Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 18
“Don’t move,” D told her as he dismounted.
He took five steps forward. From the third he was out in red grass that came up to his knees.
“The villagers rushed in headlong,” the woman on the mount said in the lowest of tones. “There was nothing else they could do. But half of them were cut down instantly. And—”
A number of flashes leapt up from the grass. They were aimed at D’s knees.
Evading them with a graceful leap, D drew in midair to cut them down. A semicircle of light slashed through the grass, while at the same time, cries of pain from nothing human and blue blood exploded into the air.
As D touched back down, he sensed that he was surrounded by a number of individuals—who then halted. His demonstration had struck fear in them.
However, the voice that rose all too naturally from the palm of the Hunter’s left hand remarked, “Oh, this is gonna be a pain.”
Apparently it had noticed they would be at a distinct disadvantage in this battle.
From what it sensed, the assassins hiding in the grass were less than a foot and a half tall.
When fighting opponents who didn’t even come up to his knee, a swordsman’s own height would be his greatest enemy. The body of the average human being simply wasn’t constructed to use a sword against anything so small. Even a renowned swordsman would want to fight someone tall enough to give him a target around stomach-level or higher in order to demonstrate his skills to their fullest. At the very worst, he might settle for something that came up to his waist. Anything shorter than that would naturally force him to stoop and lower his center of gravity; and using both arms as a fulcrum when wielding the sword, his movements would be extremely restricted. No matter how expert a swordsman was, he would find the inability to strike with his full strength from the very onset a wholly new experience. On the other hand, his opponents were used to using that height to their advantage.
Long ago, the villagers must’ve had the very legs cut out from under them. The swords they should’ve raised against their enemies swept ineffectually through the air, and by a cruel trick of fate, they surely added to the fatalities.
The enemy’s circle tightened. D’s blade had been lowered.
“But among the bloodied blades of grass,” the woman continued, “there also lay some of the foe. What had slain them was—”
The flash of light that shot up again was deflected by D’s gleaming blade, and then the Hunter bounded once more. How gorgeous he looked as he froze at the zenith. Perhaps D’s foes halted because they were in awe of his speed, but then again, it might’ve been because of the way he looked. Suddenly, they were pierced from the back and through the heart by needles of rough wood whistling through the air. Just like the spears and arrows of the villagers, the only thing that’d had even a negligible impact on the enemy.
Although another flash came at D like a silver snake after he came back to earth, the very instant it was simply batted away a strangled cry rang out, and then total stillness returned.
As D flicked his blade and sent the gore flying from it, a thin fog enveloped him.
“What a man . . .” the woman said, the tone of her praise practically a moan.
Returning to his horse without making a sound, D said coolly, “What’ll be coming next?”
“I don’t know,” the woman replied, her answer clear and succinct.
D didn’t respond. He hadn’t really been asking her opinion in the first place. All she had to do was prove useful at the very end—that must have been his feeling.
Getting back on his mount, D stared straight ahead.
“We’ve got company!”
The hoarse voice made the woman’s body stiffen. It was referring to the black specks rising from the distant mountain stronghold.
Against the backdrop of the blue sky, eerie flying creatures took shape, with four limbs in addition to their wings. In less than ten seconds’ time the flyers came into contact with the horse and its riders. Taking no special formation, they flew straight down at once. Their bodies had an unusual number of bumps and pits. Their arms extended, and talons sprang from them. Clearly these were weapons meant to reach down from the sky and shred those on the ground. The talons were over three feet in length.
But the sword that gleamed in D’s hand ready to greet them was the same unholy blade that’d hewn every manner of enemy into mountains of corpses and spilled rivers of blood. No matter what the foe, no matter how they attacked, they couldn’t help but fall to that flashing steel.
Talons ripped down like a waxing crescent moon, and the sword went up like the same moon’s waning crescent. There was no clang as they came together, but with a weird and unsettling sound three of the flying creatures thudded limply to the ground. By the time the bodies that’d been decapitated in midair finally sent up geysers of blood, the cyborg horse was pounding its way across the ground far ahead.
The remaining dozen or so continued to give chase, but they showed no sign of attacking right away. Who would’ve thought three of their kind could be dispatched so effortlessly?
However, the lead creature suddenly went into a sharp climb, with the rest following en masse. On reaching an altitude of roughly a hundred and fifty feet they turned, each going into a steep dive.
As intrepid as their tactics were, D had just shown how ineffective they were against him.
“Be careful. I don’t like the looks of all those bumps on their bodies. They’re—”
The rest of those hoarsely spoken words were obliterated by an immense shock wave from the figure that’d turned just above D’s head.
The earth rumbled.
While the horse was sent flying, D clung to the reins, twisting the beast around. His hair billowed and his coat fluttered out. It was almost as if part of the shock wave’s duty was to show him in all his grace.
