At Fanfiction.net, this story is rated M.
The Last Vampire
A Vampire Hunter D Fanfic
I won't become the thing I hate
I won't become you
What a blessed thing it would be to be like this man, D thought as he gazed at the elderly fellow in the rocking chair. The old man stared blankly ahead at the dusty street, his mouth working soundlessly, drool running down his chin. His face resembled nothing so much as a wrinkled, sun-scorched peach pit, but he wore the most sublime expression of complete and utter stupidity D had ever seen. The entire scope of the man's efforts were narrowed to a tiny point, his sole goal in all the universe reduced to rocking the chair back and forth. He's the most fortunate person in the world, if only he knew it.
D wished that he could forget, seep into the blissful lake of ignorance. The memories of a thousand lifetimes and more weighed heavily on his mind. Millennia of violence and death stretched out behind him, chaotic threads woven into a tapestry of killing, bleeding, and hunting. For thousands of years he had hunted the vampires, his kin. For thousands of years he had killed them. For thousands of years, they had dwindled, and now they were all but gone, while D remained.
He had outlived friends, enemies, entire races and nations. He had seen empires rise and fall, seen the innocent die and the guilty punished, seen justice upheld and perverted. He had seen atrocities innumerable. He had watched a magnificent sunset over the broken spires of Old Gehenna and trekked across the foul Masire Marshes in the dead of night. He had brushed upon beauty and death, innocence and ultimate evil, joy and horror.
He had seen too much, and he was weary. So horribly, horribly weary.
The old man didn't look up as D stepped past him and pushed the squat building's batwing doors open. He continued his rocking, oblivious to anything else in the world. The creak creak creak of the chair's rockers on the rough plank sidewalk followed the vampire hunter as he stepped out of the burning sun and into the dark shop.
The interior of the shop was stark and bleak, but that was to be expected, for this land and its people were the same way. D surveyed the shop, his dhampiric vision coping well in the meager light from the small, dusty windows, but his enhanced sense of smell recoiling from the intermingled stench of sawdust and sweat. Five rows of dark steelwood shelves extended horizontally through the room's length, filled with the small niceties of everyday life: canned goods, flour, bolts of rough fabric, and myriad other items. In a locked display case above and behind the nicked counter were a few well-aged firearms, rust covering their once shiny surfaces. A narrow door in the wall behind the counter undoubtedly led to the storeroom, where most of the supplies he would need were located.
The storekeeper was behind the counter, a tall lanky man in homespun and a leather apron. He stood with his back to the door, busily running a rag over the glass front of the display case. He didn't bother to turn around as he spoke. "Anythin' ye want, just ask for it. Just got some shipments of canned fruit by rail from Albregoda, if ye're interested in that kinda thing."
"I have need of supplies," D said. "Enough for a long desert journey."
Perhaps it was simply the cold, even tone of D's voice that made the man turn around; it had certainly shocked many before. Perhaps it was the implication that someone was actually going to try to travel across the blasted wasteland of the Myrrha desert. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. Whatever the reason, when the man turned around to reply, he quickly blanched and even recoiled a bit, his hand darting to the front of the display case.
D supposed he must be an intimidating sight. His tall, armored frame, his swirling black cloak and wide brimmed hat, his milk pale skin - all of them jarred heavily with the mundane surroundings of the general store and the small town around it. But then, was there really anywhere a dhampir would not be out of place? His was a dispossessed race, half man and half monster, welcomed by neither, hated by both.
"I mean you no harm," D told the man, keeping his hands away from the hilt of the greatsword that peeked over his shoulder. "I assure you, I can pay well."
"Well... well..." the shopkeeper stammered. "I-I guess so, but Jesus, mister, what's wrong with ye? Ye're so pale."
He doesn't know. He doesn't know what I am. This man has never seen a dhampir in his life. Probably never heard of them outside of old stories told to frighten children.
The realization was somehow reassuring and pathetic at the same time. Vampires were all but gone now, and the hunters along with them. It had been centuries since he had killed his last undead, and almost that long since he'd seen another hunter. They were a dying breed. He was the last, and after he was gone there would be no more.
"I will manage," D said, choosing not to bring up his dhampir heritage. Better to let the man remain blissfully ignorant. "I need supplies. Enough to cross that desert on the other side of the mountains."
"Mister... I guess ye must be as crazy as ye look if ye aim to cross the Myrrha desert." The shopkeeper leaned against the counter and ran a hand through his sandy blonde hair. "Ain't nobody ever crossed that place, ever. Ain't nothin' out there but sand and muties and death. Best to stay out. They's cleaner ways to kill yeself, if that's what ye're tryin to do."
"I have business there," the Hunter replied. "And it does not involve killing myself. Now that you have... briefed me on the danger..." There was a heavy thunk, and the man looked goggle-eyed at the pouch of gold D had tossed on the counter. "...can we do business?"
"A course we can, mister. A course."
By the time he was finished loading up the supplies, the sun had crept low in the sky, only a thin, brilliant crescent still peeping above the horizon. The sky was beginning to darken already, the shadows of the nearby buildings stretching long in the afternoon light, bathing the street in alternating patches of light and darkness. Above the Terminus Mountains to the east, a few stars were visible against the deepening sky.
Darkness would soon lie upon this part of the Earth, but no twisted creatures would rise to stalk the night. The world was a different place now.
D adjusted his grip on the pack mule's reins as he rode down the main street of the town, a solitary dark figure in a dusty landscape. He pulled on them lightly in an attempt to get the creature to move faster, but it ignored his urgings. He hoped the recalcitrant beast would not prove be a problem later. His own mount was as reliable as ever; he had probably gone through hundreds in his years as a Hunter, and that had given him an astute eye for picking the best horse out of every bunch. The mule, however, was from the town's stables, and apparently shoddily constructed - it was laboring obviously under the strain of its burden. Still, there was no avoiding necessity. It wasn't as if he could carry the five massive containers of water, the rations, and the survival gear on his own back.
The town seemed abandoned, its people nowhere to be seen, the sidewalks on either side of the dusty road empty and lifeless. D wondered if he was responsible for the townspeople's disappearance. This would not be the first time such a thing had happened. People had cringed from him, screamed insults at him, sometimes tried to kill him. The shrieking litany of a thousand hate-filled voices still hung in the back of his mind - freak, murderer, demon, monster.
Then he heard the church bell ring, and he realized the situation had nothing to do with him at all.
A church service at sunset. A few centuries ago, these people would've already barricaded themselves in their houses at this hour.
A few centuries ago, a lot of things had been different.
Stalcatto, as the battered sign at the entrance of town had proclaimed, was a small community of perhaps a few hundred souls. This far-flung knot of humanity rested against the Terminus Mountains on the boundary between the Kingdom of Brant and the vast, empty wastelands of the Myrrha desert, quietly going about its business as the world passed it by.
Now, it was nothing more than two intersecting, dusty streets lined with simple wooden buildings, but D could remember another time hundreds of years ago when this place had been called Firstgate. It had taken its name from the massive wallfort that spanned the nearby pass through the Terminus mountains, and had been only one in a string of fort towns all along the border between the unexplored wasteland of the Myrrha Desert to the east and the relatively civilized world to the west.
Thousands of people had once lived here within the safety of high iron and steel walls. At night, bands of soldiers with guns and swords had patrolled the bright, electric-lit streets, and the massive wallfort itself had housed at least five hundred more troops. The men had kept unceasing vigil, safeguarding all the civilized lands from the horrible mutations that roamed the Myrrha.
Centuries passed, and the mutants diminished. The Barbaroi had been annihilated nearly a thousand years ago, most mutants even before that. For the first time in countless millennia, men had left the relative safety of their cities and towns and carried the fight to the enemy. Mutants were hunted on an unprecedented scale, driven from the fields, chased to their dens, slaughtered. Many humans died in the struggle as well, but their sacrifice had not been in vain, and from the ashes of the dead a new world was born. A world controlled once more by humanity.
With the threat removed, Firstgate had been dismantled. The wallfort had probably still held a token garrison for a time, but it had been completely abandoned long ago. Its colossal form loomed in the mountains high above the town like the tombstone of a long dead giant, its portals dark and unseeing, its gray stone facade covered with creeping lichens and deep cracks. It was doubtful that there were many in the town that even knew why it had been built, and perhaps that was just as well. With the garrison and Firstgate gone, the wallfort was just another relic of a bygone age, slowly crumbling away as a world it had no place in changed around it.
No. NO. That wasn't true. He still had a purpose.
He still had a job to do.
As the sun sank completely out of sight and the night began in earnest, D left the sleepy little town, winding his way up a mountain trail towards the forgotten wallfort.
