Silver Cross and Draculea:Volume02 Chapter3
Chapter 3 - Witch Hunt
"Are you okay?"
Rushella opened her eyes to find Reina sitting in a chair on the bedside, inquiring with great care. She looked like she had been on watch all this time before Rushella woke up.
"...What, it's you. Where did Hisui go, seriously......"
Tactlessly expressing her dissatisfaction, Rushella sat up. The sense of exhaustion had left. Probably because she just woke up, she felt a little dizzy, but other than that she did not feel anything unusual.
"Now... What time is it? What about class...?"
"It's already after school. I think Kujou-kun should be here soon."
"Really... Wait a minute, where did that woman go!?"
"Woman...? Who? If you mean the health teacher, she seems to be away..."
"No...! That aroma... Is no longer here, hmm? Hey, do you see a candle over there? One that gives off a strange smell..."
"......? I don't see one. The candle you mentioned... Do you mean a scented candle? Ah, I've heard that the school nurse loves those things, whenever depressed students come to her to talk about their troubles, she uses those to help them calm down. See, there's an aromatherapy pot here."
Reina pointed to the school nurse's desk and said. Just as she described, that sort of equipment was sitting right there.
"No, not that kind of thing... It must have been put away..."
The room was devoid of all signs of the "witch."
"Spending so much effort to ambush me... How bold for a human."
"Excuse me... Did something happen? Are you really... okay? Umm, could it be because of my cooking..."
Reina asked with an apologetic expression. Very likely, her heart had been burdened with worry throughout her afternoon classes.
"No... It's unrelated to that. Besides, I'm not the only one who tried your cooking, both you and Hisui ate it too. The taste was not bad, you know?"
"...Really? That's good to know......"
"Don't be concerned with these inane things. Wasn't Hisui enjoying the taste too?"
As soon as Hisui's name was mentioned, Reina seemed happy yet embarrassed.
Something about her smile sent Rushella's heart into turmoil.
"What is with you... Did something happen to Hisui?"
"N-Nothing...... Umm, you two... Live together, right?"
"That's right, that guy is my servant!"
Hearing Rushella's usual catchphrase, Reina's expression became slightly gloomy.
"Right... You two are always together, your relationship must be so close..."
"......? Well, good enough. Although that guy is not too obedient, he is at least willing to take care of my everyday life. That guy, whenever I finish taking a bath, or when I go to his room in the morning, he's always staring at my body nonstop."
Simply picturing the scene in her mind made Reina's face blush as red as an apple. Steam was almost rising from her head. However, there was a sense of loneliness in her expression.
"That's right too... Rushella-san's... Figure is so outstanding......"
"Well, good enough. One day, I will make sure that guy grovels and worships me completely!"
Rushella proudly expressed her wish while Reina lowered her gaze and stood up.
"...I'm glad you're okay. Then I'll... be taking my leave."
Avoiding Rushella's gaze, Reina hurried out -- but ran into Hisui at the door of the infirmary.
"Eh, Class Rep? What's up, why do you look so sad?"
A ray of hope appeared on Reina's depressed face.
But soon, she shyly averted her gaze and quickly moved away.
"Rushella-san seems to be fine now... I'll be leaving first..."
Hisui watched in puzzlement as her figure receded in the distance.
Then just as he turned around and was about to enter the room.
"Too slow!! Why didn't you arrive earlier!?"
Rushella threw her pillow as hard as she could.
This almost dented his face as a loud roar, most unfitting for the infirmary, accompanied the violent act.
"What are you doing! What would it matter if I arrived earlier or later, aren't you fine already!?"
"I was in trouble! I mean, I was attacked by someone just now!?"
"Huh--!? What, another vampire!?"
"No, it's probably a..."
"A 'witch,' is it?"
Turning around, Hisui found Eruru and Mei standing behind him. Based on their argument just now, Eruru seemed to have figured out the situation.
"Looks like we have gotten involved with the same person."
"What? I didn't get involved with anything? If I had to say it, the only ones recently are you three sources of misfortune, vampires and artificial humans."
Ignoring Hisui's retort, Eruru walked over and sat down on the chair in the infirmary. Then she began talking with an inscrutable expression.
"I was hoping my secret investigation would turn up with nothing... But now it looks like I must investigate seriously. Can you tell me in detail what happened earlier here? We will also tell you what we ran into so far."
"This is what's known as 'information exchange,' right? Fine, I'll tell you."
Over the course of a few minutes, Rushella and Eruru exchanged news on the strange occurrences that happened to them after the cooking practical.
Understanding that the threat they encountered was real beyond a doubt, they nodded to each other.
Then Eruru stated her conclusions.
"This school -- harbors a "witch." And this true "witch" is hostile towards vampires."
Hearing Eruru's statement, both Rushella and Mei, both having encountered the "witch," showed tensed expressions... Only Hisui casually raised his hand, completely puzzled.
"Sensei, I have a question."
"Even though I haven't run into her... Oh, I'm not doubting her existence, but why hasn't she come looking for me?"
"You want to meet her?"
"Not really, I also hope she'd ignore me, but I'm just a bit curious."
"She views vampires as enemies, and that one by your side... Well, anyone slightly knowledgeable would realize her true identity. Given such a peculiar name."
"Your description is truly rude."
"Naturally, the other party will be concerned, whether there are other vampires apart from her. Hence, very unfortunately, Sudou-san and I who are always hanging around her were judged to be companions, and were warned. That is essentially what happened. As for you, there is no point in giving a warning. You look like a servant no matter what. Even within school, your blood has been sucked a good many times, right? Are you confident that you were never seen?"
Recalling various "blood-sucking occasions," Hisui shook his head in anguish.
