The Disclaimer:
What follows is a work of fan fiction. Its sole purpose is to entertain 
and it is not intended to infringe on the rights of Hideyuki Kikuchi, 
Yoshitaka Amano, Urban Vision Entertainment, or any other entity which 
holds copyright, trademark or any other claim on Vampire Hunter D. The 
characters of Kage and Kurayami, however, are the product of my own 
deranged imagination.

The Excuse:
For reasons completely unknown to me, while writing about The Gardens of 
Kei, a fictional domain in the Slayer universe, I had a sudden vision of D 
riding across the barren landscape on a mission to free a lady in 
distress. What emerged was "Unforgiven".  

Japanese/English guide:
Ryuujin - literally "dragon god" or "dragon king"; head of the Yakuza
Yakuza - Japanese mafia
Ryuuguu - literally "Palace of the Dragon King"
jisatsu - ritual suicide
merushi - Thank you

And a special "merushi" to Cathy for her copyediting services! 


by Karen Koehler

Great storms announced themselves in small winds. That was something 
Father had said once when D was no more than eight years old. At the age 
of eight, such things seemed no more than amusing riddles to D. It was 
only with time that he came to see the greater meaning of his father's 
words. And for good reason. In his line of work one could not afford to 
make mistakes. 

For some reason, D found himself thinking about this as he dismounted his 
horse and made his way down the boardwalk to the Dead Horse Saloon. It was 
a ramshackle building held together with little more than rusty ten-penny 
nails and weevil-eaten boards. Like all the buildings, not fit to live in. 
Yet live in them the people did. As he swept past the citizens, some 
heading his way, others climbing into buckboards, he tried not to remember 
the many old pictures he had seen of the once grand Tokyo, the towers of 
glass and steel standing like mirrored mountains, unshakeable and all but 
immortal. No more. Too much time had passed. And time was the greatest 
vampire of all.

The Saloon teemed. Drunks, dancers, gamblers, thieves--it was as if they 
knew he was expected. As if, in the endless tedium of their lives, the 
citizens had found amusement in tragedy and were eager to witness the next 
chapter unfold. Quite so, in fact. D felt their eyes on him as he glided 
through the batwing doors. 

The piano player stopped tapping out a tune on his off-key instrument. A 
saloon girl crossed herself as D passed. Once these things had caused him 
pain; now they were par for the course. The life of the vampire hunter was 
fraught with such things. Hunters were a necessary evil the people could 
no more live without than they could the searing acid rains which made the 
crops grow or the coyo-dogs the ranchers kept to guard their herds--
animals which occasionally turned on their masters, the savage not yet 
bred out of them.

Still, D sometimes wondered what it took to change the essence of a man. 
Or a people. Tipping his head down so his broad-brimmed hat would conceal 
his anger, he said, "Mayor Dae?"

For a moment no one answered. And then, almost reluctantly, a small, 
portly Oriental man in a striped poncho stood up from the bar and 
approached D. His eyes were red-rimmed; he looked sleepless and unwell. 
"You're the hunter?"

"I am. You requested me."

Mayor Dae closed his eyes and knocked back a glass of acid whiskey. "Thank 
God you've arrived."

* * * 

The icehouse was located on the outskirts of the town, just off the river. 
The whole basement level of the building had been cleared out and turned 
into a temporary morgue when the gravedigger ran out of space in town. D 
followed Dae down a stainless steel corridor and into a bleak, cold room. 
The weak oil lamps reflected in a sick pall off the sheeted half dozen 
bodies lined up on examination tables. 

D examined the closest one, an old woman with wrinkled skin and long white 
tangles of hair. He turned her head, first one way and then the other. No 
marks were apparent on her throat--or for that matter anywhere on her 
desiccated body. Next he examined her teeth and gums. Nothing worth 

"Jennifer," Dae said.

"How did she die?"

"Old age. But it wasn't natural. None of them were." He picked up a lamp 
so the dim light flickered like the wings of a moth across the other 
sheeted bodies. D examined each in turn. They were in much the same 
condition as Jennifer: mottled with age, stick-thin, brittle-haired and 
desiccated. But no marks, anywhere.

"You have to find whatever is doing this. You have to stop this," Mayor 
Dae said. 

D looked up from Jennifer's ruined body and caught the glint of Dae's 
tired eyes. The pain he saw there was oddly familiar. Loss, 
helplessness...things he would prefer to not remember. Things he had never 
wanted to know at all.

"She was my daughter," Dae said. "And she was only fourteen."

* * * 

The room they gave him at the Dead Horse Saloon was the best in the house, 
which wasn't saying very much. It was damp and humid and he doubted the 
bedclothes had been changed within the past year. 

"Well at least I don't have to look at it," the symbiot said. 

"Lucky you." D gathered his cloak close and settled down against the door 
so his eyes were trained on the single window in the room but he could 
still hear any approaching feet in the hallway outside. There was little 
to see: A night sky, a flock of stars obscured by a thick, encroaching 
mist, and a gravid white moon floating above it all like a sentinel. 

