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Authors: Hideyuki Kikuchi

noble v greylancer

Noble V: Greylancer
Copyright © 2011 Hideyuki Kikuchi
Originally published in Japan by Asahi Shinbun Publications Inc.

English translation © 2013 VIZ Media, LLC
Design by Sam Elzway
All rights reserved.

Cover art © 2013 Vincent Chong

No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means
without written permission from the copyright holders.

HAIKASORU
Published by VIZ Media, LLC
295 Bay Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kikuchi, Hideyuki, 1949–
Noble V : Greylancer / Hideyuki Kikuchi ; Translated by Takami Nieda.
pages cm
ISBN 978-1-4215-5417-4
1. Vampires--Fiction. I. Title.
PL855.I3846N66 2013
895.6'36--dc23
2013008821

Haikasoru eBook edition
ISBN: 978-1-4215-6442-5

Dramatis Personae
GREYLANCER

Overseer of the Northern Frontier sector
The Nobility’s greatest warrior

MAYERLING

Overseer of the Western Frontier sector

DUCHESS MIRCALLA

Overseer of the Southern Frontier sector

ZEUS MACULA

Overseer of the Eastern Frontier sector

VAROSSA

Longtime weaponsmith serving House Greylancer

MICHIA

Villager from Ardoz who comes to the wounded Greylancer’s aid

LETICIA

Country girl from the Western Frontier who happens upon the injured Greylancer

GALLAGHER

Marksman serving as Greylancer’s retainer after being captured

SHIZAM

Swordsman practicing the Streda style

CONTENTS

Copyright page

Dramatis Personae

PROLOGUE:
A FRAGMENT FROM A HISTORICAL TEXT

CHAPTER 1:
GUARDIAN OF THE FRONTIER

CHAPTER 2:
EXTERMINATING THE INTRUDERS

CHAPTER 3:
THE PRIVY COUNCIL’S DECISION

CHAPTER 4:
CRIMSON SONG

CHAPTER 5:
THE ARCHER NAMED ARROW

CHAPTER 6:
THE BENEVOLENT OVERLORD

CHAPTER 7:
DUCHESS MIRCALLA

CHAPTER 8:
RAIN OF JAVELINS

CHAPTER 9:
CONSPIRATORIAL PURGATORY

CHAPTER 10:
THE FIERY CHARIOT

AFTERWORD

BONUS:
AN IRREPLACEABLE EXISTENCE

About the Author

PROLOGUE:
A FRAGMENT FROM
A HISTORICAL TEXT

In the vermillion-colored
tide of the Nobility’s proud history, no period illuminated their eminence more than
the three thousand years during which the Nobility contended against the enormous
boulder disrupting the raging current.

The Nobility magically manipulated science to their will and confronted this enormous
obstacle.

The enormous boulder was an enemy. An enemy from outer space.

Even the Nobles, endowed with eternal life, might let slip a mournful sigh at the
mere thought of the endless depths of the constellations. It was from there that the
enemy known as the Outer Space Beings—the OSB—came.

These three thousand years—tinted vermillion, stained crimson, marked by death shrouds
and bloodshed—glorified the Noble warriors. After enjoying five thousand years of
peace, with humanity held in servitude, for the first time, the Nobility engaged in
a daily battle that, aside from drinking the blood of humans, might appropriately
be called Evil’s calling.

I shall spare you the particulars.

Only to say that the Nobility pitched themselves into battle with a blood frenzy.

Black bats and pale-faced men tore across winter’s moonlit sky. Noble warriors stood
against OSB aircraft. The enemy’s thunder tanks and single-seated tanks, their gold-chromed
armor protected by some invisible energy force, clashed against the Nobility’s science
and magic. In time, traveling troubadours sang their reverence, not for the grand
battle, but for the vast wasteland turned burial ground.

The war took place in the Frontier, far from the Capital.

It was there the humans lived. The Frontier, a stark contrast to the splendor in which
the Nobility lived, was where these trifling beings had been consigned—nay, allowed—to
exist.

Ironically enough, it was because of humanity’s very helplessness that the responsibility
fell to the Nobles to protect the humans from the OSB invasion.

Many of the overlords—overseers of the Frontier—forfeited that responsibility, a fact
that later became the root of humanity’s distrust and the Nobility’s eventual decline.
Distrust joined with hate and turned into a rallying cry for revolt. Humanity left
few records of the Nobility during this period. Hatred elected to extinguish rather
than to chronicle.

However, humanity preserved the names of a select few in its annals.

Most of the names have already become legend and all but vanished, as if inscribed
into crimson-colored history by a zephyr wind. The Nobles were remembered only in
fragmentary verses of ballads and sagas. Yet some villagers in remote corners of the
Frontier, defying the winds of time, strove to pass on the meaning of these names
from generation to generation.

This is a story woven by their chapped lips and shuttered eyes, and also the first
name to be spun out of blood, darkness, and moonlight.

CHAPTER 1:
GUARDIAN OF THE FRONTIER
1

At the onset of
autumn in the year 7000 by Noble reckoning, two fears plagued the village of Ardoz.

One was the presence of the OSB—outer space beings that had been waging war against
Ardoz’s rulers, the Nobility, for over a hundred years. The other was the imminent
visit from their overlord and overseer of the Northern Frontier sector, Greylancer.