Only his tracks were left to mark his passing from the known world.
"I think you've really snapped this time," the voice said. "I mean really snapped. Going off into this desert is insane! I really wish you'd reconsider, really-"
D leaned his head back against the cool stone wall, ignoring the ranting of the voice that drifted up from his left hand. He and the symbiote had worked together for at least a dozen centuries, but the thing had never gotten any less annoying; D had simply become more adept at tuning it out. Still, it did have its uses, and those made it worth having around despite its often obnoxious comments. And, much as the vampire hunter hated to admit it, sometimes any company that didn't try to kill you was welcome.
For a moment, there was silence, and D reflected on the sense of serenity that pervaded the crumbling wallfort. It had been a hard night's ride up the mountain trail, but now, seeing the light of the rising sun beam down through the fort's narrow windows and pool on the cracked tile floor, he decided that it had been worth it. It was as if this place had been removed from time, placed in a state of eternal, quiet slumber. Soon enough, he would have to be on his way, but for now all was at peace. Perhaps for the last time.
"Come on, D, how old was that scroll?" the symbiote continued, its voice in harsh contrast to the quiet surroundings. "Older than this place. Probably older than you. It'd probably been in the Brant vaults since just after the Great War. And just because some drunken old farmer saw one of those bloodsucker carriages ride this way thousands of years ago doesn't mean there's anything to find now. I mean, are you really gonna kill yourself over this? Because that'd be a shame. Well, at least it would be a shame if I was still with you at the time, and I really wish you'd think this over. I mean..." the voice took on a noticeable touch of disgust. "There're probably more Sand Mantas out there. Filthy creatures, really, I don't know why you'd want to meet them aga-"
"There is something out there," D said, turning the palm of his hand around to face him and looking the symbiote in its beady little eyes. "A vampire, maybe the last. I can sense it."
The symbiote pursed desiccated, withered lips and made a disapproving pshaw sound. "Please, D, the last vampire was killed centuries ago. By you. I always thought you hated this Hunting gig anyway. I don't know why you can't give it up. This is the part where you enjoy the wine, the women, the song! And if you think we're gonna find any of that out here in this desert, then you really are crazy."
"No. But we will find a vampire. And that is all I seek."
"Fine, fine," the symbiote said. "I can see there's no talking to you."
"We'll set out as soon as the sun's down." D tilted his head back and looked at the pockmarked ceiling, trying to indicate to the symbiote that he was tired of talking. As usual, it didn't notice.
"At least you're finally taking your susceptibility to sunlight into account. Took you long enough to decide to listen to me." The shrunken face grinned, a hideous display by any account.
"Yes," D said, not wanting to argue further. That susceptibility had nearly gotten him killed on several occasions, but at least it had once allowed him to talk with a very sad young woman and make a promise to her.
Centuries dead now. Dead along with her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren... but hopefully her family line still lived on. Not like it was with
some of the others he had known.
"Thinking about old times, D?" The symbiote chortled. "About a certain... special someone? A pity, that, honestly. Maybe if she'd at least married instead of dying an old maid you could've fallen for her great, great, great, great-"
"That's enough," D said. "I could still cut you off, you know." He turned his palm back around, terminating the conversation. The symbiote grumbled on for a few seconds then fell silent.
D closed his eyes, his mind unwillingly traveling down overgrown paths to places and memories best forgotten. A ranch house in the Mercer Dukedom... or was it part of Brant now, too? A squat, ordinary building amidst wheat fields and hard-packed dirt roads, its windows glowing with warm light in the darkness...
He always told himself he wasn't going to ride by the house when he passed that way, if for no other reason to avoid the symbiote's snickering. But none of his private debate mattered once it finally came down to it. The house was a festering wound on his soul that he could not stop digging at. Maybe something deep inside of him didn't want to stop, didn't want to forget what he now recognized as one of the happiest periods in his long, long life.
The last time he had visited, half a century or so before, the house was no longer there. It had been replaced by a small, self sufficient power plant that routed electricity to the cities nearby. It wasn't surprising that the house was finally gone; it had been in terrible condition for as long as he could remember and was nothing but a steel skeleton when D had last seen it standing. Even so, he could not help but feel as if a lingering dream had finally faded.
Her body, soft and warm and trusting, pressed against his. Her voice, shaky, yet possessing a quiet strength. Her words, the sweetest he had ever heard.
"D... you can, if you want to."
No, I can't, Doris, he thought, and it was not as if he were speaking to a woman hundreds and hundreds of years in the grave. It was as if she were right here, hovering near him on the very edge of perception. He could almost smell her; the intermingled scent of grass and horses and flowery perfume that he still remembered so well seemed to hang in the air. I can't. I couldn't. Ever. Why couldn't you see that? I didn't save you so you could die alone, waiting for something I could never give you.
Then, as they had so many times before, the internal accusations began.
You should've taken her with you. But what kind of life would that have been for her? Hunting was not a pleasant job, and not one he would inflict on anyone, much less Doris. And her brother, what would he have done?
You should've stayed. That was no solution either. He could not abandon his quest, not for anything, no matter how much he might have wanted it. The world could only begin to have peace and security when the last dangerous vampire was destroyed.
You should've told her something. Anything. It only would've made things harder, more painful. Better for her to think he didn't care. Better for both of them, better for the world.
I had a job to do. Still have one. Couldn't rest then.... can't now...
That ended the debate for now, but D knew it would come up again. It always did. Struggling to put such things from his mind, he drifted off into a deep and mercifully dreamless slumber.
The journey went on, down out of the mountains and into the Myrrha.
The Myrrha was not a desert of sand dunes, but of flat, blasted earth, parched and cracked by the sun. It stretched out interminably towards the horizon with nothing to break the monotony but an occasional crater. It was a dead land, a dried, mummified corpse produced by the horrors of the Great War.
Science and mankind's stupidity had killed this place, and, if D had visited it as recently as a few thousand years ago, it might have killed him too. His miniature geiger counter had begun to crackle two days after he had come down into the Myrrha, and the deeper into the wasteland he went, the louder its protests grew. The Myrrha was hot, still alive with the radioactivity from the warheads that had slain it millennia ago. Fortunately, time had taken the edge off the worst of the rads, and the dosage he was receiving was less than lethal. A human might well have shaved at least a decade off their lifespan simply by visiting this hellish place, but a dhampir need not worry. Much.
In any case, he would have to survive the vampire that lurked out here before he worried about anything else. It was pointless to agonize about the damage the radiation might do to his body when tomorrow might bring an enemy capable of ripping his head off.
A week passed, then two, and the Myrrha did not change. The symbiote continued to argue, to cry that this was madness, and part of D started to agree with him. The wasteland was huge and virtually featureless. They could wander this place for centuries and not find what they sought.
If it had not been for the pull D felt within, he might have turned back, or at least reconsidered. But it seemed as if something had crept up on him while he had slept and fastened a barbed hook in his soul. That something was pulling now, tugging him along further and further into the Myrrha as if he were a fish on a line. The urgency the feeling produced in him was almost painful, and he had the feeling if he were to try and turn back it would become outright agony.
So he continued to travel, until at last, four weeks after he had left the wallfort, patches of coarse grass began to appear throughout the blasted landscape. The radiation detector continued to quiet until its chattering was almost inaudible.
The land around him was still a harsh place, but at least life existed, however tenuous its hold might be. The Myrrha had seemed devoid of even microbes.
D made camp that dawn beside a boulder the size of a house, staking the animals to the ground nearby so they could graze on the short, stubbly grass. It was fortunate that some vegetation had finally appeared; cyborgs or no, the animals still had to eat, and the oats he had bought in Stalcatto were nearly gone.
There were only two containers of water left, one full, one over half empty. D watered the animals and took a single cup for himself, drinking sparingly. Then he settled down beside the boulder to watch the sun rise.
As it always did lately when he took a moment to rest, his mind drifted back over all the things he had seen and done, and especially to one girl that had been different from all the rest. She hadn't been afraid of him, as so many others had. She had trusted him...
He was yanked forcibly from his reverie by the high, agonized screams of the mule.
By the time D had whirled toward the noise, the mule was already mortally wounded. Two slithering, barbed pink snakes had impaled its body, one passing through the neck, the other through the side of the mule's gut. The pitiful creature continued to scream as it dangled a few feet in the air, a rain of blood, oil, and water from the ruptured containers falling from its body and dampening the ground below it.
"Shit!" the symbiote bellowed, but D was already on his feet, his sword virtually leaping into his hands. The long, curved blade caught the light of the rising sun, flashing red as the vampire hunter charged, his cloak billowing out behind him.