Bodies drained of life force and youth. He had never encountered anything 
quite so strange. Vampiric, yet not vampire. He had once read of such 
things...ah, what were they called? Incubi. Yes. That was it. Creatures 
who lived off the energy of others, not unlike the Lamia. Incubi and 
Succubi. His father's veritable army of tutors had exposed him to 
virtually every legend in existence.

He tried to recall all he knew about the incubi, but it had been a long 
ride into Tokyo and D felt his eyes grow heavy with fatigue. As he 
watched, the moon blurred and grew indistinct as if someone had thrown 
silk over the face of it. Silk. Yes, that was his first impression. Silken 
flax, smoky cloud. It smelled like roses, the silk. It felt like the touch 
of a woman's fingertips on his face. Yes, she was there, touching, taking, 
but only ever so lightly. A kiss. No more than that. Her touch seemed to 
loosen something inside of him. She blew lightly upon the pulse in his 
throat and it seemed to shatter chains within him. He smiled and felt the 
familiar ache in his teeth and loins, the longing that never quite left. 
She was just beautiful. He kissed her and she tasted like rain and the 
tears of the sweetest sorrow he had ever known...

" fool."


"Wake up, you damned fool!"

The symbiot...but what...?

D jerked awake. 

The thing floating in front of him backed up. Or rather floated up. It was 
most certainly female. It was most certainly *not* human. Its eyes had 
gone wide like an animal sensing danger--eyes that were blue, white blue 
and indistinct like the rest of it. It was little more than a wisp of air 
and smoke and D had difficulty seeing it properly except from the corner 
of his eye. 

"What are you?" he said. 

It looked confused. And for a moment it seemed to have difficulty 
answering. Then it said. "Kurayami am I. You are?" Its voice was lilting 
like a flute, yet its echo was like the thunder of a distant summer storm.   

"Your hunter," D answered as he stood up and reached for his sword. 

", not Kurayami...fool you, yes." Its eyes seethed with a 
silvery light, like moonlight reflected on still pond water. When it 
opened its mouth it was to reveal shocking, wolflike incisors. It drifted 
upward a moment, its mouth wide in a silent snarl--and then it dove 
straight down for D's throat. 

D lifted his cape, deflecting the creature like a matador as he leaped 
backwards out of its way. The creature changed its direction in mid-motion 
and circled around him, striking like a snake at his face. D saw it coming 
from the corner of his eye and swung his sword, the shining metal passing 
through the creature without resistance, as if it were made of smoke. For 
a moment the two halves of the split creature hovered in the air like 
mist, then both recombined into one being--a different being, a long 
reptilian creature with a flaming white mane and a snoutful of daggerlike 
teeth. The air dragon snarled as it rose to hover just under the beams of 
the low ceiling, its breath coming out in sulfurous plumes of white smoke.

D let fly a pair of shurikens. Both sank deep into the wall behind the 

The air dragon bellowed like a lion, like the howling wind, its voice 
ripping the curtains and bedclothes to shreds.  

"You're not impressing it!" the symbiot cried.

"Shut...up!" D growled through clenched teeth as he watched the creature 
hover in place, its scream striking through him like steel knives. The 
pain was sharp and shocking. As he watched, red gashes opened up on his 
arms and legs. He felt the sting of a new wound on his face. As he fell to 
his knees, writhing with pain, he gripped the brooch on his belt and 
concentrated all the power of his bloodkin on the creature. The brooch 
crackled with light, then emitted a bright blue brilliance that turned the 
rotted walls and ancient sheets of the room to sapphire. 

The creature's high-pitched bellow became a tortured scream that pained 
D's teeth and made his head ache. For a moment there was a tangible storm 
in the room between the smoke and the light, a tug-of-war the likes of 
which D was afraid would unravel the fabric of reality itself. Then the 
light faded, and with it the air dragon. 

He was alone, in tatters, and very confused.

Outside, the storm clouds turned over like a wave of water at midnight. A 
vein of lightning split the black night sky in two. A few seconds later 
the rumble of thunder shook the building to its very foundations. 

The storm was here to stay. 

* * * 

"Kurayami," Mayor Dae said. He wandered behind the bar and poured himself 
a three-finger whiskey. 

As they spoke, D moved between the stacks of books he had had Dae send 
over from the remains of the underground library Tokyo had constructed 
after the War to archive the few texts which remained. He lifted a book, 
flipped through it, then set it down atop a stack. He moved to the next. 
In many ways, this was the only time he regretted the wandering lifestyle 
he had chosen. In his father's house there had always been many books. A 
vault filled with books and cages of birds where a woman in white silk had 
read to him endlessly. But books did not travel well and he had been 
forced to set aside that passion along with so many others when he 
embraced the lifestyle of the hunter. But the smell, the feel of 
made him remember, made him He told himself to stop it, to pay 

"Kurayami," he answered. 

"Are you certain," Dae said, "that that was what the creature called 

Ah, now this was helpful. Here in this tome was a short passage on the 
gaki. According to Asian folklore, it was a precocious spirit similar to 
an imp. Often it took the form of an urchin or a young child. A ravenous 
creature, it preyed on unwary travelers and drank the life force from off 
their sleeping lips. Much like a djinn, it could be held in check, but 
only by a spirit greater than itself and commanding its respect. "It's a 
gaki. To whom does it belong?" D shut the book.