On the first day of class, a group of girls, headed by Reina, already witnessed the scene of an aborted blood-sucking. Even if no one else saw firsthand, the news would have spread amongst all the other students.
"...What, so you're saying she has already condemned me without a trial!?"
"Were I in her place, I too, would have skipped the Miranda warning of 'You have the right to remain silent' etc and arrested you directly, perhaps even rewarding you with a bullet during the process. Please pay attention."
"Uh sorry, have you heard of the term, human rights?"
"...? Ah, excuse me, you are actually human?"
Hisui could only shut up obediently in response to Eruru's serious question.
It looked like he should be more careful from now on, on dark and stormy nights.
"But... 'Witches' or whatever, do they really exist? I think stuff like witchcraft is really superstitious, right?"
"Does an artificial human have the right to say that?"
Hisui retorted against Mei's question. However, she proudly puffed out her spectacular chest instead.
"Hey hey, Hi-kun, surely you must have read about my ancestor in the story of Frankenstein? Artificial humans clearly count as the product of science. There are people who call the book the world's first science fiction novel!"
"But at the same time, there are people who call him a modern homunculus. Besides, from the perspective of science, how is life actually created? And if it really was a product of science, why was that first generation creature so ugly beyond belief? I think it's much closer to magic instead."
"Then it's a union of science and magic. You can call it a hybrid."
"You must be kidding. By the way, what is your body even made of? Ah, I'm simply curious. Even though it feels completely like a normal human's to the touch, but that... Material or the sort, how is it actually made......"
Hearing this question, Mei's expression stiffened.
It was an uncharacteristically serious expression.
"What are your intentions in asking that?"
She replied in a completely emotionless tone.
"Nothing... Forget about it. That's better for everyone."
"Of course, it's better that way. So... In the end, do 'witches' really exist? Even if they existed, what dangers do they pose?"
"Witches do indeed exist. However, white witches who only use herbs and cast spells; black witches who contract with demons and summon disaster -- this sort of categorization is meaningless. True witches are neither white nor black. They are beings who inherited ancient rituals instead of adhering to any religion's ideology -- if one were to define witches, it would be something like that."
Hisui nodded in agreement with Eruru's explanation.
"I also heard from my foster parent who personally witnessed witch hunts in Europe. Those people who were rounded up and persecuted as witches, virtually none of them were actually real witches. But there seems to be an extremely small number of witches amongst them. To the people involved in the hunt, that was sufficient to achieve their goals. Even if it meant sacrificing tens of thousands of innocents, so long as a real witch is not let loose, it was considered worth it. And even if they were not able to exterminate the witches completely, as long as the beings known as 'witches' were banished to the remote corners of history, it was enough to send their power into decline. Like vampires, modern society in this country no longer has pure witches. Even if there were, they are simply amateurs who learned from some grimoire or through oral tradition."
"...That sounds about right. I do not believe there are real witches who could completely revive the ancient rituals of old. However, someone is at least capable of making a vampire faint... As well as reaching a level of producing illusions we can see. Furthermore... She is in this school. We must find her before the incident escalates. In any case, let us start investigating places where there might be clues. We will split up..."
"Then I'm going to team up with Hi-kun❤"
Mei immediately wrapped herself around Hisui's left arm, pressing her enormous bosom against him.
"Stupid thing, the one who belongs in his team is me! Let's go, Hisui, and catch this insolent culprit who dared to poison me!"
Refusing to be outdone, Rushella embraced Hisui's right arm. For some reason, she also positioned her bosom with the same posture as Mei's.
"...Excuse me, I'm sorry. I'm going to team up with Kariya. You two go with each other."
" "Eh~~!?" "
The beautiful duo exploded with indignant protests as Hisui struggled free with great difficulty to recover his freedom.
"Let's go, Kariya. You two better show up with some respectable results."
Waving his hand, Hisui urged to the other two to get to work. Pulling Eruru by the hand, he hurried out of the infirmary.
Making sure the two girls were not following, he breathed a sigh of relief. Eruru shook free from his hand with displeasure.
"Please do not touch me so casually..."
"Ah... Sorry. I wanted to start investigating with you before the situation got even more troublesome."
Hisui's careless remark made Eruru blush instead.
Very quickly, she returned to her usual composure and spoke in calm tones.
"What do you mean by that? If you are worrying about my body's condition, it is unnecessary."
"I don't think you'd make the same mistake twice anyway. But if I want to get things done seriously, I think it's most efficient to team up with you. Even though leaving Rushella alone definitely worries me... There's Sudou accompanying her after all. That girl is pretty smart so even if the sky were to fall down, her brute force should be able to support and hang on."
"Your small-minded cleverness never ceases. I understand, then let us begin."
After assigning roles, Eruru sprang into action with Hisui following close behind her.
With silent understanding they required no talking to know where they ought to search.
This was the scene of the incident, the home economics classroom -- as well as the preparation room next door.
Since they knew that Jyuri was suddenly asked to cover the class, this meant that the original teacher was absent. Even more fortunately, the room was not locked either.
Silently nodding to each other, they slipped into the home economics preparation room.
This was where the home economics teacher usually prepped for class. It was also the room where various teaching resources and cooking ingredients were managed. Naturally, it also contained a fridge.
Rather than the size of a usual fridge for home-use, it was only a mini-sized model usually used by singles. In terms of appearance, it was identical to the fridges in other preparation rooms and the staff room. Nothing suspicious about it.
Hisui opened the door and check the inside of the fridge.
First to enter his view were potatoes and carrots, the same ingredients as those used in the cooking practical today.
"I think no one forgot to bring their own ingredients, so the backup portion in the fridge was unused?"
"Right. Even though she is a witch, knowledgeable in all sorts of magical herbs... It would still pose a tough challenge for her to make a move on the ingredients we brought ourselves."