Were this a different sector or an inspection by a local overseer, the villagers would
not have much cause to fret. An overseer’s appearance in a human habitat zone was
exactly that—a ceremonious procession of auto-vassals flanking a G-coffin paraded
down the street, all accompanied by the solemn music of a robotic band. Nary a soul
believed that an inspector, much less a lord, was acting as the menacing eye of the
Nobility from inside the coffin as decreed in the missive from the Capital.

But the overlord of the Northern Frontier sector would surely come.

For over three thousand years, the Greater Noble Greylancer had ruled over this sector,
becoming a legend in his lifetime. His very appearance inspired awe in his subjects.

But the villagers were shaken by a peculiar kind of confusion and anxiety.

As the appointed time approached, they glanced up at the source of their confusion,
the sky itself. White clouds frolicked in the blue sky like kittens. Not even a shadow
of OSB aircraft, rumored to have come from the endless void to engage the Nobility
night and day in a fierce aerial battle, passed overhead.

No, it was daylight.

Lord Greylancer was expected to arrive at high noon.

In two minutes’ time. But just how was a Noble—a vampire—capable of visiting this
sun-drenched village?

“Are you sure this isn’t some sham, Chief?” the sub-chief, one of ten villagers standing
at the north entrance, asked Chief Lanzi. “I know he’s a Greater Noble and all, but
in the middle of the day? How do you reckon he’ll get here? And bringing with him
only one retainer?”

“I won’t pretend to understand the ways of the Nobility—of all the villages in the
Frontier, coming to a speck of dust such as this. I suppose you and I will go to our
graves never knowing.”

“But I heard he’d been here once before, when you were a boy.”

The wrinkled chief pried open his fissured eyes and blinked. “You heard right. I was
four. My mother and father forbade me, but I cracked open the window and snuck a peek
at the path in front of my house. I heard the sound of hooves clopping from a distance,
and soon enough, this towering shadow straddling a gargantuan horse passed before
my eyes. It felt as if a ghostly presence blew in through the window. I couldn’t sleep
a lick that night. That was the Noble Greylancer.”

“But that was at night, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, a brilliant moon shone down over the village.”

“He aims to come in broad daylight this time. Did vampires evolve somehow when we
weren’t looking?”

“Who knows what the Nobility are up to? At least he doesn’t need any more than three
delegates to greet his arrival. The rumor is that the Southern and Eastern overlords
demand a welcome parade costing villages a year’s revenue.”

“Nothing for you to be happy about.” The sub-chief bit a bent finger. “All I’ve heard
is how cruel and cold-blooded his lordship is, like a messenger from hell. And he’s
coming to this tiny village in the shining sun. I tell you, Chief, this is an omen.
A sign of bad things to come. Something beyond our imagination.”

“Shh!” The village treasurer tensed, his eyes fixed on a point in the distance. “I
hear hooves…he’s coming!”

The lingering villagers disappeared at once, as if scattered by an ominous black wind.

Only four remained.

The chief, sub-chief, treasurer, and…a redheaded woman. Though a hard life had aged
her, she was still in her early thirties. She was the chief’s wife.

It was obvious by the way her husband eyed her like a nuisance that her presence was
unwelcome.

After arguing with her husband much of the morning, she had joined the welcome delegation
against his wishes.

And when two shadows on horseback appeared in the path stretching down the miasma-draped
wasteland, the look on the woman’s face resembled one of enchantment, unlike the terror-stricken
faces of the men next to her.

One by one, the faces vanished from windows and doors of mud-packed houses made of
wood and stone. The threadbare curtains were drawn.

Though appearing to be shrouded by a dark mist from afar, the figure halting the black
cybernetic horse before them was blurred by a navy and gold-tinged haze. Navy was
the color of his cape, gold the color of the embroidery on his coat.

“We’ve been expecting you. I am Lanzi, Chief of Ardoz village. This is Sub-Chief Sdao,
and the village treasurer, Shijog.”

“Pardon the trouble. I am Greylancer.” The voice from atop the horse sounded terribly
distant, but packed enough force to send chills up the spines of the four villagers.

Long shiny black hair, a rugged face as if the bones underneath were forged from steel,
a neck thick enough to support that weight, thick brows, tall nose, his tightly drawn
lips red like blood. One bellow from those lips might fell birds in flight. As well,
his body appeared as if flesh and skin were stretched over a steel frame. His eyes
were as blue and deep as the ocean but would no doubt turn as red as his lips at the
first whiff of blood.

Greylancer jerked his chin toward the mounted figure behind him and said, “My retainer,
Grosbec.”

The man, bowing with his hands still gripping the reins, was narrow-chested and neither
as tall nor broad around the shoulders as his master. Chief Lanzi imagined his delicate
head popping off with a flick of his master’s finger and blowing away into the horizon
with a single breath. The mechanized armor beneath his cape appeared utterly useless
or rather, in eternal disrepair.

Thin, slight brows, half-lidded eyes that appeared shut, eyes like those of dead fish,
and finally a look of agony as if he’d taken his last gasp. Despite the sword hanging
at his side and the laser gun affixed to his right forearm, he hardly seemed able
to handle them. No doubt they were broken anyway.

Nevertheless, the expression that Greylancer directed at his only companion was one
of complete trust. “Anything?” Greylancer asked Grosbec.

The villagers stared at one another in confusion.

“No different than the other villages. Inevitable, I’m afraid.” Grosbec rubbed the
base of his nose, in the manner of the drug addicts in the village.