Dae tossed back the whiskey, the ice clinking against his false teeth. 
"There is a story...but it's only a story, mind you."

Regretfully, D set the book down on the stack. "Tell me the story."

* * *

It happened a hundred years after the last World War. In that time Tokyo 
had still been a capital city, still one of the most powerful in the 
world. Powerful cities breed powerful men. One such man was Ryuujin, the 
grand Dragon of the Yakuza. Nearly the last of his kind in a world overrun 
by the Nobles, Ryuujin had long ago made back alley treaties with the new 
lords of the earth. He lived well for a human, comfortable, wanting for 
nothing, the city at his feet. 

Yet it wasn't enough. Ryuujin did not merely want to live well. He wanted 
to live forever.

He began to experiment with odd solutions, elixirs drawn from the blood of 
his servants, most prominently that of his loyal vampire servant Kage. 
Kage, like most of his kind in the time before the War, had been serving 
the humans for hundreds of years. The Nobles had crushed human 
civilization, but tradition lived on in the hearts of many of the 
vampires. Kage was no exception. Loyal to his human lord, he kept Ryuujin 
alive in a time when human life meant very little. And he paid the price 
of that loyalty. 

Declared a traitor to his own kind, Kage was executed by the Nobles. By 
that time his master had perfected an elixir that not only kept him 
perpetually young and alive but had also gifted him with extraordinary 
abilities to bend wills and move objects. According to legend, Ryuujin the 
Dragon Lord had been transformed into an immortal human warrior that even 
the Nobles would not challenge. Fearful of Ryuujin, and of what he 
represented to the humans who remained, the Nobles managed to banish him 
to The Gardens of Kei, a world just sideways to reality. And there he 
remained for 10,000 years, strengthening his power to tune reality to his 
liking and forming new alliances with the bizarre creatures which 
inhabited Kei. 

According to the oldest of their legends, said Mayor Dae, those dating 
back as far as the jonin, or ninja clan, Kurayami the Floating Dragon 
guarded the gateway to Kei and was beholden to none but the grand master 
of Kei. She appeared whenever the gateway between the realities grew thin 
as vapor and the denizens of Kei had begun to awaken to our world and to 
their own insatiable hungers.

* * *    

D rode hard across the desert. He rode long into the night and then again 
throughout the following day, resting only when he feared exhaustion would 
overtake his cyborg horse. He noted in passing the landmarks that Dae said 
he would pass on his way to the Gate. The broken black keep hordes of 
Nobles had overrun during the War. The Moving Sand. Willow Swamp, where 
the trees themselves wept like the wind through a bamboo flute. When he 
spotted the Silent Storm he knew he was approaching the edge of Kei. He 
reined the horse around and stood up in his stirrups, holding down his hat 
against the onrush of a wind that tore through his clothing like knives. 
Here the clouds churned and spat out forks of lightning with no sound. 

The symbiot, sensing the innate unnaturalness of the land, said, "You do 
take me to the *nicest* places."

"Mayor Dae said it would only grow stranger." 

"Oh just *wonderful*!"

D ignored the voice. Right now he was trying to remember all he knew or 
remembered about Kei. According to Father's vast library of books it was a 
place uninhabited except by the oddest of creatures, those beings which 
had never found a proper home on earth. Exiles. Mutants. Monsters. 

Kicking his horse into a gallop, he rode under the siege of the storm. 
Here lightning struck the ground at irregular intervals. D dodged the 
fistlike blows as they hammered the ground and turned the air electric 
around him. It was nearly impossible to see through the cutting wind, and 
on more than one occasion he had to rely solely on the symbiot's warning 
of impending doom or his horse's own innate sense of where the lighting 
would strike. 

Leaving the storm behind was like waking from a nightmare. D let out his 
captive breath as he charged ahead over the next horizon.

There. Between those two buttes, the talonlike rocks necking ever so 
slightly and forming a grand arch. There was the Gate. 

He rode up to it, heart hammering, expecting an assault at any moment. 
None was forthcoming. Suddenly it seemed as if Kei wanted him here--it was 
a feeling that sent off silent alarm bells all throughout him. Yet he had 
to forge ahead rather than allow the earth to be overrun by Kei's demonic 
spawn. He lifted the aurin pendant Dae had given him, the entwined 
serpents gleaming evilly in the harsh sunlight, and recited the Japanese 
words which would summon Kurayami. 

The storm twisted at his back, the clouds charging forward to cascade down 
over D like a veil. Like silk. Kurayami. He smelled roses. He saw her eyes 
glittering like fallen stars in the vapor. Her eyes and nothing else, 
though he knew she could assume any form she liked. 

"Still hunter pursues Kurayami," she whispered.

"I must see your master, Kurayami. The master of Kei."

Kurayami's eyes halved like that of a great cat. "What give you to 
Kurayami for this?"

"What does Kurayami want?"

"Ut oh," said the symbiot. 

"Hush," D told the hand. "Tell me...what do you want from me, Kurayami?"

D felt a wind touch his cheek like the brush of a woman's hand. He heard 
her whisper, "You stay with Kurayami. You love Kurayami."

A charge of desire rode straight through his loins. He threw it off. 
"I can't do that."

