Chapter 4 – Vampires Cannot Become Morning Larks
“Now then, Toraki-sama. May I lop off this woman’s head and send it back to her country in a refrigerated shipping container?”
“Can you please not say stuff that sounds like something an ancient Mongolian emperor would say?”
“Oh my, how unusual for you to make a mistake, Toraki-sama. The ancient Mongolians did not have refrigerated shipping containers, you know?”
“That reminds me Yura, the item that was delivered recently in the refrigerated shipping container won’t keep fresh for very long. Let’s hurry back home and have dinner.”
“And you, can you take a hint and shut up for a while?”
“Take a hint? What’s that? I don’t know any such phrase in Japanese.”
“Oh my goodness, how typical of a person from a country that doesn’t respect other cultures. Since you are not interested in speaking our words, shall I rip your tongue from your head?”
“I didn’t expect that a young lady from an affluent household such as yourself would be ignorant of something as basic as the Geneva Convention. It feels like I walked into Japan during the warring states era.”
“Why the heck are you two trying to get on each other’s bad side on purpose? I don’t get it at all!”
““I could never get along with this woman!””
“Sure doesn’t sound like it.”
The pretty girl with blonde hair and the ideal Japanese beauty shouted at the same time, driving home a bitter reality that young men would not want to see.
“Surely you understand Toraki-sama, that there is a good reason for this? Japan has a long history of keeping the denizens of darkness under control without having to rely on the Holy Cross Church. These people are here shamelessly intruding on our territory and acting as if they own the place, is it not natural to be on bad terms with them?”
Hiki Miharu said that with a sigh and a calm expression on her face…
“In this modern age where vast numbers of people and objects move around using every means of transportation imaginable, the Hiki Family that stubbornly sticks to the old methods that were established during the Edo period while continuing to line their own pockets are no better than the Mafia. Even though you say that you protect human society, most people don’t even know that you exist.”
…And Iris Yeray spread her arms and spoke as if she was giving a speech.
“It is only natural for a noble family that has existed since ancient times to amass wealth, is it not?”
“Oh yes, it must be nice to look down on the city of Tokyo from here in the Sunshine 60 building.”
In the direction that Iris pointed, there was a window that was several times taller than Toraki through which they could see the city. The view of the city at night looked as if fireworks were eternally blossoming across the land. The floor of the room was completely covered in a thick shag carpet, and calling the numerous furnishings ‘high-grade’ would not do them justice.
And more than anything, there was the vast number of Hiki Miharu’s “subordinates” that they had encountered until they reached this room on one of the floors of the building. Iris understood very well that this woman called Hiki Miharu, who appeared to be the same age or even younger than herself, had assets on a scale that surpassed her imagination.
“What you see here is the result of the Hiki Family protecting Japan since times immemorial. The only reason why you people are able to rent a unit in this building is because my family has kept Japan peaceful for all this time, yes?”
The Order of the Dark Cross’s Tokyo Garrison had its offices here, in the Sunshine 60 building, in a rented space on one of the underground levels.
“I have no intention of turning this into a discussion about business practices. I am not here as a representative of the Order. However, there is a question that I would like to have answered. Yura.”
Iris, who was clearly butting heads with Miharu, was sitting on a sofa with what appeared to be real leather upholstery despite still being covered in dirt from her fight against the werwulf. As for Toraki, who seemed to have a deep connection with Miharu, he was standing still in the center of the room while looking bored.
“Why do you, a vampire, know someone from the Hiki Family? How are you related?”
Iris jerked her chin at Miharu, who looked right at home sitting behind a large, official-looking desk.
“We have promised to be together forever.”
“Stop saying irresponsible stuff like that.”
“Well, the two of you are wearing matching accessories, after all.”
“And you, why are you so ready to accept it?”
Iris sniffed once like a spoiled child and looked away.
“We’re just acquaintances. When we first met, I had no idea that Miharu was from such a distinguished background.”
“What’s up with you? You’ve been acting weird for a while now.”
“The first time Toraki-sama and I met was seven years, three months, and fifteen days ago.”
“You do realize that stuff like that is why I don’t like hanging out with you, right?”
Toraki frowned at Miharu, but it didn’t seem to affect her much.
“Toraki-sama saved me when I was being assaulted by some ruffians in the city. That is how we met.”
“Like I said, what the heck is that supposed to mean!?”
“It’s nothing. I just thought it sounded familiar, that’s all. I see you save all the damsels in distress that you come across, Yura.”
“Of course I’d save them. I mean, what other choice do I have?”
“The spirit to say such things without hesitation and the strength to back it up. I have adored him ever since that day.”
“And did Yura accept your feelings?”
“The pendant that hangs around his neck is undeniable proof of that.”
“Oh? If you ask me, it looks like he isn’t really interested.”
“How unfortunate. It appears that the fierce battle against the wolfman has robbed you of your sight. My relationship with Toraki-sama has been approved by Waraku-sama, you know?”
“Stop fighting over every little thing, you two.”
Toraki rubbed the corners of his eyes and sighed.
“I’ll tell you about how Miharu and I are related some other time. Miharu.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“About that vampire you captured. Would you be willing to hand him over to us?”
“I cannot do that. That vampire has caused a great deal of trouble for us as well. The actions taken by him and his large following of denizens of darkness disrupted the peace, and almost caused harm to the denizens of darkness who live proper lives. He must be punished for his crimes.”
Miharu easily shot down Toraki’s request.
“There was a need to capture him and investigate his connections with the forces of darkness before the police start their raid tomorrow night. We also knew about that underground passageway, so it was supposed to be a simple mission. However, thanks to the esteemed Knight over there, we ended up having to go to a great deal of trouble.”
“So it was you guys who started that fire after all.”
“I took into consideration how much time it would take for the firefighters and police to arrive at the scene. The reason why the evacuation of customers was delayed was because of the trap set by the esteemed Knight over there, correct?”
“Perhaps it worked in favor of those people as well? They need not waste their limited youth on such trivial pursuits anymore. You are aware that those people were being swindled out of their money, yes?”
“It was a gray zone.”
“Human society decided otherwise, which is why the police planned on raiding the premises tomorrow. Toraki-sama. It appears that you have lost sight of the truth due to your anger at having your plans interrupted. The plans that you and that esteemed Knight came up with together.”
Miharu declared that in an icy tone.
“I merely prepared a proper setting to bring those youngsters who were about to stray from the righteous path back to their senses. It is my most earnest hope that this incident teaches those people some sound judgement, even if only a little.”
“Even if we weren’t there, somebody could have gotten hurt.”
“I had some of my subordinates infiltrate the area in advance, so there was no chance of that happening. As proof, we already have the servant vampire that you subdued in our custody, Toraki-sama.”
Toraki recalled the man whom he had hidden in an alley between two buildings and showed a surprised expression.
“Ever since the olden days, our guests from the west have only been interested in eliminating the immediate cause of an issue. It is a truly violent method. When dealing with an enemy that has spread its influence so deeply into society, a more appropriate method is required.”
“We had plans to investigate Amimura’s connections as well.”
“Despite that, it seems to me that you were not aware of the wolfman’s presence beforehand. Your plan was to chop off the head of the organization. What were you planning to do about the arms and legs?”
Iris could not speak out after Miharu touched upon a sore point.
“If Amimura were to disappear, then the denizens of darkness that serve him would lose the place where they belong and might very well turn into a new threat. That would not solve the fundamental issue. Disease is not focused at a single point, but rather spread throughout the body. It must be treated in its entirety for a complete cure. Moreover, killing is not the only method to cure it.”
After saying that, Miharu indicated a world map that hung on one of the walls of the room. Unlike the world map that people in Japan were familiar with, this map was not centered around Japan. Instead, it was centered around England, Iris’s home country.
On this map, Japan was located near the edge on the right side. It was a small blot on the map in an area that had been called the “Far East” in olden times.
“When you drive someone too far into a corner, it will inevitably lead to a situation where they will destroy both themselves and their surroundings in their desperation.”
The girl who looked around the same age as Iris was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders as she spoke.
“Since ancient times, Japan has been the last safe refuge for the denizens of darkness that were driven from their homes by you Europeans. No matter how many of them were hunted down, more would keep flowing in. In such a situation, do you understand what would happen if we just continued to deny them their right to live?”
If the number of Phantoms, or denizens of darkness, fell below a certain number, there would be an increased risk of the remaining Phantoms starting a revolt that could very well turn the current society upside down.
“For that very reason, the denizens of darkness have been ‘suppressed’ or ‘exorcised’ in Japan since ancient times. So that there would be no need to keep killing them. So that both sides can live peacefully in this land as long as they keep to their respective territories. So that both sides would not have to kill each other. Do you know what this map represents?”
Miharu raised her hand and struck her chest strongly.
“Yao Bikuni, The progenitor of our family, consumed the flesh of an immortal mermaid and became an existence that possessed the lifespan of a denizen of darkness while still being human. We who have inherited Yao Bikuni’s will have resolved ourselves to remain broad-minded when dealing with the world’s problems. This map is a testimony to that.”
“I asked Sister Nakaura to not interfere in the issue with the vampire Amimura, but it is apparent that she did not heed my warning. That is most unfortunate.”
“…What will happen to the Phantoms…denizens of darkness who do not accept your ‘reign’?”
“They would likely end up being destroyed by us in time. It is only natural to eliminate those who disrupt the order of society. As an adherent of the Holy Cross Church that has been one-sidedly judging ‘Phantoms’ to be evil since ancient times, surely you do not denounce our methods?”
“…Yes, certainly. It is just as you have said.”
“At any rate, the growth of human society has made the world a somewhat cramped place to live. That is why we decided to work with the Order of the Dark Cross, for the sake of international relations. However, we realized early on in our relationship with your Order that you cannot be expected to adjust your methods to fit our national and local norms. You too must have received strict orders to not enter the Kansai region, correct? The Hiki family’s seat of power is in Kyoto, after all.”
Kyoto. It was a city that had been developed since ancient times to defend the Emperor, and a preeminent holy city in the Orient that had witnessed countless battles against the denizens of darkness.
“As such, we will be keeping the vampire Amimura in our custody. Please feel free to go back and report to Sister Nakaura that we snatched him away. Surely she will understand once she realizes who you were up against.”
Iris was unable to say anything in return and feebly sunk deeper into the sofa. Everything that Miharu just said was already known to Toraki. Moreover, Miharu’s power and influence were a big reason why Toraki was able to openly walk around with Iris without getting into trouble. The same held true even for working part-time at the convenience store.
“Is there something else? Even if it’s a request from you, Toraki-sama, I cannot—”
“We had an agreement that Iris would leave my house if I helped her capture Amimura to complete her mission.”
“I will have that vampire packed in a crate and hand him over at once.”
Apparently, the descendants of the woman who had consumed the flesh of an immortal mermaid made a cameo as Shakey in a certain video game franchise.
“My goodness, Toraki-sama, you are such a tease. If that was the case then you should have said so at once.”
“It’s not my fault that the two of you decided to ignore me and have a political argument on your own.”
“But I was just so shocked that you would invite another woman into your home when you already have me…”
Despite his unpleasant feelings at Miharu’s shameless proclamation, Toraki still bowed his head to her.
“Sorry about this. I owe you one.”
“It’s going to be costly, okay? I will arrange for him to be delivered to your house in a refrigerated shipping container.”
“Don’t kill him, for heaven’s sake. Right then… Iris.”
Toraki walked over to Iris who was still silent and lightly touched her shoulder.
“Let’s go home. We’re done here.”
Iris stood up from the sofa without saying anything. She left the room while trampling over the carpet with rough footsteps without sparing a glance at either Toraki or Miharu.
“She wouldn’t have understood if I didn’t say at least that much.”
“Maybe, but I am the one who has to soothe her feelings after this.”
“That’s because you are very kind, Toraki-sama. You met her the other day when you turned into ash, yes? Just like our first meeting.”
“…I should get going. Even though it wasn’t planned, thanks for your help.”
Toraki turned around to follow after Iris, but Miharu’s voice held him back.
