Some of the characters and ideas below are borrowed, some are original. Please don't be offended if my interpretation of the borrowed bits doesn't match yours. It's all subject to literary interpretation anyway. :) Oh, and I'd like to apologize to D right at the outset. I know he's afraid to open his mouth because he thinks he'll dry up and blow away, or something like that. However, my characters *talk.* I can't help it. He'll just have to get over his little phobia for this story. Partners by Amberly Hess D sits quietly at the table, gathering stillness around and inside himself. His wide brimmed traveler's hat cuts a black swatch of shadow diagonally across his face. Even in the semipermanent gloom of the tavern's main room he preferes the added protection for his sensitive eyes. The tavern is busy tonight, he muses. Full of loud talk and calls for drink or food. A medium sized man with a shock of white hair pushes through the crowed, spies D, and plops down in the seat opposite him. "Well, dhampire," he announces, throwing his words like rocks into the stillness around D, "I found the bloodsucker's trail, just where you thought it would be." He laughes loudly, several rows of teeth adding a macabre look to his enthusiastic smile. "You half-breeds surely have a nose for the leeches amost as..." "That's quite enough!" The quiet words crack through the air with sufficient force of will to stop the man midsentence. The hush around the table is deafening to D's ears, and he waits tensly for the first pointed fingers, the first shouts of an angry mob. "You sure know how to kill a celebration," the white haired man exclaims too loudly into the silence. Then he throws his arms wide, whoops in laughter, and slaps a nearby barmaid on the rump. "I'll have meat and whatever's on tap!" The girl smiles insincerely and turns back to the bar, while conversations begin again around them. D leans closer to his companion, his eyes still intense. "You should know quite well that most people find no distinction between a Noble and dhampire. You yourself tried to kill me at our first meeting, or had you forgotten?" *** The incident had happened some weeks back. D had heard rumors of a fugative noble, exiled from her House, who had fled to this city in search of a dark hole to hide under. Uncommon as it was to hear reports of a single Noble in such a huge city, the story seemed to ring true in his ears. That and the symbiot had pestered him mercelessly about the luxeries to be found only in the populated citites. In the end he had turned his horse's head towards Nagasaki as much to shut the thing up as to investigate the rumors. He'd been in town no more than two days when he had been awoken at sunrise by an intruder crashing through his room's door. The mutant had screamed defiance at the startled D and leaped towards him, vowing to kill the leach that had terrorized the town. After a great deal of broken furniture and knife stabs - the room had been too small to allow D to draw his greatsword - the mutant lay panting on the floor at his feet, wounds already starting to knit together despite the red pool spreading across the floor. "Tell your mistress to challenge me herself," D spoke calmly. "I don't enjoy wasting the lives of those weak enough at heart to serve her." "Mistress?!" the mutant spat, curling into a ball and rolling onto his knees. "I serve no one but my wallet. And I'll serve your head on a spit you demon from hell!" Supressing a sigh at the man's theatrics D kicked him in the stomach, sending the mutant sprawling across the room. "Are you telling me that *you* are a hunter?" An eyebrow rose slighly in surprise. "Of course I'm a hunter!" The mutant grimaced and spat more blood from his mouth revealing row upon row of curving teeth. "And I'll kill you and your consort just as soon as I find my blade..." D sheathed his knife and kicked the man's blade across the room to him. "It's no good trying to kill me," he replied evenly, turning his back to begin setting the room in order. "I'm after the same one you are. In fact, if you'd been a little more observant you might have noticed that I'm not even a Noble." As if to accentuate the fact to the man behind him he strips off his right hand glove and holds his fingers outstretched into the morning light. "What, but I can smell their blood in you! I smelt you last night in the tavern!" the mutant lurched to his feet. That's how I hunt them, I scent their trail from their victims. How the, who the fuck do you think you are!" D, never a great one for conversations, wished this would just end. He glanced down at the blood soaking into the blue rug, then darted his eyes away and fixed them firmly on the wall. In an effort to distract himself from the rich scent rising from the floor he answered the question. "I am a dhampire, a half-breed. My mother was human. I hunt the Nobles as you do." With that he looked pointedly at the door, swinging half off it's hinges. The mutant, ignoring the look, suddenly burst into laughter. "Well I'll be damned for a pureblood! Look at us fighting like this! Folks call