer was giving off a light that was anything but ordinary.
Feeling the pressure that was assaulting him vanish, Toraki jumped to his feet. He looked around for the short man and found him lying in the shadows a few feet away, holding his forehead and glaring in his direction.
It was not blood that flowed through the gap in his fingers. It was a white, powdery substance that Toraki was also familiar with. In other words, it was “ash”.
““You’re not getting away!””
Toraki’s voice overlapped with that of the girl’s as the short man attempted to blend in with the shadows behind him to escape.
The short man adroitly dodged their attack and held out his free hand towards the two of them. The tips of his nails suddenly glowed red and something that looked like fine red threads rushed toward Toraki and the girl.
“Oh no! That’s—!”
Toraki was aware that the threads that cracked the air like whips were actually made from blood, and that they possessed a sharp cutting edge. However, he had neither the time nor the means to convey that information to the girl in front of him. Despite that, the girl…
She repelled those threads with the silver hammer that seemed altogether ill-suited for such a precise action.
Toraki was shocked, but the same seemed to hold true for the short man as well. He tried to focus the thread attacks on her alone, but the girl evaded all of his attacks with quick movement and accurate hammer-work.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit! Don’t tell me you’re one of those—!”
“Give up! There is no darkness left for you to escape into!”
The girl made that proclamation after cornering the short man against the concrete wall of a house. Toraki chose that same instant to insert himself in between the two of them and protect the woman.
One of the threads of blood that extended from the short man’s hand was covered in gravel and pebbles from the surface of the road. Using some type of magic, he caused the stones to shoot forth explosively with a mere flick of a finger.
Toraki hurriedly moved to shield the girl’s face and eyes from the pebbles, but he wasn’t able to protect her completely. One of the pebbles grazed her forehead with the force of a bullet.
The girl cried out in pain from within his arms, and blood spurted out of her forehead. Some of the blood spattered across Toraki’s face.
The short man let out a weak cackle as if he was proud of what he had done, and as for Toraki—
“Don’t make me do stuff that I hate, asshole.”
—He had lost his temper.
Toraki wiped a red stain off his cheek with his finger and lightly licked it. The next instant, his body disappeared into thin air.
Not just the girl, even the short man let out a scream after seeing that. By that time, Toraki had already materialized behind the short man.
“You’re just imagining things. You’re drunk, after all.”
Toraki had not taken advantage of a lapse in the enemy’s concentration, nor had he moved at super speed. His body had literally dispersed into black particles and teleported behind the short man.
Without wasting any time, Toraki wrapped his hands around the short man’s neck.
“Pay attention to the time, dumbass!”
Toraki’s eyes and the palms of his hands that were wrapped around the short man’s neck glowed red. That was all it took for the wicked light to fade from the short man’s eyes and he collapsed to the ground in a faint.
At the same time—
—The other two men who had been accompanying the short man opened their eyes wide as they regurgitated what appeared to be the contents of their previous night’s drinking session.
“I knew there was something strange about how they were behaving. So that’s what happened.”
Most likely, the two tall men had had their thoughts shackled by the short man’s “eyes”.
“You two, do you know this guy?”
“No… We only met him yesterday at the bar…”
Toraki only paid partial attention to the men’s excuses as he extended his hand towards the large man’s chest. He reached into the inner pocket of the man’s coat and pulled out a business card case that held a large number of cards, and flipped through them while looking at the man himself.
“I see now. He found a couple of people like you and decided to use you as camouflage.”
The business cards had the name of a very well-known company on them.
“I understand that you were just being used by him, and I pity you for that. But you know, it’s also a fact that the two of you possess the sort of nature that you showed before. We’re not magicians. We can’t just create feelings that aren’t already there.”
Toraki squatted down in front of the two men and made his eyes glow red menacingly while lightly gesturing with his hand.
“Go away. I’ll take care of the rest. If you’ve learned your lesson from this, don’t ever drink until you get wasted again. Ordinarily, it should be possible for a human to just brush that sort of thing off, after all.”
The men—who seemed to be mostly done vomiting—nodded vigorously with frightened looks on their faces and scurried away into the early morning crowd of people without even sparing a glance at the girl whom they had attacked.
“Bah, making me waste time when I’m already in a hurry… Ah!”
Toraki looked up at the sky with loathing while nervously reaching for his Slimphone that had fallen to the ground. As he’d feared, the screen was cracked. He frowned after seeing that and somehow managed to open up the telephone app. It was clear that the ominous red light had already disappeared from his eyes as he raised his face and put the phone to his ear.
“Hello. Sorry for calling so early, but it’s urgent. I stopped an idiot with no self-control, but I called the police before I realized what he was. Judging by the time, he’ll turn into ash by the time the police get here. Track the current location of my phone, you’ll find him there. Yeah, talk to you later.”
After giving the bare amount of information and cutting off the call, Toraki finally turned to look at the girl. The girl dressed in black clothes was holding a hand to her still-bleeding forehead as she looked between the short man and Toraki multiple times, comparing the two of them.
“Are you okay? You understand Japanese, right?”
The girl nodded slightly in response as Toraki reluctantly struck up a conversation with her.
A completely black dress of an unusual type and a silver hammer. And most telling of all, the short man’s forehead that had crumbled into a white, ash-like substance where she had “hit” him.
“Let’s forget what we saw just now. The police will be here soon, but you can just run away if you don’t want to deal with them.”
“I should probably warn you, telling the police about me is useless. Well, I don’t think you’re the type of human to tell them that sort of thing anyway. If you want to make a report to the police no matter what, it would help if you just told them that the men who were assaulting you ran away after being spotted by other people. Those two were just ordinary people. If anything, they were the victims of this incident.”
He ended up saying all of that in one breath because he was short on time, but as expected, the girl continued to look at him as if she was trying to gauge his real intentions.
“Uhh… Anyway. Are you okay? I only have these with me at the moment.”
The girl momentarily stiffened upon seeing Toraki reach into the back pocket of his trousers, but her expression changed to one of surprise when he pulled out his wallet.
“Yeah, this probably won’t help for a wound that is bleeding so heavily.”
