Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 8
“Interesting,” Chlomo muttered as the evilest look of amusement surfaced on his face.
Quickly walking over to where the toppled tree lay, he placed a hand on one branch and leaned out over the river. And just as he was about to grab hold of the baron’s wrist, his own wrist was instead caught tight in the baron’s fingers.
Judging from the way the cosmetic-obsessed freak squealed, he was actually something of a coward. Nevertheless, once he’d seen that the fingers that’d caught hold of him would go no higher, he seemed to consider himself safe, and using all his might, he hauled the baron’s body up onto the fallen tree. However, the log was already exposed to direct sunlight. The baron didn’t say a word, but his body convulsed. Wisps of white smoke had begun to rise from the damp beauty of his countenance.
“This won’t do one bit.”
On seeing that the Nobleman had collapsed, Chlomo slung his body over one shoulder and dashed into the dense forest nearby as fast as his legs would carry him. In less than two minutes, he had set the baron down in the bushes in the deepest depths of the darkness, where not even a sliver of light made it through the branches. Panting to catch his breath, he once again looked at the face of Byron Balazs.
“What a good-looking man. Truly worthy of making up. Now, to get this done before he comes to.”
And having said that, he took out his makeup supplies, the bizarre nature of which had been amply demonstrated in the horrible murders that had just taken place.
In this corner of the forest that was like the darkest depths of an urn, what sort of makeup job would he perform on the baron? And what were his intentions?
THE WOMAN IN THE WATER
Although to May’s eyes D appeared to have recovered completely, the truth of the matter was that even now, a heated battle was taking place within his flesh. The bloodsucking blooms Crimson Stitchwort had unleashed were far more virulent than the ones the Hunter had once removed from the baron’s lungs. Toxins excreted from the tips of the hairlike roots were able to transform even the blood of a dhampir like D into something vile—the blood itself turned into poison, for these flowers loved polluted blood. Moreover, the instant they were about to be extracted, they released ten times the normal amount of toxins, as if they intended to drag their victim down to hell with them. Even now they contaminated D’s blood and coursed through his body.
D possessed the ageless and immortal flesh of the Nobility, and his blood had the ability to cleanse itself of impurities. But would that take twelve hours, or a day, or three days more? Until just before noon, he remained motionless in the water wheel’s shed—or rather, in the factory.
May was worried about Taki. The night before, that fat pig had said that Taki was in Lord Vlad’s castle while D had him by the throat. He’d also stated that Lord Vlad was quite fond of the blood of virgins. It might be that it was already too late.
What’s D doing? she thought, but when she looked, she found the gorgeous figure in black walking around the factory without making a sound. Not in contemplation, but more likely he was taking everything in. From time to time, he would run his hand over some machinery whose purpose was utterly foreign to May.
Hurry up and go save her!
Though she felt exasperated, as a woman of the Frontier, she recognized the hard facts when they reared their ugly head. He had neither a duty nor an obligation to save them. His job was to deal with the Nobility—to hunt down vampires. And while it was as strange a thing as could ever be imagined that he would play bodyguard to a pair of Nobles and wage a constant deadly battle all the way to their destination, given that the gorgeous young man had a strange personality far removed from that of both humanity and Nobility, it wasn’t completely beyond comprehension. For that very reason, May found it utterly impossible to fathom why D had broken with his own creed and rescued her the previous night.
In that case, he should help Taki too, May thought, but she didn’t say anything. The gruesome surgery he’d performed there in the hut had made it clear exactly how dearly he’d paid just to rescue her. Now he’d completely healed—or so it seemed. But she couldn’t bring herself to say that now he had to go save Taki.
It was almost noontime.
In the vast building, a third voice—one that couldn’t possibly be there—remarked in a hoarse tone, “Looks like rain, eh?”
Streaks like silken threads fell at an angle beyond the window.
“Doesn’t look to be just a passing shower. That throws a wrench into things.”
Making no reply, D gazed at the ever-growing torrents of rain.
An hour after high noon—that was the time the Nobility were at their weakest, their “hour of doom,” as it were. The biorhythms of those slumbering in coffins would reach their nadir, and the Nobles would be practically unable to move a muscle. Even Baron Balazs hadn’t been able to speak to D during that period. And his father, Lord Vlad, would be no exception, either.
The rain fell with a dull thrum.
What happened at such times?
Based on readings taken by a number of the Nobility’s scientists, the drop in their biorhythms would be less than usual for high noon. Although rain was indeed one of the forms of running water that constituted a weakness for vampires, by blocking out the sun at noon, it actually served as a kind of antidote—like using a snake’s venom to make antivenin. However, for a dhampir like D, it was nothing short of a major ordeal. The rain only aided the Nobility because they were shielded by their coffins. On the other hand, D would be forced to expose his skin to running water. His muscles would lose both strength and speed, his form would grow heavy, and horrid chills and fever would assail his body by turns. Most Vampire Hunters avoided doing battle on rainy days, as Nobles in their coffins would be ready then for hired assassins.