me Sly and me and my whole family we're all muties, bein' born here in Nagasaki an' all..." He began chatting animatedly, most of which was drowned out by the pounding of D's heart. The sweet, thick pool at his feet was already cooling, but the iron/salt tang curled enticingly in his gut. His hands fisted, his breathing coming faster he couldn't stop *thinking* about it. Sweat dampening his shirt he realized his fangs were growing in response to his need. Damn but it had been too long since he'd tasted freshly spilt blood! In desperation he stared into the sunlight, the fire searing his eyes hoping the pain would... The room was silent. D took a deep breath and turned slowly, half expecting the other's sword which pricked his throat. Quitely the man examined D's glowing blue eyes and still expanding fangs. Then he nodded and sheathed his sword. "Now I'm sure of it. T'ain't never seen a Noble hold off the bloodlust like that. It's just wham, bam, thank you ma'am for them." Calmly the man stepped over the rug sodden with his own blood and walked through the door. "Meet me downstairs this afternoon, eh? We'll see about killing us that bitch." *** And that's how it started. D, who had never worked with anyone - excepting the symbiot who was impossible to be rid of - was somewhat surprised to find himself in the tavern's main room that very afternoon waiting for his partner. And now, several weeks later, he mused that it had not been all bad judgement on his part. Certainly the exiled Noble was the most elusive vampire he had ever hunted. The extra mind and hands of his partner had done a good deal to speed up the search. =Even if he is obnoxiously loud, outrageous in his behavior, and completely devoid of anything resembling common sense= D muses to himself as the barmaid serves Sly his food. Despite all that, D finds himself almost grateful for the loudmouthed mutant's presence. He has learned through millenia of bitter experience not to trust anyone. Any chance word spoken to a seeming stranger may reach the ears of a dominated human, thus warning his prey. For once, though, he is faced with a human that he needed neither to protect nor fear. The necessary conversation between the two while organizing the hunt made him feel, well, closer to this mutant than almost anyone he'd ever met. He had been forced to lower a some of his customary defenses, and as a result found he actually *liked* Sly. Occasionally. "Don't fret your pretty face about it." Sly replies around mouthfulls of beef, pulling D from his thoughts. He tore another hunk off the bone, his teeth doing truly horrible things to the meat. "You're safe enough here." *Here* was the "Magnificent Mutant." In a city irradiated as often as this one had been, mutations were everywhere and most mutants found comfort among their own kind. Thus inns like this were common throughout the huge city. Even those with the most bizzare mutations could come here for a pint and some talk and be assured they would recieve nothing beyond that. D decided not to answer and instead motioned the barmaid to refill his glass. Oranges, he had heard from a Shaman in the remote west, helped to control the bloodlust by protecting the red blood cells. This was the first time he had been close enough to civilization to test the theory. He felt the symbiot snicker silently as he swallowed another mouthful of the tart, watery drink. "How did you know she was acting as headmistress for that girl's finishing school?" Sly wiped his chin with his arm after spilling beer down his face. It had been an obvious choice, in retrospect. Catering to the high class "purebloods", surrounded by wealth and luxery, teaching proper etiquite and genteele behavior to the cream of human society, and of course avoiding the harsh sunlight that would mar a young woman's smooth skin. As close to true nobility as the exile could achieve, all the while in perfect anonymity. And if the young ladies at this exclusive school were a bit more pale or langorous than their peers, well that was truly the mark of excellent breeding then, wasn't it? "She has been erasing their memories," D stated, ignoring the question. But one of the girls is strong. Here." He taps his temple with a long, tapered finger. "I have watched her struggle with the fog the Noble clouds her thoughts with. Surely the Lady also feels it." He raises his eyes and pierces Sly with a look. "We must move tonight. By tomorrow the girl is dead." "That's what I've been waiting to hear!" the mutant crows. Standing up he salutes the commons room with his glass. "We're gonna string up a leach!" he shouts to the patrons. Then he empties his glass and thumps it on the table, gathers his coat and marches out the door, whistling a war tune. D stands, swings himself into his sword sheath, then glides out the door after Sly, a dark shadow who's blue cloak patrons shrink back from lest it brush them as he goes by. *** "And how does that feel?" a sarcastic voice taunts D as he steps into the night. "D, the mighty vampire hunter, *reduced* to following a mutant in search of his quarry? What will