As the horse miraculously landed on its feet, a great sledgehammer of air pressure slammed straight down from above. If D hadn’t narrowly managed to work the reins so they continued to advance without any hesitation . . .
Grass and dirt went flying as the ground sank—fifty tons or more of pressure had been distributed there. But just before the impact, D’s eyes had caught the creatures going from a steep dive to a steep climb. When a body moving at high speed executed such a sharp turn, it created a powerful shock wave ahead of it. And that was precisely what his foes used as an attack. However, based on their size and speed, such destructive power was unthinkable.
“It’s the bumps,” the hoarse voice said. “The air gets funneled between those bumps, pumping up the force in the same way that the wind is when channeled between buildings in a city. And here it comes!”
The voice flowed upward.
The third ruthless blast scored a direct hit on the raised palm of D’s left hand.
A sound like thunder rolled across the earth.
As his steed galloped on, D clutched the folded glider in his left hand.
The creatures in the sky above were most definitely shaken. Their deadly shock waves had suddenly disappeared—or rather, it appeared they’d been swallowed by a certain spot on the palm of the Hunter’s hand. No doubt it was impossible for even their sharp eyes to discern the mere speck of a mouth that’d formed there.
But it was a second later that the creatures were to know true astonishment. Three more went into a dive. Between them, the gorgeous figure in black flew up from the earth. Silvery flashes and bloody spray danced out, and the trio continued on in a new dive—to their deaths. D immediately launched himself into the rest of the flock, and four more plummeted with blood trailing from them like exhaust. Smashing through his confused foes, the Hunter turned in the sky above them.
This was what was meant by snatching life from the jaws of death. Opponents from the sky would be fought in the sky. Leaving the woman and horse on the ground below, D had put his trust in the artificial wings.
Falling headfirst and essentially in a tailspin, D attempted to right himself.
As they watched the figure in black plummet steadily, the creatures laughed a silent laugh. Nothing that lived had ever escaped the turbulence they created. Even a giant roc with a wingspan of over three hundred feet could be driven to the ground, its bones already shattered in more than a thousand places. How much worse it would be for a lone human being! As D fell, they followed close behind him, to deliver the final blow and watch his cruel demise. The lumps covering their bodies shifted subtly, taking in the air currents, amplifying them, and then expelling them violently.
D’s left hand came away from the glider, and his right hand now gripped it instead. The blade of his sword was clenched in his teeth.
The lethal turbulence that roared at him changed direction.
They saw something. Saw the mouth that opened in the pale palm of his hand. It sucked in the air, then expelled it. The turbulence that should’ve knocked D down to his death instead caught him, then lifted him high into the air.
As the creatures tried to flee, a powerful force tossed them in confusion—air expelled by the palm of D’s hand.
The figure in black was drawn into the deadly dance of his foes. Blood spiraled out. It was several seconds after the last of his foes’ corpses slammed into the earth that D came straight down to his horse.
The hazy form was slumped across the horse’s back. Quickly righting herself, the woman gazed in the castle’s direction.
“Shall we go?” she asked. “That was probably the last attack—and it seems even the Plain of Slaughter wasn’t able to kill you.”
“How goes it, de Carriole?” the lord’s voice inquired.
“He’s made it across the plain,” the aged scientist replied.
“As I thought he might.”
Though de Carriole tried to find some tiny hint of regret in the calm ring of those words, he had little luck.
“Though he may have human blood in him, for all his human airs, he is made of sterner stuff. You were terribly mistaken to believe any of your little tricks could slay him.”
“Yes, I am horribly embarrassed to say.”
“We’ve lost a great many of the servants you created.”
For a second, de Carriole wanted to turn and look, but he couldn’t. He was in a laboratory that’d been set up for him in the mountain stronghold. Although the light was thin, it filled the room to overflowing. This was not the time of day when the lord could take action. And yet, the scientist sensed his presence to his rear.
“This mountain stronghold certainly doesn’t want for surprises. I’m counting on you, de Carriole. At the very least, don’t let the Hunter run me through.”
“Have no fear,”
“Ah, but I have a number of fears,” the lord laughed. “Did Greed not tell you what happened? Five foes interfered with that errand—and I hardly think they sprang fully-formed from the foam. Somebody hired them.”
“I have already sent someone to deal with that.”
“And there is another matter. What of Lady Miska? Or rather, why was it that man last night had the same power as the Destroyer that possesses Lady Miska?”
“I have already explained that. You may punish me for my ineptitude—and my foolhardy curiosity.”
This was a repeat of the exchange he’d had with his lord the previous night as he treated the wounds Vlad still bore on his return.
“Well, it matters not. Instead of punishing you, I have another task for you.”
“This is the way we did things long ago—turn this way.”
De Carriole complied. He sensed the lord stepping back, while at the same time the door behind him opened and a pair of figures entered timidly. It was a woman of about forty and a young boy.
“What’s all this about?” the aged scholar asked his unseen master after a long look at the pair.