“Anyone?”

“I cannot say for certain. No one within earshot.”

“Good,” said the voice of steel. “Whatever they might feel for the Nobility cannot
be helped.”

“Yes, my lord.” The man with the voice and body of an invalid pinched his nose harder.

When Greylancer dismounted his horse, the villagers heard the earth rumble—a phantom
sound, of course. But no wonder—the Noble stood nearly two meters tall.

Greylancer’s deep blue eyes paused on the woman and reflected her smile before turning
to the chief. “Do you find it strange to see us walking in the sun?” he asked.

“Why, er…no.”

“You needn’t hide your shock. At present, only Grosbec here and I are capable of doing
so.”

“My lord,” said the chief, dropping his eyes in deference.

Greylancer’s gaze reverted to the woman. “A rare surprise seeing a woman to greet
our arrival.”

“Begging your pardon,” said the chief. “This is my wife.”

“My name is Michia.” The woman bowed, perhaps to conceal the forlorn look on her face.

“Do vampires not frighten you?”

“Why, not in the least.”

“Well now…” Greylancer smiled faintly. Awl-like incisors peered out from lips that
were blanched for a vampire. “Quite a woman. But rest assured. We’ll not stay long.
We have been traveling the sector, but this village was not one of our planned stops.
We’ve come because a surveillance satellite reported something falling from the sky
in this area.”

Though the villagers had heard of the existence of several dozen surveillance satellites
floating on the outer edges of the atmosphere, they were ignorant of the particulars
of their use. Nevertheless, it was enough to fill the village chief and the others
with apprehension.
Something falling from the sky
… The overlord had ridden his horse to investigate this
something
himself, in all likelihood, to dispose of it.

Chief Lanzi swallowed hard.

Greylancer towered over him like a giant. Unarmed. He carried neither lance, nor bow,
nor sword. No one doubted his ability to crush any enemy regardless.

“Are you speaking of the OSB?” the chief asked, fearing he would incur the overlord’s
wrath for speaking out of turn.

But Greylancer smiled faintly a second time. “Indeed,” he answered. “You know well.
A worthy subject. Any ideas?”

2

Chief Lanzi turned to the others. The sub-chief and treasurer shook their heads.

“Wait…” It was Michia whose face clouded. As the men’s gazes converged on her, she
continued, “I saw the woodcutter Beijrot this morning, when I went foraging for mushrooms
in the northern forest. He said something about watching a shooting star drop into
the forest last night.”

“When was that?”

“I…didn’t ask.”

“Hmm, do you know the approximate location?”

Michia’s eyes narrowed and her brows knitted as she searched her memory. Two seconds
later, her eyes opened wide. “The northern forest is about twenty kilometers from
this village. And then another fifty kilometers from Beijrot’s cabin to the deep forest.”

The Noble shot a look northward. “Is this woodcutter home now?”

“Yes,” answered the treasurer. “Someone saw him leaving the village not three hours
ago.”

“Any inhabitants near the impact point?”

“Yes, the homes of four woodcutters,” Chief Lanzi answered.

“Their numbers?”

“One family is expecting a child any day now, but including the child, seventeen.”

Greylancer nodded. “We will take our leave. You are all to stay inside your homes.
And—” He uttered something peculiar. “If the woodcutter and his family return, do
not let them into your homes. Should they attempt to enter, kill them.”

An air of unease besieged the four villagers. The Noble’s every utterance affected
the fates of humans living in the Frontier. Would this fistful of powder pitched into
the flames cause an innocuous gunshot or a blasting charge?

“What ever do you mean?”

Greylancer regarded the chief’s terrified visage and answered in a low bass, “Do not
fret. Do as I say, and you will be safe. Understand? Assuming familiarity with anyone
will instantly lead to your demise. Let us meet again.” Then he muttered, “Let’s go”
to Grosbec, and with a dark blue boot, kicked the cybernetic horse into a full gallop,
whipping up a whirlwind around them.

Watching the riders receding between the houses, Chief Lanzi remarked, “What skill
handling the reins and the horse. At their rate, it won’t take but a half hour to
reach the northern end,” after which he turned to his wife and said, “From the way
you were acting, I suspected you knew him, but perhaps I was wrong. His lordship didn’t
even bat an eye. What a relief.”

“Come now,” Michia said, flashing a disbelieving smile. But when the men began to
return to their homes, she looked back in the direction where not even a shadow of
the vampire remained. She stared down at the point where he had stood. It was obvious
that the thoughts swirling in her mind differed completely from those of the others.


The ride to Beijrot’s cabin did not take ten minutes.

Both Greylancer’s and Grosbec’s cybernetic horses had been custom built.

A tiny cabin slumbered beneath the shadow of a branch of a liza tree standing a hundred
meters tall.

Greylancer went inside the cabin and immediately came out. “No one inside. From the
look of the ashes in the fireplace, he must have gone out again as soon as he returned
from the village. No horse. Anything?”

The mounted Grosbec had taken on a different complexion. The color had returned, the
unhealthy stiffness was gone from not only his face but also his entire body, and
a faint smile flickered across his lips. “At present, I sense only animals within
two kilometers,” was the answer to his master’s query.

“We should have asked if the woodcutter is the curious type.”

“Indeed.”

“He seems to have a dog, but there is no sign of him. Let us go.”