the citizens think?" It's chuckle is choked short as D curls his gloved fingers into a fist. "Remember our bargain, demon," D mutters. The night breeze plays with his long, auburn hair and blillowing cloak, causing two nearby young women to stare and giggle. "You'll just have to hold your tongue until we're alone." In two long strides he catches up with Sly and motions with his head towards the part of town where the Noble was hiding. Together they hail a cab and sit in silence =for once= thinks D, throughout the ride. The cab clatters to a stop and the two hunters emerge in front of a huge, castle-like structure. Built of stone the walls are at least 8 stories high, and the building sprawls across a vast acherage of finely pruned trees and immaculate gardens. Water from the graceful fountain in the front lawn mists in the wind and darknens the huge, wrought iron fence that surrounds the entire estate. The cameras, ALR's (automatic laser rifles) and other security equipment seem unaffected by the moisture. =Walls= D thinks to himself. =I forgot to include walls in that list of everything a Lady would need.= It had been easy enough to spy on the girls when they were walking demurly through the city shops with their chaperones. Quite another to broach the vampire in her own lair. D and Sly walk across the street and conceal themselves in the shadows of a nearby alley. "Well, what's our plan?" the excited mutant whispers as he quickly rubs his hands together. "How 'bout this. You take out the Seccamm *tm* on the left, I'll do the one on the right, then we'll scale the gate and ram a sharp stake down that bitch's throat!" He's fairly panting with excitement. The chase is on and he is dying to get on with it. D considers for a moment, remembering the ALR's and other nasty things atop the walls. "A headlong assault would just alarm the Lady and send her into hiding. Any attempt to broach those walls would set off the security alarms and accomplish the same thing. It may be years before we find her again." D muses over the problem, in the processes ignoring the ususal mannerisms he employs to appear more human. His body becomes absolutely still and the shadows seem to curl and wrap themselves around him. He, of course, could simply vault over the fence and walk into the builing. The Lady's reliance on mechanical survielance was obviously for her own benefit, so that she could hunt the grounds at night with no fear of her reflection surfacing on any camera recording. That it made her easy prey for another of vampiric blood apparently had not occured to her. But she was a cunning adversary. Often the years would dull a vampire's mind, boredom rotting away their thoughts and personality until only a shadow of intellect remained. Not this one, no the centuries had only sharpened her mind. It would not do to leave Sly behind, not when he had already proved useful in this hunt. Then a stray thought flits through D's mind. His body flowing back into motion he turns his head and contemplates the building they are standing behind. Almost, a smile touches the thin lips. "So there is only one way to enter. The front gate." Sly stares at D as if his mind had slipped. "That's what I just said!" D turns to look at his companion's outline in the moonlight. "Not quite. But first we need a change of clothes." *** .......................... Martinique raises her hand in graceful elegance, bidding her visitor to enter. The golden chime of braclets makes her every gesture musical. The Noble who enters feels old in her mind, though not as old as she. However, there is power in this one and more, a sense of...independence. She smiles langorously. Independence from the overwhelming pride and influence of a Noble House is something she can appreciate. The Noble's servant, stinking up the air with his mutation, follows two careful steps behind and to the right of his master, as beffitted the sub-human thing. "Odd," she purrs as she examines the pair. My servants who watch the security equipment implied only one visitor my Lord..." she left the sentence hanging, waiting for the beautiful vampire to introduce himself. "Nosfertu," the soft voice responds. Then, changing the pitch and quality of his voice, he begins to speak in the high formal dialect of the Nobles. "It is rare to encounter such a vision of beauty and power in this debased city." The subsonics from his voice resonate through the room carrying a second and third layer of meaning to his words. "Excellent!" she laughs delightedly, also switching to the formal dialect. "How many years has it been since I have had the pleasure of true conversation? Truly your house must be ancient." The undercurrents of her words sting and slap with centuries of contempt for the inferior nobles who were responsible for her exile. Lord Nosfertu, the barest of smiles upon his lips, sits across from her divan at her gesture. The subhuman mutant stays standing at the back of the room. "Odd that you should mention my House," the Lord murmers, pouring his hostess a drink from the decanter on the low table between them, then pouring