"Since Rushella did not notice any problems when she was eating, that means it did not contain any garlic or holy water. In other words, the problem did not arise from using foods that target the weaknesses of vampires, and neither were church-related items used... Could it be a magical herb innovated by witches?"
Hisui confirmed the already established facts as he continued to examine the interior of the fridge.
Other than ingredients, the only thing left was backup soup base prepared in case of forgetful students.
No other ingredients related to today's cooking practical were found.
"Nothing useful eh... Well, the things the teacher prepared were not used after all."
"In other words, for someone who did not participate in the cooking practical, making a move on the fridge ingredients beforehand would be meaningless. This means it must be someone at the scene and within your group to have the opportunity."
"...Let's not rush to conclusions. After all, people from other groups were going around observing, right? Even though I didn't notice anyone suspicious, then again, I never expected Rushella to faint so I wasn't paying much attention to begin with."
"...The possibility exists, if that is what you believe."
"You don't sound convinced. Well then, let's think about other suspicious areas. What if instead of the food, it was the utensils that were poisoned?"
"True, the utensils were provided by the school... But there was no way of knowing ahead of time who would use which. Even if poisoned, making sure the poisoned utensil reached the target would require the perpetrator to be one of those present at the scene."
"Sudou and I were the ones who laid out the utensils, then Class Rep portioned out the food. Drinks were poured into freshly unsealed paper cups, so they should be fine."
"In that case, we should investigate the pot...... But that should have been washed already."
It would be rather excessive to call it destruction of evidence -- but all the cooking utensils had already been washed and cleaned. Since no flasks could be found in the fridge, they must be together with the knives, forks and dishes, being washed.
"I suppose if we call in forensics to help out, they should be able to analyze it... Right?"
"Substantial obstacles stand in the way. Sure, there would be no problem for me to take things here to them for analysis. But simply taking one or two articles would be pointless. Furthermore, since this incident has not been made public, confiscating everything as evidence for investigations... Is impossible."
"I guess we need to narrow down the approximate area first, then hand in the suspected evidence... That's the most we could do."
Just as Hisui summed up, the home economics preparation room's door was suddenly opened.
The two intruders jumped in surprise and braced themselves for the visitor.
Under their gaze, Kirika entered.
A paper bag under one arm, she was holding the key to the room in her hand. Most likely a key obtained through proper channels.
"Eh, why is this open...... What are you two doing here?"
"Uh, this is......"
As Hisui stammered, Eruru pushed him aside and replied calmly and fluently.
"Actually, we forgot something in the home economics class room... We were thinking that if the teacher picked it up, it would probably be kept here, so we came over to look for it."
"...I see. But coming here on your own when the teacher is not around is not quite proper, would you not agree?"
"It is our fault for being too impatient... We will be more mindful in the future."
Eruru bowed her head and apologized.
Her perfect acting skills made Hisui feel like applauding in standing ovation.
Kirika appeared to have accepted the explanation and did not lecture any further.
"Be more mindful next time."
"Yes... By the way, why are you here, vice-president?"
"I am delivering something for the teacher. The teacher asked me to prepare scented candles, essential oils, as well as this herbal tea I made."
Kirika pointed to the paper bag in her arms. Setting the bag on the teacher's desk, she left a note.
"Now everything is done..."
"...Vice-president, why does the teacher want these things? You said... She asked you to prepare them?"
"It is the teacher's hobby. It seems like she fell in love with them recently at other teachers' recommendation. Quite a fad has hit the staff room, apparently."
"That teacher's personal hobby... Then why were you sent here, vice-president?"
"Because my father is in the import business of assorted goods, so he has access to rare items. As the middleman, I help the teacher purchase what she wants and delivers them here."
"I see. But you also mentioned that you made herbal tea yourself... What is that about?"
Playing the role of an inquisitive and innocent underclassman... Eruru continued the conversation.
Thanks to Eruru's perfect acting skills, Kirika did not mind answering her questions one after another.
"This is my hobby. When my grandmother used to grow herbs, I often helped her out and naturally learned how to use them through the process. I treated the teacher once and she loved it after one taste. Thereafter, I began to send her some quite regularly. Perhaps she might even treat you some day? I have heard that when she makes snacks during cooking practicals, she treats the students to herbal tea."
"...I see. You must be quite close with the teacher."
"Because the student council's teacher adviser pretty much ignores me... But this teacher often listens to my problems. She is also quite familiar with the maintenance of the flower beds, so we share a common language, so to speak. I simply give her the things I love as a return gift. Furthermore, I help the teacher prepare the water used for cooking, borrow tea ware and stuff like that."
Eruru's eyes flashed with insight behind her glasses. Even though her expression was still that of an innocent junior, there seemed to be a subtle change.
"I am leaving now, so you two better leave soon. Since the teacher is not here, you should not be staying behind. Lost and found articles should all be kept in the cabinet over there."
"Thank you. We will leave as soon as we check it."
Eruru watched with all smiles as Kirika left.
After shutting the door, once Kirika's footsteps faded completely, Eruru instantly undertook a thorough ransacking of the cabinet to investigate.
"...What are you doing?"
"Is it not obvious? Looking for evidence. Hmm... Since there are so many articles, if we take a little of each, no one should notice. We must take them for analysis immediately."
Eruru was holding in her hand what Kirika described as the teacher's hobby -- scented candles, jars filled with essential oils, as well as containers holding herbal tea leaves.
Laying out the three types of objects on the table, she placed them into plastic bags and test tubes, her motions exactly like a police gathering evidence from a crime scene. Apparently for the sake of investigation missions, she always kept these tools by her side.
"Say... Those things you have there, aren't they unrelated to the cooking practical today?"