Toraki spoke while looking at the sticking plaster that he pulled out of his wallet.
“I have really dry skin, you see. I carry these around because the skin of my hands often gets cracked during the winter… anyway, that doesn’t matter right now. I only have two of them left, though.”
Toraki held out the cheap sticking plaster. The girl timidly accepted the plaster with the same hand that was holding on to the hammer.
“…Thank you… very much.”
Toraki was finally able to hear what the girl sounded like when she wasn’t shouting.
“Nah, it’s fine. Anyways, you know… We should probably avoid getting involved in each others’ business any further. I’m leaving now. You should probably do the same. The police will be here soon.”
“P-Please wait! Just now, after I hit that man, I saw you disappear…”
“Don’t go and say that you hit him out loud when I’m trying to pretend that none of this happened…”
Toraki interrupted her before she could finish, effectively keeping her from completing her question.
“You must be sleepy after staying up all night as well, just think of it as a dream. Or you can just think that you were saved by a high-ranked sumo wrestler or something.”
“A h-high ranked sumo wrestler… Pfft.”
The girl tried to keep her laughter in, but failed.
“I-I’m sorry for laughing.”
“It’s fine. Goodbye.”
“You still have something to ask?”
Toraki glanced at the screen of his Slimphone. There was already less than five minutes until the time mentioned in the forecast.
“…There is a chance that the two of us might meet again sometime.”
“Both of us should be praying for that day to never come.”
“Either way, let me at least say this for now.”
At that moment, the girl directly met Toraki’s eyes for the first time. Her reddened cheeks and moist eyes made it clear that this was an act that required a significant amount of courage on her part.
“Thank you for saving me.”
Saying so, the girl held out her hand. Toraki hadn’t noticed it earlier, but he saw that she had a leather tool bag on her lower back into which she placed the hammer as if she was holstering a gun.
“Ah, you’re welcome.”
“Silver” wasn’t exactly good for either his eyes or his skin. The fact that she went to the trouble to holster her “weapon” before offering her hand made her action worth reciprocating.
“Your hands are warm.”
Toraki thought that it was a strange way of expressing her thanks and looked down at his hands. The right hand that he had inadvertently used to pull her up from the ground, and the left hand that had shielded her.
“I suppose that means my heart is cold. I’m not sure how it is abroad, but in Japan it is said that people with warm hearts have cold hands.”
Toraki gave a self-deprecating smile after saying that, when all of a sudden…
A ray of golden light from the eastern sky blasted a hole through the left side of Toraki’s chest.
A new day had begun for the world. At the same instant, Toraki indifferently accepted the “death” that was approaching his own body.
Just who had thought of the name “angel’s ladder” to describe the rays of sunlight that burst through gaps in the clouds to fall upon the land?
Not only would Toraki—who had become a resident of night and darkness—fail to be taken to heaven by the so-called angel’s ladder, it would crush his body into pieces instead.
“No way! There should still be time…”
Even though it was his body that was crumbling away, the girl’s expression was more anguished than his own after seeing him in such a state. It was the expression of someone who had seen something unbelievable, the face of a person who had witnessed something not of this world.
Before long, his shoulders, face, and every part of his body that was bathed in the light of the sun began to turn into fine particles that scattered into the air. At the same time, his consciousness started to quickly recede into darkness. His vision grew faint, his ears stopped hearing sound, and eventually his cracked body stopped feeling anything.
Ah, so this is how I die.
He was going to die without leaving behind a single strand of hair or drop of blood. Just before he was completely crushed by the light, he mustered the final dregs of his strength to shout.
“Inside my wallet… my license and a bag… There’s…”
Deliver my remains to that address. He didn’t even know if he had been able to get that sentence out or not.
The last thing he remembered feeling was his wallet falling on his toes after he dropped it. However, the thought of dying while protecting someone else filled his heart—despite the fact that it had already crumbled away—and because of that, he felt no regret.
The clouds in the sky soon cleared away, leaving the world below to be engulfed in the light of the sun. The world was filled with life, and in exchange, Toraki’s entire body turned to ash and crumbled to the ground.
The girl was left standing next to a heap of ash, and a dark red cross made a dull sound as it fell to the asphalt. It bounced into the shrubbery by the side of the road, disappearing from sight.
He could feel air in his lungs. Blood and warmth filled his entire body, and Toraki awoke with an inarticulate scream.
“Haah… Haah… W-Where am I…?”
His surroundings were steeped in darkness, but he could tell that he was not in an enclosed space. His sense of smell started to work the instant he felt air upon his body, letting him know that this was a place that he was accustomed to.
A depressing and cold atmosphere. The hard surface under his hand and bottom was the floor of the bathroom at his house.
“I guess I managed to make it back.”
There was no doubt about it. This was definitely Toraki Yura’s apartment.
“Ah, dammit… I guess I’ll have to start over from scratch. Such a pain.”
He looked around at his surroundings that were still dark while scratching his head. He didn’t need to switch on the lights, as his eyes were capable of seeing clearly even in the bathroom’s darkness.
For the past ten years, he had always revived here, in the bathroom of this completely ordinary apartment complex. There was no window, only a small ventilation fan, but there was a small waterproof digital clock placed next to the shampoo and such in preparation for taking a bath after returning from his usual night shift.
“I wonder how many days have gone by… I feel bad for Muraoka-san. I bet he thinks I ran away because I was forced to listen to his complaints.”
From his past experiences, he knew that whenever he ended up turning into ash, reviving in under a week would be ideal. There were times in the past when he had been unable to come back for a whole six months.
He had no idea what the current date was, but he had most likely been fired from work for being absent for several days without leave. Feeling depressed at the situation that he had already encountered multiple times in the past, Toraki glanced at the date displayed on the waterproof clock and doubted his eyes for a second.
The clock showed that it was currently December 3rd, 7 o’clock in the evening.
“Only one day? Wait, I got dragged into that mess after pulling an all-nighter, so it hasn’t even been a day yet!?”
At that moment, Toraki’s hand shot to his neck and he grew flustered.
“It’s not there…! Then, just who…!?”