a second for himself. "I seem to have, hmmm, fallen into disfavor lately. An incident which does not bear repeating in your exquisite presence." The thick, red liquid in their glasses vibrates to the sound of his voice, the crystal singing in pitch. "As one who has done so well for herself outside her traditional House..." He lets the sentence trail away as Martinique laughs delightedly and sips from her glass. "Ah, yes, my dear Lord, you seek a boon, a present to buy your way back into the hearts and graces of your ancestors." The servant winces in pain at the vibrations. "I believe I have just the thing, though you knew I would," she teases, a smouldering look through half closed lids. "As you know, I run this finishing school for young girls from the city. Only those of pure human blood may attend, of course, and I find it covenient to provide them with finishing training of my own design. They are all properly trained for a Noble's service. I *might* be persuaded to let one go, for a fee you understand. They have all become quite dear to me." She chuckles and stretches sinuously, her half reclining form tempting through the sheer fabric of her gown. D raises an eyebrow, affecting a look of interest, then sips at his own drink. The power of it nearly rocks him backwards, exploding into his mouth and mind like lightning. Martinique throws her head back, the crystal chandelier and even the bricks in the walls shaking at her voice. "Yes," she purrs, "that is from my favorite. Her blood is as pure as any but her mind is strong, filled with the first budding scent of power. I had wished to train her to be my faithful servant, and of course keep her by my side to provide me with centuries of that wonderful blood, but now I fear she grows too quickly, like a weed in good soil. Tonight I had planned to kill her." The look she gives him leaves no doubt as to her thoughts. "It occurs to me you might like to share in my little repast. Come with me and I'll show you where the girls live." Sly follows silently behind his partner and the bitch queen. The new clothes D had stolen from the shop rubbed mercelessly in places he'd rather not think about. But he wasn't going to complain. At least he had gotten to keep his weapon, as a servant he was expected to protect his master. D's greatsword lay concealed in one of the gardens around the school. The bitch wasn't exactly leading them, more like giving his partner directions as she oozed and clung to the taller man's side. He couldn't understand their words when they had started speaking that god-forsaken language, but she was speaking a language any man could understand. How in god's name did D manage to charm her so fast? He'd barely spoken at all and she was putty! And if he didn't miss his guess, the stupid bitch was leading them straight to the girls, saving them the time and energy of fighting a fortress full of goons to find the girls themselves. They turned several corners and began climbing up a marble staircase. He had to admit, though, he wasn't too happy about that bit with the blood. He couldn't see his partner's face, of course, being behind him, but he'd seen the dhampire tense and shiver when he'd drunk it. =Damn bitch musta mixed something in with those poor girl's blood to keep it from clotting. Probably sells it to select, high brow buyers to keep herself in her chosen lifestyle. Whore. The worst of it is I'm not sure 'xactly who's seducin who here. I'll have to keep an eye on my partner's back.= D stoically grits his teeth and continues up the stairs, the armorous Martinique pratically pulling his arm out of it's socket. It was becoming harder and harder to continue projecting the aura of a Noble. The longer he was forced to continue with the facade to hide his true identity, the more energy it took. Fortunately, it seemed that the Lady had been indulging liberally of the powerful drink before he had arrived, so perhaps her percpeptions would not be as acute. She continues to slither up and down his side as they mount the stairs (=How *does* she do that? Not even I can move in three directions at once=) then slides her hand into his own. His left hand. Quickly he snatches his hand away, startling the Noblewoman. The three stop in the middle of the staircase, a pouting look pushing out Martinique's lower lip. "Forgive me," he apologizes and sweeps into a deep bow. Looking up again he can see the first hints of suspicion narrowing her eyes. Marshalling all his training he relaxes his vocal cords to reach to the deepest levels of speech. "There was that incident, you see..." he allows the words to trail away, but the echoes in his voice paint graphic pictures of pain and torture over an indiscreet affair. He looks quietly away, only to have Martinique reach out and turn his face towards her. There are actually tears standing in her eyes. "Oh, those, those *animals*!" She whispers ferociously. "Come, I will heal your wounds." Now walking with a more protective stance she leads the way up the staircase and through a pair of large, ornately carved wooden doors. "Wait here," she smiles