“I had them brought here from the Capital. A traveling songstress you were in love with a decade ago and her child. Apparently the boy will be ten this year.”
“Surely you jest. For someone my age, a decade ago lies in a distant fog now. I couldn’t remember her if I tried.”
“Is that a fact? How about you, woman?”
Until she’d been addressed, the woman who seemed much younger and softer than her years had stared intently at de Carriole, but now she suddenly lowered her eyes and said, “No, I’m not acquainted with him at all.”
When the lord spoke again, he sounded quite satisfied. “The child wouldn’t know you, of course. In which case, this should be quite easy to do. De Carriole, kill them both.”
“What’s that you say?” the aged scholar asked, and not surprisingly there was an unsettling gleam in his eye.
Still clutching her child’s hand, the woman grew stiff.
“I’ve looked into this. The woman clearly had feelings for you. However, for some reason, each of you claims not to know the other. Which is why I say it should be easy to kill them.”
“Why would you have me do such a thing?”
“I feel a sudden urge to try your loyalty.”
“No matter what you may believe, milord, all I can tell you is that I have no connection to this woman and her son. I find it quite difficult to believe that taking their lives would demonstrate my loyalty.”
“Oh, but it would. And you know why that is.”
“I’m quite sure I don’t.”
“Don’t play dumb with me, de Carriole. However, for all your evasiveness, I don’t imagine it’s any use trying to physically threaten you. You’re not the kind to value life. Why don’t I put it to you in another way? I will forbid you from seeing my wife.”
De Carriole closed his eyes. The die was cast.
“Long have I been aware of your feelings for my wife. I no longer have any use for the woman, as you could probably imagine when I built the grave she asked for—to give Byron some peace of mind—then destroyed it so soon after granting her request. Love her, bed her, do whatever you wish. But only after you have disposed of those two.”
The old man said nothing, but his ugly face twisted as he stared at the woman and boy in a way that made their blood run cold. What rose from the wrinkled depths of his countenance was a shadowy mix of suffering and viciousness.
“Ah, now you’re acting more like yourself, de Carriole. That’s what I was after—that look upon your face!” the voice of his lord laughed. “I have no idea what it must be like for a human being to have feelings. Human and human or human and Noble—which do you choose?”
There was a strident clang at de Carriole’s feet as something shiny fell there. It was a naked dagger with a golden grip.
“Hurry up before he gets here. He won’t show you any mercy either. You might never see your beloved again!”
The aged scholar de Carriole had his eyes trained on the blade that’d been thrown at his feet, as motionless as if gazing into his own future. He remained that way for a long time.
BATTLING THE MOUNTAIN FOLK
We just got in five new girls. If you’d be so good as to look them over,” the manager of the house said with head bowed when he came to Lagoon’s room.
As a massive pleasure complex, “Fisher Lagoon’s” had a constant need for fresh entertainment and women. For instance, the “shock bath” powered by electric jellyfish that gave off just the right voltage for the ultimate in sexual stimulation, or the “jelly dance room” made of a material as supple to the touch as female flesh—to provide special event rooms like these, there wasn’t a day this establishment wasn’t under construction, and new girls were added once a week. While scouts from his place visited neigh
“Bring ’em in.”
Head still low, the manager quickly ushered in the women who’d been waiting outside, then left. In age they ranged from the teens to mid-thirties, each and every one of them an incomparable beauty, but out of them all, the thirty-ish woman named Ming and the innocent-looking Paige who said she was nineteen caught Lagoon’s eye. Apparently the women could tell, because Ming ground her hips purposefully in response to the master’s gaze, while Paige bashfully looked away.
“Having come to ‘Fisher Lagoon’s,’ you’re no longer like the women outside. Say good-bye to sweaty farmhands and unpolished sweethearts. I’ll see to it you have a life every bit as good as women in the Capital. What you’ll have to sacrifice in return is great, but if it gets to be too much for you, leave whenever you like. However, once you’ve tasted the waters of my house, don’t kid yourself that you’ll ever again be able to live an upstanding life in the outside world. Because you have become inhabitants of another world. From this day forward, this house is your home. Aside from where the manager tells you you’re not supposed to go, you’re free to go wherever you like and do whatever you want. Any rat bastard who’d harm you or make you cry will have to answer to yours truly. So relax and make some money.”
By the time he’d concluded the usual spiel, the women’s faces glowed with a mix of confidence, trust, and allure—as was always the case.
Once the women left at his command, Lagoon called in the manager and ordered that Ming and Paige be brought to him. Leading everyone into a waiting room for the time being, the knowing manager then brought the two girls back to Lagoon’s office after explaining the situation. Lagoon wasn’t there. After ordering them to take a seat and wait, the manager left.
“I wonder what he wants with us?” Paige said anxiously.
“Actually, it’s pretty obvious. The dove of good fortune has landed right in front of us. Not with white feathers, but with pink, and carrying a bed on its back.”