“Toraki-sama. When I send you the package, I will include some fairly accurate information that we have gathered about ‘her’. I have already delivered the same information to Waraku-sama, only worded differently.”
Toraki took a sharp breath and came to a stop.
“Of course, I don’t believe that you will be able to do anything on your own.”
“If I don’t do anything, will you people take care of things instead?”
“No. It is shameful to say, but we are not in a position to handle ‘her’ either, so we have decided to not interfere. That is why I requested Waraku-sama to handle the pursuit.”
“Toraki-sama. The only one who can match up to your ‘time’ is me. Please do not forget that.”
“How can I forget it, when you remind me every time we meet? See you around.”
Toraki shrugged and waved lightly at Miharu before leaving the room. Miharu looked displeased and pouted as she gazed at the door that had been left ajar.
“You are even more indifferent than usual, Toraki-sama.”
Iris was waiting in the elevator lobby, still refusing to look in Toraki’s direction. He decided to take the initiative before she made up her mind to say anything.
“I’m sure you find it hard to accept, but believe me when I say that it was the best card to play at the time. Miharu is someone you can’t let your guard down against.”
Iris continued to have a sullen expression and refused to reply. Even after the elevator arrived and the two of them stepped inside, the prickly atmosphere persisted.
“It looks like we both have things that we are hiding from each other.”
“After all, it’s not like we are partners or even friends.”
“Still, you must at least know that I am not the sort of person who would be happy about having victory handed to me on a silver platter, right?”
“Yeah, well, I doubt there are many people who would enjoy such a thing.”
“But I owe you a great deal. I haven’t even returned the money I owe you yet.”
“I’m glad you haven’t forgotten about it.”
“That’s why… Just know that I am incredibly irritated!”
At that moment, they arrived at the first floor and the elevator doors opened.
“What!? It’s pitch dark!”
“Of course it is. It’s the middle of the night. Besides, this is a corridor for maintenance staff.”
Iris squared her shoulders and stepped out of the elevator while complaining, but came to a stop after seeing that the corridor stretched out for a long distance to both her left and right.
“Which way is the exit!?”
“Oh!? It sounds like you’ve been here several times at this late hour!”
“This is the only time that I can come here, after all.”
Toraki pulled along Iris who was thoroughly pouting at this point and left the Sunshine 60 building. The distance from Sunshine 60 to Zoshigaya was well within walking range for an adult, but it would be troublesome to slowly plod along with his tired body while accompanied by the disgruntled Iris.
He looked around around, trying to find a taxi, when…
Iris shouted at him with her displeasure hitting its peak.
“What should I help you out with!?”
Her words did not match her expression at all.
“That annoying woman gave you some information, right!? Information about something that even she doesn’t want to interfere with! It’s something to do with the vampire you’re searching for, right!?”
“…Ah, well, yeah. But how…”
Toraki nodded vaguely and was about to ask her how she found out, but…
“Because that’s the only thing you ever told me about yourself, even though you’ve been quiet about everything else!”
There was a vampire that Toraki was searching for. Toraki had certainly blurted out that bit of information in front of Iris some time ago.
“I can tell that woman is highly skilled. Are you planning on taking up a case that even she doesn’t want anything to do with, all on your own!?”
“Umm… So basically what you’re saying is…”
Toraki asked Iris with a wry smile on his face.
“Are you actually offering to help me?”
“As long as you’re okay with a Church Knight who can’t even complete missions on her own and needs some annoying woman to hand her a victory!”
“Ah… But you should probably reconsider.”
“You’re human, after all. You’ll die.”
“The vampire I’m searching for is overwhelmingly stronger than me. People like Okonogi or Amimura are nothing compared to her. In terms of plain physical power, even that wolfman from earlier would probably be completely outmatched.”
“Huh? By a vampire? You must be joking, right? Even if their psychic abilities are strong, I’ve never heard of a vampire with that level of brute strength.”
“I didn’t know until I got acquainted with Miharu either, but apparently she’s one of the few exceptions. Just like Miharu’s ancestor, Yao Bikuni, she’s one of those beings that you Holy Cross adherents call ‘Ancient Phantoms’.”
“An Ancient Phantom vampire!? That’s like something out of a myth or a legend! That’s not someone you can fight against on your own! An opponent like that would require a mass mobilization of the entire Order!”
“Yeah. That’s why there’s nothing you can do to help.”
“Hearing you just come out and say that without holding back when I’m already irritated… It goes beyond making me mad and actually feels refreshing.”
“Sorry. But you’re not exactly weak as long as you’re not up against ordinary men, right? All the more reason why I can’t let you get caught up in my problems.”
“Even though I’ve done nothing but get you involved in my own problems?”
“Sorry, but the levels are so different that it wouldn’t be anywhere close to a fair trade. But I understand where you’re coming from.”
Toraki thought about it for a short while.
“Just make breakfast for me again tomorrow. Considering all the stuff I’ve done to annoy you, that should make us even.”
“Stop messing around.”
“Hmm… Well then, how about this? Can I ask you for one favor?”
To make up for calling her weak to her face, there was something that he wanted to entrust to her.
“What is it?”
Iris’s expression was tinged with a small amount of anticipation, but Toraki went on to suggest an alternative that in some ways could be considered to be overly cruel.
“I will probably die, or at the very least, I might go missing for several years. If I’m not back by the next morning, could you let Waraku and Miharu know for me?”
“…What do you mean?”
Iris’s expression turned anxious, but Toraki chose not to respond.
“Oh, and one more thing. If I do end up dying, having another person who will remember me after I’m gone doesn’t sound like a bad thing. So keep me company while I chat about my past after we go back home, even though there’s not much to tell. It’s not the sort of thing we can talk about inside a taxi, after all.”
“Yura.. You don’t mean…”
“Iris, I’ve had just one thing on my mind for most of my life.”
A taxi drove up at that moment, and Toraki raised his hand to flag it down while continuing to speak.
“I want to go back to being human. I want to go back to being human. I’ve lived all this time with just that one thought in my mind. Even though the time I’ve spent as a vampire is far, far longer.”
A few feeble rays of sunlight made their way into the room.
Iris, who had already gotten used to this gloomy atmosphere, was working on packing the large suitcase that she had carried into this room without permission on her very first day in this apartment.
However, even though she hadn’t really scattered her belongings around that much, she couldn’t seem to make much progress with tidying up, and she occasionally caught herself sitting idle and staring at the bathroom door that was tightly closed to prevent any light from entering.
If she strained her ears, she could faintly hear the sound of Toraki breathing in his sleep. He sounded no different from an ordinary human. She had realized that on her second morning here.
The story that this strange vampire had told Iris about his life was by no means packed with events.
In fact, most of what he had said was regarding his younger brother, Toraki Waraku.
Toraki Yura would be turning seventy seven years old this year.
He was born in a poor village in the Tohoku region that was still struggling to recover from the ravages of the recently ended Pacific War. His father had made the mistake of inviting a vampiress who pretended to be a grain merchant from Tokyo into their house, which resulted in the young Toraki falling prey to her and being turned into a vampire at the age of twelve. After that incident, he had been continuously protected by his remaining family.
During the war, Toraki and Waraku lost their mother to an illness while their father had still been serving in the army. Luckily for them, since their father was conscripted towards the end of the war, he never saw any battle and was able to leave the army safely. However, he must have had a very hard time as a single father raising two young children in the chaotic times following the end of the war.
Their father had been killed by the same vampire who had turned Yura into one of them, leaving Waraku, who had only just turned seven years old, as the sole member of the family who could still live in a world graced by the touch of sunlight.
Luckily for the Toraki siblings, they did not have to turn to hard labor to earn a living. They had a relative who welcomed them warmly into his own family, even after Yura had been turned into an inhuman creature.
It was Yura and Waraku’s uncle who had brought the aforementioned vampiress from Tokyo to the village where they had been living. He had raised Yura and Waraku as if they were his own children during the time when their father had been serving in the army.
The vampiress had looked no different from any human being, and moreover, she had been stunningly beautiful.
Their uncle had felt sorry for his younger brother who had been widowed and was looking after two young children on his own soon after leaving the army, and so he had unwittingly introduced the vampiress to their family.
The Toraki family happily accepted the seemingly good natured and beautiful woman into their lives. Yura and Waraku never forgot about their real mother, but they made up their minds to love this new woman, who might support their struggling father, as their own mother.
However, their feelings had been easily betrayed. One night, she had revealed her true nature and ripped out the throat of Yura and Waraku’s father, Toraki Shozo, before sinking her fangs into Yura’s neck as well. Their uncle only found out what had happened after everything was over and Waraku rushed to his house looking for help.
After learning about the incident, their uncle had felt a great deal of remorse and took it upon himself to take care of his nephews, which in a way was a stroke of good fortune for the siblings.
After that, Yura had grown up completely sheltered from the world under the protection of his remaining family.
Thanks to their uncle, Yura was able to complete his primary and secondary education at night school. After graduating, Yura helped out with his uncle’s agricultural business while simultaneously raising his younger brother, Waraku.
Waraku endlessly searched for a way to turn his older brother back into a human to repay Yura, who had put his life on the line and thrown away his own future for the sake of protecting Waraku’s humanity.
Even though it was like grasping at straws, the only thing the siblings could do was to search for the vampiress who had turned Yura into a vampire.
“Why did you have to do something like that?”
Toraki’s reply to Iris’s question had been simple and to the point.
“The woman who turned me into a vampire said so. She told me to chase after her if I ever wanted to see the sun again. I believed that there was some meaning behind it. If not, why would she leave only Waraku unharmed despite killing our father and taking my blood?”
On the cold winter night when Yura had become a vampire, the woman who had destroyed their family and stolen Yura’s ability to stand in the sun had silently disappeared into the darkness without even leaving any footprints in the snow.
“Yura. Waraku. Make sure to chase after me.”
She had left behind only those words akin to a curse for the brothers who were separated both by age and the worlds that they lived in.
“There is only one way for a vampire to return to being human, and that is to use their own fangs to steal the blood of the vampire who turned them into one in the first place.”
And so, time passed. Sixty five years, to be exact.
“Waraku graduated from college and joined the police force as an administrator, and worked frantically to collect as much information about her as he could. He didn’t give up, even when I was on the verge of giving up myself.”
Waraku constantly said that it was thanks to Yura that he could still walk under the light of the sun, and he spent most of his life in support of his older brother.
“In the end, he even made his son join the police as his successor to continue his work.”
Waraku got married at the age of twenty four and he was blessed with one son and one daughter. To Toraki, they were his nephew and niece.
“Both Yoshiaki and Etsuko were so cute when they were little… But now, they’ve both turned into middle-aged people who look so much older than me.”
Thanks to Waraku’s strong will, his wife, son and daughter warmly welcomed Toraki into their lives despite knowing the truth about him being a vampire.
Waraku’s wife Kimie, his son Yoshiaki, and his daughter Etsuko insisted that they were able to live happily thanks to Toraki’s sacrifice in protecting Waraku, and did everything they could to try and repay the debt.
“That was too heavy for me to bear. I couldn’t handle the guilt.”
When Waraku reached retirement age, Toraki, who had been staying at Waraku’s house until then, decided to leave. He believed that Waraku had already done more than enough for his sake, and earnestly wished for him to spend his remaining years happily with his family. That was because Waraku’s wife, Kimie, was diagnosed with cancer in the same year that Waraku retired from his job, and she soon passed away.
Toraki could no longer ignore how the things he had stolen from his brother had long since surpassed whatever he had done to protect him.
Waraku insisted that he was the one who had stolen his older brother’s future and refused to listen to reason, but after Kimie’s funeral, Yura overcame Waraku’s objections. He stood in front of Kimie’s grave at night and apologized for not even being able to attend her funeral despite everything she had done for him, and left the house.
To prove that he could survive on his own. And to avoid casting his shadow over Waraku’s lineage any longer.
“It’s high time Waraku stopped insisting that I saved his life. I did nothing of the sort. That vampire just decided to spare him on her own.”
