Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 9
“No way. There’s gotta be germs everywhere around here, after all. Now, let me have a look at it.”
Surprisingly enough, D halted, saying nothing as he showed her his side and the black clothing that covered it.
Pushing the fabric aside a bit, May let a cry of “What in the world?” slip out.
The flow of blood had stopped as if there’d never been any bleeding in the first place, and the blood that clung to him had dried into complete blackness. Utterly at odds with everything she knew, the healing that’d taken place was almost miraculous.
But even for a dhampir?
Yes. No one had ever mentioned anything about an ordinary dhampir displaying such fierce recuperative abilities.
In any case, May hadn’t been able to help at all.
As the girl stood there frozen in a daze, D took two or three steps before halting and turning to her with one hand extended.
“I’ll take that,” he said.
May’s face was beaming.
The young man, beautiful and cold as a crystal-clear winter night, hadn’t forgotten how to take the feelings of others into consideration.
Holding the cloth to his wound, D said, “We’re leaving right away—get your stuff together.”
Their hideout had been discovered.
As the girl gave a vigorous nod, her eyes reflected the figure of D slowly sinking to the ground.
Dashing over, May turned her eyes to D’s wound. He was down on one knee.
The cloth was deep red and soaked.
“How?” she exclaimed despite herself.
Just then, from between the cloth and the wound, something resembling a bloody root suddenly wriggled out. No, it most definitely was a thin root. The seeds Crimson Stitchwort had sown in D’s body had drunk his blood and grown to the point where they were now breaking out. Although D’s taking that blade in his side had been due to the falling rain and to Zanus’s spell, the effect of the menace within him had also been great.
As the root tried to wriggle free, D grasped it firmly and jerked it right out. With the sound of ripping flesh, a bloodied mass appeared. Seeing that it had the form of a disturbing flower, May had to fight desperately to keep her consciousness from slipping away.
“What is that thing?” she asked.
D stood up again, throwing the fearsome vampire bloom on the ground and crushing it beneath his foot. A copious amount of blood surged out around it, like ripples on a pond.
Before May could do anything, he told her, “Wait a second,” then entered the staff quarters in the back.
Closing the door, he took a seat on the edge of the bed and pulled out a knife with his right hand.
What was he going to do? Perform an operation. He was going to carve his own chest open in order to root out the bloody blossoms that riddled his body and even now continued to strengthen their hold.
Though his gorgeous face had lost what little color it normally had, not a hint of pain lingered on it as D cut open the left side of his chest. Fresh blood gushed out. Merely furrowing his brow a bit, D coolly held the knife, slicing a cross into his chest and then sticking his right hand in through the opening.
Each flower left a bloody trail behind as it was pulled out, and ten minutes later, they numbered a half-dozen.
Covered with a thin sweat, D gave the knife a small flick to clean off the beads of blood before ordering in a low voice, “Show yourself.”
The door opened slowly.
“So, you noticed me after all, as I might’ve expected,” a strapping man in a black mask muttered with delight from the doorway.
His mask had openings for neither his eyes nor his mouth. He was, quite literally, entirely featureless. From the way he wore the combat belt around his waist and the artless angle of his longsword, one got the feeling this was no run-of-the-mill fighting man, but a daunting professional. The reason D hadn’t taken any action earlier despite noticing the man’s arrival was because he hadn’t sensed any murderous intent.
With a light shake of his black-mask-shrouded head, the man said, “Well, that’s not good. Just looking at you makes my head swim. I didn’t think there was any man in the world as good looking as all that.”
Having said that with a sigh, he continued, “At the request of a certain person, we’re to guard you. Kindly get your gear together.”
“And who is this certain person?” asked D. There wasn’t anything at all in his voice to hint at the fact that he’d just opened his own chest and performed an operation.
“Even we don’t know that,” the man replied. “All I can tell you is that we got the request in the middle of the night last night, and we were told where you could be found. Now, if you’d kindly come with us.”
“Not yet,” D replied, opening a compartment on his belt and taking a small leather bag from it.
Once he’d sprinkled a brownish powder on his wound, the man in the black mask shouted to him with some agitation, “Hey!”
Sparks went up. A mass of black smoke drifted into the air. As it spread, it carried the pungent odor of cooked flesh. It was gunpowder that D had sprinkled on the wound. Though this was a common method of sterilization out on the Frontier, it did seem a little rough when someone did it right before your eyes.
“There’s more to you than we ever heard,” the man in the black mask said, not so much because of the actual treatment, but more likely because not a single trace of pain had shown in D’s expression. His surprise was all the greater when he saw the Hunter stand again at the edge of the bed without any real effort.
Exiting that room, D found five more people in black masks standing in the center of the hut, protecting May. It was clear from the way they carried themselves that they were all highly competent. To hire a half-dozen pros of this caliber—or perhaps even more—their employer must’ve been extremely well to do. Apparently May understood that the men were on their side, for while she looked somewhat uncomfortable, there was no sign of fear in her.