"Indeed, scented candles and essential oils are unrelated. Even if the scented candles were lit somehow to make us smell the released gas -- we would notice because of the scent. Even if the aroma was extremely faint, it would have been impossible to evade either my or the vampire's sense of smell. Also, today our teacher did not bring out herbal tea during the practical."
"Then why are you doing this?"
"You still do not understand? There is no need to ingest these things directly into the body. Through the assistance of other herbs, it would have been enough to make these substances enter the vampire's body by some other way."
"Wait a minute, how could these three things help achieve that? Hypnotize the vampire and make her drink the drug herself?"
Hisui asked jokingly and Eruru answered softly.
"Not wrong, but not entirely correct either. There is no need to hypnotize the vampire herself. Since the vampire did not ingest it, she would not have been hypnotized. However... The impromptu substitute teacher -- could have been hypnotized."
Hisui stared wide with his eyes.
The ancient legends of witches -- even without being an expert, having received knowledge from his foster parent who had once experienced life in the same era as witches, Hisui understood what Eruru implied.
"Whether essential oils or herbs, both are specialties passed down from ancient witches. Using their effects, enhanced by a little magic, simple suggestions could be made to the teacher, thus achieving the goal of manipulation. That is what you mean, right?"
"Exactly. The teacher could have been moving between groups matter-of-factly, examining the process and results of cooking. If she had any ill intent, she could have done anything she wanted."
"That's possible. But why would she tell us something so crucial to the puzzle? If the vice-president were a witch, she should know that you and I are Rushella's friends, right?"
"Your suggestion is reasonable. However, she could have deliberately said it to dispel suspicion. Regardless, it is possible that what she brought in the paper bag today are simply ordinary items. However, the ones left behind in this room from previous uses might be different. I do not expect scientific analysis to be able to explain the techniques used by witches, but if the analysis identifies components that are either unbelievable scientifically contains unknown matter, then a conclusion can be reached."
"......I see. How thoroughly thought out."
Hisui crossed his arms, nodded and exclaimed. Compared to Eruru whose mind had been in motion all this time, he seemed completely unproductive.
"Go and use your brain a little! Nothing is completely certain at this point. Hurry and help think if there is other evidence we might have overlooked?"
Eruru pointed to a plastic bucket in the corner of the room.
The trash from the cooking practical was emptied every couple days, but today's trash was still in the bucket.
Hisui understood what Eruru meant and twisted his face with disgust.
"You're asking me to trawl through the trash!?"
"In a certain sense, all the evidence could be there? Hurry, since your brain is useless, then contribute a little with your brawn."
Eruru commanded mercilessly, her tone of voice offering no room for compromise.
With great reluctance, Hisui started to go through the trash.
As a minimum safety precaution, he was wearing the rubber gloves from the sink in the home economics classroom as he fished around in the plastic bucket.
"What, isn't this all vegetable leaves? This shouldn't be related, right?"
"Then you go find something else suspicious. Are you saying because it's the same type you can't differentiate at all?"
"What do you mean by that, are you calling me trash!?"
"Ah, excuse me, I went too far."
"...As long as you know it."
"I was apologizing to the trash."
Just as Hisui was shocked to hear he was worse than trash, he found something that felt different from vegetable leaves.
Holding his breath, he fished out the object -- a paper bag small enough to hold in the palm of the hand.
Through the paper bag, one could tell that it contained shredded leaves of some plant.
A Japanese tea bag, or some herbal tea liked by the home economics teacher?
Just as Hisui examined it in his hand, Eruru wrapped it up in tissue paper and snatched it away from the side.
"Anything else suspicious?"
"Nothing else found yet......"
"Then conclude the investigation there for now. I will also take this for analysis. Is there any other location you can think of?"
Hearing Eruru's question, Hisui paused for a moment before he replied.
"There's one more I suppose."
"The library... Or rather, the preparation room in the library."
"Why do I have to team up with you!?"
"I was going to say the exact same thing! This is a rare chance for me to tour the school with Hi-kun, such as the infirmary bed, the sports storeroom, the female changing room, a much anticipated time after school, both dangerous and adult... Or rather, a joyful after school period I'm looking forward to!"
"What are you planning to do to my servant! As long as the crimson light of my eyes continues to shine, you will never realize your ambitions!"
"What, is that some kind of vampire version of some cliched saying!?"
After several exchanges of arguments, Rushella and Mei went "Hmph!" to each other, turning their faces away and stopped talking.
Vampire and artificial human, this dream team of a pair who held exceptional promise as future Hollywood stars, were on exceptionally poor terms.
Left with no choice but to walk together, Mei started leading the way as Rushella followed behind.
"Where are we going? Do you have any idea at all?"
"Of course not. Well, those two should be able to find something. What I can only do, is the basics of the basics of investigating -- examining the scene of the incident."
Just as Rushella puzzled, Mei halted her steps.
The pair had arrived at the back yard where Hisui and Eruru had discovered the cat's corpse yesterday.
Mei already heard from Eruru what happened, so she decided to investigate this "scene of the incident" once more.
But no clues were yielded at first glance.
There were no new cat victims, nor similar magic circle patterns.
Visiting here for the first time, Rushella casually wandered the little forest. Then she suddenly opened her eyes wide as she pointed at the ground.
"Hey... Is this a grave?"
"Hmm? ...Ah right, Eruru-chan said that she made a grave every time, right? This should be the one she freshly made with Hi-kun. What about it?"
"Someone offered flowers."
With curiosity, Mei looked at the three mounds of soil on the ground. Just as Rushella said, someone had placed several lovely flowers over them.
"Did those two do that...? How thoughtful. By the way, don't they seem to be on quite good terms?"
"I never expected them to get along so well? Those two are quite familiar with obscure knowledge, and today they ended up taking action together. Hi-kun is really..."
