Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 20
He’d specifically selected the rope from the very beginning. D and de Carriole rapidly drew apart, and a deep crevasse formed between them. The gap quickly grew wider, filled with the color of the sky and a deep green. Half of the room D was in had been blown outside by a jet engine set in the wall.
Slamming into the ground some sixty feet below, the room burst into flames.
D was in the air. The glider wings he’d kept close at hand had once again saved his life.
Avoiding the flames that shot up from the ground, the Hunter was soaring back up to de Carriole’s lab when something from below snapped tight around his leg—ropes the same color as the bushes below where half of the lab had fallen. Once the first one had wound around D’s ankle, scores more were swiftly tossed up from the ground, with a dozen of those coiling around the Hunter’s body.
The sword in D’s right hand slashed out.
Impossible—the ropes trembled, but weren’t cut! Not only that, but they were fighting the flight power of the flying beast’s wings as they began to pull D down toward the ground.
Who was manning the ropes? What kind of strength did they possess?
Seeing that it was no use, D finally let go of the wings. From a height of fifteen feet, he fell head over heels to the ground. But he landed on his feet.
He was in part of the forest that surrounded the castle. Each and every one of the ropes that bound him stretched off into the trees. The woods certainly seethed with madness and multiple presences. But why had they dragged their prey down to earth yet failed to attack immediately?
D’s head was lowered. There was nothing at all unsettling about his pose, and yet the Hunter’s presence seemed to freeze not only the air but even the rocks and trees—and when one of them did leap down from the trees, it was most likely because he could stand it no longer. He couldn’t bear D’s unearthly aura.
His physique was like that of a human being that’d regressed to some prehistoric era, and it was protected by a breastplate, gauntlets, and greaves that all had the same hue as the ropes and gave off the same sheen. In his hand a brutal hatchet glittered. Any form of resistance was useless, while his own attack would split open his prey’s cranium—his brain was imprinted with a vivid picture of this preset course of death.
A flash of white light whistled up from the ground. The blade that should’ve been deflected by the protective coating of mountain beast fat and sand effortlessly split his chest protector, then his muscles and organs, severing his spinal column before it protruded from his back. The body that slammed into the earth sent out a bloody spray as it broke into two chunks of flesh.
Caught in the blood wind, D’s form was stained vermilion.
Dead calm descended. Again. It was still. Truly still.
“What’s wrong? Come get me,” D was heard to say.
Beneath his lowered face, something red moved lithely. His tongue. He’d just licked off the blood that clung to his lips.
Slowly his face rose. His eyes had a glow more seductively red than de Carriole’s gaze or the blood of anything in the world.
What D had tasted wasn’t the blood of that sacrifice. He’d been wounded in the left shoulder by the copy of the baron. Just before he was pulled down to the ground, the Vampire Hunter had drunk the lifeblood that spilled from that wound, transforming into a creature all abhorred and he himself cursed. A vampire. And there was more to it—late the previous night at the hospital where Lagoon had led D and Taki, the man had a mixed look of terror and nostalgia in his eyes as he gazed at the beauty of that heavenly visage and answered D’s question.
“You know why I saved you? Because I get the same vibe from you as I did from the big guy. I gave him some help and got a ton in return. I’m still in his debt, you know. So I can’t really consider you a complete stranger.”
D still wasn’t free of the ropes. From a distance, he looked like a graceful black butterfly snared in a spider’s web. He seemed like no more than a creature waiting for the vile arachnid to rush in on unsightly legs with gnashing fangs as it attacked.
One of the ropes was given a sudden jerk. Though it was taut, D had no difficulty pulling it back.
Clearly shaken and loosing screams, a trio of figures made a murderous rush from the bushes around him in unison. Each was dressed exactly like the first man and wielded a hatchet and a sickle. D’s sword flashed out and, unable to withstand the assault, the first two men were reduced to gobs of blood. The third man planted both feet on the shoulders of the man before him, made a leap to the tree trunk ahead of him, and then hurled his trenchant sickle. With such speed and timing the average person wouldn’t have even been able to see them, as they attacked from unpredictable angles.
The sickle meant to decapitate D changed direction with a shower of metallic sparks, slicing the neck of the man in the tree with such speed he never even had a chance to move out of the way.
Suddenly, the ropes went slack. Cutting himself free of all of them with a single swipe of his blade, D stood alone on a narrow patch of rocky earth.
“These are the ‘mountain folk,’ I take it,” his left hand said.
They were a tribe that never went to the world below, but rather made their own world in high mountain peaks and desolate passes. Shunning contact with outsiders and interbreeding for generation upon generation, at some point they’d undergone physical and mental regression; and though they now resembled ape-men, some might say that their form was the best-adapted to their life in the mountains. Hating not only inhabited areas but all manner of human dwellings, perhaps the only reason they chose to live in the area around Vlad’s mountain stronghold was to take on the role of his dark enforcers in exchange for food and clothing. Vlad must’ve relocated to the mountain stronghold knowing that D would pursue him and be attacked by them. But if that was the case, his plan had failed.