"Why?" Her desire was gone now; now her anger was like a knife in his gut.

"I don't love you, Kurayami. I can't love you."

"Because...because not human?"

"Because of what you do."

"Kurayami does what Kurayami must."

"Because you have no choice?"

The gaki began to weep, her tears falling like rain on D's upturned face. 
Slowly she began to unwind, drifting like vapor toward the clouds.

"Your wonderful sensibilities did it this time," said the symbiot.

"Kurayami, wait!" D called to her. "I can free you from your master!"

"No freedom for Kurayami," the gaki wept. "Master is too great."

D said, "Take me inside Kei and I will free you. I promise." 

"No lies."

"I'm not lying. See inside me and see that I speak the truth."

Kurayami's watery eyes grew as large as a pair of distant moons. Her pull 
was no different. D felt her impact like a fist around his heart as she 
saw inside him. He shivered as he saw inside of her in return. She was so 
old, yet so heartbreakingly childlike. Captive. Like a young caged bird 
that has never learned to fly. She was like a force of nature. More, a 
force of history. There were no others like her. She was the only one 
left. She was...

"...alone," said Kurayami with a lilting sadness. "Like the dhampir so is 
Kurayami, yes?"

D grunted.

"Come," she said even as she assumed a new form. Taking his thoughts, his 
finest memories, she evolved into the form of a great phoenix and glided 
through the arched stone. D followed in her wake, his fear none the weaker 
but now accompanied by a terrible sense of time and loss. 

* * *

The world beyond the floating dragon's arch was vastly different from the 
one D knew, the one he had grown up in, learned in, loved and fought in. 
This was like an alien landscape. He might have been riding across the far 
side of the moon for all he recognized of it: the jagged, teethy rocks, 
the barren earth, the mountains that rose white and shimmering in the 
distance like the backbone of a great felled beast. Bones were scattered 
hither and yon, and between them were small pools of black water with eyes 
floating upon their surfaces, eyes that watched him with a terrible, 
endless hunger. Black roses grew in abundance and turned to follow him as 
he rode past, their vines snaking forward like thorny appendages, trying 
to catch him, failing. Far above, even above Kurayami's floating bird-
form, hovered batlike creatures that called to each other over low valleys 
and high mountains, their voices almost human. 

"Hmm," said the symbiot. "This place is just perfect for you."

"Quiet. I need to concentrate."

"On what? There's nothing here."

"Everything is here. Everything is alive," said D. 

"Aren't you the philosophical one. Are you telling me you actually *like* 
this place?"

D kicked his horse into a gallop. Like could he like this? And 
yet, it had a peculiar kind of dark beauty, in its own way. In many ways 
it reminded him of home. 

*If ever I settle down,* he thought, *it will be in a place like this.* 

Ahead, he spotted Kurayami's destination. She was approaching a vast black 
keep constructed of jagged stones, broken skulls and the shells of wrecked 
machinery. The center tower was an ebony spiral that gleamed in the 
perpetual moonlight of Kei, wicked, like a weapon. And it was to that 
tower that she now flew. 

The Ryuuguu. The Palace of the Dragon King.

The wind that Kurayami left in her wake blew strands of raven hair across 
D's cheek. It dried the freezing sweat on his face. Yet he rode on. He was 
too familiar with the smell and feel of fear to let it stop him, now or 

At the bottom of the keep he dismounted and started the long climb up the 
central tower. He might have made better time with some form of entrance, 
but something told him he would find nothing like that here. This place 
was not built for visitors. Hand over hand, fingers biting into crevices 
of steel and bone, boots seeking purchase in the uneven surface of the 
wall, D made his slow, sure way up the face of the tower. 

Halfway there he was faced with a quandary. Part of the wall curved up and 
over him like a ledge. Unhooking his belt, he tried with one hand to find 
purchase with it. It held. But the moment he put his full weight on the 
leather he heard the screech of metal and felt a vast part of the wall 
peel away.

He was falling, the wind under him screaming up and around him, heartless 
and cold. He tried to catch hold of something--anything--but nothing was 
within reach. 

"!" came Kurayami's whispery voice from all around him. 

He was falling...but instead of the ground smashing into him as he 
expected, he felt a muffled blow at his back that told him he had struck 
something solid, yet soft and yielding. Something that made him think of 
silken sheets, like the ones his mother had slept on. The same ones he had 
slept on beside her when the thunder was too frightening to let him sleep 

He shook off the remembrance, surprised and appalled by it, even as the 
gaki embraced him in her soft misty-sweet essence and floated him to the 
arched window at the top of the keep. Such power she wasn't 
natural, it wasn't even unnatural, but wholly something else. 

She released him inside the tower room. As D dropped to one knee and 
attempted to shake off the terrible nostalgia, Kurayami drifted upwards. 
There she hung, all mist and a great pair of disembodied eyes just under 
the vast glass chandelier. 

"You miss her," the gaki crooned.

"Stay out of my head!" D ordered. 

"It's a dark, small place, my dear," the symbiot said. 

D wanted to make a fist of the symbiot and send it crashing through the 
walls of bone and metal. Not that that would necessarily stop its 
gibbering, mind you. Instead he composed himself and stood up, brushing 
back his cloak and hair and checking to make certain he had retained all 
his weapons. 