"I said, I don't know!!"
Rushella roared, causing Mei to stop talking.
Then Rushella left in a huff, a face full of displeasure.
Mei helplessly shrugged and followed instead.
"What, did I push the wrong button?"
"Even though I don't know what Hi-kun is thinking, we shouldn't underestimate Eruru-chan. In actual fact, she really cares a lot about Hi-kun, you know? Though it's just unclear to what extent."
"Nothing much. Just that compared to a vampire, she is a far better match. I have to pay more attention too."
"What does that... Have to do with me...... After all, that guy serving me is the way it should be......"
This was spoken very softly. It made Rushella's gorgeous figure look even more vulnerable and fragile than usual.
"...Do you really believe that? Then you are really naive and optimistic. Anyway, let's get back on task and help investigate. This started because of you, that's why we're working as a team, you know? What do you know about the 'witch'?"
Mei switched to a serious tone of voice. Perhaps it was pointless to ask Rushella given her lost memories, but she was not a kind-hearted soul who could endure a vampire's willfulness indefinitely.
"...I don't know much. However, my race has had contact with humans apart from feeding on their blood. The humans known as 'witches' were one such group."
"My race possesses far more resilient bodies than the humans. But regrettably, our 'weaknesses' also make us amazingly fragile. And the techniques for compensating were not entirely created by my race -- rather, it was through human hands."
Rushella raised her favorite parasol and waved it. This was the one she always used outdoors in the daytime.
"This type of sun shading tool was reportedly created by human craftsmen. This possession of mine has gone through special treatment to shade the sun and repel rain. There also exists objects that have been modified as weapons or magical areas, these things often involve the techniques of witches."
In the west, treating witches and vampires the same was deeply ingrained. It was not surprising that humans and vampires would form a kind of symbiotic relationship by harnessing each of their strengths.
"Last time, that Baron guy whom Hisui and I destroyed, I heard that he was applying something to his skin to block sunlight."
"Ah, the sunblock preparation. What about it?"
"Although the modern version is likely different, similar things existed in antiquity. By applying a special ointment to the skin, it allowed temporary freedom of movement under the sun. The manufacturing process was quite unique and extremely important to us, but regrettably our race was not privy to it and could only request the witches for assistance -- reportedly something like that happened."
"Isn't that the witches' secret medication passed down the ages, the 'witches' ointment' version!?"
"Well... Probably. I never knew my race and the witches had such a deep and intertwined history."
Hearing Rushella talk about the past in a rare moment, Mei nodded emphatically.
To be honest, her opinion of the vampire had improved slightly.
But learning these things brought up new questions.
"But why, I wonder why your race had to rely on witches of the human race? Wouldn't it have been simpler to make them subservient using 'mystic eyes' or blood-sucking? Force them to reveal the method of production, or simply make them into servants."
"I believe many members of my race attempted it, but their efforts basically all failed. Probably due to the effects of the 'witch hunts,' witches act with great caution. Furthermore, they are very knowledgeable in ways to handle my race, such as neutralizing the effect of 'mystic eyes' or using poison to weaken us. Even though we possess undead bodies and won't be killed as a result, it does cause severe suffering. Reportedly, there is even a poison which can send vampires into suspended animation like temporary death."
"I see... By the way, aren't you remembering knowledge from the past? Has your memory recovered?"
"...No. This is simply knowledge. Any pure-blooded vampire will know this through their ancestry, but it is simply knowledge, nothing more than that. Even though I can recall it, there is no sense of concreteness......"
Rushella explained, her expression gloomy. She appeared to be telling the truth, that all she recounted was simply knowledge stored in her mind. Other than that, there were no experiences or sensations, only empty knowledge mechanically composed of terms and sentences.
"However... Doesn't this knowledge come in handy now? Even if those two are very knowledgeable, there are things that only you know as the authentic vampire, right? I suppose... Hi-kun would be happy to know?"
"Is that really so... I hope so..."
A hint of delight returned to Rushella's face.
As Mei secretly reprimanded herself for the naive act of cheering up her rival, she continued to comfort Rushella.
"What now, why did you stop?"
Almost colliding into Rushella's back, Mei wondered.
Rushella stood there with a severe expression.
She was staring at a corner of a flower bed that was connected to the school building.
"Just now, I mentioned to you a type of poison that could cause a vampire to enter temporary 'death,' right......?"
"...Yes. Different from holy water or garlic... You said it was a poison of witches, didn't you?"
"Yes. My race is very wary of this poison and we know its ingredients. Even though the procedure and exact concoction differs from witch to witch, the most important aspect is the raw materials. Without one particular ingredient, the poison cannot be made and there is nothing for my race to fear. I don't know if it is fortune or misfortune, but that ingredient is not only rare, it is also limited to one type."
There was a single flower blooming in the corner of the flower bed.
The flower was conspicuously different from the other plants, isolated in a corner, its purple petals seemingly poisonous.
Greatly alarmed, Rushella was staring at this bell-shaped flower.
"Wait a minute... You don't say... Could it be this very... Thing before our eyes!?"
"Correct... I never expected to find it here."
A flower whose poison posed a threat even towards vampires.
Passed down since ancient times, the poisonous flower of death. Rushella's bright red lips slowly uttered its name.
"Pardon our intrusion~"
Even though there were no people present, Hisui still greeted just in case. In an extremely low voice. Even his movements were light and he tried not to make a sound as he walked.
"What are you doing?"
"Ah, just conforming to the atmosphere... Isn't this part of the library?"
"In theory, you are allowed to talk freely in the library preparation room. Of course, it is conditional on the fact that you do not cause any nuisance to the people in the library next door."
Eruru explained. Her voice was also much quieter than usual.