The group went outside, all of them dissolving into the rain like black smoke.
Avoiding the main road, they took a byway that came to a fork. If they were to keep going straight, it would bring them right into town, while branching to the right would lead to forbidden territory—the home of Vlad.
Halting his horse, D asked, “Where is this hideout you mentioned?”
The first of the black masks replied, “In a certain warehouse on Thornton Street in town. You’ll see soon enough.”
“Just take the girl and go,” the Hunter told them.
May turned and looked at D in amazement.
“Where are you going?”
“I have an employer of my own, you know,” D said, raising one hand to May.
By the time he’d raised it, he’d been reduced to a black silhouette the rain bounced off.
“Wounded like that? He’s a hell of a man,” a black mask said in a rusty tone. “So, he’s headed off to Vlad’s manor, is he?”
D had already melted into the rain.
“Well, not even the man known as D is a match for Lord Vlad,” he continued in a tone that made it seem a truth not even May could deny.
D halted at a spot where the mightily flowing river made a broad turn to the right. Once that turn had been made, the manor would be visible. A blue pendant glowed mysteriously against D’s chest. The sensors searching for him and all other electronic devices were rendered ineffective. Or rather, they’d be completely unable to catch D’s form. His foes would have no choice but to rely on spyglasses with old-fashioned lenses, or the naked eye.
Tethering his horse to a nearby tree, D went down to the riverside. For some time now the cawing of crows could be heard. D had recalled the weird birds that sailed through the sky above Lord Vlad’s manor. Making a detour around the manor, he’d gone around to its rear. During their journey, he’d heard all abo
D entered the river quietly. It wasn’t very shallow. The first step found him waist deep, and the next made his shoulders vanish. His traveler’s hat alone floated like a piece of black jetsam, and then that, too, quickly disappeared from view.
Needless to say, D was moving underwater. And the river’s flow was sucked under the manor about five hundred yards ahead.
Ordinarily, water would be necessary for drinking and other uses. However, the Nobility’s castles had no need of water. Although they had a use for the river, they wouldn’t really consider the water itself important, and the castle contained machinery that could make it rain. D didn’t know why Lord Vlad’s manor had this most exceptional need for water. But taking the long view of the structure of the castle and the river, he’d deduced where the water would enter.
In no time, he came to an enormous black intake that was like a cavern. Thick iron bars ran the full height of its opening. It came as no surprise that measures had been taken to guard against underwater intruders. D grabbed hold of two of the bars, one with either hand.
Did he intend to bend them? Even with the blood of the Nobility within him, it would be impossible for a dhampir to bend those inch-thick rods of a special metal alloy. Especially not underwater, where the Nobility were at their worst.
Air bubbles rose from D’s lips. And at the same time, an inky streak spilled from the corner of his mouth to spread like a net. Blood. He’d bitten his own lip.
His right arm made a rough jerk, and the iron bar bent like rubber. The one in his left hand followed suit. Twisting his body to slip through the bars, D had a bewitching blood light in his eyes as he was swallowed by the blackness of the hole. Having drunk his own blood to unleash the Noble power within him, D had transformed his handsome features into those of a vampire so cold and cruel the devil himself would’ve gone to great lengths to avoid him.
Once the flow had grown gentler and a blue light shone down from above, D started back toward the surface. There were no signs of life. When he surfaced, it was by an inspection catwalk that ran alongside the waterway. There were doors at either end of it. Making a quick check of his surroundings, D then headed toward the entry before him. It was a computer-operated door. There was a gleam of blue light from his chest. The door opened without a sound.
An incredible sight greeted D. Black pistons of ridiculous proportions ran the length and breadth of the room, and all were in motion. For every turn of the arm that drove them, white steam sprayed out from nowhere in particular to obscure D’s form like some mist-shrouded beauty. The arm had to be easily one hundred and fifty feet long, and the base to which it was attached was unbelievably high and wide, probably tipping the scales in the area of a thousand tons. The sound of each and every rotation was fierce, ringing out like dreadnought-class thunder, and had this not been D, he would’ve gone mad, or perhaps he would’ve ruptured his own eardrums first. No doubt this equipment met the horrendous energy needs of the castle. The black machine that flickered through the white wall of steam was like a giant from some other world slaving away for all eternity, raw and breathtaking.
“That’s a hell of a setup, ain’t it?” a voice said from the vicinity of D’s left hand.
“What do we have here?” it added a second later, letting its own suspicions slip out as D’s eyes also left the titanic machinery and turned to the walkway ahead.
Twenty-five or thirty feet ahead of him stood a woman in a white dress. Her whole form was wrapped in pale white light that could almost be described as phosphorescent. So lovely and graceful was her figure, the Hunter’s left hand let slip a cry of “Oh, my!”
However, it quickly added, “She’s a dead woman, right?”
And as if that remark had reached her, the woman collapsed into nothing.
Hastening over, D found that nothing was left of the woman; not even her clothes remained. There was only one thing there: the stone walkway, which was utterly soaked.