"It is your way, Kurayami, to play with human hearts?" D asked, the 
hoarseness in his voice surprising, even to himself.

"What care Kurayami for human hearts? Hearts break. Metal is stronger than 
hearts. Wind is stronger than hearts." With a repressed sob, Kurayami 
drifted from the room and down a long spiral staircase. Soon she became 
lost in darkness. 

D half expected another biting remark from the symbiot, but this time it 
surprised him by remaining perfectly silent. Taking a lit torch off the 
wall, and listening for a moment for any signs of danger, D followed after 
the gaki. All through the stairwell there came nothing but the sound of a 
young girl weeping gently into the wind. The sound was like summer rain 
and birdsong.

He should have been paying better attention to his surroundings, but the 
gaki's weeping was an unnerving distraction. He caught a glimmer at the 
corner of his eye; there was nearly not enough time to retaliate as a 
shadow launched itself out of the darkness at him. D caught it at the 
throat and hurled it against the far wall of the keep. The creature, a 
mass of fur, muscle and sparking mechanized parts, howled as it punched a 
foot-deep hole into the sturdy brick wall. It groaned and slid lifelessly 
to the floor. A mechanimal--and a pack hunter. D swung around, drawing his 
sword, ready for the creature's mate's attack. 

The second beast roared, flecking him with foam as it leapt from a ledge 
high up in the wall. This close, the sword was useless. Instead, D elbowed 
it with one spiked gauntlet as it nicked past his shoulder. The gauntlet 
ripped open the creature's mechanized belly and sent sparks like rubies 
jumping through the darkness. The beast crumpled to the floor, tried to 
move, failed. D sent a good length of his sword through its back to make 
certain it never moved again. 

The gaki was on the lower level now. He could hear her. God help him, he 
could feel her.

He followed her the rest of the way down. As he did so, the Ryuuguu 
changed around him. Dank black flagstone and rust-orange metal gave way to 
exotic brass and satin elegance. The incessant odor of sweet decay was 
overcome by the scent of cinnamon and cloves. On the lower level, where 
Kurayami hovered, plush Oriental carpets were strewn throughout the halls 
and rooms. Painted silk Shogi screens and decorative wall fans glimmered 
in the light of the electric torches. Peacock feathers in vast porcelain 
urns swayed lightly in the breeze the gaki generated as she passed. Here 
there were rooms for ceremonial tea and dogi of different sizes to 
practice Gung Fu and kata swordplay in. D glanced into the rooms as he 
passed. All were empty. All looked particularly unused. He stopped to 
study a set of longswords on a bracket of the wall. Shame. Yes, he could 
like a place like this. 

"Kurayami!" a voice bellowed in Japanese from a room at the end of the 
corridor. "Return immediately!"

D's ears pricked at the harsh resonance of the voice. It was male and not 
particularly happy. Keeping to the shadows, he moved to stand to one side 
of the partly ajar door and peered through the crack of the hinge. 

The room he watched was a vast chamber constructed for some ceremonial 
purpose. It was remarkably bare compared to the other rooms of the keep. 
At its center was a dais adorned with a traditional Japanese ancestral 
altar draped in red silk and an incense burner which emitted a sweet, 
orchidlike fragrance. On two sides of the chamber were rearing stained 
glass windows full of alien ideograms, their light bluish and diffused by 
the darkness of the chamber. Other than that, the only light came from the 
two dozen or so chandeliers of colored glass hanging from the vaulted 
ceiling. It was an abbey or altar room of some kind, then. A place of 
worship for the Dragon King. 

"No...Master..." Kurayami. She drifted like a wisp of cloud in the center 
of the room, twisting this way and that, as if she were resisting a 
tremendous force. 

D could not yet see the Dragon--but feel him he could, and this bothered D 
as nothing else had. The Ryuujin, according to Mayor Dae's tale, had been 
a human who managed to prolong his life without losing his humanity. Yet 
this man whose presence D could feel like a rasp of metal against his 
bones was anything but human. 

"Danger," the symbiot whispered.

D grunted. Vampire. Powerful with age. A Noble...but no, something vastly 

"You will do as I say, Kurayami!" the Ryuujin said. As he spoke he seemed 
to float down the stairs of the dais. D narrowed his eyes. He was a small 
man, the Dragon King, yet the power he carried with him made his slight, 
almost childlike figure seem to loom like a shadow in the room. His kimono 
was black silk embroidered with lotus and dragons. He wore a blood-red 
sash and a katana in a scabbard at his side. His face was a mystery, 
concealed as it was by a burnished gold Kabuki mask painted with a single 
red teardrop. When he had reached the bottom of the dais the Ryuujin 
removed the mask. His face was deathly white, his eyes burning black holes 
that made D recall his father's lessons about collapsed stars, how they 
consumed all that approached them. The Ryuujin raised the mask. "Return 
immediately, Kurayami!"

Immediately the gaki began to unravel like a bit of smoke. For a moment 
what remained of Kurayami circled the Ryuujin's upheld mask, then 
dissipated into it as if it were being sucked up by the force of a 
powerful vacuum. The Ryuujin lowered the mask and turned to look D's way.