They rode another ten kilometers, whereupon a cabin larger than Beijrot’s peered out
from behind a grove of trees on the right.

“Anything?”

“No.”

They repeated the short exchange another three times, once for each time they passed
a woodcutter’s house that Michia had spoken of.

When they came within a few kilometers of the edge of the forest, Greylancer pulled
up on the reins.

Clear of trees now, approximately two hundred meters ahead in the ochre-colored mesa,
there lay what appeared to be a blue metallic object that was clearly not of this
world. Its brilliant sheen accentuated the desolation of the treeless wilderness surrounding
it.

It resembled a saucer with three horizontal tail planes. A two-seater judging by its
ten-by-eight-meter size. The two open bulges on what appeared to be the cockpit corroborated
this. The body was split open diagonally from the rear of the cockpit to the tail,
such that it was difficult to believe the aircraft had crash-landed safely.

The landing had not put a mark on it. The enemy aircraft was not equipped with an
energy shield but was made of a super-dense alloy.

A human shadow stood in front of the cockpit.

Spiked leather vest and wool shirt. The wide-barrel hunting pistol was nicked and
well worn, but the hand axe stuck behind his belt was shiny enough to reflect one’s
face.

Another larger axe lay at his feet. No doubt this was the woodcutter.

Rather than the tool of his chosen profession, he held a cylindrical tube with a grip
resembling that of a handgun.

He stood at a distance of five meters and pointed the cylinder at the aircraft.

A pale blue mass spewed forth from the tube, and in a moment the aircraft, taking
on the same hue, became enveloped in a brilliant glow. When the glow subsided, not
a trace of the aircraft remained. Scattered about the sandy earth and rocks were silver
dust particles, which blew away in a blast of wind.

The woodcutter fell to his knees, clasped his hands in front of his chest, and began
to drone some kind of incantation.

“That was a first,” said Greylancer, narrowing his eyes.

“I hear the OSB have no blood running through their veins.” Grosbec tightened his
grip on the reins.

“Stay here.” Greylancer spurred his horse forward.

Even as he drew within ten meters of the supplicant figure, the woodcutter was still,
seeming not to notice the Noble’s presence.

Climbing off his horse, Greylancer called out, “Beijrot?”

So engrossed was the woodcutter in prayer that he spun around in shock. He stared
at the giant with the deep blue cape fluttering in the wind. “Who—are you?” he asked,
distorting his bearded face.

“Are you Beijrot?”

“Yeah. But…you wouldn’t be…”

“Greylancer.”

“Oh, your lordship! Yes, I am Beijrot. What are you doing here in these parts?”

“I came with questions, but they have been answered. This dust scattered about you—the
remains of the woodcutters and their families, Beijrot?”

“What…was that?” The woodcutter staggered backward. “I came out to investigate the
thing that fell out of the sky last night, is all.”

“If you merely came to investigate, why did you disintegrate the aircraft? Which weapon
will that arm behind your back reach for? The axe of the woodcutter whose identity
you’ve stolen or your blaster? Which would be easier to handle in your present form?”
Beijrot continued to inch backward. The sweaty, quaking figure was outwardly one of
a simple, mild-mannered woodcutter. “Or perhaps neither. You must know your weapons
are ineffective against vampires.” Greylancer brought his left hand up to his ear.
The jewel on his ring finger reflected the sun’s rays. “Well now, this is what my
retainer tells me you were thinking just now:
Damn Nobles! Someday, we’ll wipe out the lot of you
!

“Right you are!” Beijrot jumped right and pointed the cylinder at Greylancer. A glowing
blue mass again fired from the tube, and the vampire vanished into thin air. “Yes!”
Beijrot howled and wiped the sweat off his brow with his weapon hand. The awful tension
drained from him, like paint dissolving in water. “Who said the beings on this planet
were immortal? I got him! The son of a bitch is nothing but a speck of dust now!”

Suddenly, the triumphant voice turned to shrieks of pain.

Beijrot grabbed at the silver head of the lance sticking easily a meter out of his
solar plexus, but not before he found himself lifted three meters off the ground.

Laughing cruelly as the helpless woodcutter twitched in convulsions was none other
than Greylancer.

Had not a blast lethal enough to destroy an atomic nucleus just incinerated him? And
where had he been concealing a three-meter lance?

“Answer me one question and I shall put you out of your misery in one blow, you filthy
outer-space invader. Where is the other varmint?”

Greylancer gave the lance a cruel shake.

Fresh blood spurted out of Beijrot’s mouth. His shrieks turned into screams.

“Still able to keep this form, are you? Never you mind. You shall suffer a painful
death. Pray to your god.”

Greylancer brought down his lance with one swing, splitting the woodcutter’s body
down the middle.

Fresh blood pelted the ground first and then the human entrails splattered down atop
it.

The transformation occurred a few seconds later.

Split asunder by one fell swing, the two halves began to melt in the sun. The eyeballs,
flesh, and bone revealed themselves as shams as they all liquefied into gray mucus
and oozed in Greylancer’s direction. It managed to creep about a meter before halting
its advance over the yellow earth.

After waiting several seconds to confirm the OSB’s death, Greylancer shook the lance
one last time. Every last drop of the gray blood spattered the ground. He lowered
his lance and called Grosbec’s name.

3

A voice inside Greylancer’s head answered:

I’ll be there in a moment.

Soon, Grosbec appeared out of the trees on horseback and pointed the horse toward
his master.