There was a strange look in his eye as it tracked across the four horrible corpses—actually, so far above and beyond horrid they had an artistic beauty to them. D raised his blade into a high guard posture.
From the grove directly ahead of him echoed what sounded like a steam locomotive.
What appeared less than five seconds later was a machine that called to mind a huge green caterpillar the same hue as the mountainous terrain, but it was most peculiar how it didn’t snap even a single tree as it slowly advanced. In tighter spaces its body grew thinner as it twisted its way through, and its weight seemed to pose no problem for it at all—even though at fifteen feet in diameter and over thirty feet long, it had to weigh in excess of three tons. Conveyance or weapon of the mountain folk, it thudded to the ground beside a tree up ahead of D.
Out of bushes and trees figures leapt like monkeys, landing on the massive machine. The sides of it slowly split open and great folding scythes appeared. Easily twenty to twenty-five feet long, they were undoubtedly used for mowing through trees and carving through rock.
As the blades howled at him, D leapt over them and sailed backward. At the same time his form was slipping into a stand of trees, five or six enormous boles—each thicker than a man could fit his arms around—fell over, exposing perfectly smooth cuts. The earth trembled with the howling thuds.
A circle of flames shot up around D. Friction from the slices in the trees had caused them to catch fire.
No sooner had the Hunter’s left hand groaned, “This thing’s gonna be trouble,” than wide horizontal streaks of light assailed them from either side.
The way D’s sword bit into them and deflected them, it was almost too fortuitous to believe.
The green caterpillar of the mountains was preparing for its next onslaught, but when its legs stopped dead, a commotion broke out among the figures straddling its back. Each of the great scythes had been cut in half, with the severed portions now lying on the ground.
D closed the distance in one fell swoop.
Even more gripped with fear than the
A flash of white light whined out to deflect every last one of them, and the men fell from the caterpillar’s back with blood spraying everywhere. Perhaps it was his vampire blood that made D mercilessly cut down all who opposed him.
Ignoring those who dove out of the way or jumped down off the insect, D got on the caterpillar’s back and reversed his grip on his sword before lifting it high above his head. The caterpillar may have sensed something, because the second it squealed shrilly and wriggled, the blade came straight down on it, sinking into a spot on the creature’s wrinkly back all the way to the hilt. Where it had struck would be the nerve center of a living creature or the power circuits of a machine, or perhaps both in this case. A lump of white-hot material formed within the insect, and it began to run amok as if it’d lost its mind. Perhaps it knew it would die there.
Not even D noticed that a crevasse yawned between the stands of trees. The way the creature fell in, it looked as if it’d dived into the gap.
Only a second earlier, D had sprung, a length of black rope flying from his right hand to wind around a branch on a tree before him. With the dwindling form of the still-writhing caterpillar below him, D swung in an arc like a pendulum and was about to leap to the far side of the crevasse when he suddenly sank. It was unclear exactly who’d thrown the sickle, but it’d severed the black rope.
Though the pale form of the caterpillar was still visible in the distance, as the gorgeous Hunter fell after it, he instantly melded with the pitch blackness, as befitted someone with his wardrobe.
Closing the iron door, de Carriole descended the stone staircases before him. He was in an underground burial chamber. The holes that opened in the majestically towering walls of stone were filled with a systematic arrangement of gorgeously adorned coffins. They were home to the witnesses to the Balazs clan’s history of death that stretched back into antiquity, though not even de Carriole knew the names or genders of the occupants. Passing through a number of gates distorted into shapes that were practically impossible in three-dimensional space, de Carriole presently came to a graveyard with an especially high ceiling. Atop a waist-high dais sat a luxurious coffin the likes of which wouldn’t be found even in the palaces of the Capital. It was Vlad Balazs’s grave.
“It would seem that D was swallowed by a crevasse in the earth,” he informed his master, bowing respectfully.
“Excellent. Then the mountain folk have played their part.”
“However, they also suffered numerous losses.”
“Give them more than adequate compensation. Furthermore, you’re to search the crevasse and locate D’s remains. Only then will this be over.”
“Understood, milord. But as soon as we have confirmation, I should like to hasten back to my abode, if I may.”
“Very well. However, you will have to wait a while longer. In addition to yourself, there is someone else whose loyalty must be put to the test.”
“Yes, milord,” de Carriole replied, bowing before he turned his back.
When he was almost to the point where the coffin would be swallowed by the limpid darkness of antiquity, a voice issued from it, saying, “Byron—I slew him, but I don’t get the feeling he was destroyed. Look for him as well.”
De Carriole was frozen in place for a brief time—he was trying to assess the true motives behind the remark. Byron Balazs was in his mansion at present. And it was for that reason de Carriole was in such a hurry to return home.
Holding his tongue and bowing his head, he then said, “Yes, milord,” and began to walk away.
The coffin’s occupant neither said nor did anything further.
It was shortly after de Carriole ordered his homunculi to search for the corpses of D and the baron that Lagoon arrived.