"You may come out now, Hunter," he said.


D edged boldly around the door. He entered the abbey, then closed and 
locked the grand brass double doors behind him, lest any more of the 
Ryuujin's servant creatures sneak into the chamber. And there D stood, 
watching the Dragon watch him back. 

The Ryuujin replaced his mask. "I wasn't expecting you quite so soon. You 
impress me. None have yet crossed the paths of the mechanimals and lived 
to tell the tale. You must be a great warrior indeed."

D inclined his head. "You are the master of the gaki."

"I am."

"I must ask that you restrain her."

"I will not."

"Then you have become my enemy...Kage."

The Ryuujin chuckled low in his throat. "You know then."

"I suspected, nothing more. But now...yes."

"I see," said Kage, "that I can keep few secrets from you, my brother." 

"Why do you persist in impersonating the Ryuujin?" D asked.

"Why do you persist in impersonating a human?" Kage asked in return.

D narrowed his eyes. "Perhaps we are both guilty of our masquerades, yet 
mine serves a purpose."

Kage drew his katana. It was a beautifully ornate weapon, the hilt made of 
ivory and engraved with a history of battles. Its single edge gleamed like 
ice in the moody light of the windows. "The Dragon Lord of the Yakuza has 
much power. Why would I not want that?"

"Where is your master, Kage? The true Ryuujin?"

"Time passes," said Kage. "And time changes the face of all things."

"Then...he is dead."

"A very long time, my brother."

D gripped the hilt of his sword as they began to circle each other, their 
boot heels clocking on the flagstones, the echoes rebounding again and 
again throughout the empty halls of the Ryuuguu. D kept his attention 
focused on Kage's eyes, the curious mirth there. He watched Kage's weapon, 
the way the vampire's agile white hands handled the katana as if it were a 
woman and not a tool of terrible strength. He was obviously a master of 
the sword. 

This was going to be interesting.  

"The Dragon is gone. And this is how you honor his name?" D asked. "By 
tormenting the people of earth?"

Kage struck like a snake. D was almost not prepared for it. A split second 
before it would have found a home inside his throat, D deflected Kage's 
katana with his sword. Kage smiled and recoiled, his weapon cutting the 
air in an idle swing as he reassured his grip on the sword. 

Kage smiled. "And I was holding back, Hunter."

D smiled in return. "So was I."

Their blades clashed together like hits of lightning. 

The two swordsmen came together, again and again, their strokes quick and 
deadly, the sparks of their swords lighting the shadowy abbey walls. 
Finally, as both warriors felt their breaths come more raggedly, as the 
incessant ringing of steel burned in their swordarms and in their bones, 
they fell together. They sheared the razor-sharp edges of their blades as 
the weapons came to rest guard to guard. D pushed at Kage and their 
connection was broken. Kage circled around, then lifted his free hand. 

D caught the glint of the flying shurikens just as the symbiot cried out a 
warning. He leapt, clearing Kage's form completely, and landed in a tumble 
behind Kage as the shurikens hit the far wall and began to spin, digging 
gouges in the flagstone. 

Kage swung around, his sword already seeking its target. The katana cut 
the air in front of D as he rolled out of the path of the weapon. When he 
had nearly reached the far wall, D leapt up, using his vast cloak to 
deflect the final blow of the sword. 

Kage roared as the sword was torn from his grip and threw himself fully 
against the Hunter. The force of the man's body, as light as he was, made 
them both go over like a pair of animals trapped in a deathlock. Kage 
gripped the Hunter savagely, teeth bared, talonlike fingernails scraping 
gouges in D's face and arms. D stuck him fully in the face, knocking aside 
his mask in the process--yet it did nothing to kill Kage's rage. 

His face fully revealed, the vampire's eyes glowed with a seething black 
light that seemed to suck all the life and willpower from D. Suddenly it 
did not seem so important that D fight. It was so much easier to lose 
oneself in the darkness, depths under depths, mysteries as yet 

D's brooch reacted to the affront and exploded with a piercing blue light 
that turned Kage's low snarl into a piercing wail of pain. Kage's hypnotic 
eyes snapped shut and D felt again the will to move.  

He struck Kage a glancing blow that knocked the vampire halfway across the 
abbey and into one of the many stone buttresses that supported the 
ceiling. Kage staggered to his feet, half-blinded by the unearthly 
brilliance, gripping the buttress for support. When he finally managed to 
find his feet and open his eyes, the damage D had inflicted on Kage was 
horribly evident. Both burning eyes ran with threads of black blood. Kage 
swayed a moment, then seemed to find his balance. "Good...very good," Kage 
said with a curling smile and an ugly laugh. He wiped blood off his 
cheeks, then licked his fingers clean. "I chose well."

"What do you mean 'chose'?" D bent to retrieve his fallen sword. 

Kage only bared his sharp, catlike teeth in a grimace. 

"Do you want me to kill you, Kage?"

The vampire said, "It's what you do. What you have been trained for, 
Hunter, yes?"

D approached the blinded vampire. When he was less than a few feet away he 
extended his hand and rested the tip of his sword in the hollow of Kage's 
throat. "Yield."