When his servant was but ten meters away, Greylancer spied a black shadow dropping
down from overhead.

“Take cover!” Greylancer yelled, too late—

A bloody mass shot out of Grosbec’s heart, and Grosbec toppled forward off his horse.

A steel arrow. Greylancer glanced down at the arrowhead buried deep in the ground
and swung his lance.

There was a beautiful clang of metal as a second and third arrow fell out of the sky.

So he was no ordinary woodcutter
,
thought Greylancer, and then a bloodied voice crept inside his mind.

My lord, the enemy is a ghost archer.

Grosbec’s thoughts. Greylancer slapped the rear of his cybernetic horse, sending the
steed cantering away, and darted toward his loyal companion lying on the ground.

He also sent Grosbec’s mount away and struck down a fourth arrow.

Grosbec’s body was already beginning to disintegrate. His pale skin was sallow and
emitting a haze of decay.

He must have been in one of the four houses, disguised as a visitor. I will avenge
you in a moment.

To a dying man, perhaps his tone sounded heartless.

The Greater Noble stood up. He hoisted his lance above his head and threw it without
taking aim.

The lance vanished, leaving behind a loud buzz. Only the two vampires present understood
that it was flying toward the OSB that had loosed the arrow that had pierced Grosbec’s
heart.

My lord?

Grosbec’s shock ran through his master’s mind. A black arrow sprouted from the right
side of Greylancer’s chest. It had struck him when he threw the lance.

It’s all right. It missed my heart.

Greylancer wrapped his left hand around the shaft and plucked out the arrow with neither
wince nor shudder.

Hurry…you must return…to the village. Iron-tipped arrow…look after the wound…or your
insides…will decay.

Will
you
survive?

That was a question to which Greylancer already knew the answer. Among those serving
him, the men with telepathic abilities numbered fewer than five. Grosbec was among
the precious few.

Even a telepath with the ability to read and transmit thoughts within a kilometer
radius was defenseless against an attack outside of his “earshot.” Greylancer took
to one knee next to his irreplaceable servant.

I believe not.

Grosbec’s thoughts sounded oddly clear and lucid in the Noble’s mind.

Where will you go?

Perhaps the Sacred Ancestor was right, my lord. Now that my end is near, I finally
understand his words.

Transient guests are we.

Indeed. Even as we’ve attained immortality, I leave you now. I pray you will never
come to feel the same way that I do.

With a start, Greylancer looked up and stared off into the distance.

“Between the eyes,” he said aloud. The Noble was capable of sensing the outcome of
his lance attack from two thousand meters away.

There, I have avenged your fall. Go now, rest in peace. You need not worry about your
wife and boy.

I am grateful…how strangely peaceful…

Greylancer paused for a moment and then stood up.

There were piles of grayish-blue dust packed around Grosbec’s cape and armor. One
pile, which poured out from the right sleeve, held the shape of an open hand until
the wind blew it away.

Taking a deep breath, Greylancer gathered up Grosbec’s garments and murmured, “OSB—you
will pay dearly for his life.”


At the outset of war a hundred years prior, both the Nobility and OSB were shocked
to discover the powers they had in common.

Whereas the Nobility turned other creatures into one of their own and controlled their
wills by feeding upon their blood, the OSB wielded the same influence over humans
via the power of metamorphosis. But though they were able to assume the form of others,
the OSB were incapable of breeding like the Nobility.

The Nobility stood at a tremendous advantage in the beginning. The OSB’s primary weapon
was an atomic blaster capable of incinerating objects, but the Nobility were able
to reconstitute their forms after being struck by the sizzle of plasma.

The OSB were thrown into perfect confusion. The way the immortal Nobility were able
to rise again from an atomic blast was beyond comprehension—beyond even their concept
of regeneration.

Regeneration, as the OSB understood it, signified cell reproduction at the atomic
level. Vampire resurrection defied analysis.

That the Noble garments, too, rematerialized intact shocked and terrified the OSB.
They repeated meticulous tests on capes and rings and various other spoils, only to
find that they were made of ordinary silk and cotton. Though the pieces had been specially
engineered to restore their shape after experiencing primitive sword and gun damage,
they could easily be burned to cinders. Nevertheless, these same items were reconstituted
from ash along with their wearers.

It was not until a year later, when—as gleaned from human knowledge—they drove a stake
into a Noble’s heart, that the OSB grew wiser to the supernatural forces fueling vampiric
existence. Only when they bore witness to the Noble succumbing to death’s call, his
flesh along with his garments crumbling to dust, did the OSB finally understand the
words—
legend, curse, occult,
and
evil
—swirling inside the memories of their human prey.

Though the Nobles were vulnerable to natural sunlight, they were impervious to the
artificial light produced by the OSB. Wooden stakes were ineffective unless driven
precisely into their hearts. Even if his head were severed at the neck, a vampire
could come back from the dead, its head reattached in a matter of seconds. But only
if reattached within ten minutes.

Such phenomena were best understood as supernatural rather than physical, but since
the OSB were only capable of processing reality within the material realm, these supernatural
beings shook the OSB and wreaked havoc with their primitive DNA memory.

Had the OSB not learned, from consuming human knowledge, that a wooden stake or steel
blade to the heart would destroy their enemies, the war would have lasted less than
a month, much less the century of attrition the human pawns had endured.

