Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 23
“No, stay here,” Miska said, resting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I shall need more than one to send me off.”
As Miska receded, May gazed at her sadly.
The sound of a hard knock made the figure in white step off to one side.
“Sis—it’s me, sis!” a quarrelsome voiced exclaimed.
May jumped up.
“Hugh—is that you, Hugh?!”
Scampering like a scared rabbit, she opened the door. And who should be taking cover behind Lagoon’s enormous back? It was none other than Hugh.
The two of them embraced. As the siblings’ cries rose like a thunderclap, Lagoon looked down at them for a while without saying a word.
“On the way back, my mount threw a shoe. I borrowed another horse from a nearby farmhouse, and that’s when I got hold of him. Late the night before, the farmer was passing by the warehouses on Thornton Street when he saw a horse tied up there with a bag loaded on its back that was moving. He opened it up, and this is who he found. After listening to his tale, it turns out he was abducted by some villain. So he wasted no time in running off with the kid. And we won’t pry too deeply into why he felt the need to make off with the horse at the same time. Apparently the farmer intended to bring him to the sheriff or me tomorrow.”
After that clipped explanation, Lagoon gave an uncharacteristically warm smile.
“Tonight, you two get reacquainted. D should be back soon.”
And saying that, he left.
It was then that another figure stood behind the pair, who held hands.
“Now that there are two of you, you could see me off,” Miska declared, and it was to the pair’s great fortune that they didn’t turn and see the gleam that filled her eyes.
After leaving May’s room, Lagoon headed toward Miska’s hidden chamber. The events of the previous night replayed vividly in his brain.
Suddenly appearing before dawn, Miska had ordered Lagoon to produce the item her grandfather had entrusted to him a decade earlier. Long ago, when Miska’s grandfather had desired a meeting with Lord Vlad, human assassins set their sights on him, and Lagoon had served as the Nobleman’s guard at Vlad’s behest. Seeing how reliable the man was, Miska’s grandfather had entrusted him with an ancient metal censer, instructing him that if someone were to come for it with proof of their kinship, he was to hand it over with due haste and render what aid he could. And giving the man a vast sum in precious metal along with those directions, the Nobleman had then left.
Having received the censer, Miska then demanded a room where she might light it and that Lagoon accompany her there.
Halting, Lagoon caught his breath.
The black smoke that rose from the censer once it’d been lit didn’t frighten him. It didn’t spread, but rather stopped at human height, and even when he noticed that some kind of unknown chemical reaction must be taking place, he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t even scared when it took the form of a person in an ash-gray hood and robe. But every hair on him stood on end the instant that person stated in a human tongue, “I am the Guide.”
A Guide. Who would’ve thought they actually existed? Oh, if only D were here—or Lord Vlad.
He didn’t want to think about what had come next. But he remembered anyway. His ears, his brain, his eyes all remembered.
“Take me away. Take me to the other side.”
And to Miska’s request the Guide had replied, “We shall require two children below the age of twelve.”
That was the source of his horror. The great Fisher Lagoon stopped in his tracks, trying desperately to get a grip on the terror welling up within him.
The Guide required children, though that wasn’t necessarily a rare occurrence. Until a century earlier, every village had done the same thing. However, the Guide was a different matter. What they did to children . . .
Oh, why did I have to read that book about them? Why did I have to be there with her? I’ve gotta stop her. No matter what happens, I can’t let her seal the deal with the Guide.
It took several minutes for him to feel like himself again.
When Lagoon finally made it to Miska’s room, he was shocked. She wasn’t there.
“Damn it! Has it started already?”
The water seemed to spread forever. No one who saw it would’ve thought there could be any end to it. Visually and mentally, the surface of the water left just such an impression of vastness. And on it, a small boat came across from nowhere in particular. Standing almost at its center was the baron, and behind him was the robed form of Jean de Carriole. The two of them had slipped into the castle through a secret passageway that even de Carriole hadn’t known about. This was where the baron wanted to go before doing battle with his father once again.
The boat stopped. de Carriole had cut the engine.
“Yes, milord,” de Carriole said, his head bowed respectfully as he remained motionless so that the baron’s eyes might be the first to look upon the woman who’d just then drifted to the water’s surface.
The aged scholar plugged his ears, and the baron in blue turned a quiet look of heartfelt emotion to the pale and wavering figure in the water.
“I have returned now,” he said. “Although you could say this is my second trip back here.”
“I know,” the woman in the water replied, looking like a mirage. “When you were defeated by your father and thrown into the waterway, did you think I wouldn’t notice? Did you think I would do nothing?”
The baron was at a loss for words.
“I was constantly watching you. And I entrusted you to the flow of the water.”
“I, who gave birth to you, knew better than anyone that it would take more than mere ‘running water’ to claim your life. So long as you were underwater, you would be safe from destruction by sunlight. And that being the case, I thought it would be best if you kept going and flowed right out of these lands. I tell you this in the full knowledge that, now that you’ve returned once more, nothing I say can dissuade you. Byron, my son—please, just leave the castle. Nothing can come of your battle.”