D's boots left the ground with virtually no effort at all, and he almost seemed to float through the air. He hit the apex of his jump in seconds and began to descend, the ailing mule and the pair of snakes directly below him. The blade swept back and up, flaring in the light, then slashed down with enough force to split stone.
The razor sharp steel ripped into soft flesh easily, completely slicing through both snakes. There was a terrible roar from somewhere behind him, and gouts of violet blood spewed from the stumps, splattering the Vampire Hunter as he fell. He hit the ground and rolled out of the way mere seconds before the mule's corpse crashed to earth.
Before he could turn around, he was hit hard from behind. There was a sudden stabbing pain like rusty nails being driven all along his spine, and then he was flying as the sheer force of the blow lifted him from the ground and hurled him forward at least a dozen feet. He crashed facefirst into the hard-packed dirt, his nose breaking on impact.
"I told you this was a bad idea," the symbiote grumbled, seemingly unperturbed by the chaos going on all around it. "I told you a thousand t-mffff!"
The creature's complaints were stifled as D braced his hands against the ground and rolled into a sitting position. Even as he came out of the roll, his nose finished healing itself, the bones shifting back into place with a series of small delicate pops. The wounds in his back had already closed.
The boulder detached itself from the earth, rearing up on four stumpy legs. A massive, scaled head burst into view from a fissure in the rock, its single eyelid flapping open to reveal a glossy, multifaceted eye. The creature's skin was a dusky brown-black, slick with vile secretions and studded with misshapen, tumorous growths. It was a mutant, an unnatural terror birthed in the Myrrha's diseased womb. As a hunter, it was his job to eliminate it.
A sensation almost like elation flooded through him. At last, after so long, there was something for him to do. Something for him to hunt.
Of course, this wouldn't be easy.
The giant tortoise bellowed like a steam engine, its head splitting nearly in half to reveal a gaping maw large enough to swallow D whole with room to spare. A pair of long, barbed pink tongues lolled from between rows of razor sharp teeth, stained with two colors of blood: violet where the sword had sheared through them, crimson where they had lashed against D's back moments afterward.
"Big bastard...." the symbiote commented. Then, "Look out!"
The mutant shifted its ponderous bulk forward, as massive and unstoppable as one of Brant's new locomotives. D braced himself for the charge, poised on the balls of his feet, his blade held vertically before him. But then the beast turned aside, swiveling its head toward the horse.
The horse... which was pulling madly but uselessly against its bonds in an attempt to get free...
"I can't look!" the symbiote said, but its voice carried an odd tone of sadistic glee.
Massive jaws widened, snapped shut. The horse barely had time to scream as it was bitten in half, its midsection disintegrating in a shower of shattered bone and twisted metal. The two severed halves fell to the ground, a cloud of dust rising like a death shroud to obscure the final, spasmodic convulsions of the horse's legs.
The tortoise turned to regard D once more, its jaws working steadily and mechanically, an intermingled stream of blood, oil, and lubricants dripping from the sides of its mouth and splattering on the ground.
"D... uh... D..." the symbiote's tone had changed yet again. "Man... maybe we should... you know... get out of here. Because did you see what happened to the horse? I sure did, and I really wouldn't want-"
"I can handle this."
Before D had even finished speaking, the tortoise was moving again, legs churning up great clouds of dust as it closed the distance between them with alarming speed. The very ground shook with each thunderous footfall, but the vampire hunter stood his ground, remaining perfectly motionless. He did not even seem to look towards the mutant, focusing his gaze off towards the rising sun.
Not yet. Wait for it.
Even from the corner of his eye, the creature's every bizarre deformity was visible now; every ridge and bump on the rocklike shell, every oozing sore, every shining facet of the compound eye...
Hold on... draw it in. Hold on...
The mutant roared once more, its mouth opening wide. Streamers of saliva flew wildly, one splattering across D's wide-brimmed hat. Its neck craned forward in anticipation of its next meal, the stumps of its tongues flickering in and out of view.
The monster's teeth - there were five rows, he could count them this close - were scarcely four feet away when D finally brought the sword down, splitting the foul thing's head open along its vertical axis.
Everything happened so fast it blurred together. One moment, the tortoise was opening its mouth wide, screaming in pure, gleeful rage. The next, its head seemed to unzip, both halves sloughing off in opposite directions as D's sword tore through bone, brain, and muscle in one smooth stroke.
A fountain of blood gushed from the creature's ruin of a neck with enough force to push the two halves of its head apart and stain the ground some twenty feet away. The roar trailed off into a wet, choked gurgling, then stopped altogether. The tortoise convulsed, throwing what was left of its head back in one final jerk. Then, it fell forward, both halves of its head exploding as the massive weight of its own body drove them into the ground with piledriver force.
D had rolled clear the instant he had dealt the fatal blow. Now, he watched the mutant's death throes impassively, waiting several minutes even after it stopped moving. You could never be too careful with mutants. Sometimes even dead ones came back for more.
"Wow, now that was an impressive piece of work. Messy, but impressive. And here I was worried you'd be rusty after a couple hundred years."
D didn't bother to reply. Standing up, he walked over to the mule and nudged it with his boot. There was, as he had expected, no response. He didn't even bother to check the horse.
"Shame about the animals though. They probably cost you... what, five, six hundred thousand?"
"We need to get moving. Find some cover," D said, irritated by the symbiote's constant jabbering. He was already weary from the day's travel, and, having fought one battle today already, was not interested in a verbal one. "There may be more of those things around here."
"Whatever you say, boss. Whatever you say."
It took D only a few minutes to pack up what was left of the food and water. There wasn't much; the larger container of water had ruptured when the mule was killed, spilling all of its precious liquid into the ground. A quart or two remained, along with a few canned rations. That was all. It would last him three or four more days, if he was lucky.
He supposed it was just as well. The less he had to carry, the faster he would be able to travel.
The next few days brought more changes to the landscape. The grass thickened, small clumps of stunted trees began to appear, and there was even an occasional pool of water, though it was tarry and black and the thought of drinking it made his stomach rebel.
Despite the improved condition of the landscape, however, he was in even more danger than he had been earlier; while the heart of the Myrrha was too blasted to support any kind of life, the regions surrounding it were teeming with flora and fauna. The organisms in this border zone had been perverted and twisted into hideous forms by the peripheral radiation that seethed from the wasteland. They were vicious, and they were many.
He had lost count of how many times he had been attacked in the past few days. Once he had been set upon by what looked like a cross between a sandshark and a spider, twice more he had encountered the giant tortoise creatures, and he had been forced to slay an entire nest of squealing, skinless terrors that might once have been wild dogs.
The hook embedded in his soul cared nothing for supply shortages or monstrosities. It continued to pull, hurting even more now that he had gotten closer. If he was not moving forward, the hook seemed to catch and rip away at him, causing a low brimstone-tinged burning in his chest.
Despite the constant complaints of the symbiote, the journey went on. It was too late to turn back now; to do so would be to face certain death by dehydration and sun exposure. He could only press forward and hope that he would reach his goal before the end.
And so it was, on the day after he had thrown out his last empty ration can, on the very morning when he swirled the last sip of water around in his mouth and swallowed it, he topped a small, bare rise and saw the castle rising in the distance.
It bore little resemblance to the other Vampire castles D had seen. There were no upthrusting towers like gnarled fingers, no linking buttress spines, no sprawling spiderweb snarls of electric cables. The castle, if it could be called that, had been roughly hewn out of a black stone butte that towered hundreds of feet into the air. Tall, narrow windows and portals of all shapes and sizes honeycombed the dark cliff face, glowering down at D like the vacant eyes of a hundred corpses.
D felt an uneasiness, a sense of exposure, vulnerability. The hook was tugging crazily now, as if the unseen fisherman couldn't wait to pull his heart from his chest in a spray of blood and hold it up for all to admire.
"Well," the symbiote grumbled. "I guess you were right. We get to die quickly now instead of starving to death."
"Quiet. Something may be listening."
"If anything in there's paying attention, it knows we're here already. We're totally exposed."
For once, the damnable little thing was right. Other than the rise, there was nothing but flat, even grassland for miles around. The butte was in a perfect position to observe the surrounding lands, and even the most dim-witted Barbaroi would be able to see him from up there. See him, and raise an alarm.
There could be hundreds, thousands of them creeping around within. He would stand no chance against an army that size, not that he wanted to fight them anyway. He was here for one reason, and one reason only; to find and kill the vampire that he knew had to be here. The Barbaroi were nothing but an barrier to that end, and barriers were better sidestepped than broken through. Of course, he might not have a choice.