Kage began to laugh. "You cannot take my honor, Hunter. I have none to 
give you. Kill me now." 

"No," said D, surprised and vaguely disturbed by the request.

"Then die yourself," Kage said and spread his arms wide in a summoning 

D felt a hurricane force rush into the room, a force so great, a power so 
massive, it warped the air around them. The stained glass windows of the 
abbey shattered on contact with the ambient, they did not 
simply shatter, but exploded, the force, the glass shards, the terrible 
inrush of the storm knocking D the full length of the abbey and into the 
opposite wall. He felt the wall give and crumble at his back, felt his 
body alight with pain as glass and shards of stone rained down all around 
him and half buried him. He slumped forward, unable to help himself as the 
force let him go. Dear God...he had never felt anything like this 

He almost passed out from the pain except the scent of roses and silk 
brought him around, the sweetness he could not leave behind...

In the center of the abbey, amidst the dust and falling debris, hovered 
the Floating Dragon.

"Let her *go*, Kage!" D roared as he found his strength. "She does not 
belong to you!"

Kage laughed, the thunderous sound bringing down one of the tinkering 
glass chandeliers in the abbey. It smashed into the dais and scattered 
chips of colored glass throughout the chamber. 

D found his feet, caught his balance against the remainder of the wall, 
but could go no further--moored as he was in the debris of the wall. His 
sword was nowhere to be found--but there, beneath a pile of rocks and 
glass, he spotted the dragon katana. He reached for it. 

It skated away. He watched it cut a path through the debris and skitter to 
a stop at the feet of its master. Kage picked it up. "I thought better of 
you than this, Hunter. You disappoint me," he said as he leapt forward 
like a great black cat, his sword flashing like a streak of lighting in 
the dark. 

D tried to move out of the way but he was knee-deep in the fallen wall. He 
lifted his cloak, hoping against hope that Kage was too overcome by rage 
and too blinded by pain to find his target and--

And heard a young girl cry out--

D lowered his cloak. 

Kage stood atop a mountain of debris, his katana sunk all the way to its 
intricate hilt in the belly of a young woman with raven hair and a white 
silk kimono. Kage knew. Somehow or other, he recognized her, for the look 
on his face was one of disbelief and horror. He pulled the sword free and 
dropped it like a poisonous animal. 

For a moment the girl weaved, surprised, confused; then she fell back into 
D's arms. D lowered her to the remains of the floor. She was astonishingly 
pretty, with black catlike eyes and a little rosebud of a mouth. Her 
beautiful kimono was blackened with her blood. For a moment D almost 
wondered who she was and how she had come to be here...and then he 
recognized her eyes, though they were quite a bit darker now, more real. 
More human, somehow.

"Kurayami," he said.

She smiled at him, despite her pain. "Dhampir," she whispered. "D."

"You should not have done this," he said. He did not want to hold her, yet 
the desire to do so was overwhelming. Her power was still intact. The 
longer he held her, the more he remembered--

--the woman with raven hair dying on white silk sheets in a room full of 
the weeping of nurses and the agony of birdsong...the woman, dying, 
because she was mortal and would not accept her lover's gift--

Kurayami's face blurred and ran like a ruined painting.

"I could not save her, Kurayami," D said. "So many others...but not her. 
And not you."

He knew it was true. Kurayami was dying. He knew the legends, the rules. 
The gaki were all but invulnerable except in their human form. Humans were 
fragile. Death took them so easily and left others to remain and suffer 
throughout eternity, captive to memory--

"I was proud like Father and I never told her how I felt," D whispered to 

Kurayami nodded. "She knows...our ancestors...are never very far from 

"Please don't die." 

"Cry not for Kurayami," the gaki said with a halting breath. For a moment 
she convulsed, so that D did not know how to hold her, how to stop her 
pain. Then she lay still, a look of complete affection in her eyes. "You 
kept your promise,"

She was gone. D felt her passing like a wind in the door. And with her the 
memories vanished as well. Yet for once he could almost regret the loss of 
them. He could almost mourn.  

D smoothed her hair. She was only a girl now. Only a shell, really, and 
yet she seemed like the only real thing in the whole chamber.

He looked up to find Kage on his knees, his face hidden in his agile, 
ancient hands. "She shouldn't have...she was not supposed to do anything I 
did not command her to!"

"She was her own person. Can the same be said for you, Kage?"

With a tormented cry, Kage rose to his feet and went to retrieve his 
fallen mask. 

"So in love with death and you do not know even how to live anymore." When 
no answer from Kage was forthcoming, D lifted up Kurayami's lifeless 
little body and, freeing himself from the debris of the battle, carried 
her up the steps to the ancestral altar. It seemed a fitting place 
somehow. He set her down among the tatters of red silk and incense. 

Kage stood at the foot of the altar. What D could not do to end his rage, 
Kurayami's death had. The vampire only stood looking up at D, a 
frightened, helpless look on his face. "She wasn't supposed to die," he 
whispered. "Only me."

D took a deep breath as the last of the past left him. Slowly he began to 
descend the steps of the altar.  

"I never meant her harm, not Kurayami. She never deserved it," Kage 

"Yet you used her to murder innocent people."