“I am quite aware of that, mother.”
From the very start, there was nothing to be won in this fight. A son would kill his father. Was it so the abused and banished son might be avenged, or so that his mother, who’d been relegated to a subterranean lake, would be vindicated? Whichever it was, it was so horrible it was deserving of the Nobility’s most scornful expression—“oh so human.”
“Byron,” his mother said, her voice carrying a certain intent.
Your mother is going to share a great secret with you alone. Listen carefully—It was just such a tone.
“Your father despised you. Because you, who should’ve continued the family line, had been changed into something else. Your father did not refuse the great one’s request. He was delighted to hand you over. And that was no mistake. However, I must tell you now that before your father, there was someone else who hated you and tried to destroy you.”
The baron closed his eyes. He had always done so, accepting everything and bearing it quietly. For he was not a human being.
And that was why he inquired softly, “Was it de Carriole?”
“The great one, then?”
There was nothing to disturb the silence. The water around the boat didn’t move with even a hair of a ripple, and the baron was motionless as a rock. Apparently tragedy had frozen him.
“Impossible,” the baron said, retaining his composure.
“Kindly ask de Carriole,” the woman in the water said.
“Is this the truth, de Carriole?”
“Yes, milord,” the aged scholar answered in a tortured tone.
For the first time, waves rocked the sides of the boat.
The baron let all the tension out of his body.
“At the behest of your mother—Lady Cordelia—it was I that drove a stake of ash into your chest. Had it been anyone but you, Master Byron, the stake would’ve left a substantial scar.”
“He was unsuccessful. And I regretted doing it. For the instant your cries filled my ears, I awoke from a nightmare. To one school of thought, my being left trapped here in this condition through de Carriole’s assistance was the wrath of heaven.”
Byron Balazs, the baron in blue loathed by his father and nearly killed by his mother, stood there and didn’t say a word.
“If you would slay your father, first you must kill your mother. That’s all I wanted to say to you, Byron.”
The baron and his mother and the aged scholar—each of the three seemed to have their thoughts take shape, flickering in and out of visibility in the faint light.
Suddenly the baron turned to the right. de Carriole raised his face. The woman swayed. All three of them had sensed a presence of staggeringly immense proportions. It became a booming voice that was drawing closer.
“Has your tragic episode reached its conclusion, my lovely wife and child?”
It was the voice of Vlad Balazs.
Though the baron focused every fiber of his being on the source of that voice, he was ultimately unable to pinpoint it.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard what your mother had to say for herself, my freakish son. Your father has come down here to do battle with you again. From the very start I was watching from up above as you came. And though I can’t imagine what you’re feeling now, since you are out to take my life, I can’t let you leave here alive. Have no fear. Before the son can slay his father, the father shall destroy his son.”
Suddenly the boat rocked like a fallen leaf. A tremendous shock wave struck the surface of the water, and seeking an outlet for its anger, the water surged violently.
“Ha ha! Can you see me, Bryon, my son? If not, you shall find slaying me to be most—”
The mocking remarks stopped abruptly.
“Where in blazes did you come from?”
The lord’s shocked tone seemed to command the angry waves to be still.
The instant the bronze boat stopped on the water’s graceful surface as if it’d remained that way all along, a black figure had shot up like a mystic bird from the water off the starboard side.
The lithe figure swept his left hand toward the unseen ceiling, executed a flip that sent his black raiment fluttering out around him, and then by some unguessed means landed feet-first on the surface of the water. Like some graceful black waterfowl, he didn’t sink. The heels of his boots were only slightly dampened as he stood straight up on the water’s surface.
Perhaps it was in response that the figure in deep purple came down from on high. He, too, stood straight on the surface of the water, causing only the faintest of ripples. And then, with a single wave of his right hand, he sent three fiery orange streaks coursing toward D.
Catching them, D’s left hand was enveloped in flames, but those disappeared abruptly. Needles of rough wood the Hunter had thrown had been hurled back at nearly the speed of sound, and their friction with the air had made them burst into flames.
The beauty of that countenance by firelight made Lord Vlad woozy.
“D, what are you doing here?” the baron inquired.
“I tailed you,” he replied, his answer reasonable and succinct.
Smiling wryly, the baron told him, “Stay out of this.”
“I will if you can beat him.”
“I’ll beat him.”
The baron no longer had any purpose save this battle.
Two transparent disks landed next to the boat—D had thrown them. The baron had no way of knowing they’d been cut from thick plastic panels the Hunter had found at de Carriole’s mansion. D had prepared a second set for the baron because he understood the Nobleman’s thoughts well enough to know he would call on his mother in the subterranean lake, and he reasoned there was a very good chance it was there that the battle would take place.
Though the circular disks lacked foot straps and didn’t seem like they could support a rat, much less a human being, the baron stepped onto them completely naturally.
Now three men floated on the water, and the baron walked toward his father Vlad with a determined pace.