It was only then that he realized he had been standing out in the open for at least five minutes and nothing had happened. There had been no screams, no scurrying, no shouts of alarm. There was only the vague, empty sigh of the wind.
Nothing was watching. Yet.
For a brief moment D's instincts fought a brutal inner war. Hide, part of him urged, its voice high and reedy. Hide now, you're vulnerable and they'll see you.
No, another voice countered in a calm tone. There is no they, there is nothing watching, there hasn't been for thousands of years, if there ever was. Wait and see for yourself.
The latter voice won. D waited. Waited for nearly two hours, as the sun rose higher in the sky and the dew burned away. Nothing screamed. Nothing stirred.
"Place is probably deserted," the symbiote said. It chuckled nervously. "I mean... there would be guards if there were anything important in there. There's uh... no reason to check. I mean.. it'd be a waste of time..."
"Let's go," D said. The hook was still there, and so was whatever was pulling it. "Daylight is best for this kind of work."
"Awww, damn it. Of all the dhampirs in the world, I had to get stuck with you."
The approach to the strange castle was uneventful. The butte stayed quiet as D walked into its tilted shadow. Beneath the gaze of that many-eyed cliff face, D felt as if the rest of world had fallen away entirely. Everything out there was insignificant now. There was only this place, this errand, this moment.
Perhaps it had been that way for a long time, and he was only now realizing it. His life had always been about the hunting, whether he wanted it or not. There had been moments when it had seemed like something more, but they were few and scattered. A girl and her brother waving at him from a cliff. An old man selling him a horse. The grave of a former hunter, covered with flowers...
Mostly, though, it had been the hunting. There had been no other place for a vampire half-breed, a monstrosity. He had only survived the fate of his father's vile race by helping to destroy them, and even that had gained him little affection. More often than not, his employers had seemed to wish they could hire D to destroy himself as well as his quarries.
So many. He had destroyed so many he no longer remembered their names, if he had known them to begin with. Count Lee. Hashmalak the Bloody. Carmilla. Sarquin. Thram. The dozen vampires that had kidnapped the children from Gerusha. More and more, stretching out hundreds of years behind him in a trail of blood and horrible screams and nightmarish visions that followed him wherever he went.
He had thought he wanted to stop hunting, had dreamed quietly and secretly of the day when he might. Yet now the world was starting to heal, now there were no more vampires and no more monsters stalked the night, everything was right, but somehow seemed so wrong.
The world he had known for so long was a harsh and rough place, but at least he understood it, felt like he had a place, however dubious it might be. This new world was different; softer, weaker, skeptical, forgetful. Hunters were already nothing but a legend. A thousand more years, maybe less, and they would be forgotten. There was no place for him anymore. He was a relic of a bygone age - interesting to look at, perhaps, but ultimately useless.
The other aspects of life held nothing for him, either. Everyone he had ever cared about had been dead for centuries. There was no Doris waiting for him to ride to her doorstep, no Dan to look at him with worshipful eyes, no Leila to knock back a beer with. Only a world full of people that didn't understand him, could never understand him. People who had never known the world he came from and who would not want to know even if he offered to tell. People who viewed dhampir, vampires and hunters as creatures out of storybooks. Tales for children and dreamers. Myths. Lies.
In a perverse way, he even missed his adversaries. They had been terrible monsters, of course, and the world was safer without them, but they had given him something to fight against. They had given him a purpose.
That was when he realized the real reason for this journey. It wasn't important that a vampire actually lived here. It was important that he hunt it, whether it existed or not. That was all he knew, all he had ever known.
All he had left.
The castle did not seem to have a main entry; a dozen or so man-sized round portals were arranged more or less at ground level, their mouths covered with rusted iron grates. None looked much different from the rest, and all led to equally dark tunnels. Choosing one seemed more like a job for whimsy than thoughtful deliberation.
Making a decision, D stepped over to the nearest grating and hacked it to pieces with a series of quick sword swipes, the clash of metal echoing forebodingly down the tunnel. It was hardly a quiet or an elegant entry, but something inside told him that didn't matter.
Almost as soon as D stepped into the tunnel, ducking slightly so his tall frame would fit, he noticed the sharp decrease in temperature; it was as if even the sweltering air outside did not dare to trespass in this place. The walls were stone, but had an oddly smoothed look, almost as if this passage had been bored out by some enormous worm rather than shaped by tools. Which, he reminded himself as he peered cautiously ahead into the gloom, was entirely possible.
"D... man... come on. This is a bad idea. You know it is. Listen, if this guy's been out here this long, he's obviously harmless, right? I'm sure he's not mad yet, let's just turn around...."
"I already told you to be quiet," D said. "You learn slowly." If this truly was the last vampire, at least he would soon no longer have need of the symbiote. He could let the annoying creature go its own way.
But then what will you do, D? What does the last Hunter do when his prey is extinct?
As D continued forward, the light from the tunnel entrance gradually diminished, shrinking to a small bright circle, then a pinpoint, then nothing. D did not slow, his dhampiric vision allowing him to make out his surroundings even in this near total darkness.
The hook pulled stronger than ever now, leading the hunter down the length of the long, featureless tunnel, up a winding, narrow stairway, and into an aged hall, its galleries festooned with cobwebs. Broken, burned out glass panels were embedded in the ceiling, rats and creeping things nesting where once light had blazed forth. A fine white dust littered the floor, shifting and sighing with every footstep D took.
D stopped and sniffed, testing the air around him. It was stale and musty, of course, but beneath that was something worse, the faintest trace of death and madness. D's eyes hardened at a sudden suspicion, and he dropped to one knee to sift through the dust. He didn't know exactly what he was looking for, but he would know once he found it.
It took less than a minute for him to start uncovering things; an iron filling, a brooch, the battered metal frames of a pair of spectacles. He looked at them for a moment, letting their import sink in before reburying them in the dust.
No, not dust... powdered bone.
The symbiote coughed. "Disgusting. This guy isn't very neat, that's for damn sure. Even Carmilla at least kept the place looking nice..."
D stood back up, trying to imagine what could have caused death on such a grand scale, concentrated in such a small area. The dust on the floor was almost an inch thick in places, meaning the bodies must have been packed tightly together when disaster struck.
Abandoning the mystery, he moved on, down the length of the room and up a narrow flight of concrete stairs. A tangle of old, broken weapons carpeted the landing, at the top where a battered steel door dangled on one last pair of hinges. A mere ghost of an emblem, a red and white flag of some sort, could still be discerned on the door's surface. For a moment, it registered some sort of memory, but he brushed it aside. He had no time for long dead empires.
He had a vampire to hunt.
The barb within him tugged anew, causing him to stumble and prop himself against the door as fresh agony flared in his chest. With every step he took, the hook seemed to expand, grow sharper. It felt like a knife now, its serrated edges ripping at his flesh in its eagerness to pull him along. Somewhere in the back of his head, a voice that was not his own spoke in mocking tones.
"D...? What's wrong with you?" the symbiote asked.
"It is nothing." D pushed himself away from the door, struggling to stand despite the stabbing pain. "Let's go."
It took all his effort to keep from limping as he resumed his journey through the dark catacombs.
D was never sure afterward how long he wandered through the castle. After a while, the rooms blended into each other, and it became hard to concentrate on anything but the pain that was pulling him onwards.
Eventually, he topped a winding stair and stepped into a vast, circular chamber. The pain abruptly vanished for the first time in weeks, and D spared himself one relieved breath before he scanned the room.
The perimeter of the room was ringed with candelabras that cast dancing shadows throughout the chamber, illuminating towering columns but not quite reaching the tall ceiling. In the center of the room was an enormous, ornate fountain. Blood gushed liberally from its trio of spouts and collected in a wide basin. In the wan light, the red liquid looked almost like tar, but D could've recognized it by scent alone.
Earlier, when he had killed the mutants, the smell of the blood had not bothered him, for it was alien, tainted. The crimson liquid that boiled through the fountain was humanoid at least, though its scent had a harsher bite to it than pure human blood.
Blood... the word expanded to fill his consciousness as the intoxicating aroma filtered through his nostrils, shrouding his mind in a red haze. The whole room began to tilt and spin, to blur in and out of focus.
Pure... sweet and pure and ready to be drunk gorged pale silky soft necks ready to be bitten yes that's it Doris that's it come here and let me drink I'm so thirsty and it's you I want it won't hurt for long it'll feel so good Doris I need it please I need it just let me drink let me drain you dry and keep you inside of me for all eternity.
"Snap out of it D, snap out of it!"