After hearing about the weight of the history shared by the siblings who had their lives stolen away by a woman whom they had once thought of as a mother, Iris could do nothing but silently listen to the rest of the story.
“She appeared before me three times. I attacked her each time, and got utterly defeated in return. The most dangerous time was probably five years ago. At the time, I was turned to ash and wasn’t able to resurrect for almost half a year.”
“I-I’m surprised you were still able to resurrect after spending such a long time as ashes.”
Iris couldn’t help but interject after hearing something like that.
“I was surprised too. Especially since, according to Waraku and Miharu, my ashes were scattered in a field as fertilizer.”
Iris couldn’t imagine what kind of person would think of scattering a vampire’s ashes in a field as fertilizer.
“I have no idea what they were growing in that field, but I bet it tasted horrible.”
Be that as it may, that was hardly the biggest issue here.
“I know saying it like this sounds like a bad joke, but I’ve been killed by her over and over again. The next time I lose to her and turn to ash, I might end up dying for real. Well, if that happens, that’s the end of it. I’ve lived long enough to not care anymore.”
Toraki immediately put on a serious expression.
“I think I’m one of the stronger vampires out there, but in the end, the things that I can do aren’t really that much different from Okonogi or Amimura. She’s the one who made me, after all. She completely outclasses me in every single way.”
After saying that, Toraki suddenly stood up and headed towards the entrance. Upon opening the door, Toraki saw a cardboard box that had not been there when the two of them returned earlier that night. The sounds of what seemed to be a small animal scurrying around energetically could be heard from inside the box. Toraki ignored the box and returned after just picking up the large envelope that had been placed on top of it.
Iris did not show any interest in the contents of the box either.
“As expected from Miharu, her arrangements are almost too good.”
While going over the contents of the envelope, Toraki took out a single photo and passed it over to Iris.
“The day after tomorrow, she’s finally coming to Japan after a long time. Apparently she’ll be arriving at Yokohama Harbor on a luxurious passenger ship. Damn that woman, traveling in style even though she’s a vampire.”
The photo that Iris received from Toraki had been taken using a telephoto lens in some country other than Japan. It showed a young woman drinking tea at a sidewalk cafe in some city.
“What’s the meaning of this, Yura? Is this lady really a vampire?”
Iris immediately noticed a strange detail after seeing that photograph. Toraki also knew in advance that she would pick up on that.
“Yeah. She’s been like that ever since the first time Waraku and I saw her. Just think about it. She’s someone that my uncle introduced to my father as a prospective partner for marriage.”
The woman who was supposedly a vampire had been photographed outside in broad daylight.
“Muroi Aika. In exchange for losing her vampiric abilities, she can walk around like a regular human during the day. And when night falls, she turns into a vampire who is feared even by the Hiki Family who have kept Japan’s denizens of darkness under control for hundreds of years.”
Iris couldn’t even imagine that after seeing the photo. She looked like nothing more than some wealthy man’s socialite wife.
“I don’t even know if that is her real name. That’s the only name that Waraku and I have ever known her by, and whenever we get information about her from the Hiki Family, it is always under that name.”
Toraki pulled out another sheet of paper from the envelope. Instead of the vampiress, that sheet of paper had a picture of Amimura, the vampire whom they had been hunting only a few hours ago, printed on it.
“I see. So this guy was also one of that woman’s innumerable sources of money.”
Toraki pointed to Amimura’s profile, where his band name was mentioned.
“Roomwell. If you translate ‘Room’ and ‘Well’ separately into Japanese and put them back together, you get ‘Muroi’. Dammit, I can almost hear that woman laughing at us.”
Toraki clenched his fist and crushed the paper that he was holding.
“Yura, don’t tell me you’re…”
Toraki nodded in reply.
“I’m going to defeat her and find a way to turn myself into a human again.”
Based on the way Toraki spoke, Iris had already guessed that he wasn’t a pure-blooded vampire, He even had human relatives.
Toraki Yura had spent his life while enjoying the blessing of those relatives and a large number of fateful meetings besides.
From the color of the sunlight that filtered in through the windows, Iris could tell that the sun had fully risen. Tokyo was at a much lower latitude compared to England, so the nature of the sunlight, color of the sky, and everything else was completely different from her homeland.
To Iris, night was the time when all of her “fears” were concentrated. After she became a Church Knight and became more aware about her condition, it had gotten even worse. On those occasions when she had to stay awake all night, the sight of the sun rising in the east felt like salvation to her.
As the feeble rays of light illuminated the room, the gloomy hallway leading to the front door, the door to the bathroom, and Toraki’s piled-up unwashed laundry came into view.
Toraki’s house did not get much sunlight, and it also did not have a wash basin or a dressing room. Moreover, since he was a resident of an apartment building who could only go out at night, Toraki did not own a washing machine. Iris had also been informed to go to a nearby laundromat to do her laundry.
Iris picked up the laundry basket in a completely natural manner, walked out the front door and locked it behind her, and headed for the nearby laundromat that was less than a five minute walk away.
She had only met him recently, and he was not a member of her family, a friend, a lover, or even human. And yet here she was, carrying his dirty laundry. Even though she couldn’t so much as speak to a male cashier in a store, she could do Toraki Yura’s laundry for him even though he hadn’t asked her to.
“Yura seems to be certain that he’ll lose, but if he wins he might go back to being human.”
Given that it was still early in the morning, the laundromat was completely deserted. Iris picked the nearest machine and dumped the entire load of clothes into it.
“If Yura becomes human once more…”
She tried to imagine what would happen in that scenario.
Looking at them objectively, Okonogi, Amimura, and even Muroi Aika, the Ancient Phantom vampire that Toraki and Miharu were afraid of, looked entirely human on the outside.
In that case…
“Sister Yeray? How is the mission regarding the vampire Amimura going—”
“Sister Nakaura! I have a favor to ask!”
“Sister Nakaura, you are acquainted with Miharu from the Hiki Family, aren’t you!?”
“Hiki Family… Miharu… Sister Yeray!? Don’t tell me you actually came into contact with that woman… with Hiki Miharu!?”
“I’d like to meet her, so could you please give me her contact information!?”
Iris’s terrifying expression drove Nakaura into a dither, but after an hour—at around 12:00 PM—Iris and Nakaura were admitted into the executive suite where Iris had met Miharu the previous day.
Iris confidently sat down on the sofa, while Nakaura sat down meekly with her legs together and her hands on her lap, looking thoroughly ill at ease.
“S-Sister Yeray… Why did it come to this… Just how did it turn into a situation where we needed to make an appointment with the Hiki Family?”
“Ah, I got into a little fight with her yesterday.”
“Miharu was the one who actually captured Amimura.”
“But she decided to turn him over to us thanks to a certain vampire’s intervention.”
“Oh, by the way, I’ve decided on a place to stay. Can we have a discussion later to see if the rent and terms of the lease are agreeable?”
“Is that really something to bring up now!?”
“What are you shouting about, Sister Nakaura… Oh.”
Apparently, Nakaura’s astonished voice had been loud enough to be heard outside the room. Miharu frowned as she entered the room, and when she saw Iris sitting next to Nakaura, her eyebrows rose in surprise.
“I would assume that you came to deliver your thanks or apologise regarding what happened last night, but your attitude implies otherwise.”
“I didn’t think it would be possible for me to arrange a meeting with you on my own, so I asked Sister Nakaura for help.”
“Wha—! Sister Yeray! You’re talking to the noble daughter of the Hiki Family! Even the Cardinals of the Order revere her and keep their heads bowed in her presence. How can you talk to her in such a manner!?”
“It’s fine, Sister Nakaura. She’s just a girl who’s around the same age as me, working in the same profession. Isn’t that right?”
“Certainly, if you mean how a low-level underling in the army and a general are both still counted as soldiers, I suppose I can allow that comparison.”
“I thought this country had someone who rose from being an ordinary foot soldier to Imperial regent? Anyways, that’s not important. Thank you for your help last night. Also, we safely received the package that you sent.”
“You came all this way just to tell me that?”
“Of course not. There is something that I would like to confirm after talking to you.”
Iris leaned forward in her seat.
“Do you know why Yura is searching for Aika Muroi?”
“Then why are you cooperating with him? Aren’t you in love with Yura?”
Miharu was not silent because she was hard-pressed to answer, but because she was trying to infer what Iris was trying to say.
“Umm… Sister Yeray… Just what are you…?”
“I’ve never heard of a vampire being turned back into a human. But even if everything somehow turns out for the best, Yura will no longer be immortal. Which means…”
Iris looked up at Miharu who still had a bold smile on her face.
“As a descendant of Yao Bikuni, you will live for far longer than any human. You will no longer be able to spend your life with him. Are you okay with that?”
“…Iris-san, have you ever fallen in love with a man?”
“Of course not. Human males are anathema to me, on a biological level.”
Iris stated that without hesitating for a moment. To her, human males were just as much of a threat as Phantoms.
“Then you would not understand. People in love will take the most contradictory of actions.”
Miharu placed her hand on her chest.
“I myself am eighteen years old, just as my appearance indicates. However my grandmother is two hundred years old and she is still in good health. Toraki-sama’s lifespan is long enough to live by the side of a woman like me from the Hiki Family, one who possesses an endless lifespan. With the influence of the Hiki Family, it would be a simple matter to arrange for Toraki-sama to continue to live in human society with each passing generation. However.”
It wasn’t clear if Miharu’s smile was simply one of love, or one of passion strong enough to be contradictory to the idea of love. Iris, who had never loved a man, could not make that judgement.
“What do you find so strange about helping the man you love to achieve his desire?”
“…It feels like I’ve been dragged into a very youthful conversation.”
During a pause in the conversation between Iris and Miharu, Nakaura alone had an ambiguous smile on her face as she said that.
“If it came from anyone other than you, I would have been moved by that display of genuine love. But you’re hardly that type of woman, are you?”
“Was that not obvious?”
The inconsistencies in Miharu’s words started to grow in number.
“Muroi Aika is a fearsome vampire. Putting it in terms we both understand, she is one of the few ‘Ancient Phantoms’ that exist in this world. The Hiki Family has been repeatedly forced into a disadvantageous position, both by Muroi herself and the large number of vampires that she has created. That is why I don’t believe that Toraki-sama will be able to defeat Muroi on his own and reclaim his humanity.”
“Saying whatever you like, just because Yura has a kind personality.”
“I will get closer to Toraki-sama’s thoughts and desires. However, Toraki-sama’s wish to return to being human will never come true. That is why I will use my own lifespan to accept Toraki-sama’s defeats, mistakes, and despair. That is why this ‘Blood Seal’ exists.”
Miharu deliberately emphasized the pendant that she wore which was the same as Toraki’s.
“This Blood Seal is one of the Hiki Family’s secret techniques. It is used to search for Ayakashi. In the time I have known him, Toraki-sama has turned into ash several times. This seal is made from my blood. When the blood of the Hiki Family within this pendant senses that its wearer has lost their life, it will relay the location to its twin. Under no circumstances… can we allow that person’s ashes to be scattered in a field ever again.”
Iris recalled that Miharu had also been aware of that episode.
“It was a field of radishes.”
“I couldn’t care less about that, but I understand what you’re saying. There’s just one last thing I would like to ask you.”
“Despite what you may think, I am quite busy. Please keep it brief.”
“If I help Yura and successfully turn him back into a human, you really wouldn’t have any problem with that, right?”
Miharu burst out laughing contemptuously as if he found the idea utterly ludicrous, but Iris did not overlook the faint signs that she was shaken.
“How ridiculous. Do you really think your help will make a difference to Toraki-sama in a battle against Muroi Aika, when you had so much trouble against one measly werewolf?”
“How should I know? I heard from Yura that he’s never had help from anyone before. Even you, all you’ve done is to give him information. You’ve never actually helped him, right?”
“T-That is certainly true, but…”
For the first time since they had met, Miharu looked openly flustered.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to criticize you. You want Yura to stay the way he is, right? But I feel differently. So I just wanted you to know that.”