Toraki dashed out of the bathroom—
—And ended up running into a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who was carrying a shopping bag with the logo of a nearby convenience store on it.
Toraki had only just returned from being ash, so obviously, he was completely naked.
The girl screamed and swung the shopping bag towards Toraki’s face as if she was participating in a hammer throw event, but Toraki somehow managed to shut the bathroom door in the nick of time. The furious impact was transmitted through the door in between them, and Toraki heard the sound of the front door opening and someone leaving the house.
She hadn’t been wearing her black clothes, but it was undoubtedly the girl that he had saved from those strange men last night—or rather, this morning.
“Hmm? Hang on a second.”
The fact that he had been able to return home in less than a day despite being turned into ash was most likely due to that girl.
However, ordinary people would not be able to stay calm after seeing someone turn into ash right in front of their eyes, and they would most certainly not take the effort to gather up those ashes and deliver them to a stranger’s house.
He had no idea why she had stayed at his house until now—even taking the trouble to go shopping at a nearby convenience store—but he could not have her carelessly spreading word of his true nature.
“Hey! Don’t tell me you’re—!”
“At least put some clothes on before leaving the house!”
Toraki had rushed out of the bathroom without thinking and opened the front door of his house, but he immediately shut it once again.
The girl had been sitting crouched right outside the front door. Judging from the height, there was a chance that he had inadvertently given her a “face-to-face” meeting with his privates.
“Uhh… Now where did I dump those clothes after coming back from the laundromat the other day… Eh!?”
While blushing from embarrassment himself, Toraki turned to rummage for something to wear out of the pile of unfolded clothes straight out of the wash, only to realize that the pile of clothes was gone.
“Huh? Wait, what?”
He hesitantly pulled open a drawer on his dresser—a cheap one that only barely warranted the term—and found that his clothes, while still somewhat wrinkled, had been neatly folded and put away.
When he looked around, he saw that several areas of the room had been tidied up. The dishes that he had left lying in the sink had all been washed and placed in the draining tray, and the draining tray itself had been cleaned of the limescale deposits that had built up.
“Wait, did she do all of this?”
“Hey, are you done yet!? It’s cold out here!”
He heard her shout from outside the apartment. Perhaps she had been listening at the door.
“Ah! J-Just a minute! I’m getting dressed!”
“Why were you walking around naked!? Are you stupid or something!?”
Toraki had nothing to say in his defense against her completely justified comment. After pulling out some underwear and a sweatsuit, he managed to get dressed.
“You can come in now.”
“If I didn’t owe you for saving me, I would have reported you to the police for that.”
She looked very different without her black clothes, and she still seemed unable to look him in the eye because of what had happened just earlier. However, she was without a doubt the same girl that he’d met that morning.
“So the information written down here was true after all.”
After saying that, the girl pulled a wallet out of the pocket of the hoodie that she was wearing. Dressed as she was in casual clothes, the girl’s features still held traces of childlike charm. The wallet was undoubtedly Toraki’s own, and after looking closer, he saw that the hoodie and the sweatpants that she was wearing despite them being too big for her also belonged to him. The girl looked away awkwardly after noticing his gaze.
“…I borrowed your clothes, assuming that people would leave me alone if I was wearing menswear.”
“A-Ah, I see.”
Did clothes really look this different depending on who was wearing them? The clothes that looked utterly drab when Toraki wore them now looked like they could be featured in the casual wear section of a fashion magazine when they were worn by the girl.
She had a habit of keeping her eyes down while speaking, but her facial features were fine and well-ordered. If she had been walking around in this getup, there was a danger of her getting into trouble for entirely different reasons.
Of course, he kept that last bit to himself because he had no intention of displeasing her any further.
“Also, allow me to return this to you. Please verify its contents. I borrowed 500 Yen to spend at the convenience store earlier, though.”
The girl handed over Toraki’s wallet that she had pulled out of the pocket of his hoodie. He also noticed that the shopping bag that she held contained a bento from a convenience store.
“Ah, no, that’s perfectly fine, but… Why are you using my microwave to heat up your bento so naturally?”
“Because it got cold while I was waiting for you outside.”
“Ah, I see.”
The girl smoothly placed what looked like a dented katsu curry bento container into Toraki’s microwave and started heating it up. The smell of curry wafted out of Toraki’s cheap microwave, causing him to suddenly feel hungry.
“Ah! There’s no spoon! I’m borrowing one of yours, okay?”
However, Toraki felt like he couldn’t just let the girl eat katsu curry without saying anything after seeing her fishing around for a spoon in his cutlery drawer without his permission.
“Hey, now look here…”
“Ah, that’s right!”
Just as he was about to give her a piece of his mind, the girl cut him off.
“I almost forgot to say it because of what you did earlier. Even though you are the kind of monster that can go outside in the middle of winter with your unmentionables hanging out, I need to properly say what needs to be said.”
The girl turned around to face Toraki and bowed elegantly from the waist.
“Thank you once again for saving me this morning.”
“The preface completely ruined it!…Anyway, more importantly…”
“Ah, it’s done.”
This time, it was the beep of the microwave that interrupted Toraki.
“Sorry, but I haven’t eaten anything since this morning.”
The girl’s statement left no room for Toraki to voice his opinion, and so he was forced to nod.
The girl carelessly removed the piping hot katsu curry bento from the microwave and tossed the container onto the table in the cramped dining space. She then sat down in a chair and proceeded to dig in with gusto… or rather, she attempted to. She seemed to have burned her tongue with the first mouthful, as her face rapidly shifted from one expression of anguish to another while her eyes rolled up in her head.
Despite being in his own house, Toraki felt an odd sense of discomfort as he sat down in the chair opposite to her.
“Iris Yeray. That’s my name.”
“Iris, I see. I’m—”
“Yura Toraki. The note with the instructions in your wallet, you wrote that yourself, didn’t you? And you even walk around while carrying a garbage bag on you all the time… That’s why I was able to bring you back here, and why you were able to return to normal, right?”