The symbiote's voice roused D and he shook his head, driving the thoughts from his mind with some difficulty. In his stupor his teeth had elongated and he had begun to salivate. He forced his animal instincts down with difficulty, wiping his mouth on his sleeve as his teeth shrank back to normal size.
The vampire waited.
D's quarry stood in quiet repose next to the fountain, his profile bathed in shadow. He did not even bother to turn around as the hunter entered, and D took advantage of the moment to size up his opponent. He was tall, his shoulders broad and powerful. A fall of straight black hair hung down to the middle of his back, darker even than the black cape draped about his shoulders. His body, with the exception of his head, was covered with bright red suit of plate armor that shone harshly in the candlelight. He wore the armor with the casual ease of an experienced warrior; its bulky form did not seem to hamper him in the slightest.
"I have been waiting for you," the vampire said in a smooth, even bass. His voice was old, but powerful, a deep ancient river of words, strong and flowing and hypnotic. "I have long sensed you moving about beyond the wastes. When you came out of those mountains, I sent you a message, brought you here with the sheer force of my will. Somehow, I always knew that if any hunter got this far, it would be you. I hope my summons did not make you too... uncomfortable."
"You were a fool to summon me here," D said, raising his sword before him. Candlelight flickered along its tempered steel surface.
"Yes... ever the hunter, aren't you, D? Even in my deep slumber, I could sense the carnage you wrought upon the vampires. I could feel their lives winking out one by one, their numbers dwindling. A proud, noble race, trod under by the lapdogs of the humans. By traitors like you."
D wasn't sure how the creature knew his name. It must have been here beyond the Myrrha for thousands of years, and yet somehow it was aware of the nature of the world outside. Even as his mind turned the problem over and over, D continued to speak. "Your kind does not belong in this world. Vampires are nothing but parasites, feeding off the lives of others. You have no place here. Your rule is over."
The vampire laughed shortly. "And who is fit to rule this world, dhampir? Your pitiful, precious humans? They cannot even take care of themselves." He extended one arm in a sweeping gesture. "Look around you. This place was once a bomb shelter, meant to keep them safe during the Great War. Yet as soon as the fighting was over and the food began to run low, the survivors fell upon each other. Hundreds died in the riots here; young and old, women and children, all slain without reason. Billions perished in that War, so old and forgotten now it has lost all meaning."
His hand returned to his side as he continued to speak, his voice tinged with real amusement now.
"Humans are rabid beasts. Our kind kill only to survive. They kill instinctively, gleefully. They have already almost destroyed themselves once before and will do so again if they are not properly tended. They are worthless cattle, good only for feeding or brief periods of entertainment." The vampire paused. "As I'm sure your mother could tell you."
"You know nothing about my mother!" D shouted, for once unable to control himself.
Stay calm... stay in control... he's baiting you to throw you off. Why not return the favor?
"For worthless cattle, the humans seem to have exterminated the vampire race rather effectively."
The vampire chuckled again. "Indeed. Fate seems as ever to smile on fools. For years, I have extended my mind to search beyond the wastes and found nothing. My children are all dead, or fled to the stars, never to return. Our loyal servants, the Barbaroi, exterminated save for the few that live beneath this place. They still serve me... though in a markedly different fashion."
The vampire nodded at the fountain and a dozen images filled D's mind. He could imagine the caverns below, swarming with twisted creatures. He could see their perverted rituals, their bloody altars, their willing sacrifices to slake the bloodlust of their cruel and dark master.
"Living in a forgotten desert. Drinking tainted blood. My race's legacy is a bitter one. But your kind, hunter... your kind is dead too. In all these thousands of years, only you have gotten this far. You are the last, and soon you will be gone, forgotten, while I will endure forever."
"Not soon enough to save you," D said. "Enough of your speeches, vampire. It is time to end this."
Wordlessly, the vampire turned to face D. As the light fell upon the face of his enemy, the vampire hunter stepped back reflexively in surprise, barely restraining a gasp.
The vampire's face had been reproduced countless times. It resided in histories, paintings storybooks, nightmares. The refined, aquiline nose. The dark eyes. The lips, full, yet still as pale as the surrounding flesh. Pale as chalk.
It... can't be.
The vampire's name had been whispered in fear for thousands of years. First as a rumor, then with utmost dread, then with relief, and finally with a certain amusement, to frighten unruly children.
It can't be!
It seemed fate was not without a twisted sense of irony, for the last vampire was also the first.
"So it is, my son," Dracula said. His fanged mouth curled up in the grotesque parody of a smile. "Let us finish this."
"I thought you were dead," D said almost conversationally as he darted forward and slashed at the vampire. He wondered briefly if he should not be more bothered that he was about to kill his own father, but the thought died quickly. He had always hated and feared the Lord of the Vampires, even when he was a child, even before he understood what a monster his father truly was. There was no reason or time for hesitation; against this opponent, it could very well mean his doom.
Dracula didn't even seem to move; one instant, his arms were at his sides, the next, one flickered into the path of the sword, casually and effortlessly blocking the strike. The edge of the curved blade sank into the metal of Dracula's forearm guard with a shriek and a shower of sparks. The sword's forward motion ground to a stop, the tip quivering a few inches in front of the vampire's face.
"Human hunters are rather sloppy in their work," Dracula said. He stepped forward, applying pressure and forcing the blade up and away from his body. "They wounded me, but I escaped. They lied, said they had destroyed me. The world wanted to believe it so badly that no one bothered to think otherwise."
D had wanted to believe it. He could still remember the haunted look in his mother's eyes in the years before news of Dracula's destruction had reached the world, the way they their daily routine had been reversed; early to bed at dawn, up before sunset. Moving, always moving, through one town after another. Lives lived in perpetual twilight, full of whispers and fear, and occasional hushed talks about your father. Everyone hated them because of your father. It was a mistake, becoming involved with your father, but she hadn't understood what kind of freakish monster your father really was. She thought she had loved him, but that was wrong. A mistake.
No, no, it wasn't your fault, it's not your fault, you weren't a mistake and you're mine and I love you no matter what your father was.
At the last instant, D dodged to the side, just as Dracula unleashed a blast of telekinetic force that reduced the patch of floor where the vampire hunter had been standing into a thousand shards of flying masonry. Even as the rubble from the first explosion was still raining down, Dracula turned towards D and threw his arm out again.
This time, D was ready. He leapt forward and to the side, his sword flashing in the meager light. A wide swath of the floor three feet wide and ten feet long exploded into dust behind him even as he slashed at his opponent. Dracula seemed to slide out of the way of the attack without even moving his feet, but he was a split second too slow; the point of the sword scraped across his cheek, opening a small cut below his left eye.
"Impressive," Dracula commented as he slid to a stop, not even flinching at the injury. No blood seeped from the wound. Instead, crackling black tendrils of energy emerged, writhed, and then vanished into thin air. "But you will have to do better than that." The cut sealed itself up with a small wet pop.
D attacked with fresh ferocity, his sword flickering like quicksilver, striking too fast for the eye to follow. Dracula met the onslaught with his armored fists, knocking one blow after another aside with casual ease. Together, father and son performed a dance of death, its moves intricate and fatal. Slash. Turn, backslash. Slash, feint, backslash, pivot, slash again.
He's toying with me, D realized. His opponent did not even bother to counterattack; he simply batted D's attacks effortlessly aside with the bemused expression of a man tolerating a child's tantrum. Very well. I can play the game, too.
D shifted his focus towards the vampire's unprotected head, forcing him to raise his guard higher to intercept a volley of rapid slashes. Then, just as he completed a sweeping cut, he relaxed his hold on the hilt of the blade, allowing gravity to pull it out and down briefly before he tightened his grip again, reversing the position of the sword in his hand. At the same time, he pivoted on one foot, presenting his side to the vampire and stabbing the suddenly reoriented swordpoint at his opponent's chest.
If Dracula had been a fraction of a second slower, the battle would have ended right there, but at the last instant he sensed the oncoming attack and dodged just enough to save himself from destruction, if not terrible pain. The blade, instead of impaling him through the heart, pierced the metal breastplate over his lower right belly and kept going, ripping a red tunnel through flesh, fat, and bone before bursting out through his back armor in a spray of blood and seething dark energy.
D, carried forward by the sheer momentum of the attack as the sword embedded itself up to the hilt in the vampire's gut, suddenly found his face less than six inches from his father's pain-contorted visage.
"You are a worthy opponent, my son," Dracula hissed through clenched teeth, his voice thick with agony and rage. Gauntleted hands tightened around D's throat with vise grip force, and only a quick, instinctive tensing of his neck muscles kept his spine from being snapped instantly. "But I tire of this game."