“W-What are you saying!? You and Toraki-sama only met a few days ago, and besides, you are a Church Knight of the Order of the Dark Cross…!”
“That’s irrelevant. Just like you have your reasons to want him to stay a vampire, I too have my own reasons for wanting to turn Yura back into a human.”
Iris was by no means gloating over making Miharu flustered. In fact, she had a complicated expression on her face.
“Even though Yura Toraki is a vampire… he is the first man that I have been able to talk to without any problems ever since I became an adult. If he goes back to being human, he could help me practice dealing with other human males as well. That is why I want Yura to return to being human. That’s all there is to it.”
“For such a trivial reason…!”
“My reasons aside, there should be no problem if my assistance works in favor of resolving my benefactor’s troubles, right? Or are you saying that I don’t have the right to involve myself in his troubles unless I love him from the bottom of my heart?”
“…Miharu, I know you don’t think very highly of me as a knight, and you’re right. I have an extreme case of androphobia. I am a failure who got demoted and sent to Japan because I was not able to produce any results in my home country. Even if someone like me tried to help Yura, I would only end up getting in his way. In the end, Yura will not be able to return to being human. Isn’t that what you want? So there’s no problem, is there?”
Iris’s words were plainly self-deriding, but her expression was filled with confidence.
“Because I’m like this… Yura also underestimated me and refused my help. But there’s a good reason why I am so full of confidence. Despite my issues, I am quite strong against females and Phantoms.”
“B-But you would be going up against an Ancient Phantom! If you go into battle without being sufficiently prepared, you will just end up being killed by her instead…!”
“Like I said, how does it matter to you if I go and get myself killed? Anyways, I’m sorry for taking up your time. I have other things to do today as well, so please wait and look forward to the good news.”
“S-Stop! Did you think I would tolerate such brazen behavior!? Wait!”
Iris boldly left the room, and Miharu ran after her in a panic. As for Nakaura…
“I wonder what all that was about…”
She had been completely left behind in the conversation from beginning to end, and now she had been left behind in the room as well.
“Tora-chan, do you have a minute?”
It was 11 o’clock at night, just before the late-night shift started. Toraki was taking a break at work when Muraoka came into the staff room with a meek expression on his face.
“Yes, what’s the matter?”
When Toraki looked up from the magazine that he had been reading, Muraoka’s expression turned strange as he invited an unexpected person into the staff room.
Akari, who had bandages wrapped around her neck, looked at Toraki with a meek expression. She was holding a box from a nearby cake shop that even he knew about.
“My daughter said that she wanted to thank you and your girlfriend, Tora-chan.”
Toraki put his magazine aside and gave Muraoka and Akari his full attention.
“…I had the chance to talk to my father about all sorts of things after that incident. Oh, and my throat is fine now, by the way.”
Akari opened the conversation with that sentence. What she meant to say was that Muraoka was already aware of the events that took place the other day, which told him that the paramedics had properly contacted Muraoka using the phone number that he had given them at the scene of the fire.
“I was shocked after hearing the things that my daughter had to say. It sounded like you’ve been covering for me a lot without me knowing, Tora-chan.”
“…No, it wasn’t such a big deal. It was just a coincidence.”
“I heard that your girlfriend helped her out a lot, too.”
“As far as I know, they just watched a video together.”
“For the past few years, I haven’t watched so much as a weather report together with my daughter.”
Muraoka said so in a slightly ashamed tone.
“In the beginning, when my father came to see me at the hospital, I was angry at you for sticking your head into my business, Toraki-san. Besides, he just got angry at me again even though he doesn’t really know anything about live houses.”
“As your parent, that’s only natural.”
“What’s natural for you is just plain annoying to us kids. But… I got really depressed after seeing the news about how Amimura-san was involved in some major tax evasion, not to mention other shady stuff.”
It appeared that the conflagration the previous night had forced the police to intervene in Roomwell’s business earlier than they had planned. Toraki had also briefly read a few facts about the case on the internet.
“One more thing,”
Akari’s voice broke slightly as if there was a catch in her throat.
“My mom also came running to see me.”
“Yeah. We talked together as a family after a long time about pointless stuff. Important, but still pointless stuff.”
Akari’s expression was halfway between crying and smiling as she continued to speak.
“I heard about how my dad and mom also used to go to live houses, which is how they met. About what kind of work my father usually does. About my mom’s reasons for leaving. You know, Iris-san told me something. She said that if I wanted to know something, or if I had something to say, I needed to speak up clearly. Because humans as a species are generally not very quick on the uptake.”
Muraoka also listened closely as Akari’s torrent of words spilled out.
“So your girlfriend is called Iris-chan, huh, Tora-chan?”
“Okay, that’s it. Dad, can you get out of the room for a bit?”
Toraki didn’t say it aloud, but he wondered if this facet of Muraoka’s personality was what caused Akari’s mother to lose patience with him in the first place. Watching Akari unceremoniously kick her father out of the room only served to strengthen this impression.
“I swear, he’s such a… Ah, by the way, please eat this together with her if you’d like. I got it to thank you… I know it sounds weird, but it’s thanks to you and Iris-san that my family was able to get together and talk as we did. It’s from that nearby cake store, I think you’ve probably heard about it too, Toraki-san.”
“I didn’t really do anything, though.”
“You listened to me when I needed to vent, right? And my dad, he’s always been like that. When he heard the news about Roomwell, he was actually worried that I took up some shady part-time job to get the money that I was using for the votes. Can you believe that!?”
“Haha… At least you won’t have to buy anymore POSA cards for the time being.”
Toraki found it hard to respond, but he obediently accepted the cake box that Akari held out to him.
“…By the way, Toraki-san. Is Iris-san really your girlfriend?”
“The fact that you felt the need to emphasize it like that already makes it weird, but no, she’s not my girlfriend.”
“Is Iris-san’s family in England?”
“Like I said, I have no idea. Did you hear what I said?”
“Toraki-san, you’re not my boyfriend, right?”
“But you still listened to me when I needed to speak. So when you have some free time, I hope you can do the same for Iris-san as well.”
Akari’s tone turned serious, causing Toraki to put on a serious expression as well.
“Iris-san can’t talk to guys, right? But she’s okay with you for some reason?”
“She even told you about that?”
“Just a little, after I talked to her about my mom.”
Toraki couldn’t see how Akari’s troubles with her mom had anything to do with Iris’s fear of men, but Akari obviously felt differently.
“The reason why Iris-san lost the ability to talk to men seems to have something to do with her mother. I was neck-deep in my own problems at the time, so I didn’t ask for too many details.”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t sound like something I should be sticking my nose into.”
“Don’t Iris-san and you have some kind of special relationship?”
“Like I said, there’s really nothing like that between us—”
“Yeah, not that. I’m talking about some strange powers or hidden worlds that ordinary people like me don’t know about.”
During the incident at the live house, Toraki had transformed into black mist in front of Akari. In hindsight, he had been far too careless. However, it wasn’t like he had much choice. In that situation, it would have been impossible to use his vampiric powers while keeping Akari from noticing.
“I saw it, but not even my own father would believe me if I told him something like that, so I don’t plan on telling anyone. In exchange, please talk to Iris-san and hear her out. Don’t leave her all alone.”
Akari had matured after overcoming an ordeal, and this was her wish in order to get closer to being an adult. For a number of reasons—including the fact that she had caught a glimpse of something related to his true identity—Toraki was forced to acquiesce.
“…Well, I’ll try my best.”
“Ah, that’s definitely something an adult would say.”
Akari said that in a relieved and yet somehow sad manner. After that, she thanked Toraki once more and left the store.
“I should thank you too, Tora-chan. It’s been a very long time since I was able to have a proper conversation with my daughter.”
Toraki received thanks once more from Muraoka after he saw his daughter off from his place at the register.
“Please don’t worry about it. You can just let your appreciation be reflected in my hourly wage.”
“I’ll try my best.”
That was enough to settle matters between two adult men.
“By the way, Tora-chan, you were reading a travel magazine earlier, right? Are you planning a trip with your girlfriend? You seemed to be really interested in the featured article, the one about the luxury cruise.”
“Ah. I left it lying on the table. Sorry, I’ll go put it away. Also, she’s not my girlfriend, and there’s no way I’m going on a trip with her.”
They were talking about the magazine that Toraki had been reading before Akari came to the store. While he was in the staff room, Toraki had been carefully reading an article regarding a luxury cruise ship that was featured in a travel magazine.
The article included details about the luxury cruiser Mary I which was scheduled to arrive at Yokohama harbor the next day.
“Mary, huh? Although the ‘Mother’ who is arriving on that ship is anything but holy.”
Even Toraki understood that the joke was in bad taste and he smiled wryly to himself. However, there was no changing the fact that the woman who would be arriving on that ship was his parent as a ‘vampire’. While he was thinking about that, he suddenly remembered something.
“…Oh yeah, I got her to listen to everything.”
The reason why he had turned into a vampire and the details behind the incident. How he had lived his life so far. His anxiety about the future. He had told Iris everything.
“…Despite how she acts, I guess she really is a nun, after all.”
Toraki frowned while looking at the two-page spread photograph of the ship in the magazine.
“I guess I won’t be able to repay the favor, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.”
He would never have the chance to listen to Iris’s ‘private thoughts’ anymore.
He had severed that opportunity with his own hands, after all.
The lights in his apartment were switched off when Toraki returned home after his shift. Iris seemed to be asleep. If he strained his ears, he could hear the now-familiar sound of her breathing in her sleep from the other side of the sliding door.
Toraki looked at the clock and saw that sunrise was still another thirty minutes away. He used that time to write short letters to Waraku, Miharu, and Iris, after which he went into the bathroom as usual and prepared to sleep.
As he lay there in the darkness, he wondered when he would be able to return to this room once again, assuming he was able to come back at all. Before long, he surrendered to the lethargy that usually overtook him at this time and drifted off into sleep.
Or rather, that was how it was supposed to be.
The moment Toraki drifted off into his dreams, a violent change in the atmosphere of the bathroom caused him to open his eyes again. However, his vision was filled with a sudden flash of light that streamed into the room, and he couldn’t see anything as his body began to burn.
Someone had opened the bathroom door.
The door had been left open, allowing faint sunlight to enter the bathroom. That was more than enough to cause Toraki’s body to start turning into ash, starting with his extremities.
“What do you mean, ‘You can use the apartment however you want after I’m gone’? You used so many Kanji that I only understood about half of it.”
Toraki faintly heard Iris’s voice as his consciousness faded and his vision started to constrict.
“Isn’t the reason why you keep losing and getting scattered in a field as fertilizer because you always do things like this!?”
Toraki couldn’t retort no matter how much he wanted to; his vision had gone dark and his mouth had already turned to ash, leaving him unable to speak.
Eventually, he stopped feeling anything as he completely lost consciousness—
—And the next thing he knew, he was once again inside a bathroom.
However, he had never seen this bathroom before. It was more cramped than the bathroom in his house, but he was able to tell at a glance that this bathroom was better equipped than his own.
To Toraki, it felt like he had teleported here. However, because of the excessive damage suffered by his mind and body just before he lost consciousness, he was still not in a state where he could calmly analyze his surroundings.
“W-Where the heck am I…”
Toraki gazed blankly at the stylish-looking bottles of shampoo and body wash—the sort of things he had never purchased in his life—before getting up and reaching for the door.
“Look, the shoes have dirt on them. Can you not do anything right?”
“Ehh~ Maybe I bumped them somewhere?”
As soon as he opened the door, he saw Iris crouching on the floor on the other side with Miharu standing behind her, and froze.
Toraki had turned to ash, and resurrected in a completely unfamiliar bathroom.
In short, he was completely naked. Moreover, Iris, who was stooped over in front of the door for some reason, got yet another close and personal look at his privates.
“Yura… Not once, but twice…!?”
“H-Hang on, Iris! Explain what’s going on! Why the heck did you—”
“Kyaa! Kyaa! Iris Yeray! Stop staring at it! Toraki-sama! Please return at once! Please cover yourself!”
“There should have been at least a towel in the bathroom!!”