“W-Well, yeah, but that’s not really the issue right now…”
“What is it? If you’re talking about the fact that you turned into ash, then sure, my hands got dirty when I was collecting your ashes and it was gross, but I’m used to it.”
Being described as “gross” by a young woman would be a hard blow no matter how much life experience someone had, even if it was the truth and wasn’t spoken out of malice.
“Wait, just hold on for a second.”
More importantly, what did she mean by saying that she was used to seeing people turn to ash right in front of her eyes? Just who was this girl, who could speak of such things without batting an eye as if she was merely talking about what she had eaten for breakfast?
While he was thinking about such things, Iris seemed to have finished off her katsu curry in the blink of an eye and she let out a contented sigh.
Seeing her like that, Toraki was once again reminded of how hungry he was. Now that he thought about it, he had also not eaten anything since morning, just like Iris. The remaining scent of curry and the sight of Iris digging in caused his stomach to rumble, and of course, Iris heard it as well.
This strange young lady, whose curry stains around her mouth completely destroyed her mysterious atmosphere, spoke while directing a sharp gaze at Toraki with her blue eyes.
“I have to admit, I didn’t know vampires could get hungry from smelling the aroma of curry.”
A being that turns to ash in the light of the sun and awakens in the darkness. They drink the blood of people and possess supernatural powers.
Toraki Yura was a bona fide vampire.
“I think I’ll eat something as well. I should still have some cup ramen around here somewhere.”
Toraki stood up and turned away from her after saying that, as Iris watched him from behind for a minute before looking down at her katsu curry bento box and smiling wryly.
“So even vampires eat cup ramen, huh?”
Vampires. They are beings that appear in cultures from all over the world as monsters, demons, spirits, or sometimes even humans. Some things that they all have in common are that they are a form of undead, they turn their victims into servants by drinking their blood, and they cannot survive under the light of the sun.
Those legends were based in fact. Toraki Yura was undoubtedly a vampire.
“There is a plastic bag inside this wallet. If at all possible, please collect the ashes in said bag and deliver them to Apartment 104, Blue Rose Chateau, Zoshigaya xx District, Toshima, Tokyo City. Toraki Yura. Phone number…”
Toraki Yura, the man who was currently eating the previous day’s leftover rice after dumping it into the remaining cup ramen broth, was a vampire who walked around with the above handwritten note and a garbage bag in his wallet.
“I’m surprised that you actually expected someone to deliver your ashes with a note like this.”
“I just hope that there are people out there who will deliver my ashes after reading the note. Besides, you did deliver my ashes, didn’t you? Haah… ”
In the room that was filled with the scent of convenience store curry and cup ramen broth, Iris rested her face on the table after feeling lethargic from eating a moderate-sized meal.
“The fact that you wrote that note means that this wasn’t the first time this has happened, right? Turning into ash in front of other people, I mean. How many times have people actually carried your ashes back home?”
“Well… I can probably count the number of times on one hand.”
The truth was, if someone saw another person turn to ash right in front of their eyes, they would ordinarily not think of gathering up those ashes. It wasn’t just due to fear, but because they would not be able to comprehend what had happened.
“Anyways, since you’re one of those ‘special’ people, Iris, what exactly does that make you? It seems like this isn’t your first time seeing a vampire.”
“You don’t trust me, do you?”
“Of course not. You don’t seem to be scared or creeped out by me, so it’s obvious that I would stay on my toes.”
“Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?”
Iris parted her lips in a grin and pointed at her mouth in a teasing manner.
Toraki was second to only dentists when it came to worrying about other people’s teeth. As Iris suddenly showed hers off, Toraki found himself focusing on her canines.
“If you ask me, I’d say a girl like me who goes to the house of a man who lives alone, moreover a man who exhibits supernatural powers after drinking blood and turns to ash in the light of the sun, is more scary.”
“Considering that you borrowed said vampire’s clothes, how am I supposed to react to that statement?”
Toraki found himself confused by the situation and the conversation that seemed to be going nowhere.
“If you know about vampires, you should be able to understand, right? Ordinary people do not know that such creatures exist. If people around me find out what I really am, I won’t be able to stay here anymore.”
“You certainly seem to have been blending into human society for a long time. How long have you been living in this house?”
Iris looked around the apartment. It was located in the Tokyo metropolitan area, one station away from Ikebukuro on the Fukutoshin line.
Blue Rose Chateau Zoshigaya was a three-story reinforced concrete building located in a corner of the residential district of Zoshigaya, within the territory of the ancient Kishimojin Temple.
The area was especially crowded, even for a residential district, and the building was located at the back of a narrow street that intersects a one-way road. Blue Rose Chateau Zoshigaya was built on the middle of a slope, and Toraki’s house, Apartment 104, was half-underground.
A half-underground 2DK apartment in a building that was located on a slope, on a narrow street that was too small for cars to pass. That place, which seemed as far removed from the concept of ‘sunlight’ as physically possible, was Toraki’s ‘house’.
“I’ve lived here for almost ten years.”
Toraki answered Iris’s question after hesitating a little. Iris, who seemed surprised by the number, lifted her face off the table.
“What would I gain by lying?”
Toraki felt conflicting emotions of annoyance at being suspected and feeling that her suspicion was only natural.
“Anyway, that’s enough about me. Just who on earth are you—”
At that moment, a silver hammer suddenly impacted the table inches away from Toraki’s hand that was resting on it, much like a scene out of a courtroom in an American movie.
Toraki jumped out of his chair and retracted his hand in a hurry. It wasn’t simply out of surprise. The instant the hammer made contact, it felt like the entire table had grown as hot as a heated iron plate.
“Had you been my designated ‘target’, everything below your wrist would have just been reduced to ash and blown away.”
“The man you defeated this morning was classified as an internationally-wanted ‘tom by the Order of the Dark Cross, a secret faction within the Holy Cross Church.”
“An internationally wanted what?”
“A ‘tom, as in short for ‘Phantom’. It’s a term used to refer to creatures of the night like vampires and werewolves, especially the ones that are harmful to human society.”
“That seems like a pretty awkward contraction.”
