Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 30
The far end of the desolate night plains had begun to take on a watery hue.
Wherever this young man went, people always met their fate. But whose will it be this time? Will it be yours, D?
In the village of Sedoc—or to be precise, on the outskirts of the village—an incredible change took place on the twenty-sixth day of the third month of season A. A group of elderly women on a pilgrimage from the east were staying at Sedoc House, the village inn, when all twenty of them suddenly suffered heart attacks that night and died. After the sheriff’s department wrote up a perfunctory report, they were carted off to the morgue.
In the middle of the night, the janitor from the morgue rode to the sheriff’s office with bizarre news. One after another, the corpses in the morgue had gotten up, smashed through a stone wall, and begun to march off in single file toward “the red wasteland” on the village outskirts, by his account.
The sheriff railed about how they’d been bitten by a Noble and grilled the janitor on what the hell he’d been doing, but the poor janitor insisted there was absolutely no way a Noble could’ve gotten near them.
At any rate, talk turned to forming a search team and rounding up the corpses, but just then, the caretaker from a cemetery near the sheriff’s office bolted in with a face as pale as a dead man. He told them that every corpse in the entire cemetery had risen from its grave. Clawing up through ten feet of heavy dirt, they reached the surface and started walking.
The sheriff asked him where they were headed. But he already knew the answer.
“The red wasteland,” the cemetery caretaker replied.
An urgent appeal went out, and more than thirty men responded immediately, taking up their inevitable task as residents of the Frontier. They came with sharpened stakes, spears, and bows in hand, quickly proceeding toward the outskirts of the village.
They were a third of the way to their destination when the massive earthquake struck. Heaven and earth rumbled. The ground undulated like waves across fabric, rapidly pitching from side to side. It was a miracle that no one in the search party was harmed. Not even the horses had been able to flee; they’d fallen to the ground and rolled around on their sides for what’d seemed like an eternity, though it was later learned that the trembling of the earth hadn’t lasted five seconds.
Still, the sheriff and a number of other brave souls were to be lauded for the way they decided to press on less than five minutes after the great quake had passed. Driving their cyborg horses as fast as they could, they arrived at the edge of a red plain, where the composition of the soil made it look like blood, and were struck by a terror that effaced all other thoughts of strangeness in their minds as they froze on their mounts—or rather, along with their mounts.
The red ground was missing.
What they saw was an outer ring that seemed to go on forever, dropping at a sharp angle into a great mortar-shaped depression. But from the standpoint of natural phenomena, such an occurrence wasn’t inconceivable. What terrified the group was that along that vast brink—later the hole would be found to be a mile and a quarter in diameter—there was a mob of shadowy figures. Some clad in rags, others fairly well dressed, and still others nearly completely naked, they stood peering down at the bottom of that subsidence without moving a muscle. Irrespective of age or sex, there was nothing about them that had the slightest semblance of human life—eyes as cloudy as those of dead fish, sunken cheeks with bones laid bare, and pale shapes wriggling in holes through their chests and bellies that could only be maggots.
All their dead.
No, the caretaker said in a flat tone. That’s not right. They aren’t just from our village cemetery. There are too many of them.
It was at that point that the sheriff sensed the presence of countless people behind him and heard their footsteps.
Corpses, someone shouted. The moonlight drank up his voice.
Behind them, dead beyond numbering were coming down the highway. And although the sheriff and his men didn’t notice it, they must’ve traveled quite some distance, since each was stark-white with dust from the ankles down.
“What are they up to? What the hell are these things?”
Ignoring the sheriff’s muttered remarks, the walking dead marched on, trudging right past the living. And then, as if they’d been given a push from behind, all the dead who stood at the brink of the mortar-like depression leapt in at once. The row behind them followed suit. As did the one after that, and another, and another.
Their brains assailed by egregious horror and the foul stench, most of the search party passed out. They were brought back to the village by the remaining members of their group.
And for two full days after that, the sheriff watched the procession of the dead to their mass grave.
Were there really that many bodies buried around the area? How much longer would this go on?
These concerns ate at every brain, leaving the townsfolk on the edge of madness that dusk. The next thing they knew, the procession of the dead had ended, but the villagers were left in a state of shock, roaming the streets like the new dead.
A young man in black with heavenly beauty and an exhausted horse had come into town with the wind whirling in his wake. Halting his horse in front of Sedoc House, the rider grabbed one of the unsteady villagers and asked, “What happened?”
The young man’s tone and his handsome features returned the stupefied villager to his senses. He told the young man everything he knew, from start to finish.
“Am I too late?” D muttered in a tone devoid of emotion—a voice of iron—and he prepared to get back on his horse.
“Wait!” a voice called out to him. Though it was low, the voice had a faint tinge of something to it.
Not even looking, D put his heels to his horse’s flanks.