When the palm of his left hand was placed against it, it told him, “This ain’t true water. The river water’s been one hundred percent filtered out of it. I guess you could say the woman was made out of water. No, I’m just joking. Bwa ha ha!”
Before the laughter had ended, D made a great leap to the right and threw himself into the waterway.
From between the machines, a form like a gigantic stag beetle appeared and closed on a puddle on the walkway made from water that’d dripped from D on his way over there. The front half of the beetle’s body turned to face the waterway. While it was unclear what it intended to do, D had long since been swept away to the watery depths. In a manner of speaking, the beetle was a kind of patrol car making its rounds in the manor. D was right to suspect that his intrusion had been discovered.
Less than a minute after he’d entrusted himself to the flow of the waterway, D suddenly found himself surrounded by a vast, open space. Water stretched endlessly on all four sides. The flow that’d carried D here no longer had even a trifling effect on the world, while the blue light was the only saving grace of the motionless void. Making for the light, D started to rise toward the surface.
“This is one weird place,” his left hand said. Its voice was muffled. They were still underwater, after all.
Sticking just his head out, D looked all around. The ceiling was curved in a great vault and had lost the coarseness of natural stone. This was most likely a natural cavern that had been modified.
“Water flows here from the river. But for what? There ain’t so much as a minnow down here!”
At that point, D turned his gaze down into the water and said in a low voice, “No, there is something.”
A pale woman’s face was gazing up at D from below. Her gaze, which could be described as earnest, carried all the solitude of her watery existence, while her white dress seemed to speak of long years that it hadn’t been allowed to flutter despite being underwater. It was definitely the same woman as earlier.
“When did she . . . ?” D’s left hand muttered, and that was probably the very same thing the Hunter was wondering. For not even D’s ultra-keen senses had detected the woman’s approach.
D sank into the water once more. Perhaps he thought the woman really wasn’t suited to being out of the depths.
“Welcome, O mighty one,” the woman said, her voice ringing in his head. It wasn’t telepathy—the woman’s lips were actually moving. And her voice did indeed echo in D’s head.
“Are you the baron’s mother?” D asked in his usual voice. It was quite strange how it sounded normal even underwater.
“Oh! Is my child well?”
“Didn’t you see him?” said D.
“You mean—he has come here?”
“In that case—in that case, my husband . . .”
“Your son was out to get his father. Would his father have any compunction about doing the same to his son?”
“No, he would not.”
“If he were slain,” D said coolly, “what would be done with his remains?”
“They would go into the subterranean incinerator or the river.”
“Someone else—a young woman—should’ve been brought here as well.”
“I know nothing of that.”
“Where is Lord Vlad’s bedroom?”
“In the north end of the basement. Or at least it was. Long ago.”
The last phrase seemed tied to boundless thoughts. There wasn’t resentment or anger or even grief. The only emotion in this woman was a calm as still and clear as the waters that surrounded her.
Just as D was about to kick away through the depths, the woman called out to him, “Could I not trouble you to hear a certain tale? You, who have the blood of the Nobility in you but are no Noble, who have the mind of a human but are not human—I
The woman’s voice held emotion for the first time. And that meant chaos and destruction for this placid world.
“Wow!” the Hunter’s left hand remarked.
A fierce turbulence that would’ve left any ordinary person unable to keep their eyes open speared through the crushing depths of the water, tossing D like a toy.
The woman could do more than merely drift peacefully.
Just then, the waves that traveled through the water carried a different sound.
“An intruder has been detected,” said a voice that reached them underwater—the voice of a machine. “No one’s come this way, have they?”
“Leave me!” the woman said, her lips moving.
“Pardon the intrusion.”
“Oh, now there’s something you don’t find much. Fear in a machine’s voice. It seems the lady ain’t just a sunken stiff.”
While it was unclear just where the left hand had learned such colorful terminology, it fell silent after that.
“I’ll hear you out,” said D.
The woman’s violent emotion had already been lost.
“You see, a month before my child—Byron—was born, a certain august personage came to our manor,” the woman began, speaking through the water. “Ah, yes—he has an air about him that is so very much like yours, the great one does.”
All she could remember was a giant figure in black standing there in the center of the great hall—this is what the woman told him. Her husband and their retainers had prostrated themselves, and when she followed their example, that great personage declared, “Your child shall be born in a month’s time—but I want to perform a certain procedure on him immediately, and I shall take custody of him for three months once he is born.”
“Forgive my impertinence, but what are you trying to say?” Lord Vlad had asked.
“I shall make a new Nobility!” he answered instantly.
That reply caused the woman to tremble. Persistent rumors circulated about the great one abducting large numbers of human girls and also performing bizarrely inhuman experiments on Nobility. She thought her husband would object. However, with the great one before him, her husband consented readily, saying, “This is a great honor. Kindly do as you see fit, and allow us to serve in any way that we may.” And as he expressed his approval, he smiled so broadly his cheeks seemed fit to burst.