Ending their investigation of the home economics room and its preparation room, the two of them came to the library -- then to the neighboring preparation room.
This was where the librarian did preparatory work and also where students on the library committee who assisted the librarian gathered. In principle, it was closed to outsiders.
Fortunately, Eruru was already appointed to the library committee as soon as she transferred into the school, so they had an excuse if they were caught.
The librarian teacher was not present due to a staff meeting, hence the duo was able to borrow the key from the staff room and slip in here. Luckily, no other students saw them.
"But why come to this place? I have been here a few times due to my duties... But I do not think this place has any clues related to the incident. You cannot possibly believe there might be the likes of grimoires here, right?"
"...That possibility cannot be denied completely, but that's not the reason I felt concerned. This is what I'm talking about."
Hisui pointed at the depths of the room.
A massive bookcase stood before the wall, marking off an empty space that a person could fit through.
The bookcase was virtually packed with books, all of their covers discolored from age, with many of them showing signs of damage.
"This place... Is a restricted area, right? In principle, none of the books in here are in circulation and can only be read within the library with prior authorization...... Indeed there are many ancient or rare books, but is there problem there?"
"No no, what's key is behind the bookcase."
Hisui stepped behind the bookcase. Because the bookcase was not standing against the wall, there was a dim and narrow space behind it.
"Is this your first visit here?"
"Yes... But it is just a store room anyway."
Just as Eruru described, the place was filled with various unsorted articles. Covered with dust, it would take a lot of work to clean up or find something in particular.
"Previously, the teacher needed some sort of ancient information, so the class rep was sent to locate it. I noticed she was having a tough time, so I came over to help. Then I discovered this unusual sight, so I happened to ask about what things were kept here."
"...What things were kept here?"
"All sorts of things, but mainly -- digests."
"Yes. I don't know if the current students still do it or not, but it was those guys from cultural clubs like the Literature Club or the Manga Research Society. Whenever clubs in the past accomplished some sort of achievement and recorded it -- it would probably be here. This includes the Occult Research Club."
"The Occult Research Club... Such a thing actually existed once in the school?"
"I only heard the vice-president mention it. Of course, it could be unrelated to the current incident and was simply a research club perhaps. But just in case."
Hisui spoke and turned around towards the pile of assorted items.
But the dismal sight of this junk pile instantly killed his enthusiasm.
"...I guess let's leave instead."
"Have you no backbone?"
"I think my efforts will be futile."
"Even though I had no hopes for you to begin with, you have disappointed me even further."
Eruru sighed as she walked towards the small mountain of records.
Before her was a messy pile of books with countless open scrolls, booklets scattered all over the floor, unidentified carton boxes -- but Eruru stepped forward fearlessly.
"I get it, I get it, I'll help you then. But this is gonna take forever......"
"Not necessarily. Time to call it a day."
Speaking with her usual poker face, Eruru extracted a booklet from the pile and showed it to Hisui.
"Dark Notebook -- The Occult Research Club's Activity Report --"
The cover had those words written in bright red against a pitch black background -- obviously as different from typical cultural clubs as night from day.
There was no other decoration on the cover other than an isolated line of words. One could not even begin to guess what the contents might record. Compared to the digests of ordinary clubs, this booklet was clearly much thicker and was on the level of a relatively thin book.
"How did you find it!? Your luck is too good!"
"This result came not of luck but the inevitable. Compared to the rest, only this booklet's surroundings lack dust. Very likely, it was recently taken out by someone."
"...I see. But wait a minute, if it was taken out already, why would anyone put it back?"
"Because this room also contains a photocopier, hence they simply copied the entire book or just the parts needed. In order not to arouse suspicion, it was placed back where it was found. Since they put this much effort into it, looks like the contents of this booklet should be promising."
Eruru spoke as she flipped it open and began to browse the contents.
Hisui also drew near her face to have a look.
"Ah, sorry. But your skin sure is super smooth. How do you maintain it so well?"
Eruru blushed as a result of the near collision with Hisui's face. As Hisui caressed her cheek and exclaimed, she slapped him.
"......Why did you hit me?"
Eruru desperately tried to pretend to be calm, but her gentle face suddenly displayed surprise.
In the dead center of the booklet's cover -- red flames suddenly began to burn.
"Hey, hurry and get rid of it!!"
Hearing Hisui's yell, Eruru frantically threw away the booklet.
No sooner had the booklet left her hand, flames also shot out from its interior and the entire booklet began to incinerate.
By the time it fell on the floor, most of the pages had burned to ash.
To prevent the fire from spreading, Hisui took off his jacket to cover the booklet and smolder the fire.
Fortunately, the flames only scorched the floorboards slightly without major incident.
"Are you okay!? Did you get burnt..."
"I am fine. But what on earth... This should not be some sort of trap mechanism. This is magic..."
"Could it be the witch's doing as well? Trying to burn to death people who investigate recklessly?"
"This bit of fire would not burn anyone to death. This is simply destruction of evidence, as well as a warning -- it serves the dual purpose of destroying evidence and deliberately letting it be seen, most likely to serve as a warning."
"Looks like we fell for it completely. So what's the result, do the remnants give any clues?"
Before Hisui asked, Eruru was already examining the few pages left behind from the fire.
"Hmm. Based on the binding, the content and structure of the writings, there is no doubt this is a digest written by high school students."
"However, the content inside is the real deal."
Eruru lifted one of the less heavily damaged pages for Hisui to look at.
Although the page was heavily scarred, the things drawn on it were still discernible -- a magic circle.
It was identical to the one they had found at the scene of the dead cat.
On the bottom of the page, there were even explanations about sorcery and the magic circle.
Just as Eruru described, this was a digest at best. It was far too crude to be called a grimoire.
Nevertheless, its content happened to explain the phenomena observed yesterday.