As the gorgeous rider and his mount tore up the ground, the voice called out once more.
The girl introduced herself as Mia. She also said she was the daughter of a fortune-teller who lived about sixty miles to the north. Her smock and the skirt she wore below it were both embroidered with a mysterious crest representing where she came from, and her numerous necklaces and bracelets were set with stones that possessed a deep luster that seemed to hold a dark history. She knew D’s name because when her mother predicted a strange occurrence in this region, she’d told the girl that that would be the name of the man who’d race there from afar.
“From what Mother says, the key to solving this mysterious occurrence is held by a man who comes from far away,” Mia said in a hard tone. “This case is something no one can handle. No one except the man named D. D—if that’s the name that you go by—what in the world are you?”
“Can you see the future?” D asked.
“A little,” Mia replied, her tone carrying very restrained pride and self-confidence.
“In that case, do you know how this all ends?”
“No, not even Mother knows that. But it’s not because she’s not powerful enough to see it. Something interfered.” After a short pause, the girl continued, “As far as what happened, I asked the villagers before you got here. Mother had pointed to a spot on the map and said that an incredibly evil power was at work. It was the same area where there was that massive subsidence. That’s probably the center of it.”
“What kind of power?”
“An evil one is all she said.”
“It probably would’ve been better if your mother came.”
“I think so too,” Mia conceded, not seeming the least bit angry. “But unfortunately, she can’t do that. Right after predicting this incident, Mother coughed up blood and collapsed. She’s probably passed away by now.”
“And you came here instead of tending to her?”
“Mother’s orders were explicit,” Mia replied with her eyes still focused straight ahead.
Her age had to be sixteen or seventee
“She doesn’t view this incident as merely another great catastrophe. Mother said it’s a major event that could have repercussions on a global scale. Ordinarily, she’d have gone herself. Even though going might not accomplish anything, as someone with the power to catch a glimpse of people’s future—society’s future—she has to try and do whatever she can. But since she couldn’t possibly move, she told me to go.”
A mother had sent her own daughter into an incident that might shake the very world.
A girl had raced here even though she knew her mother was fated to die.
D tugged back on the reins.
A split second before her face was about to hit his back, Mia swiftly turned it away, so that only her right cheek took the impact. She could feel the swell of his muscles through the fabric. For just a second, she grew dizzy.
“We’re there,” D said.
Taking away the hands she’d had wrapped around his waist, Mia put them on the saddle’s cantle and braced her body. Before D could dismount, the girl flew into action.
Not bothering to call out to the girl who’d hit the ground before him, D began to walk.
Their entire conversation up to this point had taken place on the back of his horse.
His left arm rose naturally and from the vicinity of its wrist a hoarse voice humans wouldn’t hear squeaked, “She’s a hell of a girl. For one thing, you’ve got a little slip of a lass like her racing into a place like this. For another, she didn’t even bother to wait for you to offer her a hand getting down from the horse. She’s been schooled in how to live on her own. If you ever take a wife, one like that’ll—”
The voice broke off there. D had made his hand into a tight fist.
As he walked quietly but gravely, ahead of him yawned the great subsidence that’d swallowed so many dead.
“This place is incredible, isn’t it?” Mia remarked pensively as she peered down from D’s right side.
Compared to the diameter of the depression, its depth wasn’t great at all. Only about a thousand feet. Blending with the sloping sides, the bottom was a chaotic mix of boulders and sand, with the red soil filling in the spaces between them.
“It’s like a sea of blood,” Mia remarked as she rubbed her cheek with her right hand.
“You saying the dead can bleed, too?”
Mia looked at D’s hip out of the corner of her eye, and then stared at his face. Perhaps aware of the rosy glow suffusing her cheeks, she swiftly averted her gaze, saying, “You do a weird little voice, don’t you? Are you teasing me?”
Making no reply, D planted one foot at the edge of the incline.
“No, I’m serious,” Mia continued. “And I’ll thank you to answer me.”
Saying nothing, D stared downward.
Piqued at being ignored, Mia undertook a reckless course of action. With unexpected speed she came up behind D and told him, “You’re rude!”
She’d aimed a kick at his ass. But it met nothing. Nothing but the empty space over the pit.
As she reflexively put her strength into the leg that still supported her, the supposedly firm ground gave way.
The second she heard her own cry above her and felt the sensation of falling, her body suddenly stopped dead. On realizing that D’s left hand had caught her by the collar, she madly reached around with her hands to latch onto him. Just as it dawned on her that she was floating through the air, and her feet came down on solid ground. No sooner had a feeling of relief flooded through her than the hand came away from her collar and Mia staggered.
As her eyes stared fixedly at D, they began to hold hints of a bottomless terror and rage—and a gleam of admiration.
“What do you think this depression’s for?”
The voice that posed that question was tinged with trust—and even a bit of affection.