His airway completely constricted, D could not muster a verbal reply. Fortunately, in battle actions really did speak louder than words...
Grunting in exertion, D grasped the hilt protruding from his enemy's gut and tried to sweep the sword diagonally up into Dracula's heart. It was no good. The weapon was buried too deep, and he was too close to it to get any significant leverage. Despite his best efforts, the blade refused to move even an inch.
"Do... something...." the symbiote managed. "You're dying."
If hearing a voice emerge from D's left hand startled the vampire at all, it didn't show, and it certainly wasn't enough to make him release his death grip on the dhampir's windpipe. D continued to struggle, but he could feel himself weakening. Black spots danced before his vision, all he could hear was the thunderous rush of his own blood in his ears, and every muscle had suddenly turned to lead.
Your turn to do something, my little friend, D thought viciously, maintaining his grip on the hilt of the sword with his right hand and slamming his left against Dracula's face. There was a curious tickling sensation across his palm as the symbiote emerged, and then a spray of cold blood as the tiny face bit down, its razor-sharp teeth slicing into the vampire's cheek.
Dracula bellowed in wordless, animalistic pain as the creature gnawed away at his flesh. Instinctively, he hurled the hunter away from him, which only increased his agony; the sword and the symbiote were both reluctant to relinquish their hold, and when they finally did so, they took a good part of the vampire's midsection and most of the left side of his face with them.
D crashed against the side of the fountain, the sheer force of his impact spreading deep cracks in the fine marble. He rebounded and fell to the floor, his bloody sword sliding from his grasp and clattering away across the floor.
D pushed himself up on his hands and knees, coughing up blood with the effort. It had been some time since he had been hurt this badly. His back and innards were screaming with pain, and he seemed to burn inside. He definitely had several broken bones, probably severe internal injuries as well.
No matter... dhampir were a resistant breed, and he'd heal soon enough. The key was to keep his opponent from killing him in the space of time that recovery would take. He reached out towards his sword, even the slightest motion pure agony. The weapon was only a few feet away, but it seemed an immeasurable distance.
Already broken bones were beginning to reknit themselves. He could feel and even hear them shifting and moving deep within like continental plates slipping back into alignment. The worst of the pain spiked, then faded, replaced by a dull ache.
Dracula's amusement was gone, replaced by pain, shock, and rage. The vampire king still stood in the place where he had thrown the hunter from, one hand clamped to each of his newly sustained injuries. The face wound was truly hideous, a raw, red-rimmed window through which the vampire's teeth were clearly visible. The stomach wound was even worse. The vampire's strength had done what D could not; the force of his throw had caused the sword to rip sideways and out, leaving a gaping trench from his left side to the center of his abdomen. Blood and more of the strange crackling black energy poured from Dracula's torn flesh, staining the floor around him and wrapping him in a dark fog.
Then the vampire looked up, his eyes locking on his son's face. He screamed, a sound of pure, unfocused rage that shook the very stones of the chamber. It was a sound unlike anything even D had heard before. A sound that defied description and promised death.
Perhaps it was nothing more than instinct that warned D to jump then. Perhaps it was some vampiric sixth sense that he had never dared to fully develop. Perhaps it was Fate, or God. Whatever the reason, he planted his feet and leapt straight up just as the most powerful telekinetic blast he had ever seen tore forth from the vampire, a great rolling wave of destruction that ripped the floor to shreds and shattered the fountain into a million shards of flying marble.
Geysers of suddenly unrestrained blood skyrocketed from the base of the broken fountain, surging up to meet D in midair and enveloping him in a sea of crimson. He clamped his mouth and eyes closed, wishing he could also shut out the smell. He had gotten somewhat used to it since he had first entered the room, but it still spoke to the dark gremlin within, made him think of violent, bloody things. Bad things.
At last, he burst free of the red rain, swooping down at Dracula with blade extended. This time, the vampire was ready; a long, wicked-looking black spear had appeared in his hands seemingly out of nowhere. He blocked the dhampir's attack with a simple flick of the wrist. Spiked spearhead and sword blade met in a shower of sparks and the two combatants found themselves face to face once more.
"I have not had a fight like this in millennia, D," Dracula said. Already, thin streamers of flesh were starting to reform his ravaged face, but D could still see his teeth and the dark red worm of his tongue moving behind them as he spoke. "But now you shall see why they call me Vlad the Impaler!"
A human would not have been fast enough to dodge the vampire king's sudden stab. A dhampir nearly wasn't, but D managed to twist sideways just in time to avoid being spitted. The spearhead scraped past his armored side, ripping a gash in his armor and bloodying the flesh beneath. Ignoring the pain, D ducked under Dracula's follow up attack, a swipe with the butt of the spear. As the metal rod passed overhead, he lashed out with his sword, hacking viciously at his opponent's torso.
Dracula tried to bring his spear to bear, but D had slipped inside his guard, rendering the deadly point of the weapon useless. The most Dracula could do was try to block some of the blows with the shaft of his weapon, but that was an almost useless prospect. The hunter attacked relentlessly, his sword becoming a blur of flying steel and spitting sparks as it struck the vampire's armor and rebounded again and again. Dracula fell back, reeling against the onslaught. His blood red breastplate was misshapen now, covered with dozens of bright scars where the sword had hacked away its outer layers to expose the raw, ugly metal beneath.
Dracula planted his feet and leapt up and backward, gliding up through the air as if yanked on an invisible string. At the apex of his jump, his arm snapped back, then forward, sending the spear flying at the hunter.
D ran forward, the projectile missing his wide-brimmed hat by inches as it flew overhead. A few seconds after, he realized something was very wrong, but it was not until the heard the whoosh of air behind him that he understood. D dove to the floor just as the spear tore through the air where he had been standing just instants before. This time, he actually saw it fly on for a short distance, stop, and reorient itself towards him.
It took all of his willpower to stand firm as the murderous iron javelin dove at him. At the last second, just before the spear could lodge itself in his heart, he brought up his sword, smashing the blade into the spearhead with all the force he could muster. The spear flew back, flipping over and over from the force of the impact, and D leapt towards it. His sword caught the wan candlelight as it swept up and then slashed down, striking the spear right in the middle of the shaft and cleaving it in half. The two remnants of the bisected weapon crashed to the floor with a clatter and bounced away from each other. D fell to earth himself a split second later, his cape billowing out around him as he landed in a crouch.
Dracula simply stood there, waiting. There were no more taunts. There was no more rage. There was only the cold, inhuman desire to slay his opponent. D recognized it all too well. He had felt it himself on many occasions. He felt it now.
"You don't belong in this world anymore, vampire," D said. He walked forward steadily, his sword held out before him. "Your kind have killed enough. It's time for it to end."
"So... ungrateful," Dracula said. His wounds had mostly finished healing, but they apparently still pained him; he was standing with shoulders slumped, his head hanging. "Without me, you would not even exist, D."
"And the world would be a better place," The vampire hunter countered. He was walking slower now, his own injuries hampering his movement. "I was the result of your whim, never meant to have a life. Hunting is all I know. Better that I should never have had to exist."
"So bitter, too." The vampire laughed. "I would think the dhampir that wiped out his father's race would at least be proud of his accomplishments. But if you wish to no longer exist..." He raised his arm, made a sharp gesture with one hand.
It blossomed white hot in D's chest, taking his breath away and forcing him to his knees. It overloaded his mind, blotting out any coherent thought, swallowing sophisticated reasoning with its sheer primal brutality. It consumed the world, wrapping iron bands around his lungs so tightly that he could not even scream. It broke and left him in a thousand pieces. The agony was worse than anything he had felt before, reminiscent of the time Count Lee's pet mutant had staked him in the heart, but surpassing even that level of pain.
Dimly, he was aware that the symbiote was speaking. The voice came to him as if from the bottom of a very deep well, distant and distorted.
"D! D! Shit, he got your heart! This is bad!"
It was bad, indeed. D's head lolled downward like a marionette with cut strings, and he saw that the head of the spear was sprouting from his chest. Blood spurted out around its barbed edges in great red gouts, falling to the floor and intermingling with the growing pool from the broken fountain. D noted absently that the head had fine gold inlaid on its razor sharp surface, tiny whorls and waves crawling up and down its deadly length. His blood was running across them, staining the golden ocean a hellish red.
Red... blood... losing blood... can't... I ...
The world was going dark and blurry, color leeching rapidly away and leaving a sea of grays. Everything seemed to tilt and wobble, to pull away. A black tunnel grew before him, the bright circle of the world moving further away, leaving him in darkness. He felt cold, detached. Sensations were being dulled, muted, and though the pain was gone, the rest of his faculties were rapidly departing with it.