Picking up his saddle, D walked over to May. As the girl stood bolt upright in shock, he said to her, “I’m leaving town.”
The girl’s eyes were tinged with understanding—and with despair.
“Or would you like to hire me instead?”
It was a few seconds later that there was a booming toll in May’s head, like that of a great bell.
“I’m a Hunter. I make no distinctions between employers.”
“But . . .” May realized that something warm was rising in her chest. Raw emotion. “But, I don’t have any money.”
“You can pay later,” D said in a cold tone.
“In that case—in that case, you’re on. D—you’re hired. Save Taki!”
“Understood,” said D.
They now had a contract.
“I’m going to the castle. You should—”
Stay here, D was about to say, but then he turned and faced the windows again. The rain already blanketed the world like smoke, making the entire scene one of blurred shadowgraphs. And he had heard the sound of hoofbeats in the distance.
“They’re coming,” remarked a hoarse voice that May couldn’t hear.
“The enemy’s here. There’s a boat tied up outside at the dock. Get in it and wait.”
Although the Hunter spoke softly, there was a resolute steeliness to his tone, and May dashed for the back door with a face void of emotion.
Seeing that she’d gone, D then advanced to the center of the shed, where he stood silently. Five seconds passed. Then ten.
The sound of the iron-shod hooves came to a halt right in front of the shed.
“Ten of them,” his left hand said.
“Come on out, Hunter!” a voice was heard to call through the door via a microphone. “We know what you are. Come on out into the rain. Or if you’ve got a problem with that, we’ll give you five seconds before we blow this shack sky high. Five . . . four . . .”
When the voice reached “one,” D stepped through the door.
Through the world-shrouding rain, the figu
“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” a young man on horseback said, his lips twisting into a grin. “As you may already know, I’m Zanus. A servant of Lord Vlad. And this is Sai Fung of the Thousand Limbs.”
“You sure went and made a fine mess of things,” Sai Fung said with clear disbelief. “Forcing your way into Fisher Lagoon’s, making a fool out of one of his clients, and cutting down guards to boot. That’s no ordinary whorehouse, you know. In a manner of speaking, it’s the other sanctum here in the village.”
“That’s more than enough out of you,” Zanus said, glaring at Sai Fung.
“What’s the problem? We’re gonna kill him here and now anyway. If we send a Vampire Hunter into the hereafter without him even knowing why, there’s no guarantee he won’t come back as some kind of ghost,” the other man replied, but it seemed that he really just liked to talk too much.
“You know why it is that his house can go about its business so flamboyantly? Well, this is just between you and me, but the place has the Sacred Ancestor’s—Oof!” he groaned, the wind knocked out of him by the leg Zanus had driven into his side.
Though Sai Fung’s face contorted with pain, his normal expression quickly returned as he continued impassively, “At any rate, no one’s allowed to spill blood there. You’re the first one to ever break that rule. Matters of right or wrong aside, I’m impressed with you, and it’s on account of that we wasted no time in hunting you down. When the lord caught wind of it, he was royally pissed, which is why he had folks spread out all night searching the whole village. This place was spotted thanks to a mountain dove with a TV eye mounted in it. Of course, it would’ve been better if it’d been in the morning. Due to the downpour we’ve got now, it had to get pretty close before we could tell.”
And having brought that to a close, Sai Fung caught his breath.
“Do you recall the name Galil?” Zanus inquired coldly. “He led the Dark Water Forces—who you probably slew—but those you see here were modified after that into the most elite corps of the entire army. Try not to let yourself get butchered before it’s our turn, D!”
And saying that, Zanus gave a toss of his chin, and the shadowy figures who up until that point had been standing there in the driving rain croaked in reply and began to advance on D without another sound. Some splashed through puddles as they advanced. Some had their torsos still half-melded with the ground. But the strangest of all did some of both—slipping in and out of the water.
Standing there impassively, ready to meet them, D said, “Last night, a young lady and a man paid a call on your master. What happened to them?”
“Oh, wow!” Sai Fung exclaimed, raising one hand and drawing a glare from Zanus once again. “I heard about that from Dr. de Carriole. By ‘a man,’ you must mean Master Byron. Sad to say, the young lady in question had her blood sucked before his very eyes, and then he was dumped into the running water. I wonder what’s become of him now. Probably still down there, a bloated meal for the fish. The whole story just brings a tear to my eye.”
“Once we knew you’d arrived, security around the castle was increased tenfold. Nothing can get in, be it god or demon. Not that it’s anything you’ll need to concern yourself with anyway. Get him!”
At the command Zanus barked, two of the water warriors leapt at D. Rain spattered off the bastard sword each held in his right hand. Although D didn’t appear to move at all, the two attackers seemed to take it upon themselves to slip right past him on either side, crashing into the door behind the Hunter. With a sound like a slap in the mud, they were promptly smashed flat. All that remained were viscous black stains.
While it was unclear when D had drawn the weapon, the sight of the dully gleaming blade in his right hand made the two men on horseback look at each other.