at him. I'll wake the girls." She leaves them in an elegantly furnished sitting room and exits through a smaller wooden door to their right. A small flash of light from her palm is the only indication the of the disabled wards on the door. "That was close, D." The symbiot mocks. "Did you start to forget what you were here for?" Startled, Sly whirls from his examination of the room to stare at D. "Did you hear that?" D presses his lips together, an expression of extreme discomfort for him, and remains silent. "What's the matter, D? Too good to share your little secret with your *partner*? Ah, and you two were drawing *so* close!" "Is it a ghost? Are you haunted as well as cursed?" Sly whispers, his face pale. From between tense lips, "Cursed doesn't cover the half of it. And as for you, this is a direct violation of our bargain. I could be rid of you for this." "What's the point?" the symbiot mocks. "You demanded that part of our agreement in order to protect yourself, to more easily pass for *human*. He sneers gleefully. "But you've already told the mutant what you are. The reasons for my silence are null and void and therefore..." The voice cuts off instantly as the small wooden door opens. "I thought I heard voices," Martinique says, "but clearly I was mistaken. No Nobleman of your breeding would think of stooping so low as to converse with his servant. Now come, the girls are ready for you." In the next room 10 girls stand in a row, each wearing nothing but a vacant expression on their face. Sly stays back in the doorway, determined not to let the bitch-queen trap them in here. The moment is close and his blood is rising. D makes some show of looking the girls over, pausing in front of the one who's blood he had tasted. Her rich scent entices him, the pulse of her veins, the memory of the too brief taste leaves him excited for more. Martinique slides up behind him and presses herself against his back, her fingertips tracing circles on his chest. "No, no my darling, this one is for us. Choose another to pacify your sire." "Is this all of them?" D asks quitely. "Yes, precious. Every one who was of high enough quality to continue to serve me, that is." "And the rest?" The undertones lie of idle curiosity. "Well, I do have other, less pretty servants who need to be fed." Her laughter chimes discordantly in the room. "Ah," D replies. At this he spins suddenly in her arms, grabs her head with his right hand and turns her so her back rests against his chest, his left arm pinning her against him. "NOW!" D shouts to Sly. The mutant sprints forward, knife in hand, and plunges the steel into her heart, paralyzing her with the pain. Then together, D and Sly force her against the wall while D stuffs part of her dress into her mouth to quell her screams. "The sword would'a been quicker," Sly grunts as he fights to hold the enraged vampire against the wall, "but I didn't think you wanted to be on the other end of it too." He grins toothily. The vampires screams are rising in pitch and begin to shake the mortar from the walls. D feels an explosion of pain in his back. Turning he sees all ten girls armed with stillettos, one of whom just imbedded hers into his shoulder. With a roar of pain he flings his arms wide, throwing several girls away and knocking more over with their bodies. Then muttering an incantation under his breath he pulls out a glowing blue sphere and holds it before him. The sphere flashes brilliantly blue and the girls fall screaming onto the floor, covering their eyes from the light. "What the fuck are you doing to them?!" Sly demands, still struggling to hold Martinique. "You bloodsucker, don't you dare hurt those girls damn you!" D closes his fist around the blue sphere and covers its light, then returns it to his pocket. "The pain was caused by Martinique's hold on their minds. Now they are free of it and will no longer be harmed." He then steps closer to the Noblewoman. Sly's sword may have caused more injury than the knife, but neither was enough to kill a vampire this old. His own greatsword would have done so, but lacking that he is forced to resort to more unpleasant means. "Bite her throat, Sly." "And be contaminated by that bitch's blood? Never, you must be out of your mind!" "The only way to kill her is by natural power. Your teeth and body are an extension of your lifeforce and will. This natural magic is the only way we have left to kill her. Do it now!" Sly looks helplessly at D, then growls and latches his powerful jaws around the Lady's neck. Her muffled screams are now mere whimpers, barely escaping past Sly's teeth. Then D takes his left glove off, rips open the front of Martinique's dress, and holds his hand to her chest as the symbiot devours her heart. *** "Well, that's the last of them," a tired Sly reports to D. The two are again sitting in the main room of the Mutant. "Took that last girl's folks so long to show up 'cause they were over in Edo on business. None of 'em remember a damn thing from the entire time they was at the school. Not even how to walk pretty." He takes a long swig of whiskey, then