Once again there was no reply. But even though he didn’t answer, no anger bubbled up in the girl.
“You said you were the daughter of a fortune-teller, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” she said, feeling silly for getting so excited that he’d turned the conversation to her.
“The dead left every graveyard in the region to throw themselves from here. There would’ve been thousands of them. Why do you think that was?”
There was a short pause.
The next thing Mia knew, she had one hand to her chest. Her heart was racing. She had to do something to slow it down.
Pressing a finger gently to one part of the heart—the left ventricle—she made her breathing as shallow as possible. Her heartbeat returned to normal immediately. But then, she was a strong-willed and courageous individual to begin with.
“Is it okay if it’s pure conjecture?”
“I think they were a sacrifice.”
“That’s it, all right.”
The hoarse response definitely sounded like it’d come from the vicinity of D’s left hand.
Though she looked, naturally she didn’t see anything.
This time the reply came in a rusty, masculine tone—D’s voice. So, was that other one just her ears playing tricks on her?
“Last time, corpses sufficed, but next time it’ll probably be living people jumping in.”
“Thousands of them . . .” Mia muttered, her remark a question at the same time.
There was no reply, of course. You could say that was her answer.
“But . . . why in the world?”
“It’s the will of the one down below this.”
Mia couldn’t help forgetting her present terror and peering down past the brink of the hole. But as she quickly recalled it again, she backed away, then stared at D.
“You know what it is?” she asked.
Not answering her, D stood there like an exquisite statue, but then he told her, “Go home.”
And then, without further ado, he dove headfirst from the rim of the hole into its interior.
“D?!” Mia called out in spite of herself, and she was paused at the very brink of the hole ready to go after him when something white got in her eyes.
Covering her mouth, the fortune-teller’s daughter made a great leap back.
It looked like the white pillars of smoke rising from the brink of the depression numbered in the hundreds. All those geysers of gas couldn’t have suddenly erupted from the ground in unison. They’d been triggered mechanically. And the one who’d set them off was—
“D . . .”
Still unsure just what was in the gas, Mia took a deep breath and raced back to the rim of the hole. She turned her gaze downward.
He’d probably been crushed. Why was she so determined to find this young man? Because his actions were so extreme. Like what he’d done just now. She couldn’t help thinking that whatever he really was, it was tremendously unsettling and of great importance—just as he’d appeared in the fortune-telling. And the last thing that occurred to Mia was something the girl tried vehemently to ignore so it wouldn’t rise to the fore of her consciousness. Because he’s gorgeous. More than anyone has a right to be.
Mia couldn’t see D anywhere, and she had to back away again. The gas had grown thicker and jetted out even harder. Luckily for her, it was only intended as a smoke screen.
She couldn’t go after him. Should she wait, or should she go back to the village?
That decision wasn’t Mia’s to make. From behind her came the thunder of approaching hooves. There were also the echoes of what sounded like a motor.
Mia turned around.
The figures she could see down at the far end of the highway halted before Mia less than ten seconds later. It was the same group of village peacekeepers who’d discovered the depression. And they’d brought a rare item with th
The source of the motor sounds was an armored car. With iron plates riveted to a car chassis, the strangely rough-looking vehicle was apparently an antiquated model, with the edges of some plates starting to pull free, and both the sturdy turret and the forty-millimeter cannon that jutted a foot and a half from it were flecked with rust. The scorches and countless bullet marks that covered its armor plates were undoubtedly shining proof it had been fighting off aggressors in the form of bandits and supernatural creatures for decades. And it looked as if it was still more than capable of serving as the little village’s guardian angel.
Mia’s eyes were drawn to the wagon that rode alongside it. She could read the words High Explosives branded onto the sides of the wooden boxes piled high on it. Some kinds of munitions were often obtained from military installations and battlefields where the Nobility had fought their own kind, and it wasn’t particularly unusual for towns and villages to have them on hand. Weapons that were especially easy to use, such as rifles and various kinds of grenades, could make an impressive show of force when the situation called for it. To the north of the village were wild plains and the ruins of what had once apparently been a testing ground for the Nobility, and normally no one dared set foot there.
The sheriff got down off his horse. As he moved toward Mia, he called over to the group forming around the wagon, “Get yourselves some explosives and line up along the drop-off. We’ll be pitching them in soon.”
“Wait just a minute,” Mia called out as she dashed over to the sheriff instead of waiting for him to come to her. “What do you think you’re doing? If you throw a bunch of bombs into this weird hole, there’s no way of knowing what kind of reaction you’ll get. Plus, someone just fell in there.”
“Someone? And just who might that be?”
“A man named D. He’s a Hunter.”
Actually, Mia didn’t know for a fact that D was a Vampire Hunter. But his good looks, the way he carried himself, and the way he called to mind ice and steel made her say it on impulse.