Toraki felt like he couldn’t be blamed for what happened, but he was affected by Iris’s strong pressure and Miharu’s panic, and he rushed back inside the bathroom.
“Hang on, somebody tell me what’s going on!! Where am I!? Why are the two of you together!? Also…”
In that instant, Toraki had accurately taken in the scene. When a creature was exposed to danger, it would experience a sense of slowed time and increased perception. Apparently, that held just as true for vampires as it did for humans.
Toraki had observed that Iris was wearing a black party dress, while Miharu was dressed in a high-quality short-sleeved furisode.
“Why are the two of you dressed like you’re going to a party or something!?”
“That’s obvious! You should hurry up and get dressed as well!”
The door opened a crack, just wide enough for Iris to shove a black three-piece suit through. It was something that didn’t exist inside Toraki’s wardrobe.
“The necktie and shoes are out here! Hurry up, and hide that filthy thing before you come out!”
“That’s fine and all, but I don’t even have underwear—”
Before he could finish speaking, a pair of underpants, an undershirt, and socks came flying through the same crack as if Iris was disposing of garbage. Needless to say, they were all brand new.
Despite his bafflement, Toraki put the clothes on and nervously stepped out of the bathroom. He saw Miharu, who was still covering her face with her hands and hanging her head, while Iris looked somewhat triumphant despite still being angry as she held out a wine-red necktie towards him.
Apparently, they were in a hotel room. It came equipped with two wide beds that were lined up neatly with a gap in between them, and soft lighting illuminated every corner of the room.
“I knew it. Red doesn’t really suit you, Yura, even though you’re a vampire. Maybe we should have picked a brighter pink color for your necktie.”
“I am so sorry Toraki-sama… Even though we are not married yet… That was not my intention at all…”
“Umm… Can someone explain what’s going on? Where the hell are we, and what are you two up to—”
At that point, Toraki felt the floor beneath his feet sway slightly, and he looked around at his surroundings once more.
“What was that? An earthquake?”
“It’s not an earthquake. If you want to find out, put on the necktie.”
“Y-Yeah… Hang on, how do you tie one of these things again?”
The Front Mart uniform that Toraki wore at work did not come with a necktie.
Toraki, who had utterly zero opportunities to go out wearing a suit, couldn’t remember when he had last worn a necktie. After watching him struggle with the necktie that she had pressed upon him, Iris rescued the article of clothing before Toraki inadvertently tied it into a bowknot.
“Give it here. Honestly, did you really want to do everything by yourself when you can’t even take care of a simple task like this?”
Saying that, Iris grabbed his head and pulled his face closer to her own.
“Wha—! W-What do you think you’re doing! Ugh, I’m so jealous!”
Miharu protested strongly after seeing Iris pass her hands around Toraki’s neck while putting the necktie on him, but…
“Jealous of what? He can’t even put on a necktie on his own and needs a woman to do it for him. Can he even be considered to be a proper man like this?”
Toraki really wanted to ask Iris about her warped idea about men, but he held himself back.
“There, it’s done. Alright, now take a look outside. You should understand at a glance where we are right now.”
Miharu watched Iris lightly smack Toraki’s chest after she finished tying a perfect Windsor knot, and felt frustrated enough to want to gnaw the sleeve of her short furisode to pieces.
Toraki glanced at Miharu who was exhibiting a side of her that he had never seen, and then took a look out of the window.
“…The ocean… No, we’re in the harbor? Don’t tell me—!”
Toraki suddenly realized where he was after seeing the Yokohama harbor in the background.
“As expected of the Hiki Family. She was able to make arrangements at once when I said that I wanted to get on the ship.”
“Is this the Mary I…?”
That was the name of the cruise ship that Muroi Aika was traveling on. He had received that information directly from Miharu.
“Miharu arranged this?”
Miharu’s face was still slightly red as she glared at Iris, before she suddenly turned away.
“I-I merely allowed myself to be carried away by that woman’s cajolery on purpose! The Hiki Family also does not want the number of vampire-related incidents to increase any further!”
“She was really a great help. I tried to make arrangements through the Order of the Dark Cross as well, but I was told that it was too late to get anything other than an economy cabin. On the other hand, a first-class passenger can freely enter all the VIP-reserved areas on the ship, which would make searching for someone a lot easier.”
Toraki stared dumbfoundedly at the two of them.
“You understand the situation now, right? We are inside a grand suite room aboard the luxury cruise ship, Mary I. A single man taking a vacation aboard a luxury cruise ship would stick out like a sore thumb.”
Iris looked at Toraki who was still bewildered, and smoothly slipped her arm around Toraki’s right elbow.
“For a man to not attract attention while walking around a luxury cruise ship, he needs to have either his family or a partner with him.”
After seeing Iris’s actions, Miharu grabbed Toraki’s left arm and pulled as if she was trying to separate it from his shoulder.
“You, his partner? How shameless! You are only here thanks to the Hiki Family’s finances! I will be the one to play the part of Toraki-sama’s partner!!”
“That’s fine with me. If you do a good job, then Yura’s chances of encountering Muroi Aika and turning back into a human would increase correspondingly. Miharu, you can’t possibly be thinking of getting in his way, now could you!?”
“H-How dare you! O-Of course not!”
“I’ll hold you to that. By the way, Yura.”
Toraki never imagined that his first experience with having a beautiful woman on each arm—moreover, in what could very well be his final hours before death—could be such a terrifying experience.
Long life had its advantages, after all.
“Me, or Miharu? Who would you rather take with you as your partner?”
“Look here, you two… I’m past seventy years of age, don’t force a decision like that on an old man like me… Aah, I can feel my blood pressure falling…”
The usually good-for-nothing Iris was strangely confident as she cajoled the others into getting what she wanted, while the usually self-assured and cool-headed Miharu had fallen completely into Iris’s pace and was being taken for a ride.
Toraki, who still had no idea what was going on, reached a decision.
“Haaa… You said… family is okay too, right?”
It was a truly anticlimactic result.
“H-Hey, in places like this, you’re supposed to start with the fork that’s furthest from your plate, right?”
“Yura… Why are you so nervous? The waiter will just take it away if you don’t use it, so it’s fine.”
“Manners are important, but as an adult, you should understand how to carry yourself when you are eating in public. If you do that, you won’t feel the need to be so formal, Onii-sama.”
The three of them were currently sitting in a restaurant that was open only to suite-class passengers and above.
“…What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m surprised that you thought you could come aboard the ship in such a state. How were you planning on getting on board?”
“I was just going to turn into mist and sneak in. I’d think about what to do next once I was actually inside.”
“This ship is scheduled to leave the port at 7:00 P.M, two hours from now. The next stop is at Naha City, after three days. Might I ask just how you were planning on keeping out of the sunlight during this time?”
“It’s a massive ship. I’m sure there’s a corner or two in the bilge where the sunlight can’t reach.”
“Yura, don’t you think your previous attempts failed because of your lack of planning?”
“I, too, am starting to think the same.”
“Don’t start sympathizing with each other all of a sudden over strange things… In the first place, I wasn’t planning on dragging things out for such a long time. If I snuck aboard using my vampiric powers, she would notice my presence for sure. That’s how it has always gone in the past.”
“Were you seriously planning on settling things and disembarking before the ship set sail?”
“Either that, or I would be trapped, turned into sun-dried vampire dust, and have my ashes scattered over the ocean.”
Iris frowned while looking at Toraki who had taken a somewhat philosophical view of things.
“Miharu. You should give up on this man, right now. He basically never thinks things through. Don’t you think it would be impossible to live with someone like this for hundreds of years?”
“That recklessness has a wild charm of its own.”
“I see, so love can make even the descendant of an Ancient Phantom blind to the obvious.”
“Listen, you two.”
Toraki spoke while looking at the main dish that he had been served, some sort of fish dish that he had never heard of.
“You should leave the ship right now. If we run into her, it will undoubtedly turn into a fight. I’m not talking about the risk of simply getting hurt or killed. The two of you came aboard as passengers with proper tickets, right? You could be branded as criminals if you get into a big fight here.”
“That is not a problem. I would merely go into hiding for a while until things calm down, after which I would come out with a new identity.”
“I’m the same as Miharu. Since we’re up against an Ancient Phantom, the Order would support me even if we were defeated.”
Toraki was bewildered by how utterly carefree the two of them were.
“…Yura, just give up and accept it already. Things might have been different for you in the past, but the battle this time is not going to be yours alone, whether you like it or not. Both Miharu and I have different reasons and goals in mind for pursuing your enemy. So there will be no hard feelings no matter who takes the target down. Because we each have our own goals in mind.”
“I-Indeed. Even though I spoke harshly the other day, I have wholeheartedly decided to accommodate your wishes to the best of my ability, Toraki-sama. That has not changed since the day we met! O-Of course, if you are willing to spend the rest of your life with me, that would make matters easier…”
“Miharu. That’s quite the passionate speech, considering you’re supposed to be his younger sister.”
Miharu gritted her teeth so hard that if the fork that she was currently raising had made it to her mouth, it might have been crushed to pieces.
“I… understand how the two of you feel. But seriously, stay on your guard.”
“There’s no way I would let my guard down against an Ancient Phantom. I will fight to the best of my ability, using all the knowledge and experience that I have regarding vampires.”
“In the worst case, I will settle matters during the time when you are asleep, Onii-sama.”
Iris’s statement implied that she was planning to fight during the night and help Toraki regain his humanity, whereas Miharu’s words implied that she wanted to settle matters during the day when Toraki was not present, a roundabout way of saying that she did not want Toraki to turn back into a human.
Toraki himself had no way of knowing what Miharu’s true feelings on the matter were, but both Iris and Miharu had fearless expressions on their faces as they attempted to gauge each other’s intentions while continuing their meal.
Were these two on good or bad terms? Watching Iris and Miharu as they unexpectedly spoke to each other without any hint of reservation made Toraki remember what Akari had said to him earlier.
Just lending an ear to her thoughts would make her feel better.
Honestly speaking, Toraki wanted to keep Iris away from Muroi Aika. However, despite all of her excuses, Iris was here in part because she was worried about Toraki. He wasn’t being conceited, that was simply the truth.
Just that fact alone was enough to make Toraki feel truly happy, but…
“Even though I’ve lived for seventy years, I still don’t really understand myself.”
…There was a small part of him that started to hate how carefree he really was.
“Yura, did you say something?”
“…No, it’s nothing.”
Now that things had come to such a pass, trying to get Iris and Miharu to leave would just be a waste of time. He needed to reevaluate the situation while taking their presence into account.
Before their meal, Toraki had received a few details from Iris and Miharu regarding a ploy that they had carefully put into place. However, they needed to consider every eventuality and plan their moves to avoid using that ploy as much as possible.
The mood at the table was strained, in more ways than one. Toraki desperately worked his way through the course dinner, and Miharu spoke up after they had just finished drinking a post-meal cup of tea.
“By the way, both of you.”
She called out to them with a satisfied expression on her face.
“I have always wanted to visit a casino. How about we all go there together?”
“…I don’t mind, but I thought casinos couldn’t operate on ships like these until they left Japan’s territorial waters?”
“We can’t wager any money, but there should still be games that offer novelty items as prizes. It would be good practice, why not give it a try?”
The abrupt invitation to go and play was entirely unlike Miharu, but Toraki and Iris accepted it like it was completely natural.
“Well then, Onii-sama, please escort me.”
Miharu looked at Toraki while saying that, and he took her hand and helped her out of her seat without making a fuss.
“Wait a minute. I’ve heard that there will be lessons held for people who have never visited a casino before. Even if we are not wagering any money, just jumping into a game without any preparation might ruin the mood for the other players. How about we leave the actual casino debut for tomorrow, and spend some time today in practicing?”
“Certainly, Miss. You can apply for a lesson using the phone in your cabin. The earliest lesson should be around thirty minutes from now. Alternatively, you could also call from here in the restaurant to make a reservation. Would that be preferable?”
“…Oh, I see. But I think we’ll go back to our cabin once before we decide. Thank you.”