“Milord Vlad is in a lovely mood, I take it,” the giant said, bowing toward the coffin in that underground lair while the lord watched him silently.
“Do you know why it is that I’ve called you here, Lagoon? It’s been twenty years.”
“No, I’m at a complete loss,” the giant replied, head tilted to one side. His face sober, he inquired, “Let me guess—you’re going to compensate us for all the buildings in town that were destroyed last night?”
“Whatever could you be talking about?”
“So far as I know, no creature possessing that kind of power lives anywhere near the village. And if it’d come from outside, it would’ve left the same sort of devastation all the way to our village, but there’s no trace of that to be found. That ‘thing’ was a normal person already in town who either suddenly developed this monstrous power or was given it. I can hardly be blamed for thinking it the latter.”
“Well, who would do such a thing? de Carriole’s mansion lies in the direction it came from.”
Vlad said nothing.
While it was unclear what Lagoon made of the contemplative silence inside the coffin, he prodded, “Anything else?”
He didn’t seem at all frightened by the creature within the coffin. In fact, he even seemed to be making light of him. You could say his reaction was simply perfect.
“You know a Hunter by the name of D, do you not?” the voice said in a decisive tone.
“Last night, he took a girl meant to slake my thirst from my manor down below.”
Lagoon’s surprise wasn’t completely an act. Though he knew about what D had done, on hearing about it from another person involved—particularly from Vlad’s own lips—he couldn’t help but be awed. As it happened, this was extremely fortunate for him.
“I sent Greed out to reclaim her, but he was rebuffed. This man they call D is indeed quite intense. However, he had someone aiding him.”
“Sounds like a real idiot.”
“That real idiot, I suspect, is you.”
“You must be joking!”
“Taking a variety of matters into consideration, it could be no one in the village save you. What’s more, I’ve never heard of D calling on compatriots before.”
“So, what do you intend to do?” Lagoon said, trying to cut to the chase. He was certain Lord Vlad’s suspicions weren’t easily aroused.
“The only human in the entire village who doesn’t have to swear fealty to me is you. And as per my promise to the great one, I can’t lay a hand on you. However, if you were to foment rebellion against me, that would be a different matter. Lagoon, will you swear fealty to me?”
“When pigs fly!”
“It’s just as I thought, then,” the voice laughed. “It would seem I have my proof of your treason, and now you must be wiped from the face of the earth.”
“Then do it, here and now.”
“I can’t. Even I don’t have the nerve to renege on a promise to the great one. Which brings me to another matter, Lagoon. Have you no wish to receive Noble blood?”
“Don’t play dumb. I’m talking about life eternal. Although in return, you won’t be able to walk in the light of the sun.”
“Take a good look,” said the voice from the coffin.
As if in response, the creak of hinges rang out behind Lagoon.
Turning, the giant shouted, “Telena!”
Out of the dozen or so girlfriends he had, she was his favorite.
“Last night, she became my maidservant.”
Like some pale, emaciated wraith who was somehow far more maddeningly beautiful than any healthy human, the woman approached Lagoon with a lethargic stride.
“How do you like her? Is she not even younger and more beautiful than when you loved her in your world? And that will not change for all eternity. What’s more—”
A crimson beam of light shot down from the ceiling, striking the back of the woman’s head and exiting again right between her eyes. Though white smoke rose from her, the woman never stopped w
“—her brain can be cooked with a million-degree heat ray, and still she won’t die. Living by night can have its pleasures, too.”
“The Nobility have no life,” Lagoon said, arms folded as he stared intently at the lovely woman who stood right in front of him. “Pardon me, Lord Vlad, but in my opinion, everything that has form comes to an end at some point. Come here.”
Extending his left hand, he beckoned to the woman.
With a gorgeous and bewitching grin rising on her lips, the woman spread her arms wide.
Taking a step into her arms, the gigantic form was still in mid-stride when blue-black steel poked out through the woman’s back. Though her trembling fingers sank into Lagoon’s shoulders, he didn’t seem to mind at all as he worked the blade, then threw the woman to one side. The body that fell to the floor was already lifeless, its alluring beauty beginning to be replaced by the foreshadowing of death and decay.
“See? Look at that peaceful expression on her face. Sure enough, for humans, nothing beats a miserable human death,” Lagoon said pensively as he returned a broad-bladed knife to his chest pocket.
“You’ve killed my maidservant,” the voice groaned. “Now I have all the reason I need to rid myself of you. How do you intend to get out of here?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I only disposed of a woman who’d come down with a horrible affliction. And I couldn’t very well have her come running back to my establishment, now could I?”
“You call my kiss a horrible affliction?”
“Just a slip of the tongue, Lord Vlad,” Lagoon said with a grin. “Isn’t it below the dignity of the great Balazs family to get bent out of shape over every little remark a mere human makes? Besides, I’d like to give some thought to the proposal you just made.”
“Oh. In that case, why do that to the woman?”
“If anyone’s going to get the immortality of a Noble, it ought to be me alone.”
And with those words, Lagoon’s smile deepened.