The knowledge of their human victims aided the OSB. Enlightened now by humanity’s
age-old slaying methods, the OSB took human shape, infiltrated the realms of their
immortal enemies, and drove stakes through their hearts. They destroyed the Nobility’s
defense shields, and the OSB’s mother ship launched warships and aircraft to rain
countless steel blades down upon the Nobility during the day while they slept. The
blades pierced through Noble coffins, skewering the sleeping vampires in the heart.

The Nobility mounted a counterstrategy with dimensional shields and telepaths.

They recruited humans and Nobles that possessed extrasensory powers and dispatched
them throughout the land, save for the Capital where few humans dared live.

Before the OSBs in human form could brandish their stakes, the telepaths, sensing
their murderous intent, aided the Nobility in felling the intruders.

Until the covert presence of these telepaths had come to light, the OSB invasion had
stalled.

Shifting their target from the Nobility to the telepaths, the OSB now waged an offensive
against these formidable psychic counterspies.

As rare as the telepaths were to begin with, their decimation threatened the very
survival of the Nobility. The vampires protected and harbored them, and after DNA
analysis of the surviving psychics, the Nobility endeavored to engineer new telepaths
by breeding the best of their kind.

The past century of war had seen the rise and fall of generations of telepaths, with
Greylancer just now losing one of a precious few.


Greylancer returned to the village of Ardoz an hour later.

The blue winter sky began to grow dark.

Chief Lanzi greeted Greylancer in the public square, which looked as if it might be
crushed by the cold and coming darkness. “Your lordship.”

Noting Grosbec’s conspicuous absence, the chief bowed with a smile belying his sadness.
The villagers milling about the square had retreated to their homes when the watchtower
alerted them to Greylancer’s arrival.

“How many have come to the village during my absence?”

“Four, your lordship,” answered Chief Lanzi. “One was a traveling medicine man, another
a sword grinder, the third was a villager returning from an errand in a neighboring
village, and lastly a traveler en route to Jarmusch.”

“Any of the travelers still here?”

“No, they stopped in for a drink at the tavern and went on their way. The watchtower
guards can confirm their departure.”

“What of those tending to their crops?”

“Yes, I have word that they’ve all returned not too long ago.”

Frontier towns like Ardoz counted the numbers coming and going from the village in
order to prevent raids by bandits—and now to keep out the dreaded usurpers, the OSB.

“I will take lodging at your abode tonight. We have matters to discuss.”

The color drained from the chief’s face. “Uh…shall I arrange for anyone to join us?”


After
we’ve talked.”

The giant dismounted from his horse, and his dark blue cape fluttered majestically.


Michia came out of the house upon Lanzi and Greylancer’s arrival.

The couple’s son was not at home, and Lanzi’s daughter had been adopted when Michia
came to live with the chief. Now the girl lived with a farming family in the Northern
Frontier.

After sending Michia away, Chief Lanzi was confronted by the sheer fact that a Noble
stood in his parlor. The sight of the vampire lowering his frame onto the sofa was
enough to stifle his breathing. The last glimmer of daylight streamed in through the
window, spreading the Noble’s shadow over the room as if to shroud it in darkness.

Then, Greylancer revealed a scenario that made the chief’s blood curdle.

“I’d assumed there were only two, but when I checked the OSB’s weapon, it had discharged
one blast fewer than the number of woodcutters’ family members. One of them must have
survived.”

“But…none of the other woodcutters have been to the village today.”

“You said that the villagers went out to tend their crops.”

Just as Chief Lanzi began to nod, his face went blank—the meaning of Greylancer’s
remark registered in his mind. “Are you suggesting one of the OSB first took the identity
of a woodcutter and then switched to the form of one of the villagers?”

“I don’t know. It is possible. If there is the slightest possibility, it bears investigating.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“You will alert the village that I will be patrolling the premises. That’s all. The
villagers will wait for dawn sheltered in their homes—all except one.”

“You mean to expose yourself to draw out the enemy?”

“A tired ploy, I realize. But that it has not fallen out of favor is proof of its
efficacy.”

“As you wish.” Wiping the sweat from his face, the chief contemplated the human-shaped
specter before him. Just whose defeat was best for the village, he knew not.

CHAPTER 2:
EXTERMINATING
THE INTRUDERS
1

The third OSB
had stolen the form of one of the woodcutter’s family members, headed straight for
Ardoz, and, after transforming into one of the villagers toiling in the fields, returned
to the village. Since it retained the knowledge and outward appearance of its victim,
not even family members could see through its trickery.

Perhaps Ardoz was not the OSB’s destination or hiding place at all. The Glacierites
lived in a town not fifty kilometers away, where it was possible to board a ship and
sail down the River Benev.

Greylancer had decided to return because Michia had told Beijrot of Greylancer’s visit
before the woodcutter’s body had been stolen by the OSB.

If the OSB could steal the identity of the Greater Noble, whose name was known across
the Frontier, they would be able to march into the Capital uncontested. No doubt the
enemy would risk life and limb to that end.

As darkness descended, Greylancer left the chief’s house.

The eyes of those peering from the windows converged on the Noble patrolling the streets.

He emerged into the village square.

Though the streetlamps were dark, a near-full moon lit the well and stone relief with
a bluish glow. Several wagons were parked on the western edge.

Greylancer looked up in the direction of the grating screech overhead.

Silhouetted birds fluttered across the moon. Night migrants. The black nocturnal birds
of passage alighted around Greylancer and began pecking at the shadows of the trees,
houses, and wagons.