“Understood. Thank you for visiting our restaurant.”
The male staff member who had stepped forward to help Iris out of her chair spoke up with some helpful advice, which helped to make their conversation seem more natural.
Without further ado, the three of them left the restaurant. Just before they passed through the doors, however, Toraki glanced back inside the restaurant for just a second.
There was an elegant lady seated at one of the tables that lay in the direction of the ship’s casino from where the three of them had been sitting. As she chatted in a familiar manner with the restaurant staff, Toraki observed her face that he had not forgotten for a single day.
The woman who had turned Toraki into a vampire on a snowy night all those years ago was certainly on the same ship as them.
Toraki looked at her for barely an instant.
He quickly turned back and left the restaurant with Iris and Miharu, and the doors closed behind them.
“What are you planning to do?”
Toraki replied to Iris while lightly adjusting his necktie. He also loosened his belt a notch.
“What are you doing?”
“That meal was pretty filling. I usually don’t eat so much at once, so it’s a bit tight.”
Toraki’s statement was just asking for trouble in more ways than one, but he wasn’t done speaking yet.
“It’s not often that I get to experience such luxury. I was thinking of hitting the bar for some drinks that I normally wouldn’t get the chance to try. I’m not planning to do anything rash right off the bat, so why don’t the two of you come by once you’ve calmed down?”
“…Onii-sama, have you forgotten how old I am?”
“Oh, that’s right. Just Iris, then. Miharu, thanks for earlier. Take care of Iris for me, would you? Well then, I’m off.”
Toraki turned around and walked towards the bar counter that was adjacent to the restaurant.
“…Well then, what should the two of us do… Hmm?”
Miharu crossed her arms and sank into thought after seeing Toraki off, but she soon noticed Iris crouching next to her with a pale face and looked at her with a surprised expression.
“What on earth is the matter with you?”
“We had a female server for the entire meal, so why did a male waiter have to appear at the very last moment…”
Just before they left, when the male waiter had spoken up about the casino lessons, Iris’s reply to him had seemed entirely natural. After all, if she had fallen into a panic like she normally did, she couldn’t avoid attracting attention from the other people around them.
It was a perfect, once in a lifetime performance from Iris.
“…Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
Miharu took Iris’s hand with a sigh and pulled her up straight.
“Getting seasick before the ship even leaves port. How shameful.”
“…Thank you. I just need some help getting to the room. After that…”
Iris clenched her teeth to endure her panic attack and leaned against Miharu for support.
“It’s time to start the mission.”
Toraki walked through the bar lounge entrance that was opposite to the restaurant while feeling slightly nervous.
From the luxurious appearance of the bar, Toraki assumed that it would be packed with drinks that he had never heard of. However, he spotted a familiar blue bottle among the others that were lined up behind the counter. The sight of that bottle reminded him of the wolfman named Sagara.
Toraki sat at the bar and ordered the same drink as if it was only natural.
“A gin and tonic, please. With Pompeii Sapphire.”
The bartender prepared the drink with practised movements and set down a cocktail glass in front of Toraki. The cocktail was more diluted compared to the one from the live house, and the coldness of the drink could be clearly felt. The crushed ice used in this cocktail mellowed out the taste of the tonic water, and it was hard to imagine that it was the same drink that he had ordered in the live house.
“But I liked the other one better.”
Toraki felt that the gin and tonic made by Sagara—with ice cubes made from filtered water and a cheap lime—suited him and his usual lifestyle better.
While Toraki was thinking about that, the owner of a sweet fragrance sat down lightly on the barstool next to him.
“Mind if I take this seat?”
It was scientifically proven that compared to a high-pitched tone, a low and husky tone was better at enticing the opposite sex and holding their attentions, or so he had heard. If that was true, then this woman’s voice that was tinged with exotic overtones like bitter chocolate would instantly captivate the heart of any man.
“It is your first time on this ship?”
“Then you have good taste. There are other bars on this ship, but this one with the attached restaurant has the best quality.”
“Do you travel on this ship often?”
“Sometimes. But it’s never much fun. I’m always swamped with work.”
“That’s quite the enviable position. Even if it’s for work, getting to travel on a ship like this must be nice. Although I can’t even imagine what sort of work that would be.”
“It’s dull once you get used to it. It’s only fun at first.”
“Oh, is that so? If you ask me, it looks like you’re enjoying your life to the fullest, though.”
Neither one of them looked at the other. Their stares were fixed on the bar counter.
Before long, a narrow glass filled with a red liquid was placed in front of the woman without her saying anything to the bartender.
“Would you like to try one? It’s called a Bloody Mary. It’s the best drink at this bar, I highly recommend it.”
It was a thick and harsh-tasting cocktail with vodka as the base, mixed with tomato juice, lemon juice, and even salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce according to the drinker’s taste.
“That was the first thing I thought of when I heard the name of this ship. Mary I. A somewhat unlucky name for a ship, if you ask me.”
“Oh, but I rather like it. It’s a journey over this planet’s single largest body of ‘flowing water’, the ocean, after all. There’s nothing wrong with at least the name of the ship having a somewhat bloody imagery.”
While saying so, the woman slightly tilted her glass towards Toraki.
“Were those cute girls your lovers? You’ve certainly turned into quite the playboy since I last saw you.”
“Nothing so nice. One of them is an uninvited freeloader while the other likes to call herself my fiancée without my permission.”
Toraki also tilted his half-finished glass of gin and tonic towards her.
“Both gin and tonic and Blood Mary are simple cocktails. All the more reason why they show the true ability of a bartender. No matter how base the ingredients are, if they are prepared and polished by a true master, they will shine true as well.”
“That’s troubling to hear. Before thinking about something like that, I should decide on how I am going to live my own life in the future.”
Toraki’s and the woman’s glasses made a light tinkling sound as they touched.
The woman brought her glass up to her lips, while Toraki did the same with his. Toraki finished his drink, while the woman left hers half-unfinished.
“Put his drink on my tab as well.”
The woman stood up, smiling sweetly at the bartender. Toraki also stood up, and without her saying anything, followed behind her. That was when he finally looked at her properly.
She was wearing a red party dress with a black stole. An enamelled purse from a luxurious brand and white high-heeled shoes completed the outfit.
“As you wish, Muroi-sama.”
The bartender bowed lightly as Toraki and the woman left the bar.
“I thought you weren’t going to come.”
“You went to the trouble of sending me an invitation, after all. Of course I had to come.”
The two of them were on the deck of the ship, exposed to the night air. Toraki walked at an easy pace behind Muroi Aika while they spoke.
“There is no way Miharu would be able to track you down so easily unless you wanted her to. How much of it was your doing?”
“The Hiki Family’s intelligence network is quite fearsome. They work with the police and the Public Safety department to extend their net over every single ship and aeroplane arriving from other countries. I just happened to get caught in their net this time, that’s all.”
“I’m sure you could have hidden yourself if you wanted to.”
“It’s been five whole years since I last came to Japan. I have no intention of traveling under such constraints. Besides, I could only stay in Yokohama for a day at most, so I doubted if you would actually come.”
The Mary I could carry three thousand passengers. It was almost like a self-contained shopping district that never quite went to sleep. A passenger ship that traveled in international waters would not only have casinos as Miharu mentioned earlier, but also bars, dining establishments, nightclubs, entertainers, and the like. For that reason, it was common to see a lot of people milling about in the public spaces, excluding the floor where the passenger cabins were located.
However, the Mary I’s topmost deck—called the moon deck—that had a clear view of the nightscape of Yokohama harbor was currently empty except for Toraki and Muroi Aika. The gentle ocean breeze caressed her shoulder-length black hair.
“It was just a complete coincidence that you ran into Okonogi and Amimura. I was in Hong Kong when you defeated Okonogi, and I only found out yesterday that the two of them were captured by the Order of the Dark Cross. Those two weren’t my direct ‘children’ or anything. However, it seemed to me that they had the potential to settle down in Japan, so I just helped to get them into the country. That’s why I really had no intention of coming back to Japan, but…”
Aika took something that looked like a commuter pass holder out of her bag and tossed it down at Toraki’s feet.
“…What’s the meaning of this?”
“She looks different now, doesn’t she?”
The holder contained a picture of Iris.
“When I heard that she had been transferred to Japan, I decided that I had to see her in person. That’s why I was shocked when I saw you enter the restaurant earlier. It looked like Hiki Miharu and you were happily enjoying a meal with her, after all.”
Aika’s blood-red lips warped into a twisted smile.
“You know, Yura, I was so worried about you. That girl, Iris Yeray, is a natural-born Church Knight, you know? I would be crushed if she hunted down one of my superior ‘children’ like yourself.”
Toraki was familiar with the name and occupation that Aika mentioned. But as for Iris herself, it seemed that she had never heard of Muroi Aika until Toraki had told her his story. Just how were the two of them connected?
“Are you sure it’s really her? The Iris Yeray that I know is irredeemably inept at her job. There’s no way she would come after me to hunt me down.”
“Any ‘parent’ would want to remove even the slightest trace of danger for the sake of their children. It must be fate that we met here. What do you say we have her become one of us?”
“Over my dead body.”
The next instant, Toraki’s body turned into black mist and vanished into thin air.
Aika’s smile didn’t falter in the least. She accurately tracked a certain portion of Toraki’s mist as it flew through the night sky.
“I remember telling you in the past that fighting on human turf is not a good idea.”
Aika pulled a knife out of her bag. The blade gleamed with a silver light as she accurately threw it at a certain spot in the air.
As the knife thrown by Aika seemingly passed through thin air, Toraki’s body suddenly appeared at that spot and he fell pathetically to the deck.
“How is a vampire like you using a silver knife!?”
The throwing knife that had pierced through Toraki’s mist was made from consecrated silver. One of Toraki’s feet turned into ash and crumbled away, while the knife stuck itself into a wall.
“It depends on how you use it. I have human collaborators as well, so as long as I have a way of carrying it around…”
Saying that, Aika showed Toraki her right hand, the one with which she had thrown the knife.
“It has its downsides, but that can’t be helped.”
The willowy, beautiful hand was marred by a dark burn.
“Let me tell you something. Around a hundred years ago, a wooden cross was haphazardly constructed on the battlefield during a war. The hilt of this knife is made from that wood. That cross absorbed the grudge-soaked blood of a great many people, to the point where it eclipsed even the holiness that it was supposed to symbolize. This evil wood was born from the regrets and despair of a great many soldiers who died on the battlefield while feeling that they had been abandoned by their god.”
While smiling, Aika stabbed another knife into the shadow that Toraki cast due to the ship’s lights.
Toraki’s left shoulder was immobilized. It was the same holy skill that Iris had used to seal Amimura’s movements.
“You haven’t improved a bit. Just what have you been doing for the past five years? Letting the blood rush to your head because of a single photograph of a girl shows that you’re still just a child.”
Aika stabbed yet another knife into the shadow of his uninjured leg, causing him to completely lose the ability to move.
“Why did you send the girls back to the room? Was it to keep them from fighting me? That’s no good, Yura. You need to get a little stronger if you want to show off.”
Aika’s laugh sounded pleasant, like the tinkling of a bell.
“On the other hand, Iris Yeray is amazing, you know? Her family has caused me no end of trouble. The ‘Knights of Yeray’ are a distinguished family, also known as the strongest within the Order of the Dark Cross.”
“Knights… of Yeray?”
“Yes. And she too has inherited that talent in spades. She was only ten years old when she first killed a vampire.”
“You… How much do you know about Iris …”
It was incredibly strange. The fact that Aika knew about Iris’s past in such detail while Iris had never even heard of her was unusual, no matter how you looked at it.
“You look like you want to ask why I know so much.”
Aika revealed an impish smile that was overwhelmingly charming despite the abnormal situation they were in. She leaned over Toraki who was still immobile and whispered into his ear.
“Try asking her about the first vampire she killed. It’s a fascinating story.”
Toraki grimaced. Whenever this woman said something suggestive, she almost certainly had something terrible in mind. Besides, no matter what Aika was scheming, it would all come to an end if he could just defeat her.