“He was just a two-bit vampire, but in the past few years, he has been abusing his vampiric powers to carry out fraud, indecent assault, and drunken driving. His name was Kajirou Okonogi.”
All of those sounded like crimes that could be carried out even without being a vampire, but that was besides the point.
“…You… Just who are you…”
“I’m… Hmm, give me a minute.”
Iris stopped talking, looked down at herself as if she’d only just realized something, and then stood up and walked into one of the rooms while carrying her hammer.
Toraki’s house, Apartment 104 of Blue Rose Chateau Zoshigaya, was a Japanese-style house with two bedrooms that were separated by sliding screens. One of the rooms contained a few of Toraki’s personal possessions, while the other was completely empty.
Iris walked into the room that was supposed to have been empty and started rummaging around noisily. Judging from the sound, she seemed to be looking for something in a large-sized travel bag.
After about three minutes of rustling sounds, the screen door slid open to reveal a nun with curry stains around her mouth.
“I am a Church Knight of the Order of the Dark Cross. A person who destroys Phantoms like you that live in the shadows, using this Holy Hammer named ‘Liberation’.”
After watching her pull the silver hammer out of the tool bag at her waist and spin it around her finger like a gunslinger from a western movie, Toraki spoke in a cold tone.
“Wipe those curry stains off your mouth already.”
“Eh? Oh no, did it stick to my shirt or something too!?”
Curry stains could ruin anything, even the shocking revelation of a beautiful young girl’s true identity.
Toraki let out a groan while looking at Iris pull a tissue out of the box that he held out to her and wipe the corners of her mouth with a red face.
“Also, the table has been hot as hell since earlier. What’s up with that?”
“That’s because it has been ‘consecrated’ using Liberation. You should know that the best way to kill a vampire is to drive a plain wooden stake through their heart, right?”
“I’ve always thought that it’s not just vampires, any living creature would die from that.”
“Liberation imbues any object made from plain wood that it strikes with holy energy. So, when I struck that table with Liberation earlier, it became basically the same thing as a wooden stake to you.”
“Why the hell did you have to go and do that? Where am I supposed to eat my meals from now on?”
“The effects end after one full day, so just deal with it until the day after tomorrow.”
Everything that she said and did was completely absurd.
“But your reaction just now tells me that you have been eating meals at this table everyday. So you haven’t been roaming the streets at night and drinking people’s blood, right?”
“I’m not an idiot. It’s not like vampires will die if they don’t drink blood, and despite how I look, I’m fairly decent at cooking for myself.”
Judging by the events of that morning and what had just happened, Toraki understood that the girl before him belonged to an organization that opposed existences such as himself, and that she had sufficient power to do so. That said, Toraki understood from their brief conversation that she had no intention of doing anything to him, at least for the moment, and let out a relieved sigh.
“Anyway… What country are you from, Iris?”
“The Order of the Dark Cross originated in Tyrol, a region that lies between Italy and Austria, but the current headquarters are located in London. As for me, I was born in England.”
“You were able to track the movements of a vampire in Japan all the way from England?”
“Well, not exactly England. There’s a branch in Japan, too.”
“Wait, for real!?”
He had no idea that such an organization had spread its roots into Japan.
“I was only recently transferred to Japan, and disposing of Kajirou was supposed to be my first job here.”
While her every action made her seem foolish, the word ‘dispose’ carried a heavy weight when used by a nun of the Holy Cross Church regarding a vampire. Besides, she had introduced herself as “A person who destroys Phantoms like you” a mere thirty seconds ago. That was also something to be wary of.
“So I basically poked a hornet’s nest? Don’t tell me you came to my house to destroy me…”
“Would I have waited for you to resurrect from ashes if I was going to do that? Don’t talk about me like I’m a serial killer or something.”
Well, that certainly made sense.
“It’s true that the Order of the Dark Cross destroys Phantoms. But the main sect of the Order is aware that not all Phantoms are ‘evil’. Although I’ve heard that there was a time when they killed all Phantoms on sight, not just vampires.”
“Spare me the details.”
“Anyways, fighting with my life on the line is part of my job description. Of course, there are cases when we have to arrest a criminal when we catch them red-handed at the scene of a crime, but we usually observe our targets until we can safely apprehend them. Even in the worst case when we have to dispose of them, we have to be careful not to affect the surroundings too much. That’s why we won’t just attack a vampire who hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“I see, then please do let me know where I can lodge a complaint about you making my table unusable for no good reason.”
Toraki made a light stab at humor before putting on a serious expression.
“So does that mean that you’d already been fighting for quite some time by the time I came running?”
“I mean, you made contact after carefully carrying out a secret investigation, right? But by the time I found you, it looked like you were in quite the predicament.”
“Umm… About that…”
“I mean, I’m not one to talk, considering that he took me by surprise too. But that Kajirou guy wasn’t a particularly strong vampire. I mean, he was picky about the kind of blood that he wanted to drink, and he was controlling people and making them assault others without paying attention to the time.”
“I-It’s fine, isn’t it? That doesn’t really matter anymore—”
“It’s not fine. It’s a very important matter to me.”
For some reason, Iris was trying to avoid talking about Kajirou despite the fact that she was the one who had brought up the topic in the first place.
“I’ve been looking for a certain vampire for a long time. But it’s hard for vampires to recognize other vampires for what they are just by looking at them. If that Kajirou guy was actually a strong vampire, then I need to look into his background.”
“I-I see. Hmmmm…”
“What happened to his ashes after our fight? Actually, was he even that type of vampire in the first place? Iris, did you retrieve his ashes? Don’t tell me, do you have them with you right now?”
Toraki leaned forward while being careful to not touch the table, causing Iris to avert her eyes.
“…I don’t know much about that vampire.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Haven’t you been chasing him for a long time?”
“It’s not like I was the one who was pursuing him all this time… I got this job just because I happened to move here at this time…”
Iris started to talk evasively, in a complete change from her earlier attitude.
“Tell me, was he really that strong? How did he manage to get the better of you?”
Iris finally seemed to give up and confessed in a very low voice while looking embarrassed.
“….I was scared… of the men who were with him… And my legs gave out…”
Time seemed to freeze for a while as the two of them didn’t move a muscle.