The birds used their pointed beaks to eat the ground insects gathered in the shadows
at night, and because they appeared to be pecking at the shadows, they were also called
“shadow eaters.”

After gazing down for a moment at the birds picking the strandlike insects off the
ground, Greylancer muttered, “Seems I lack what the shadow eaters are looking for.”
Nobles cast no shadows at their feet. “The night is still young. I pray the OSB are
an impulsive race. The loss of Grosbec will be felt dearly,” he grumbled to himself.
Spoken by this man, however, the words had the ring of scathing damnation against
the OSB. “A fine moon.” After looking up for a moment, the Noble resumed his patrol.

He made no sound when he walked. Even the shadow eaters did not notice his footfall.

Of the paths leading out of the square, Greylancer headed for the west exit.

As he passed by the wagons parked at the edge, the nearmost wagon instantly began
to lose its shape.

An amorphous mass the color of the wagon leapt at Greylancer.

The flash of movement gave away its presence. Greylancer twisted his enormous body
to the right at an unthinkable speed.

Gripped in his right hand was the long lance he’d used to fell the ghost archer earlier
in the day. The curved conical tip struck the mass and flung it against the stone
wall along the path. The enemy was protean, shifting form moment by moment.

The instant the lance poised for another attack, the mass twisted into a vortex and
flowed through a hole in the stone wall.

“Tch!” The Noble thrust the lance against the wall.

The wall exploded and smashed to pieces. When he cleared the rubble in his path, he
spotted the fleeing mass fifty meters ahead.

Suddenly, the mass changed shape again, stealing the form of a nearby creature. A
black cat scampered fifty meters in the moonlight toward a lit building with unbelievable
agility. The OSB was capable of doubling the abilities of the creatures it became.

Greylancer’s lance discharged a particle beam. A purple streak tore through the darkness.
The beam grazed the cat’s tail and bore a five-meter-long trench in the ground. The
explosion made no sound, as if in deference to the tranquility the moon demanded.

Watching the cat disappear inside the building, Greylancer broke into a run.

When he reached the door, lively music filled his ears. He didn’t need to look at
the sign to know he had stumbled into the all-night tavern found in every Frontier
town.

The tavern was crowded with patrons.

The moment they glimpsed the stranger’s entrance, the faces of the patrons and bartender-cum-proprietor
froze. The room reeked of smoke and liquor.

“Not one move,” commanded Greylancer before anyone could speak. “Anyone else here?”
he asked, glancing at one door in the back and another to the left. The back door
was the entrance into the staff room, and the door on the left led into the washroom.

Game maps for a vampire hunting game that was all the rage in the Frontier and coins
and various chips and cards for wagering cluttered the tabletops. No one attempted
to hide the game, perhaps petrified by the Greater Noble’s ghostly aura.

“Two,” the bartender-cum-proprietor answered, his voice stiff, perhaps surpassing
the usual tremulous reaction. “My wife is in the back changing. And there is another
in the toilet.”

“Look right,” boomed Greylancer to the patrons of the tavern. “If the person next
to you has never left your sight, stand over there against the right window. Otherwise,
raise your right hand.”

Within seconds, everyone save the proprietor stood by the window. Despite the knives
and guns undoubtedly concealed among them, not one thought to reach for their weapons,
as they all stared at the same two doors Greylancer did.

The enemy could not have escaped. It must have taken some damage by the earlier hit.
Neither was the enemy so feeble as to flee in the face of a flesh-and-blood Noble.

Since the enemy might be among the patrons, Greylancer had no choice but to detain
them.

The back door opened first.

A slender middle-aged woman, wearing a colorful corset and flared skirt, emerged from
the staff room and became immediately petrified by the tension in the room.

“A N-Noble…!” she stammered, and at the same, a youth in his mid-teens came out of
the left door and was stopped cold.

“Lord Greylancer,” the proprietor began to jabber. “This is my wife. And the boy there
is my son. Whoever you’re looking for, I can assure you these two aren’t involved.”

Whether the Greater Noble heard him or not, his steely voice rang across the tavern.
“Strip off your clothes—both of you.”

It was an order no one dared defy. Even the husband and father of the two in question
could not form the words to protest.

Surely the two were desperate to know what they had done to attract such direct attention
from a Noble. Surely they knew nothing. Nevertheless, the woman unlaced her corset,
and the teen unbuttoned his shirt as ordered.

As the woman bared her ample breasts and taut body from the waist up beneath the gas
lamp, the eyes of the patrons pleaded innocent to having any lascivious thoughts.

“Move your hands,” ordered Greylancer. The woman lowered the hands covering her breasts.
“Turn around.”

Both mother and son turned once around.

Finally, anger began to seep into the eyes and faces of the patrons. They were not
castrated livestock after all.

When Greylancer commanded, “Take off your bottoms,” one of the men jumped up and shouted,
“That’s enough!” He pointed a gun at Greylancer.

The lance slashed the man’s elbow like a bolt of lightning, sending the severed arm
sailing toward the wall. So quick was Greylancer’s attack that the man was unaware
of his pain until his blood rained down on the others like rose petals. He glanced
around the blood-splattered room, then fell.

Strange occurrences happened all the time in the Frontier. But not even Greylancer
could have predicted what happened next.

A gunshot rang out.

The gun, still gripped in the man’s severed hand, had crashed against the wall and
exploded on impact.