“Sorry, but I have no interest in any vampires other than you.”
“Stop it, Yura, you’re making me blush.”
Aika spoke with a smile that made shivers run down Toraki’ back.
“Even though you’ve gotten so big, you’re still just a child. Did you miss your mommy that much?”
In response to Toraki’s scream, a large crescent shape flashed through the night sky.
The crescent flash made a cut on Aika’s face, although it didn’t go deeper than a single layer of skin. A black mist gushed out of the cut.
“Oh, if it isn’t the princess of the Hiki Family. How did you sneak that dangerous thing aboard the ship?”
Miharu, who was still wearing her furisode, readied the Japanese sword that she had drawn.
“I thought I had you for certain.”
“The average vampire or someone like Yura would have lost their head for sure. But the life force possessed by the young is a wonderful thing. Just by existing, you exude such a delicious fragrance. The scent of Yao Bikuni’s blood that flows through your veins, I mean.”
“I will take that as a compliment. Toraki-sama, can you stand?”
Miharu’s posture showed no openings as her blade flashed out and knocked away the daggers that held Toraki in place.
“Thanks. I had hoped to do a little better than that.”
Aika slightly furrowed her eyebrows after seeing Toraki stand up next to Miharu. Toraki’s leg, which was supposed to have turned into ash, had returned to normal.
“That’s strange. You shouldn’t have been able to regenerate so quickly from an injury like that. Just where did you get that much blood from?”
The regeneration of body parts also followed the law of conservation of mass, and in terms of the energy required, it was one of the more demanding skills within a vampire’s repertoire.
However, Toraki, who had lost everything below the knee just a short while ago, now stood there as if nothing had happened.
“The young lady from the Hiki family does not appear to be injured, and I don’t smell any blood on her either. That said, it should have been impossible for you to carry such a large amount of blood aboard the ship… How strange, indeed.”
“I’m sure a rich and powerful vampire like you would never even think of a method like this. Or rather, even I had never considered this method until now.”
“So the fight’s nowhere near finished, okay? I bet you don’t have an inexhaustible supply of those knives either.”
Toraki once again transformed into a black mist, but Miharu completely disregarded him and jumped close to Aika in a single bound.
“That technique is meaningless before a vampire who can see through to your ‘core’, you know?”
Aika ignored Toraki and used her knife that was supposedly made from malleable silver to accurately parry the blow from Miharu’s steel sword.
“Oh? That sword is…”
“Since you travel aboard this ship often, I’m sure you have seen it before, Muroi-sama.”
“Yes, I remember it now. That hilt and scabbard, painted in the sort of crude color that amateur collectors of Japanese artifacts would love… I remember seeing it in the high-class Japanese handicrafts store on the shopping mall deck of the ship.”
“In terms of battle readiness and its worth as a blade, this one does not even compare to the swords in my collection. However, its utility ultimately depends upon the skill of the wielder.”
Miharu, dressed in a short-sleeved furisode and straw sandals and equipped with a katana, faced off against Aika, who was dressed in a party dress and high-heeled shoes with a silver knife as her weapon.
Neither one of them looked like they were dressed to battle. As they stared down at each other, a black mist interposed itself in between them.
“A man shouldn’t interfere in a catfight, Yura. You’ll just get hurt.”
Toraki expected Aika to put up her guard against being grabbed by his black mist, but instead she just deftly parried Miharu’s sword and kicked the black mist with the heel of her shoe. That alone was enough for a portion of the black mist to transform into lumps of ashes and fall powerlessly to the deck.
“So the heels of your shoes are embedded with silver… You are certainly well prepared.”
“As are you. It is not just humans who are out to kill me, I am hunted by a large number of Phantoms as well. This amount of preparation is only natural.”
Miharu’s forehead was beaded with sweat, while Toraki’s mist was still shedding flakes of ash. However, they were no closer to defeating Aika than they were at the beginning of the fight. Instead, it was Toraki and Miharu who were slowly being pushed back to the edge of the deck.
“Let me guess, you’re letting me corner you so that you can…”
At the same instant that Aika said that, Toraki’s mist darted forward to impede her vision like the ink released by an escaping squid, and blotted out her view of the sky.
“…And then the Knight in hiding takes the opportunity to rush in. How unoriginal—”
A sudden gust of wind blew Toraki’s mist into shreds. The wind was caused by two silver slugs.
Aika’s expression hardened for the first time during their fight, and she took a large leap backwards to increase the distance between Miharu and herself.
“No, your aim was true!”
Iris looked for confirmation, and Miharu answered her.
One second after the bullets were fired, Iris appeared from inside Toraki’s mist. However, she was empty-handed. There was nothing resembling a gun anywhere on her person. That was only natural.
SInce Iris had checked in as a regular passenger using the ticket that Miharu had procured for her, there was no way that she could have brought a gun on board.
“I have to admit, I let my guard down too much. I wonder how long it has been since the last time my body was pierced by silver.”
Aika’s evening dress had a hole on one side of the stomach. Neither blood nor damaged flesh could be seen through that hole, and instead, only a small amount of ash spilled out of it.
“I don’t know what sort of trick you used to fire those bullets at me. As expected from one of the Knights of Yeray. But you should know who you’re up against before you decide to play with fire, or you won’t get away with just simple burns.”
“Let’s withdraw for now. She’s about to get serious.”
Toraki’s mist whirled around Miharu and Iris and tried to hide them from Aika’s sight. However…
A pure blast of what could only be described as a wall of air burst out of Aika’s mouth, blowing away Toraki’s mist and causing Miharu and Iris to stagger.
“Naughty kids deserve to be frightened a little.”
The hem of Aika’s dress and her stole fluttered up, but that was not due to the ocean breeze.
“There’s absolutely no reason for the strong to hold back against the weak.”
A dark aura that looked like a compressed form of the entire night sky wrapped itself around Aika, and Iris, who was lightly dressed, experienced a chill that had nothing to do with being outside at a harbor during a winter night.
The beautiful woman who had looked so stunning in her party dress was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, they beheld a witch of death that looked like a concentrated form of everything repulsive, a monster that possessed innumerable fangs.
“No way… A Strigoi!?”
Iris’s scream caused Miharu to turn pale as well.
“An original vampire…!”
The Strigoi were Ancient Phantoms, created through necromancy long before the legend of Count Dracula spread throughout the world. They were a type of vampire that had existed since antiquity.
“It’s been a long time, Knight of Yeray. I hope you make this fun for me!”
The dark aura closed the gap in less than the blink of an eye. Miharu’s sword flashed out to intercept the blow, but while she did manage to hit the Strigoi, it was like hitting a wall of iron; the blade wasn’t able to pierce through. Still, Miharu’s attack managed to stop the Strigoi’s deathly claws a few millimeters away from Iris’s neck.
“Thank you, Miharu!”
“Just hurry up and run away!”
“Both of you, grab on!”
Toraki coiled his mist around Miharu and Iris’s waists and tossed them up onto the roof of the upper part of the deck, but a black mist shot out from behind Toraki along the same trajectory, hot in pursuit of the two girls.
“Ugh! Stop right there!”
Toraki tried to stop the mist with his own, but he was utterly no match in terms of sheer power and ended up getting dragged along as well. After being pulled up to the rooftop, he was slammed down at the feet of Iris and Miharu who were waiting in ambush and reverted to his human form, but…
Without even taking the time to stand up, Toraki released threads of blood from his fingernails.
“How’s that!? It’s one of the vampire techniques that you never cared about!”
“Yura! The nails!”
It was the same technique that the vampire Okonogi had used against them back when they first met. Toraki now used that technique to pick up the wooden nails that Iris scattered on the ground.
“Damn, that hurrrrts!”
The holy wood reacted to the touch of a vampire’s blood and caused Toraki an incredible amount of pain, but even as he yelled, he slammed his threads of blood with the nails attached into the Strigoi’s mist…
…And explosively scattered the wooden nails inside.
A silver light flashed from within the Strigoi’s mist, followed by a metallic explosion. The impact caused the mist to scatter slightly and made her stop attacking.
“Yura! Detach the threads of blood!”
Iris, who had been empty handed just a minute ago, was now holding the Holy Hammer Liberation. The head of the hammer left a silver track through the air as she swung it like a baseball bat, hitting the base of a silver bullet and causing it to go flying straight towards the Strigoi’s mist.
The Strigoi put some distance between herself and Iris as if she was wary of her silver bullets. She landed on a roof a short distance away from the three of them and looked at them vigilantly through cloudy eyes.
Toraki and Miharu had been fighting in the same way since the start, but to the Strigoi, it looked like Iris—who had started the fight empty-handed—was getting better weapons as the fight went on.
“Liberation could arguably pass for an ordinary carpenter’s tool… But those silver bullets, there’s no way you could have brought those aboard if you checked in the normal way.”
“Don’t worry about it, we’re just weaklings after all.”
“The first shots that came through Yura’s mist were just pellets of hardened silver. However, what you shot at me just now was a silver bullet from a Knight’s Holy Gun Deuscris. Just how did you sneak something as dangerous as bullets aboard a passenger ship? The ship travels through international waters, so the baggage checks should have been quite strict. Do you have another collaborator somewhere on this ship?”
“Even if that were true, surely it doesn’t matter to a powerful Ancient Phantom such as yourself. Please feel free to keep underestimating us and leaving yourself open to our attacks.”
“Fufufu… You should be careful not to anger your enemy beyond their limits, or you’ll end up dead.”
The Strigoi’s deep crimson pupils flickered in the cold winter air.
“Well, that certainly sounds terrifying. But you know, we didn’t plan for a long, drawn-out fight either.”
Toraki, whose loaner three-piece suit had seen better days, raised his right arm. He wasn’t turning into black mist, nor was it a prelude to an attack.
However, a small figure could be seen crouching on the palm of this hand.
“Nice timing. I like guys who don’t mistake the people that they should side with.”
The creature on top of Toraki’s hand was one that lived in the very center of human society. It was a tiny animal that used shopping centres as its stronghold.
In other words, it was a rat.
“Say your prayers!”
The next instant, the holy gun Deuscris appeared in Iris’s hand out of nowhere, and she fired off two shots. The bullets accurately pierced through the ancient Strigoi’s forehead and heart.
As the sound of the two shots reverberated through the winter air, the Strigoi’s body started turning into ash and melting away. As the body continued to shrink, it eventually let out a violent spurt of blood before turning back into the form of Muroi Aika.
She had attempted to reduce the damage by returning to her human form that was smaller than the Strigoi’s body, but the damage was still immense. She staggered to her knees, and the areas around her forehead and heart gradually started flaking away into particles of ash.
“Ah… Amimura… How dare you betray me…”
“The Japan Branch of the Order of the Dark Cross and the Hiki Family offered him their protection. After hearing that, he immediately agreed to obey our commands.”
“I never wanted to become a vampire to begin with. I’ve been living as an outlaw all this time because I was afraid of being hunted down by humans. You can’t blame me for jumping at the chance when I was offered protection by an official organization.”
Amimura spoke in a shrill voice, still in the shape of a rat on top of Toraki’s palm.
“I had him bring both Liberation and Deuscris on board. Rats are a common sight, both in Yokohama’s Chinatown and in the harbor. WIth the size and strength of a rat, It should have been easy enough for him to bring the items on board one at a time.”
“So the young lady from the Hiki Family’s flashy kimono and attacks with a sword, as well as Yura’s repeated transformations that lacked imagination, were merely for the sake of drawing my attention away from the rat that was scurrying about in the dark corners… Fufu.”
Aika fell down powerlessly and lay face up on deck while continuing to leak blood.
“Yura. Now’s your chance. Not even an Ancient Phantom can move after having their head and heart pierced with silver bullets. You said you had a way to turn back into a human if you won, right!?”
“Toraki-sama, even if you turn into a human, my feelings for you will not change!”
“Yura! What are you doing!?”
For some reason, Toraki did not move even though Aika was slowly turning into ash right in front of him. Or rather, he could not move.