regards his silent partner. "You promised me an explanation when this was over, an' as I see it, with the girls gone home and the bitch-queen dead, it's over. So, start yer talk, beginning with that thing you got on your hand. Are you a mutie too?" D closes his eyes. He is tempted to simply stand and leave, leaving the secrets of his past buried. Yet, he owed Sly. Without his help Martinique could very well have overwhelmed him with the help of her girls, soft little children that he dared not harm. He heaved a great sigh from the depths of his lungs, then rubbed a healing wound on his chest, recieved during the fight to exit the school with the girls in tow. Thank the Light he had gotten to his sword...no his mind was drifting. He was as tired as Sly. "No, my mother was pureblooded. Nothing else would have satisfied my father." The corners of his eyes squeeze together, seeming to smile with the memory of her. "This, he gestures with his gloved left hand, is the result of a bargain I made a very long time ago, when I was in...some trouble." "Some trouble?" the voice demands incredulously. "Why you'd have been dead and worse without me!" Both men glance around, but even the barkeep has left the room. The commons is empty. "Uh, bargain?" Sly prompts. "Yes I was hired to kill a very powerful vampire, one who had spent many thousands of years learning the dark arts. During the hunt he hired several demons to kill me. One, a particularly obnoxious higher imp, decided that there were better things in life than allowing another to control his soul. So he offered me a bargain. He wished to find a body and live permanently in this world. In exchange he would supply me with information on how to kill or avoid the other demons." D takes a long swig of his orange juice, waiting for the look of astonishment to pass from Sly's face. Impatient with the pause, the symbiot slithers out of the glove and continues the narrative. "Of course, D just didn't happen to have a spare body lying around. All the ones he'd killed were dead for very good reasons and just weren't suitable for further habitation. So I decided I'd take part of *his* body. Not ideal but the best we could swing under the circumstances. Of course there were all these rules and addendums he *had* to include. Things like *he* would be the primary personality of the body and that I must not do anything to make ourself conspicuous to people. If these rules were violated, then *pff* I get banished back to the void. And believe me, that's not a place I'd recommend visiting. Rather lacking in soul, it is." The symbiot chuckles sarcastically. "So, uh, you've been stuck with this, demon-thing ever since?" Sly asks, eyeing the hand warily. "SYMBIOT! thank you," replies the hand. "And he hasn't exactly been stuck with me. I've earned my keep, after all. Saved our life a few times, and yours too, Smiley. What do you think Martinique would have done to you if I hadn't taken her lifeforce?" Sly starts in his chair and looks to D for confirmation. "I thought it just, well, ate her heart?" D frowns at the symbiot and replaces the glove on his hand. "I told you. Our bodies are extensions of our will, our essence. When the symbiot took her heart he also took her power which was sustaining her life." He chose not to mention that his sword was fashioned to do likewise. The mutant was obviously having trouble accepting a demon without confusing the issue with vampiric weaponry. Sly considers this, then asks a question that has obviously been on his mind since the battle. "When you say it took her power, that means, you took it too, right?" he asks hesitantly, still trying to fit the concept into his mind. D nods. "Well, I mean, does that mean that I...? Well, I feel different, you see. Kinda, stronger. Am I gonna be a vampire now and raise demons an' shit?" The dhampire's close scrutiny is unnerving, but Sly makes it a point of honor not to look away. "No," D replies at last. "First, Martinique's power was more subtle than demon summoning. She captured minds and hearts, made illusions and stole truths. Second, yes, you have changed but not," D holds up a hand to still his partner's frantic leap from the table, "not into a vampire. You are, as you said, stronger. Perhaps some of the Lady's power is yours to use. Perhaps not. Either way, you are still mortal." Sly relaxes and sits heavily back in his chair. "Well by God that's good to know," he bellows out. "Barkeep! Hey! Beer and food for my partner an' me! Oh, and speaking of partners," he says in a softer tone and throws out a small purse, "there's your half of the bounty. Thought it only fair to split it, seein as how you did half the work an' all." D eyes the money, then assessing the situation clearly, takes it and nods his thanks, refraining from insulting Sly by refusing the generous but unecessary offer. "Say," Sly asks as the barkeep trudges out with their food, "what in the name of hell was that little blue thingy anyway? Where can I get me one of those?" D pauses, thinks, then answers. "My father gave it to me." And he would say no more on the subject.