The bullet pierced the woman’s right breast and shot clean through her back.

A dreadful silence came over the room, and in the next instant, the woman crumpled
to the floor.

“Mama!” the boy shouted and ran to his mother.

Everyone stared in terror.

The woman’s head twisted a full 360 degrees, tearing off at the neck, and sprang like
a savage animal at Greylancer.

Deep inside the fanged mouth of the kindly countrywoman was the green glow of a cyclopean.

Greylancer thrust the lance inside her mouth, skewering the woman’s head as it flew
at him, then crushing it to pieces.

The room filled with screams.

Pulverized bits of flesh and bone and eyes turned into grayish ooze in midair and
splattered on the poor onlookers’ heads, faces, and hands.

Like the rest of the mother’s body, the gray matter stuck on the people’s skin twitched
and quivered and stopped, until it vaporized in an instant.

“I shall take my leave of you.” Greylancer spun on his heel, any interest in the tavern,
its patrons, the OSB, the possessed woman, much less the village already leaving him.

Another gunshot.

A tiny hole opened in the cape shrouding his massive back and disappeared as quickly
as it appeared. The Noble’s garments were made of a memory fabric that restored its
original shape when damaged.

Turning, Greylancer confronted the youth clutching the gun in both hands. Purple smoke
plumed from the trembling barrel.

“You…killed my mother…” The boy sobbed. Tears rolled down his cheeks with every gasp.

The Noble’s reply was frigid. “The creature that I struck down was not your mother.
Don’t you see that?”

“Listen to him, Lingor,” shouted his father from behind the bar counter. “He’s right!”
He alone understood that the fate of his family turned on what would happen in the
next few seconds. “Lord Greylancer is not responsible for what has happened here.
Get ahold of yourself!”

“Nobles, Nobles, Nobles! They’re to blame for all of this. Mama would still be alive
if you damn Nobles—” The boy’s anger tensed his finger before he’d intended to squeeze
the trigger.

The moment the gun roared, Greylancer plunged the silver spearhead through the boy’s
throat, twisting the hilt for good measure. The boy’s head tore off at the initial
gouge and landed in the middle of where the patrons stood.

Screams again erupted from the crowd.

Lance in hand, Greylancer resumed his walk toward the door.

He sensed the hatred rise up and countless weapons being drawn behind him.

“Have you any idea the position you are in?” The force of his voice was enough to
freeze the animosity surging toward him. “If the OSB are not destroyed within twenty-four
hours of a confirmed infiltration, the area within a thousand kilometers of the invasion
point will become the target of our corona cannon. I have yet to report to the Capital
that the threat has been put down, and the woodcutter Beijrot made first contact with
the OSB yesterday at dawn. Try as you might, there will be no escape.”

Even after the echo of his voice and its master dissolved into the darkness, the villagers
could not move for a good long while.

Several minutes passed, until freed from the curse at last, they began to tremble
with newfound enmity and grief, while others counted the village’s fortune at having
been spared, thanks to the sacrifice of the tavernkeeper’s family.

2

Greylancer left the tavern and headed directly for Chief Lanzi’s house. His intention
was to depart immediately.

He could give a damn about the collective hatred of the villagers. He had little interest
in humanity to begin with. He was merely dispatching his duties as Frontier overlord.
The truth was he could barely tolerate speaking to humans.

The overlordship was not determined by succession.

Before being appointed to this position by the Privy Council—the highest decision-making
body of the Nobility—Greylancer had been a member of the Sub-Council and all but assured
a seat in the next Privy Council.

The ladder up the ranks was a precarious one for which pedigree, skill, and proven
record were requisite criteria. It was a great achievement for a Noble to earn a seat
on the Sub-Council, much less the Privy Council. Yet Greylancer had easily ascended
the elite ranks virtually uncontested.

The Noble Greylancer.

Though the Nobility had dispensed with such honorifics, his brethren naturally took
to calling him by this appellation out of deference for his record for wiping out
those among the Nobility opposed to the Sacred Ancestor.

In the Noble year 2004, the True Nobility World faction, which advocated the extermination
of the human race, plotted to disperse a radioactive substance that selectively acted
upon human DNA. It was the young warrior Greylancer that had killed every last one
of the conspirators and foiled their plot on the eve of the operation.

And in the Noble year 3052, the Anti-Human Alliance, a larger, more powerful offshoot
of the True Nobility World faction, set in motion a thousand-year conspiracy to assassinate
the Sacred Ancestor. Two hundred years later, it was also Greylancer who exposed the
plot within weeks and, risking his own ruin, drove a stake into the heart of the ringleader,
a high-ranking member of the Privy Council.

And then again in the Noble year 3071, when humanity mounted an insurrection for the
ages against the Nobility, leading the charge to put down the threat and punishing
the regional Nobles that incited the uprising was none other than Greylancer.

Why this Greater Noble, embodying the full glory of the Noble race, was demoted to
oversee a sector of the Frontier was a mystery even to the Privy Council handing down
the order.

Nevertheless, Greylancer accepted the appointment without complaint and departed the
Capital with his most trusted retainers in tow. Nearly ten thousand Nobles were said
to have lined the street to soberly see off their exalted warrior.

Though he ruled over his subjects with both a gentle and severe hand, his disinterest
in humans was not caused so much by this tavern incident alone as it was by Greylancer’s
nature.