“Don’t let down your guard. She won’t die so easily.”
“Huh!? What are you talking about!?”
“Five years ago, I also managed to get her into a similar condition!”
Just as Iris furrowed her eyebrows in confusion…
“…Return to being human… I see.”
Aika, who was supposed to have collapsed powerlessly to the ground, suddenly stood up like a puppet that was being pulled upright while ignoring the force of gravity.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
Even though the upper part of her head was gone and there was a massive hole in her chest, Aika’s lips were still curled up in a smile.
“You didn’t assume that you were in the clear just because she used silver bullets. You’ve gotten better, Yura.”
“As if I could let down my guard so easily against you. I could tell that you were regulating the speed at which you were turning into ash, dammit. What kind of vampire suddenly slows down the rate at which they turn into ash halfway through?”
Iris’s loosely held the now empty Deuscris in her hand, and her lips began to tremble as she saw the top of Aika’s head—that had supposedly turned into ash—begin to regenerate.
“That was skilfully done, Knight of Yeray. It’s been more than two hundred years since I was last shot with this degree of accuracy.”
Before long, even the hole on the left side of Aika’s chest closed up completely.
“However, it’s too bad. It seems like you haven’t studied enough about Strigoi-type vampires.”
Aika placed a hand on her healed chest and smiled softly.
“You should study once more about the reason why Strigoi are classified as Ancient Phantoms. Strigoi are born from death and have death as the foundation of their being. While they are indeed vampires, the body of a Strigoi is fundamentally different from that of both humans and regular vampires.”
Saying so, Aika placed a hand on the right side of her chest.
“I have more than just one heart.”
Aika now looked exactly as she had before the fight had begun, barring a slight amount of damage to her dress. On the other hand, Toraki was covered in wounds from head to toe, Miharu’s sword skills were of absolutely no use, and more than half of Iris’s weapons could no longer be used.
“…Looks like this is it.”
Iris suddenly dropped her shoulders as if she had given up.
“Oh? Are you giving up? Do you think I’ll let you leave alive just because you’ve given up?”
Aika laughed as if she was ridiculing Iris, but Iris unexpectedly nodded meekly.
“That’s right. We will leave and go back home. I would appreciate it if you could refrain from any further action as well.”
“How amusing. What makes you think that I would agree to such a thing?”
“Vampires are supposed to have superior physical abilities, but do Ancient Phantoms have the same level of hearing as humans?”
“Can’t you hear it? The inside of the ship is in an absolute uproar, and the human peacekeeping agencies are already on the move and getting closer.”
“I didn’t hear anything about this either. Did you bring someone other than Amimura along?”
“Ugh… I can’t breathe…”
Amimura let out a groan as Toraki’s hand clenched around his rat-shaped body.
Aika suddenly spun around as the sound of innumerable sirens from emergency vehicles reached their ears.
“Of course. There are still plenty of things that I haven’t told even you about, Yura.”
“Haah… So it turned out this way in the end…”
Miharu sighed while still holding her sword at the ready. It seemed like there was something that only she and Iris were aware of.
“I must say, I feel sorry for the regular people who boarded a ship that is under the patronage of Phantoms. Phantoms are harmful to human society after all.”
“A violent creature that is not supposed to exist in this world should be rampaging around the shopping mall area of the ship right about now.”
“Not supposed to exist…?”
Aika directed a suspicious gaze at Iris after hearing that, but the next instant, she pulled out a Slimphone out of nowhere almost like magic and started to operate it.
“Ah! Hey, that’s mine!”
“I helped myself to it earlier, when we were both in mist form. It would be annoying if you called the police or something… Although that’s exactly what happened in the end… Oh geez, why is the screen cracked? As if it’s not hard enough already to get a touchscreen to work with a vampire’s fingers…. Ah.”
Watching an Ancient Phantom—one that they had risked their lives fighting until just a few minutes ago—doing an online search on a broken Slimphone. It couldn’t get more absurd than this.
After a few more stifling moments had passed, Aika suddenly burst out into uproarious laughter.
“Ahahahahaha! I see! Now that I think about it, I’d heard that Amimura had one of these under his command! Is this also a part of your plan, Knight of Yeray?”
“Well, yes. I had a change of heart after talking with Miharu, and over the past few decades, the Order has also gradually changed its way of thinking.”
“I can’t wait to see the news tomorrow. It’s already trending quite well on the internet. Ahahaha!”
Aika was laughing so hard that she had tears in her eyes as she tossed the Slimphone back at Toraki. Toraki caught it and looked at the screen.
“…You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The screen displayed a post on a popular short message social networking website that even Toraki had heard about. The video embedded in the post showed a fierce wolfman as he rampaged noisily around the interiors of a luxury cruise ship.
The poster had even taken the time to add convenient hashtags that would make it easier to pop up in an online search, while the home screen of his phone showed a broadcast TV popup with the title “A violent ruffian attacks a luxury cruise ship at Yokohama Harbor. Are the passengers hostages?” that had a playback of the aforementioned video.
“What the hell!? It’s turned into a major incident! How the hell are you going to deal with this!?”
“W-Well, we just heard that our futures and safety were guaranteed as long as we followed the plan that you guys came up with… Ow, you’re crushing me. I can’t breathe. Please stop…!”
Amimura, who seemed to share Toraki’s astonishment at the scale of the issue, was once again in danger of being crushed, while Iris and Miharu, the ones who had orchestrated the whole thing, looked utterly nonchalant.
“We told Sagara that after he had run around rampaging for a while, he was to either escape by jumping into the sea or secretly transform back into a human and leave with the other passengers.”
“Miharu arranged a ticket for him as well, so he won’t be treated as an intruder even if he transforms back into a human form.”
“I wonder how many views it would get if the full version of the video was uploaded to NewTube. Or maybe it’ll get the same treatment as the old TV shows about unexplained phenomena and be completely ignored?”
The Ancient Phantom Strigoi was actually talking about NewTube views. How bizarre.
“In any case, there’s a lot of things to think about. Even if the humans and the small-fry Phantoms get along with each other, that would be amusing in its own right. Haah.”
Aika smiled slightly as she looked at Toraki, who was utterly dumbfounded and just standing with a dazed look on his face.
“Very well. We’ll call today’s result a draw due to injuries. I’m not exactly in top shape after having my head and one of my hearts blown away, and I have no intention of stirring up trouble with the Japanese authorities. I’ll back down quietly for today. However…”
The Strigoi-type Ancient Phantom who called herself Muroi Aika transformed just her feet into a black mist and floated into the air.
“I wonder how many years it’ll be before I come back to Japan again.”
“Damn you! Wait!”
“Oh my, Yura. It’s okay to call me ‘Mom’, you know? Just like you did all those years ago.”
“Let’s hope you can catch me while Waraku is still alive.”
The black mist spread across Aika’s body, making her look like she was melting into the night. Before long, the woman with the alluring smile turned into particles too small for the eye to see, and vanished into the brightly-lit Yokohama sky like the smoke from a campfire.
“Knight of Yeray… Let’s meet again. Next time, I hope we can have more fun.”
Even after Aika’s parting words melted into the air, Toraki, Iris, and Miharu stayed vigilant against her once again attacking them in the form of a black mist. However, there was no trace of any attacks even as five minutes stretched into ten, and before long, it became apparent that the Kanagawa riot police had boarded the ship as several heavily-armored personnel arrived at the previously deserted deck.
“Three passengers on the main deck. We are from the Kanagawa police department! Sorry for the trouble, but we are asking all passengers to temporarily disembark! …Hang on.”
With the police on the scene and no sign of any attacks from Aika, the mood amongst the three tended towards relief, but there were still a problem or two. Toraki’s clothes were ripped from head to toe, Iris was dual-wielding a handgun and a hammer, and Miharu was standing ready with a drawn sword. Luxury cruises had a reputation for testing the limits of what could be considered common sense, but this was certainly crossing the line.
“Uhh… Umm… D-Drop your weapons!?”
However, the girl who was wielding the sword was dressed in a short-sleeved furisode, and the gun and hammer were wielded by an evening dress-wearing foreigner. The riot policeman—armed with a non-lethal gun—could hardly be blamed for ending his order on a questioning note.
Toraki resigned himself to a long and tiresome interrogation that could prove to be even more troublesome than the existence of vampires and Phantoms being made public, but at that instant…
“These people are fine. I will take responsibility. Stand down.”
The voice of someone who had come up to the deck close upon the heels of the riot policemen changed the mood.
“Huh!? No, but we—”
“It’s okay. I understand that they look incredibly suspicious, but they are not a threat. Being careless here could cause a diplomatic incident. Leave this to me.”
It was the voice of a middle-aged man that Iris had never heard before. The riot policemen reluctantly lowered their guns and stepped aside to allow two men to walk forwards.
“I swear, each and every one of you… Did you have to go on such a massive rampage?”
One of them was an old man whose expression indicated that he had bitten off something sour even as he gesticulated with his walking stick, Toraki Waraku. The middle-aged man beside Waraku looked like a version of him who was thirty years younger.
“Hey, Yoshiaki-kun. Sorry for the trouble.”
Toraki meekly apologized to Toraki Yoshiaki, Waraku’s son and his own nephew.
“I swear, it really was troublesome. Dad’s getting on in the years, Uncle Yura, so please don’t do things that might give him a heart attack. You should have at least talked to me before you took action.”
“I can hardly ask a National Police Agency secretariat on active duty for help on a vampire-hunting mission, now can I?”
“…That goes for the Hiki family and the Order of the Dark Cross as well. It would have been much easier to lay the groundwork preemptively with all concerned parties instead of finding out at the last minute and running around putting out fires.”
After hearing those words from Toraki Yoshiaki, a police administrator on active duty, Iris shamefacedly hid her handgun and hammer behind her back. She then proceeded to hide herself behind Toraki as if she was trying to escape Yoshiaki’s gaze. Seeing that, Yoshiaki let out a sigh.
“So you must be the “better half” that my father spoke of. I am honestly grateful to see my uncle gain a new ally, but I must ask that you refrain from causing this sort of trouble in the future. There are things that I cannot do, even as part of the police administration.”
The reactions of Iris, who looked puzzled at the idiomatic usage that had almost completely fallen out of use, and Miharu, who accurately understood it, were polar opposites.
“Toraki-sama! What is the meaning of this!? Have the members of your family already accepted that this woman is suitable for such a relationship with you!?”
“Eh? Wait a minute, Miharu! Waraku just said that on his own, I had nothing to do with it!”
“Secretary Waraku! Depending on your answer, the Hiki Family will have to rethink our relationship with the Japanese police force!”
“Miharu-san, just how many years do you think it has been since I retired? You should take that up with Yoshiaki or my brother. I am just worried about what will happen to my brother after I die.”
“In that case, I, Hiki Miharu, promise to shoulder that responsibility until the end of the world!”
“Just a minute, Miharu! Yura is going to return to being human! We might have failed this time, but I don’t think it’s right to imply that he will never be able to become human again.”
“You be quiet! Not a single part of the plan this time would have worked without my help! I will most certainly be making a formal complaint to Sister Nakaura and the headquarters of the Order of the Dark Cross regarding this matter!”
“Please feel free. Even though we let that Strigoi escape, the fact that I was able to establish connections with the Hiki Family and force an Ancient Phantom to retreat so soon after I was transferred here should merit me some praise.”
“What…. What an incredibly carefree organization! Toraki-sama! You should kick this woman out of your house as soon as possible, for your own sake! No doubt she will slay you someday for the sake of a better job evaluation!”
“….Amimura, are you really going to entrust your future to people like these?”
“…It’s not like I had any other options.”
All the people—except Amimura— started to reproach Toraki for things that had happened entirely without his knowledge. As he unwillingly listened to their complaints, he gazed up at the night sky where Muroi Aika had disappeared.
“I swear, I must be blessed to have such people around me…. Aah, I want to go home and sleep.”
※ A type of yokai from the Yo-kai Watch franchise. They are known to frequently change their minds in an instant for apparently no reason.🠕
 Toyotomi Hideyoshi.🠕