“Not feeling so well, are you, Father?” he asked. “No matter how great you may be, Father, the water is a detestable foe to the Nobility. However, to me—”
The Nobility feared running water, but the blood that coursed in Byron Balazs’s veins had no terror of it.
The devilish face above the great purple robe twisted its lips.
“That in itself marks you as a freak. My son, may you be cursed for all eternity!”
Vlad swung the golden scepter in his hand down toward the baron’s feet. An opening fifteen feet in diameter and of indeterminate depth was created, yawning there to swallow the baron.
But the baron was in the air. Ignoring the great chasm beneath him, he bounded toward Vlad’s chest.
“What’s this?!” Vlad exclaimed, finding this development so unexpected he forgot to brandish his deadly scepter.
Placing pressure on the lord’s right arm that paralyzed it from the elbow down, the baron then twisted it around behind him sharply while wrapping his left arm around his father’s neck. It felt like the root of a tree twisting around him. In the faint light, Vlad Balazs’s face flushed bright red, then turned a more muddied purple.
“A choke hold, eh? That’s a good approach,” a hoarse voice commented from the vicinity of D’s left hip.
Even if they were to suffocate, an immortal Noble would return to life in a matter of minutes, but that would be more than enough time to pound a stake through their heart.
One shadowy figure remained clinging to the other, the trembling stopped, and then another ten seconds passed. Just when the unexpected technique seemed about to deliver a somewhat disappointing denouement, Vlad’s left arm—which was in the baron’s grip—dropped unexpectedly. Not that it’d run out of power. Rather, it twisted around behind the lord’s back, grabbed the scepter from his right hand, and sent it whistling into the water at his feet.
“What—?!” came the heartrending cry of pain from the pale figure who’d drifted under them at some point.
A red silk gauze of a cloud spread through the water.
“Lady Cordelia?!” de Carriole exclaimed.
And only a heartbeat later, the baron shouted, “Mother?!”
His voice and his physical form both sailed over Vlad’s head as the lord bent over far, sending the young Nobleman arcing toward the water’s surface.
A splash went up.
Vlad raised his right hand above the shadowy form of the baron, who’d sunk underwater. A crimson jewel glittered in the pommel of his slender dagger. Sinking or rising, the baron wouldn’t be able to dodge it.
The flowing flash of silver and the explosive shower of sparks came at almost the same time. Going into a stroke right out of the sheath, D’s blade came down on Vlad’s left elbow—and was stopped by the arm the Hunter had supposedly taken from him once.
“My titanium alloy arm!” the lord gloated as he showed them the sheen of oxidized silver. “Better than my old one, and more powerful. Your sword will never get past this, D.”
As if to test that, the Hunter brought down a second blow from the high posture.
As would be expected, the lord countered that with his left arm, then dipped the same hand into the water and squeezed it into a fist.
A single jet of water pierced D’s chest as he still hung in the air. That was no ordinary water. Vlad’s artificial arm actually had a mechanical force of fifty tons. Less than a millimeter in diameter, the stream of water reached a speed of Mach three. It burst from D’s back, knocking him back some fi
Flames bursting from his chest, D sank into the water.
Without even bothering to verify D’s death, Vlad turned his eyes to his son. His scepter protruded from the chest of the pale woman who drifted underwater.
Grabbing hold of it, the baron called out, “Mother—”
“It’s no use. I took her straight through the heart—even if she’s still breathing, she won’t last long.”
As Vlad stood there laughing like some guardian demon, the baron gazed fixedly at him. The water that shrouded his blue form was stained red.
“A-ha, you’ve finally got that look in your eye, Byron. However, you shouldn’t feel that way. I’ve destroyed the woman who tried to harm you before I ever did. You should thank me.”
“You’re right, Vlad,” the baron said, touching his hand to the woman’s cheek. He didn’t address his father by his title, but merely by his name. “The woman who would’ve murdered me in my infancy is dead. Now she lies here, truly my mother. I must thank you, Vlad. You are my real foe.”
“And how will you slay that foe?” Vlad said, bending down to let the baron see his white teeth. “You’re a traitor, descending from my blood but given another man’s strength. Try using that strength to defeat me. What’s wrong? Can’t stand on the water?”
Once again a naked blade glittered in Vlad’s right hand. But it halted in midair as he twisted around in amazement.
A figure in black was approaching in a mesmerizing fashion across the water’s surface, a sword gripped in one hand.
“Interfering again, Hunter? No matter how many times you try, the same thing will—”
Discerning that D’s blade was limning the exact same arc as before, Vlad donned a sardonic grin. Then his eyes bulged in their sockets. His titanium alloy arm had been severed at the elbow again.
Water dripped from every inch of D. But the stream of water that coursed by his lips had a dim vermilion tint.
“You filthy bastard . . .”
“I cut the same place,” D said.
For the first time, Vlad looked with fear into the eyes that gave off that blood light. Was the gorgeous young man enjoying his terror?