"Only to bring a Hunter," Kage said. He studied the mask a moment. "It was 
never anything...personal."

"A kill you." At the foot of the altar D stopped and retrieved 
his fallen sword. He kept it at hand for the moment, though he seriously 
doubted he would need it, even faced with a crafty, powerful enemy such as 
Kage was. All the fight had left the vampire. He looked defeated and, 
suddenly, very small. A mere shadow of himself. "Why?" D asked.

Kage looked away as if to survey the mess they had made of his once grand 
abbey. "Well now, to understand that you must first understand what honor 
means to one such as myself. I was born a vampire in the Year 491. I 
served in the courts of some of the greatest Shoguns who ever lived. And 
then, later on, I lived to serve the new monarchy, the Ryuujins of the 
Yakuza. And in all that time I succeeded in protecting my Masters. I even 
shared my blood with them, preserving them well past their years." He 
faltered. "And then came the Nobles..."

"They executed your Master," D guessed. "And exiled you here."

"No, I exiled myself." Kage turned back to D. His bloody tears had run 
clear at last. "After the Nobles came there was nothing left...the Yakuza, 
the city, the people...everything was gone. A thousand years of history 
washed away in blood." For a moment he hesitated, as if caught on a thorn 
of remembrance. Then he said, "Even jisatsu is no escape, not for 
creatures such as we are. Hunter, do you know what it is like to be truly 
alone? To have no one left who can forgive you?"

D tipped his head down. "Yes."

A rumble began in the ruined floor of the abbey. It was similar to an 
earthquake except that the entire atmosphere of the chamber seemed 
encapsulated by the sentient ripple. Another chandelier broke loose from 
its chain and crashed to the floor a dozen feet from them, spraying them 
both with shards of glass. D gripped the foot of the altar and surveyed 
the room for a new enemy. 

"It's Kei," Kage said as he sought his balance. "It's coming apart."

"Can it do that?"

"Without Kurayami...yes." Kage sidestepped a fissure in the floor that had 
begun to split the abbey in two. "It's bleeding over into your world."  

Part of the floor collapsed. From the depths of the cracks running all 
through the cobbled floor issued red bursts of fire and smoke. 

D narrowly missed being hit by another falling chandelier. The floor 
roiled as if alive, and as new crevices full of noxious gas split the 
floor, he and Kage leapt to the top of the altar. It was not much safer 
here, but at least the disintegrating floor could not yet reach them while 
they decided how to escape the Ryuuguu. The walls had begun to buckle and 
spew forth rocks and the shells of the fallen machines that made up the 
great black keep. A buttress tumbled down like a fallen tree. It would not 
be long now before the whole structure dropped into the earth.

Perched atop the altar, Kage held onto Kurayami's body as if it were a 
valuable treasure he could not bear to part with. His tears baptized her 
still white face. "We have to replace the sentinel, and very soon, or your 
world will be overrun by mine," Kage said. "There has to be a new Floating 

The altar shuddered and began to crumble apart beneath them.

"How do we do that?" D demanded to know. 

But Kage was not listening. Instead he set Kurayami's body down, touched 
her face one last time as if reluctant to let her go, and stood up with 
the mask. Without another word he lowered it over his face.

The altar gave way, making D leap to a ledge far up in the wall. The abbey 
gave one last long shudder and then dropped down into darkness. 

The red dust settled, turning the room into a desolate landscape of 
crimson. Nothing else remained. No altar, no Kage. No Kurayami. Nothing 
but mist everywhere he looked. For a moment, as he watched the mist twist 
and evolve, he thought there was a possibility that Kurayami was not as 
dead as she seemed. Then he saw the eyes of the Floating Dragon blink open 
and observe him with their brilliant darkness, and he knew then the truth 
of them. 

"Kage," he said. 

"Go now, Hunter," Kage said, his great disembodied eyes full of time and 
purpose. "I give you safe passage out of Kei."

As D watched, Kage used his tremendous power to rebuild the cobbled floor, 
to replace the broken and lost chandeliers and mend the shattered windows. 
Finally, the gaki returned the altar to its rightful place. The red silk 
had been replaced with white, and one of several white candles had been 
lit upon it. For remembrance.

"And the city?" D asked.

"Accept this vow. I will never again disturb the humans. My purpose has 
been reborn. It is here."

"I accept your vow, Kage. But if ever you stray from your path, we will 
meet again." 

"Merushi, Vampire Hunter," Kage said as he began to fade. 

D picked up the grand sword of the Dragon and saluted Kage. 

The Floating Dragon almost seemed to smile as it disappeared in a 
whirlwind of smoke and silken wind. 
Before he left, D placed the Dragon's katana upon the white silk altar. 
Then, on a sudden impulse, he lit another white candle there.

As he escaped the Ryuuguu and mounted his horse, he thought about the 
past. He expected sorrow, as always--or some snide comment from the 
symbiot, at the very least. Yet just as the symbiot was oddly still, so 
also was his past. Like Kage, D had little choice in what he did. Time and 
chance had made them both victims. 

*I have lost honor,* his father said once, a very long time ago, *and I 
have found purpose. I have been given hope. I can only wonder, what will 
tomorrow bring?* 


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