“And then… they grabbed me… while I wasn’t able to move…”
Toraki exclaimed from the bottom of his heart.
“I-I mean, their voices were so loud… and they stank of alcohol and tobacco… and…”
“Wait, what? Are you for real!?”
The vampire called Kajirou had not been strong by any means, but that was only from the point of view of another vampire.
No ordinary human would be his equal in physical strength, and it was inconceivable for a human to evade that attack with the threads of blood. However, Iris had seen through the vampire’s attacks and deflected them with superhuman skill, and even managed to drive him into a corner.
The girl who had collected the ashes of a vampire and resurrected him despite meeting him for the first time, ate katsu curry in said vampire’s house, and even went so far as to threaten said vampire with a holy hammer, had androphobia!?
“S-Shut up! I can’t help it, okay!? I hate men! They’re scary!”
“Do you realize how absurd that sounds?”
Toraki spoke as if getting back at her for her earlier comment.
“You’re a vampire, so it’s fine! You’re not human!”
“What kind of logic is that!?”
“In the worst case, you can just kill a vampire! But that’s not true for people, right!?”
“Didn’t you say something just a few minutes earlier about not all Phantoms being evil!?”
Toraki stood up reflexively.
“So that’s what happened!? You lost to that weakling vampire just because you were scared of those lackeys that he was manipulating!?”
Iris glared at Toraki with her face a bright shade of red, but she didn’t raise any objection to his statement. Toraki stared for a while at her eyes that were filled with tears of shame before letting out a sigh and sitting down again. He spoke to her with a deadpan expression.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a Church Knight from the Order of the Dark Cross?”
“Oh, shut up!!!!”
Seeing Toraki make light of her, Iris’s anger finally burst out from behind her puffed-up cheeks.
“I get it, okay!? I know that it’s pathetic!! But… I can’t help being afraid!!”
This time, it was Iris’s turn to stand up. She stood up so violently that she knocked over her chair and waved her fist.
“When I was studying to be a Knight in the seminary, I was at the top of the class in both theory and practical skills! But… But…!”
Iris’s left hand started to tremble uncontrollably. Toraki could tell that this response did not come from something as simple as shyness or fastidiousness. He also understood that as a man himself—in a sense, anyway—it was not a problem that he could touch upon thoughtlessly.
“…I mentioned that there’s a branch in Japan, but it’s actually quite small. It’s a peaceful country, after all. There aren’t many Phantoms here to begin with, and only the largest cities have a permanent garrison of troops. Besides… the Order of the Dark Cross sees Japan as… umm, how do I put this… A place that people who aren’t very good at their jobs are sent to.”
“…A dead-end job?”
“Yes, that’s it. A dead-end job. It’s the Far East, after all. That’s only natural.”
“England’s days as the top world power were over even before I was born. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
“Basically… that’s the reason why I wasn’t able to catch even a weak vampire like him…”
“Well, I understand that you have your circumstances…”
“Besides, the only reason it took so long to find him was because I got lost at Ueno Station, accidentally got on the wrong train, and went all the way to some place called Utsunomiya. It’s not because I am weak.”
“You’ve got bigger problems than just being strong or weak.”
How could someone so fluent in Japanese not realize that they had got on the wrong train until they traveled all the way from Ueno to Utsunomiya?
“But I just came to Japan yesterday! Getting on the wrong train shouldn’t be such a big deal, right!?”
“That’s actually pretty amazing. You’ve been in Japan for a day and you can already speak the language so well.”
“I asked a lady for directions in Ueno, and she told me that as long as I get on the train with the green stripe, it’ll just keep going around in circles, so even if I miss my stop I’ll get there eventually!”
There was certainly a JR Utsunomiya Line that connected Ueno to Utsunomiya, but nobody who had lived for any amount of time in Japan would confuse the orange-and-green stripes of the Utsunomiya Line with the pea-green Yamanote Line that lead to Ikebukuro.
“Hmm? Hang on a second. You said that you only came to Japan yesterday. I’m not sure which airport you landed at, Haneda or Narita, but there shouldn’t have been any need to get off at Ueno, right? If you were starting at Hamamatsu then you could have just got on the Yamanote Line directly, and if you were starting at Narita, you would have to change trains at Nippori, right?”
“Fufu, I see you are just a vampire who lives in the dark after all. Do you not know of the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno?”
“No, I know that it exists.”
“The Gates of Hell sculpture located in the National Museum of Western Art is something of a symbol for the Church Knights of the Order of the Dark Cross. In Western canon, that sculpture has the power to crush evil. I wanted to see it with my own eyes at least once.”
“Still, it’s pointless if that caused you to catch the wrong train and almost get yourself killed by a vampire. Besides, how the heck did you get back from Utsunomiya to Ikebukuro at such an odd time?”
“I somehow managed to catch the last train back! But it was the middle of the night by the time I got back and my target had already deviated from his usual route, so it took a while to track him down!”
Learning the transportation routes in the region where the target lived should have also been a part of her job… Or rather, it was a basic skill for anyone who was leaving their homeland to work in a foreign country. How on earth had she been at the top of her practical classes without even being able to do that much?
“The gyoza in Utsunomiya were delicious!”
“Sounds like you enjoyed Utsunomiya to the utmost before coming back.”
Toraki hoped for Iris’s sake that she hadn’t gone strutting around Utsunomiya, the city known for its gyoza, in the habit that she was currently wearing.
“Of course not. I was wearing clothes that were easy to move in so that I would be ready no matter when I encountered the enemy.”
“You know vampires can smell garlic from a mile away, right?”
“I made sure to avoid the gyoza with garlic in them! Besides, it’s not like I went to a barbecue, so I didn’t smell of smoke. All the shops that I went to didn’t allow smoking, either.”
Apparently, Japan was a peaceful country after all, even in the eyes of the Order of the Dark Cross.
“So what’s next? The vampire called Kajirou has been defeated, so does that mean you’re going back to Britain?”
“You mean England.”
“Whatever. So, are you going back?”