Eruru read out the words on the page indifferently.
"Place the corpse of a small animal on top of the magic circle drawn using blood and cast a simple revival spell. This imbues the corpse with simulated life, for at most a day, allowing it to be commanded as a simple familiar. However, the familiar's actions are limited to extremely simple behavior. Also the revival itself is particularly difficult and prone to failure. Furthermore, preparing the corpse is no easy task. This is only simple basic magic, to be improved upon... That is what is written there."
"It really turns out to be magic...... And with explanations written by an alumnus......!"
"Based on the underlying page, this was written ten years ago. Members of the club... Cannot be read, it is burnt. However, this is...!?"
Eruru was greatly surprised.
Hisui shifted his gaze towards the booklet and confirmed the name.
Then the two exchanged glances and in order to prove to each other they were not imagining things, they pointed at the spot to confirm again.
At the location where their fingers indicated, was written a most familiar name.
-- Horie Jyuri --
It was the name of Hisui's homeroom teacher.
It was the only readable name at the bottom of the member list.
"Horie-sensei... Was part of the Occult Research Club!?"
"Also... She used to study real magic. This increases our suspect count by one, and a massive suspect at that."
Eruru murmured lightly. At that moment, the vibrating sound of her muted cellphone could be heard from the pocket from the inside layer of her clothing.
"It is Sudou-san's text. They seemed to have discovered something... Let us go hurry."
Taking the booklet, the two left the preparation room of the library.
Following Mei's text message, they made haste towards a corner of a flowerbed connected to the school building.
As soon as they arrived--
"There's a mandrake growing here!!"
Rushella reported with great pride.
Eruru's poker face was unfazed, but Hisui displayed great disbelief in his gaze.
"I say, Rushella-san, by mandrake you mean that particular plant right? Even people who don't know much about the occult should know, it is a notorious poisonous plant, almost counts as a fantasy creature, in any case it's that super famous thing, right?"
"Correct, indeed it is. Even though I'm not clear on the little tricks of humans, even for vampires, this plant is extremely dangerous!"
"Does infamy = danger? Well, I cannot deny this viewpoint completely... But how could that kind of thing possibly grow in a place like this......"
"Are you doubting my eyes!? Indeed it seems to be a rare and precious thing, but the truth stands before your eyes!"
"Even if you say so... I'm not very sure, but shouldn't the mandrake's growing conditions be particularly stringent? Like growing beside gallows and further conditions."
"Oh, is that so? Then what is the real story?"
"......Why are you asking me?"
Rushella suddenly passed the ball to Eruru who avoided answering. This was not a good sign.
"Because you seem the most knowledgeable! I'm interested too, what are the mandrake's required growing conditions!?"
"...There are differing explanations, basically, this..."
"Places where that thing, from males, that...... Secretion, dripped on the ground, that's where it grows, something like that......"
"Secretion... What is that!? Blood, saliva!? If that's the case, it's very normal to grow here!"
"Ah, n-not the ones you listed, this... is......"
Eruru blushed as she spoke. For some reason, she furtively cast glances at Hisui's lower torso.
"What on earth is it!? Don't be stingy, hurry and tell me!!"
"S-Stop it! Do not stare at me with those pure and innocent eyes......!"
"Then be out with it!"
"I-It is that thing... That...... Male's......"
Halfway through uttering the word, Eruru short-circuited from embarrassment.
Her face was so red it almost seemed like it was about to give off steam. She seemed like she was going to faint.
Fortunately, Hisui stepped forward and caught her.
"...That's enough, stop giving her a hard time."
"Stop interrupting, she was clearly about to say it! People who don't know anything should step aside!"
"...Seeing her reaction, I've pretty much guessed it. Ask Sudou to tell you later."
Hisui spoke as if he figured something out. Eruru finally recovered at this moment and pointed to the flower as she spoke with displeasure.
"Stop that thing from messing around with people's minds. Kujou-san, hurry and uproot it."
"Pull it out, then its authenticity can be easily verified by sight. If it is the real thing, it cannot be left alone."
"Ah, that makes sense... So, everyone should know, right? What happens when a mandrake is uprooted?"
The super notorious poisonous plant dating back to antiquity -- and rather than its medicinal properties, it was the plant itself that was most prominent in legends.
Its roots which greatly resembled human form -- in other words, the main body of the mandrake. If pulled out of the soil, the roots emit horrifying shrieks, enough to kill the hearer.
Even someone not particularly knowledgeable about poisonous plants like Hisui knew that.
If it were Mei, even if Eruru and Rushella did not say anything, she would probably know as well.
"What do you mean, uprooted?"
"What does it matter anyway, based on your brilliant insight, it should be a fake anyway, right?"
"Well, that said... You know, just in case...... Right?"
Hisui pitifully sought their consent, but the three girls were completely unmoved by his entreaties, and even retreated backwards.
"Hey hey, that's so unfair! What, this kind of laborious task must be taken up by the guy!?"
"Well this doesn't really count as laborious, but doing your best is right, Hi-kun❤"
Mei sent a sweet and tender smile as encouragement, but she did not want to stay nearby at all.
"Hey, think this over carefully, you three? This is no joking matter, if turns out to be the real deal, isn't it totally unfair to have the weakest one here doing the work!? We have an immortal vampire right here!"
"Don't worry... You are not a man who would die from something so insignificant!"
Rushella cheered Hisui on, clenching her fists, but she did not want to stay nearby at all.
"Why are you showing such trust in this kind of situation!? Hey, you are admitting it's dangerous, right!? Definitely it's dangerous!? Anyway... Did you know, that mandrakes are usually uprooted using dogs......?"
"You dare sacrifice other small living creatures for the sake of preserving your miserable life? How utterly shameless!"