“Hell, they’ll just be throwing their lives away,” Sai Fung said as he gazed with pity at the half-dozen water warriors still surrounding D. “Stand back. I’m coming through.”
“No,” Zanus countered. “I let you deliver that Noblewoman to Dr. de Carriole. Now it’s my turn to have some fun.”
Digging his heels into the belly of his cyborg horse, he advanced on his mount through the rain.
“You look weary; you know that, D?” Zanus called down to him from horseback. Astonishingly enough, he’d been able to ascertain D’s physical condition from the last bit of swordsmanship. From a stroke of such ungodly speed no one should’ve detected anything out of the ordinary.
“Let me share something else with you. You’re already under my spell.”
Surprise was shown not by D, but rather by Sai Fung.
“Go!” Zanus bellowed, and this time a trio of figures rushed D at his command.
After each and every one of those around him had been reduced to something that was neither muck nor clay, fresh blood erupted from both of D’s shoulders.
“Your arms didn’t seem to move very well. That would be thanks to the doll you found out on the road through the rocks. It had the same face as you, didn’t it? Well, that’s because it’s you. And through that doll, you yourself are now a puppet under my control.”
“How do you like this, Hunter? I made another one!” Zanus said, reaching around to his back with his right hand, and holding a fresh and lovely visage glowing in that same hand when it returned. It was D’s face—or rather, a mask of it.
In antiquity, it was believed that photographs or masks that reproduced someone’s face had the magical ability to draw the soul out of their subject, and the masks crafted by this Zanus character seemed to exhibit the very power mentioned in those old tales. For the briefest instant, D’s soul would be transferred to the two masks that were identical to him and he would fall under the control of their creator, Zanus. Just enough time for him to fire a stake through the Hunter’s heart.
The remaining water warriors crushed in around D, and a second later, a flash of white light sliced off their heads, melting them away.
But look. Bright blood was gushing from D’s right side.
“All while under my spell—you’re good,” Zanus remarked with unexaggerated admiration as he pulled tight on the reins. Whinnying, his cyborg horse poised to advance. “At long last, it’s me you’ll face. Keep your gloves on, because you’ll be needing them to knock on heaven’s gates.”
The grayish horse and rider raced through the driving rain. Zanus’s right hand already gripped a longsword.
Even covered in fresh blood as he was, D stood like a solitary piece of black ironwork. His face looked at the other. It was at just that instant that a crack ran down the length of the beautiful mask the man held up so high.
“Ah!” Zanus cried out in desperation on noticing the crack, but only after he’d bounded for D.
The black-garbed figure of unearthly beauty who’d leapt up over his head brought his blade down with a might and speed that showed no sign in the least of being spellbound, splitting the mask maker from the tip of his head to the middle of his chest with one stroke.
A vermilion hue swirled through the ash-gray world.
As D came back to earth, the wall of rain slapped against his face, seemingly whipped by the wind. Yet his eyes didn’t so much as blink as he watched a shadowy form dwindle in the distance with a thunder of hoofbeats, the man already so far away that it would be impossible to give chase.
Whatever kind of swordplay he’d used, not a drop of gore remained on D’s sword as he returned it to his back, turning then to face the shed.
From behind him, a voice that didn’t seem like it could’ve come from anything living rolled across the ground.
“Could it be . . . that I . . . underestimated you? You . . . the man they call . . . D?”
It was Zanus’s voice. While he had indeed been slashed from the crown of his head to the breastbone, he still sat on his horse gripping the
Ordinarily, D would’ve been merciless in delivering the coup de grace at this point. What stopped him? Was he strangely moved by the willpower of his foe?
“Just tell me . . . one thing . . . How come . . . my mask . . . didn’t . . .”
Though the words came from a dead man, D didn’t reply.
At that point, the rain that hung like a screen between them was blown off in another direction by the wind. Zanus’s face was already a rictus, and when his eyes lit up with amazement, it then swiftly took on a look of comprehension and even tranquillity.
“So, that’s it? The real thing . . . was just that handsome . . . was he? In that case, I guess I wasn’t up to capturing it . . . with my own hands . . . My mask . . . must’ve been an embarrassment . . . You pretty boys are a whole different ball of wax,” Zanus muttered in the end, the words of admiration slipping from him as his body fell out of the saddle and hit the ground.
Not even bothering to check the corpse, D walked back to the water wheel and its shed in the driving rain.
May raced over to him. Disregarding his instructions to stay in the boat at the dock, she couldn’t help but stay and watch the deadly battle out in the rain. The fresh blood dripping from one side of his black raiment tinged the girl’s retinas with crimson. Stopping cold for just a heartbeat, May then quickly tore one of the sleeves off her blouse and attempted to press it against D’s wound.
“Don’t,” D said tersely as he walked deeper into the building.
“Why not? I’ve got to patch you up. Dhampir or not, you’re hurt real bad!”
“It’ll heal soon enough.”
Though soft, his refusal came in a tone infused with a force and a weight that paralyzed May, but she swiftly mustered her courage again.