Japanese people generally used the term “Britain” to refer to the United Kingdom that consisted of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Toraki had heard that they considered each other to be different countries even now, but this fact was completely irrelevant to him at the moment and so he pressed her for an answer.
“I’m not going back. I told you that I transferred here, didn’t I? Even though it’s a dead-end job, there are still plenty of Phantoms that I have to monitor.”
The wisdom that came with his years caused alarms to go off in Toraki’s head. He felt that he had invited peril by getting confirmation from her.
“I see. Well, do your best. I guess in the end, you ended up helping me as well. Anyway, good luck with your job. Maybe we’ll meet again if fate wills it—”
“Say, Yura. You’ve been a vampire for a fairly long while now, right?”
“Yes, I have indeed. That aside, won’t you get scolded by your boss at the Order if you keep wasting time at a vampire’s house? We’ve both got a lot of work on our hands. Ikebukuro Station is just one stop away from Zoshigaya Station so even you probably won’t get lost getting there, right? I’ve got some stuff to do later. Also, I’d like to take a bath so I’d appreciate it if you would…”
“Help me out with my work. I’d like your help with suppressing vampires and other Phantoms that cause problems.”
“Stop messing around and get a clue already, can’t you see I’m asking you to leave!?”
“There’s no need to shout.”
Iris grimaced after hearing him speak in a loud voice, but Toraki felt like he should be the one grimacing instead.
“Do you even know what you’re saying? We’ve known each other for less than an hour and all I’ve heard from you is utter nonsense! Aren’t you the type of person who is not allowed to get friendly with vampires no matter what?”
“That’s not true. I said it earlier, didn’t I? I don’t think that all Phantoms are evil. It’s not limited to only vampires, there are other Church Knights who have Phantom collaborators. That’s part of the ‘dark’ in the name of our Order.”
“Even so, I have no reason to work with you.”
“If you cooperate with me, I won’t report you to the Order. Church Knights are obligated to report any Phantom that they come across during the course of their duties. If I report you, you’ll be stalked wherever you go.”
“That’s called blackmail, not cooperation.”
Toraki put on a very displeased expression. Iris, who had only said the sort of things until now that made him wonder if she had a few screws loose, suddenly put on a serious expression.
“…There are people in the Order who are biased against Phantoms. But after seeing this house and talking to you, I am convinced. You are not a bad vampire.”
“You’re not fooling anyone with that heartfelt tone.”
“Please, Yura! I can’t go back home unless I show tangible results here at the Japanese Branch! At this rate, I won’t be able to face my classmates from the seminary!”
Toraki did not have the words to express how little he cared about that.
“You’re not suited for this job. You should put your linguistic skills to use and find something else to do.”
“I don’t want to hear realistic advice from a vampire like you. I already know that I’m not suited for this job… But I don’t have any other options.”
“And besides, aren’t the real-estate agencies in Japan almost always operated by men?”
“Hmm? No, that’s not always the case…”
“How am I supposed to talk to unknown men from a different country and go around with them searching for a house?”
“I’m impressed you managed to order any gyoza at all, in that state.”
Toraki once again had a bad premonition.
“Won’t the Japanese Branch or whatever provide a house for you to stay in?”
“They will pay my rent, but since we are given full independence when it comes to carrying out investigations, we have to search for appropriate living quarters ourselves.”
“I realized this when I was folding your laundry, this is a 2DK apartment, right? That room doesn’t seem to be in use, it was completely empty after all.”
Toraki wasted no time in putting his guard up, but Iris attempted to overcome his defense with sheer force.
“Please! I have nowhere else to go for tonight!”
“If you’re afraid of men, don’t try to couch surf in a male vampire’s house! You should be ashamed to call yourself a member of the Holy Cross Church!”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine with you! Probably because you’re a vampire!”
“You’ve got your priorities backward! Aren’t you afraid that I might drink your blood!?”
“As if you would do something like that!”
Iris’s voice was more resolute than he had heard so far.
“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t.”
There was a fairly common rumor that loved to paint all men as wolves without any justification, but an ordinary person would normally not let emotion cloud their judgement.
“I wasn’t able to produce any results in my own country… I was forced to realize that I am all bark and no bite more times than I can count. There’s now way I’ll be able to do something in Japan when I wasn’t able to do anything in my own homeland… And I don’t have any friends in the Japan Branch…”
Not only had she got on the wrong train, but she had also gone on an eating spree upon reaching the incorrect destination. Toraki could see why that wouldn’t win her any favor at the workplace, but conversely, he felt that she might be able to make as many friends as she wanted outside of work.
“You were just thinking about something impolite, weren’t you?”
“Ah, I was just thinking that the more I hear about you, the less suited you seem to this kind of work.”
Iris started to pout.
“I’m not asking you to let me stay here forever. But I really have nowhere else to go for today…”
Zoshigaya was fairly close to Ikebukuro, so as long as she had the money, there were plenty of options for temporary accommodation such as business hotels, capsule hotels, or internet cafes. However, the sight of a man at the reception counter would probably be enough to make Iris run away, and besides, if something went wrong, she might drag him into her problems because she knew his address.
“I’m surprised you can trust a vampire you’ve just met to such an extent. You’re going to die young, you know?”
“You can stay, but don’t go thinking that I’ll let you live here long-term. I’ve got my own job to do.”
For the first time, Iris’s cheeks shone red for a reason other than embarrassment, and a bright smile illuminated her face.
“If you cooperate with me, I’ll gather information about vampires for you! You said you were looking for a vampire, right!?”
“Don’t get cocky.”
Toraki resigned himself and pointed to the Japanese-style room that was not in use. It was the same room that Iris had apparently moved into along with her luggage without his permission.
“There’s a spare futon in the closet. I haven’t aired it out in a while, but you’ll just have to deal with it. You can buy whatever toiletries you need at the convenience store. You were able to buy the katsu curry bento, so that shouldn’t be a problem for you.”
“By the way, you do have money, right? You were able to buy gyoza, after all. Why did you have to take my wallet to buy the bento?”