D's sword slid from leaden, motionless fingers and fell amidst the blood coating the floor, but he found he no longer cared. A few instants later, gravity grabbed his shoulders and tugged roughly, pulling him face down to the floor. He slipped into the red lake almost casually, ripples expanding all around him as he hit the floor with an audible slap. The broken spear was still impaling him, its shattered shaft protruding from his back, its bladed head lodged in his heart; even if he couldn't see it anymore, he could tell it was there by the sharp noise the spearhead had made when he'd struck the floor. It didn't matter. It didn't even hurt, not anymore.
So this was what it was like to die.
No...! Not yet! his mind railed, sheer will snapping him back to a vague consciousness. He couldn't die now, not with the hunt unfinished, not while Dracula still lived. There's still a chance... still... It would mean doom for him, but if he did not do it he was dead anyway, and a few minutes would make all the difference for the world.
He gazed into the blood that was perhaps an inch in front of his face, realizing he could no longer tell which had come from him and which from the Barbaroi. There was so much, too much... Even in his diminished state, its aroma awakened savage feelings in him. Its crimson depths seemed to hold hidden treasures that were waiting to bubble to the surface, all the sweetness and pleasure and satisfaction in the world if he would only claim it. If only he would...drink.
I suppose... there is no other choice... he thought. He didn't acknowledge the fact that the gremlin within was practically capering and cackling with glee at the idea.
There wasn't enough time for him to drink the blood normally, and he no longer knew if he even had the strength. But there might still be a chance. His left arm was lying in the expanding pool of blood as well, his hand actually submerged beneath the surface. If he could only convince that rotten little thing...
Simply moving his lips to speak was a titanic effort. At least he didn't have to concentrate on whispering; the only sound he was capable of making was a thin death-choked rattle.
"Drink..." he addressed his command to the symbiote, which had currently retreated within.
"You can't!" the creature said, its voice strangely muffled. In his state D didn't know or care where it was coming from. "D'yknow what that'll do to you? You'll be-"
"Drink...!" D managed, the last of his energy draining away.
He was so far gone he didn't feel the creature emerge from his palm, but he saw the level of the blood around his hand begin to drop. A mellow warmth crept up his arm and into his chest, stopping briefly at his heart, then branching out into his entire body. The symbiote must be funneling the blood directly into his vessels. The crimson liquid was still dripping from around the bladed rim of the spearhead, but the symbiote was drinking up more much faster than it was leaking out.
With the fresh infusion of blood came renewed awareness. Strength returned to his muscles, the world brightened, and he could hear and see once more. Yet everything was different than before- sharper, more defined, more real. D felt as if he could see beyond, right through the surface of the everyday world. Lines of luminous, hidden power throbbed and twisted across his field of vision, making the chamber, which had been dark even with his dhampiric vision, seem as bright as the wastes outside.
That same power invaded his body. D could feel the blood churning through his vessels and filtering into his muscles, vital and hot, filling him to the brink with a staggering amount of raw energy. His face was twisting and reshaping itself in a struggle to accommodate his rapidly growing fangs. He felt capable of anything: ripping mountains in half, snapping steel columns like toothpicks, murdering thousands with a glance.
Is... this... what it's like for them every time...? Is this... what it means to drink blood? No wonder they cannot stop.
He braced his hands against the floor and pushed, raising himself to his knees with immense effort. However much stronger he might feel, the spear through his heart was seriously draining him. The instant the symbiote stopped imbibing blood, he would probably be hopelessly weak again. His first priority, then, was to get rid of the weapon.
But it wouldn't be easy, especially since his opponent had taken notice of him again. Dracula looked down at the fallen hunter, a contemptuous grin spreading across his now fully healed face.
"You are a stubborn one, D," the Vampire King commented. "If half our race had been as resilient as you, the world would be a very different place."
D didn't reply. It was all he could do to hold himself up. He had to save his strength, wait for just the right moment... he just hoped Dracula wouldn't notice the symbiote's outrageous intake of blood before he got the chance to strike.
"Do you have any idea what it was like, my son?" Dracula asked. He turned to look into the flickering flames of a nearby candelabra, and his eyes grew distant. "Those hunters were nearly the finish of me. I was injured so badly that I dropped into a near comatose state. That would have been the end of me if my faithful servants had not carried me here, far beyond the wastes, to heal."
The vampire lashed out, knocking the candelabra over in a sudden fit of anger. When he spoke again, his voice was bitter. "I spent the greater part of our race's glory days lying insensate in my chambers, feeling their lives fade one by one, sensing our race go extinct through the work of ...hunters such as yourself. Beasts among beasts, lashing out at the very hand that feeds, the hand that keeps order. Would you give the world to the humans to destroy again?"
D groped behind him with his right arm, fastening his hand around the shaft of the spear. Pulling it out was no option and was likely to take half of his chest with it... but if he pushed it the rest of the way through...
"I know the reason for our downfall now," Dracula continued. He was looking at the candelabra he had overturned, watching impassively as its flames extinguished themselves one by one. "We allowed the humans to know too much about us. We were too visible, and too few. It was only a matter of time until they learned our weaknesses."
Keep talking... D applied pushed the spear deeper with his right hand, biting back a scream of pain as the spear head tore itself free of his chest in a fresh spurt of blood.
"But now... now... the world is beginning to forget." Dracula clenched his gauntleted fist, his grin widening. "Already we vampires are things of legend. In a few thousand years more, we will cease to be even that. They will forget we ever existed, and once more we will take our rightful place in the world. Imagine it, D. Millions of them, too foolish to fear the night. A world of blood for the taking."
D had forced the spear far enough forward that the bladed head and a substantial portion of the shaft below was clear of his chest. He shifted his grip, releasing the splintered end of the spear and grabbing the bloody hunk of metal that jutted out in front of him. He began to pull it out slowly and steadily, every inch full of excruciating pain.
"All that is needed is time," Dracula said. "And that is something vampires have in abundance."
D's arm snapped forward, and the shattered spar of the spear seemed to leap from his fingertips, tumbling over and over in the air as it hurtled toward his opponent. At the same time, narrowed his eyes and focused every ounce of his newfound mental power, gathering it behind the projectile and pushing it forward. The makeshift javelin's flight leveled off and it streaked forward in a blur.
Perhaps Dracula sensed the danger, but it was too late. He had only begun to turn around when the broken spear tore into him at top speed, ripping effortlessly through his back armor and burying itself in his heart.
"Your time," D whispered, his voice harsh. "Is up."
The momentum of the blow caused the vampire to stumble forward a few steps, but he did not fall. He turned to face D, his face twisted into a hideous nightmare shape. Fangs nearly four inches long gnashed wildly, shredding finely shaped lips into a tattered, bloody ruin. His eyes bulged from his face like grotesque, rotten fruit. Red pupils burned at their cores, surrounded by engorged blood vessels that seemed capable of bursting at any moment.
This was not a man. Looking at it now, it seemed impossible that it had ever been a man. All the culture, all the refinement, all the thin layers of humanity that had accumulated over the millennia were gone now, ripped away to reveal the slavering, dying monster beneath.
See the glory of our noble race. D thought bitterly.
Dracula screamed, a sound unlike anything even D had ever heard before, a high shrieking wail that was more like a bird's harsh cry than anything else. The sound resonated and reverberated in the chamber, stunning in its ferocity and duration.
Then the scream was choked off, replaced by a projectile blast of blood and dark mist that shot from the vampire's mouth with explosive force and struck the far wall dozens of feet away. On and on it came, like thousands of years of scummy, accumulated floodwater pouring from a shattered dam.
Eventually the flow stopped, but the vampire still stood. With mechanical, agonized slowness, he raised his hands to his chest, fastened them around the spear. Began to work it free.
D pulled his left hand from the lake of blood with such speed that the symbiote squawked in surprise. It didn't matter. With the inflow of the vital fluid cut off, he had perhaps a handful of seconds to act before he was immobilized again. And in that time, he was going to make sure that his last quarry was well and truly finished.
A hunter always finished the job, or died trying.
D's hands fastened around the hilt of the sword and he lifted it, holding it before him in a reflexive guard position. The weapon was the same as always, its weight reassuring in his hands. But this time was different.
This time was the last.
Everything seemed to happen in deliberate slow motion, as if his mind were carefully recording this moment for future viewing. Future viewing. That was amusing. Whether this worked or not, there would be no future for him.
D stood, took three running steps forward, jumped. The air seemed to grab him as his feet left the earth, to cradle him like the gentle arms of a mother and carry him forward towards his ailing opponent. He raised his sword into attack position, sending a shower of crimson droplets flying as the blood-covered blade came to rest across one of his armored shoulders. And then he was falling, and Dracula was right below him, and it was now or never.