Eruru criticized severely. Naturally, she did not want to stay nearby either.
"Stop talking about principles when all you're doing is securing your own safety first! I don't want to sacrifice little animals either, but at least have some safety precautions? Otherwise, let's not pull it out... Instead, use something like a spade to dig it out together with the surrounding soil. Let's go borrow a spade!"
Hisui tried to negotiate with full seriousness, but the trio ignored him completely.
Or rather... It seemed like they could not hear a single word.
Hisui looked carefully.
So that's why they couldn't hear.
Rushella was blocking her ears with her fingers.
Mei had her earphones on, engaged in a conversation.
Eruru was using a portable player to enjoy music.
"You girls are fully equipped!! Can't you even lend me a set of earphones!!"
Hisui's pitiful screams naturally received no answer.
To make things worse, he received a text from an unknown address.
"Hurry and pull it out."
It urged with those words. Based on the tone, it was more than likely Eruru.
"Your first ever text message to me and it turns out to be this!! Like I said, give me a set of earphones at least! I listen to music on my cellphone, but I don't have earphones!!"
...Turning his indignant emotions into a reply text message, he soon obtained a response.
"When you pull out the mandrake, just plug your ears before the 'root' screams, okay? All you need to do is act faster than the speed of sound in air and you will be fine."
"Ah, that's right, I see...... Hey, as if that were possible! You're asking me to move at supersonic speed!? Stepping with the left foot before the right foot touches the ground, and then stepping with the right foot before the left foot lands... That kind of ridiculous theory! This is not scientific!! Besides, plugging the ears with supersonic fingers will definitely burst the ear drums and the semicircular canals, okay!!"
...Turning the above scream into words, he replied, this time receiving a return message signed by all three of the girls.
" " "Stop talking nonsense and pull it out!!" " "
"What is with this powerful triple combo strike...... Isn't it just another way of telling me to go and die!?"
Hisui gave up reasoning with them and had no choice but to turn to the mandrake.
No other choice.
Even if he tried to run, he would surely be caught by one of the three and beaten up viciously.
Taking a deep breath, he inched his way to the flower, one step at a time.
Gripping the root end of the stem tightly, he confirmed the touch and surveyed the surroundings.
Other than Rushella and the girls, there were no others nearby.
The soil where the mandrake grew was quite soft, hence he should easily pull out the 'root' without using too much force.
But the problem was... After that.
If it really were the true thing -- it would scream and yell.
And whoever heard the sound -- would be dead.
Hisui pulled out the 'root' in one go, and immediately threw it up into the air as hard as he could.
Then he ran as fast as he could towards Rushella and the girls.
This series of actions were performed for the sake of getting as far away as possible from the "root." Even a centimeter was better than nothing.
In order to reduce the volume of the death cries as much as possible, he desperately distanced himself.
The plan succeeded.
Probably because he plugged his ears with his fingers, Hisui did not hear a sound, and his body remained fine.
I'm saved -- Hisui could not help but think that. Then he suddenly noticed where the "root" had gone and looked into the air.
Having peaked, the "root" was beginning its descent. Seeing its appearance, not only Hisui, but also everyone present were stunned.
According to tradition, the mandrake's roots resembled human form -- but this thing did not look human in any way. It was indistinguishable from a common vegetable.
It was what had been used not too long ago in the cooking practical earlier, a completely ordinary carrot one could find on any dinner table.
As the four gazed blankly, the thing finally landed on the ground.
Eruru was the first to rush to the landing spot to pick up the problematic specimen to show Hisui and the rest.
No matter how you looked at it -- it was a carrot.
Hisui stared so hard his eyes seemed as wide as light bulbs, screaming with surprise. Mei tried hard not to laugh as she patted his shoulder.
"Hey what's with that... carrot!? Hi-kun was so scared he must have crapped in his pants!!"
"Seriously! To have been this scared of a thing like that... Completely unsightly!!"
Rushella joined into reprimand Hisui.
Speaking of which, the whole thing started with her.
"Securing your own safety and now you're lecturing this and that... I was risking my life here!! Anyway, whose low-grade prank is this!? What is this, deliberately disguising a carrot as a mandrake!? Hey Rushella, how did you mistake this for the real thing!?"
Hisui's grumblings came rushing forth like a tide, but Eruru stopped him calmly.
"This is real."
Hisui and the rest were incredulous.
Eruru took the "root"... Or rather, the flower growing out of the carrot to show to them.
"At least the flower is real. Even though I have only seen it in ancient drawings, this is my first time seeing the real thing... If Rushella decided based on this, it should be real beyond a doubt. Of course, the 'root' portion is fake but this is probably not a prank but a type of 'grafting' in gardening. Grafting a mandrake's flower onto a fake, in order to turn the 'root' into the real thing."
"How could something like that succeed......"
Hisui knew nothing about gardening, but his intuition told him it was impossible. If this kind of trick could mass produce the legendary poisonous plant, it would be too easy.
"Just as you say, this is impossible. And in actual fact, it failed. However, the problem is this, indeed there is someone doing this -- namely, the 'witch.' More importantly, since there is a real flower here, then most likely she must possess the real 'root' as well."
Eruru's words made Hisui frown.
The incident just now could be laughed off, but the whereabouts of the all important 'root' that even Rushella was wary off was unknown.
"I have many things I need to verify, but as I thought, there is still not enough information. Furthermore, I am not an expert in magic and have no resources on hand. What sort of place would have this kind of information, and would allow one to sit down and research quietly undisturbed..."
Eruru sighed helplessly. At this moment, Hisui lightly raised his hand.
"What is it?"
"I know a place like that nearby."
All eyes were focused on Hisui. He pointed to himself and said:
Translator's Notes and References
- Miranda Warning: a warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings.
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