“Umm… I do have a card, but I haven’t exchanged any money yet… And I also purchased my train tickets with the card…”
“Oh, I see. If the clerk at the convenience store was a man, you would be too afraid to tell him that you wanted to pay by card.”
“You don’t have to see through me each and every time.”
Apparently, she used cash so that she could complete her purchase without any unnecessary conversation.
“Seriously, how the heck did you even order your gyoza?”
“I specifically went to stores that accepted cards and had female employees. As for the rest, I only had to pretend to be a tourist who didn’t understand the language. Being Japanese, the employees sympathized with me and took care of everything on their own.”
“You should feel bad.”
Toraki was annoyed because he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it was definitely not something that she should be talking proudly about.
“But in the city, there are many shops that have employees who are not Japanese and people who speak English, so I couldn’t use that trick…”
“You’re such a…”
At this point, Toraki felt like he should be praising her instead of being exasperated. Iris had said something about wanting him to cooperate with her for work, but at this rate, he might end up slowly seeing to every aspect of her care while she was in Japan.
“Can you brush your teeth by yourself?”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Think of everything that you’ve done so far before you speak. I’ve got a new toothbrush, so you can have it. As you can see, this apartment doesn’t have anything high-class like a washbasin, so use the kitchen sink for water.”
Toraki took out an unopened toothbrush package from one of the lower cupboards in the kitchen and handed it to Iris. She looked a little surprised as she accepted the toothbrush and then looked towards the room that he had indicated earlier.
“You seem to be quite well prepared to receive guests. Do you have someone over to stay often? A lover?”
“Stop prying into my affairs more than you already have. Besides, do you think vampires would have lovers?”
“That wouldn’t be unusual at all. Since olden times, vampires have always had a thing for the ladies.”
“I’ve never tried to look into the private affairs of other vampires. Those guys were all pretty ephemeral, after all.”
Iris thought that she detected a hit of melancholy at the end of his sentence, but Toraki switched gears before she could ask any questions.
“Anyway. I’m going to take a shower and head to work. You can use the shower if you want, but make sure to clean the bathroom and turn on the ventilation fan after you’re done. Also, feel free to use the detergent and the scrubbing brush for your laundry.”
After that, Toraki took out his wallet and placed a single 5000 Yen note on the table.
“This is all I can give you for now. If there’s anything you need, use that to buy it.”
“E-Ehh? I-Is that really okay?”
“I’m not giving it to you for free. Pay me back when you get some money. I doubt you came empty-handed all the way from Britain, but do you at least have a change of clothes?”
“Y-Yes, of course. B-But didn’t you think that I’d just take your money and run away?”
There was no trace of her former pushy attitude as she picked up the 5000 Yen note with both hands and held it up to her chest.
“As if you would do something like that.”
“And besides, even if you run away with that money, I’d thank my stars that I got rid of a nuisance for just 5000 Yen.”
“If you understand, would you mind going into the other room now? I don’t have anything like a dressing room, so I need to get undressed here.”
“A-Ah, okay, I understand.”
“Oh, and one more thing. If you feel uneasy about going out to buy stuff, then go to this store. You’ll have to walk a bit, but you should be fine here. Do you have a mobile phone or a Slimphone?”
Toraki grabbed one of the fliers from the pile near the front door and scribbled something on the back.
“Can you read Kanji?”
“Just a little. Is this shop a convenience store?”
Toraki nodded and pointed to himself.
“It’s the shop where I work part-time. You shouldn’t have any trouble buying stuff if I’m at the register, right?”
Iris stared at him with an amazed expression.
“You’re working part-time in a convenience store?”
“I don’t think it’s particularly strange for a vampire to have a job.”
Iris looked taken aback for a second upon hearing that, but she soon smiled slightly and carefully folded the 5000 Yen note.
“Thank you. I’ll make sure to pay you back along with what I spent on the bento. If you’re going to work at this time, does that mean you’re working the graveyard shift?”
“What do you think? I’m a vampire. I’ll be back before sunrise. Don’t wait up for me.”
“Sure, I’ll go to sleep when I’m ready.”
Iris nodded her understanding and entered the room that Toraki had indicated. Seeing her smooth movements, it looked like she was already used to moving around the apartment.
After Toraki confirmed that she had closed the sliding door, he brought out a change of clothes from his own room and left them outside the bathroom. He took his clothes off, folded them roughly, and carried them with him into the bathroom.
After a quick shower, he towelled himself off, stepped out of the bathroom, and quickly got dressed. Hearing the sound of him drying his short hair with a hairdryer, Iris opened the door of her room a crack and peeked out.
“Are you leaving?”
“I see… Thanks again for everything. Take care.”
Saying that, she once again closed the door.
Toraki went still and stared at the door behind which Iris had disappeared.
“‘Take care,’ huh?”
The words he muttered to himself were drowned out by the sound of the hairdryer.
“I wonder how long it’s been since someone said that to me.”
He had taken on a troublesome burden. There was no doubt about that.
Toraki had lived far too long to get excited over having a beautiful girl like Iris in his house. While he had no choice but to let her stay the night, he truly hoped that she would get out of his house as soon as possible.
However, even so…
“I see. Take care.”
Those words had been surprisingly impactful and left Toraki’s heart in disarray.
After he was done using the hairdryer, Toraki jammed his wallet, keys, and Slimphone into his trouser pockets, put his shoes on near the front door, and left the house before Iris could say anything else to him.
After stepping into the chilly corridor, he locked the door and pulled the doorknob once to ensure that it was locked before letting out a sigh. While whispering to himself, he listened to the sound of his own footsteps that echoed as if emphasizing the coldness of winter.
No matter how many years passed, he could not grow used to the cold of winter he felt even after becoming a vampire.
“Information about other vampires, huh?”
Toraki had encountered several other vampires during his long life as one of them, but even when he found the information he sought, he had never made use of it even once. For that reason, his sense for collecting information about the world during his daily life had long since dulled.
Toraki had thought that the feelings of resignation in his heart had grown stronger than his anticipation for new information, but Iris’s “Take care” had easily shaken him up.
“I wonder if… I’ll be able to go back to being human before all the people who know me are gone.”