Slash. Backslash. Slash again.
The slashes followed one after another in brutal succession, three lightning fast attacks striking home in less than three seconds. The first cut split the vampire's head diagonally like a ripe melon. The second swept back to slice away most of his torso and one arm, and the last tore into him at the waist level, neatly severing his legs from the rest of his body.
D hit the floor at the same time as the severed body parts, landing smoothly even as they fell to the polished tiles with heavy, wet thuds. Almost before they hit the ground, the body parts simply disintegrated as thousands of years of decay hit them in one split second. Their magical protection destroyed, they withered and then dwindled into a thin, black ash in mere seconds.
Far below, a cacophony of animalistic screams welled up, echoing through the aging stone passages. A master was dead, and the servants mourned.
D crumpled as his strength left him, falling backwards from his kneeling position onto his back. His grip on the sword went slack, and only monumental force of will kept it from sliding out of his grasp again.
"Shit!" the symbiote said. "I can't believe you did that. I've NEVER seen anything like that before. D?"
D said nothing. He stared into the dark, cobwebbed galleries of the ceiling, trying desperately to blank out his mind. Now that the rush of battle was starting to fade, he realized there were things moving around in there that he didn't like, things that had risen from their secret holes for the first time ever at the sweet taste of blood.
He would die this way. Mortally wounded but successful, his mission fulfilled, his purpose served. It was for the best, hadn't he decided that? The last vampire was slain. He had drunk blood. There was no going back after one had drunk, no denying the need. Insatiable, unstoppable bloodlust would be a part of him from now until he died. The world had no place for him or his kind any more. Better that he never leave this place.
But... the gremlin whispered. You could make a new place for yourself.
The pool of blood was not so far away, and it was expanding, getting closer with every second. He would have to crawl there, but it was only a few feet. He could take in all he needed, fall into a restful slumber as his father had. And when he awoke... the Barbaroi would be there, waiting to serve him. And more importantly... the world beyond the wastes would be there.
A world full of things to hunt. A world full of prey.
A world full of blood for the taking, the gremlin urged. Hundreds of Dorises, thousands. No one to stop you from taking anything and everything you want from them. And you do want to take it, don't you? You wanted to take it then and you want to take it now over and over and over and you can...
But Doris was different. She had trusted him. She was the only person that had seen what he was capable of and still not cared, the only one that ever tried to understand. Doris had loved him, had died loving him, and he had loved her too, as much as he was capable of loving anyone in the life he led. She had been willing to give herself to him, but he wasn't able to violate that trust, that innocence, then. To do it now would pervert and ruin her memory, to destroy everything she had ever meant to him.
The voice would not be silent.
They don't deserve this world. And you would give it to them now, after how they've treated you? Called you a monster, a freak, shunned your help when it was you that kept them safe, night after night. You that destroyed the real monsters, the ones that would have wiped them out. Come on, don't you want to teach them a lesson? Don't you want to show them how powerful a dhampir can really be?
He had been tempted to lash out before. The memories came back harsh and sharp, memories of hurled stones, screams, and that damned Sheriff from Gerusha - his obnoxious suit, his annoying voice, his ignorant, foolish words. A part of D had wanted to smash the man's face, break him in half, leave him a crippled, squealing wreck. But acting that way would only have validated the man's claims, convinced people that dhampirs really were to be feared and hunted.
Perhaps most humans were not grateful enough to him for the help he had given them. But to turn on them, to become the very monster he had hunted all these years, would mean nothing. It would invalidate the entire point of his existence. The hunt was all he had ever had, but it was a means to an end. The end was here. The end was now
They don't deserve their blood, D. They don't understand the power it has, what it can do for us. They're nothing but containers, to be used and discarded like so much trash. Are you going to let all that blood go to waste? Are you? Don't you want it? It's there, all you have to do is take it. You can't resist it. You've drunk. You've turned. It's too late, no matter what you want. You are one of the vampires now. You'll pounce on the first victim you see, and most of all, you'll enjoy it. Why deny those impulses?
The voice was right at last. His intentions mattered little. Already, he could feel a horrible desire for the blood, a red screaming need unlike anything he had ever felt before. His stomach was knotted with hunger, his throat felt dry, and there was something more, something beyond and above both of those. It was if his soul itself had sprouted a pair of fangs and wanted nothing more than to sink in an ocean of crimson and drink and drink and drink...
It would never go away, never. He might deny it for a time, but now that he had drunk, there was no way he could keep from doing so again.
The last vampire. I came here to hunt the last vampire, and now I have become him. But I am also the last hunter. And I have a job to do.
"Symbiote... I release you," D said. The world was beginning to grow cold again, but that wasn't enough. He had to know. He had to make sure. "Go. Do what you will."
"D?" the creature asked. For once, it actually sounded concerned. "You... I mean.. uh... you don't... uh... I..."
"You know I've turned," the hunter said. His tone brooked no argument. "I've become one of them. I must be destroyed, or I will drink again. I will rebirth the vampire race, and everything I have done... we have done, will be for nothing. You have served faithfully, at the least. I would not destroy you needlessly as well."
"Yeah..." the symbiote said. "Yeah... sure..."
D's right hand tightened around his sword, and he hefted it above him, trying to maintain a grip with fingers that felt stiff and weak. Just a few more seconds, that was all that was needed, just a few more seconds-
No! The sword slipped free, hit the floor, bounced away. He felt like screaming in frustration, but he didn't have the strength. The desire for blood was stronger than ever now, and he noticed that the puddle was now only a few feet away. It would be here soon enough, and he would drink again, and then his decision would be made for him.
"Tell ya what," the symbiote said, sounding strained. "Lemme... lemme do you a favor on the way out, okay?"
"If... you wish." He no longer even had the strength to argue.
With a grunt of exertion, the symbiote seized control of D's left hand and reared up, turning its grotesque face toward the ceiling. It opened its mouth and began to suck in air, somehow humming a complex chant at the same time. Slowly, the gusts of air it took in grew thicker and began to take on a virulent, greenish hue.
"The creeping death," D said. "I had almost forgotten you could create it."
Within seconds, the symbiote had finished inhaling all of the deadly mist. It turned to look at D. "Uh... that should... uh... take care of things in a minute or so."
"Heh..." for the first time he could remember, the thing actually sounded embarrassed. "It's, it's uh... nothing. Don't mention it. Really. Really. I mean, I always said I'd get you one day, right? Right?"
D nodded, no longer really understanding why he did so. The poisonous mist the symbiote had pulled into his body acted quickly, and already the world before his eyes was shifting into a swirl of colors like oil on water. The display was beautiful and loathsome at the same time, a mass purple and blue and vivid green that bled across his vision and obscured everything beyond. His body was growing even more numb. He could no longer feel the floor below him. He could no longer feel anything. For all he knew he could be floating alone in the void. The world was gone.
Not the world, D. You.
"Later," the symbiote said. "Well.. uh... I mean, not later.. but... but... damn... you know." There was a squelching, birthlike noise, and then the receding, skittering sound of tiny, multiple legs racing the floor. D didn't need to see to know that the symbiote had left him, as life soon would.
He lay alone, no longer able to think, only the colors and the steady rise and fall of his chest to keep him company. Then his lungs gave up their struggle, and there were only the colors. And then, finally, even they left him, fading away into darkness. But it was not an unwelcome darkness, for it seemed to hold peace, and warmth, and something more. Something meaningful. Something real.
For the first and the last time in his life, the man who was both the last vampire and the last hunter smiled.
"Doris," D said.
The darkness embraced him.
Yay for happy endings. Or something.
Okay, a few disclaimers. Naturally, I don't own Vampire Hunter D or any of its characters. They're simply here to entertain you. (I do, however, possessively claim the nameless shopkeeper as my own rich original creation).
I called D a dhampir. I know he's a "dunpeal" or something in the new movie, but I don't think that sounds as cool as dhampir. So there you go.
This is my first D fic. I'm just a fan that's seen both movies and liked them. I really don't know a whole lot about the "hidden mysteries" of D or the original novels or anything. I just tried to tell an entertaining story. If I've forgotten or altered something vital here, I beg your forgiveness and understanding. Just consider it an alternate reality fic if it bothers you that much.
Finally, thanks are in order for those who read and commented on this beforehand, chiefly Zealpropht, who cajoled, encouraged, pestered, prodded, and threatened me into finishing this, and Nightsong, who proclaimed it "rockin." And if you think this was too gory, just blame Berserk, the coolest and most violent anime series ever.
See you next fic.