Introductory stuff for this VHD-Dragon Half crossover: D is half vampire and Mink is half dragon, so I had to write a fic that involved both of them. I thought of this fic and the title "Vampire Half" some years ago, before I'd seen the episodes of "Ghost Sweeper Mikami" that also use the term "vampire half" for a dhampir. "Dragon Half" being the kind of anime it is, a fanfic based on it (even half based, which is not to be confused with half acid) had to be a silly fic. In addition to the general silliness of the premise and the goings-on of the fic, I've adopted a device that "Dragon Half" uses to great effect -- characters going superdeformed at moments of profound silliness. To show where those profoundly silly superdeformed moments begin and end, I've used [SD] and [/SD], with square brackets rather than angled ones so there's no danger of somebody's software confusing them with actual HTML coding. If you don't know what superdeformed moments are like, you really need to watch "Dragon Half." In fact, you probably need to watch it anyway. This fic is set just after my VHD-Miyu crossover, "A Tale of Two Hunters" (available in the fanfic section of the VHD Archives, http://www.altvampyres.net/vhd/), but familiarity with the earlier story is not necessary, though it will make one or two bits more understandable. Vampire Half by Cathy Krusberg A Vampire Hunter D-Dragon Half crossover Three figures walked along a winding road. The first two wore clothing designed to display rather than to conceal the shapely curves of their bodies. In the lead was a young woman named Lufa. Her short blonde hair revealed elf-pointed ears, and she carried a tall staff with a glass sphere shining at its top. Lufa led them in their westward course because she was the only one with the knowledge that would enable them to reach their goal. Behind her was Mink, a redhead clad in a purple bikini. Mink also sported two straight horns and a decidedly reptilian tail (only her artist knew how she wore a bikini bottom with it). Although she had the face and body of a charming young woman, Mink was a deadly adversary in a fight, as several of her opponents had learned at the recent Brutal-Killer Martial Arts Contest. There, Mink had emerged the clear winner over some of the meanest muthas character designer Masahiro Koyama could come up with. The prize -- 50,000 gamels cold, hard cash -- had enabled her to attend the concert of her hero, singer and dragon-slayer Dick Saucer. But now Mink had other fish to fry. Bringing up the rear was a third, much shorter figure, Pia. Pia, unlike her older companions, was wearing clothes worthy of the name; in fact, she wore lightweight armor. Her overprotective parents had set down as a rule that she should never take it off, and little Pia dutifully obeyed them -- even though that meant nearly drowning if she ever tried to swim. Sitting on top of Pia's head -- and just about as big -- was Pia's pet mouse, Mappy. Mappy, besides being bigger than real-life mice, also looked a lot cuter. He was brown with a white underbelly and a tuft of fur at the end of his tail. Pia was accompanying the two older girls out of friendship and a natural desire for adventure. Mappy was there because wherever Pia went, Mappy went also, to take care of her. The area was very isolated: grassy fields alternated with long stretches of forest, and houses were rare, as were other travelers. This made it all the more noteworthy that as the three pursued their course, they noticed odd hoofprints in the dust, also headed westward. Once they stopped to rest near a particularly clear one. "Look," said Lufa, pointing to it. "It says, 'Made in Japan.'" "What kind of horse has 'Made in Japan' printed on its hooves?" Mink asked, too tired to feel very interested. "A Japanese one?" Lufa suggested, reasonably enough. "I thought you told where horses were from by looking in their mouths," said Pia. "That's to tell how old they are," Lufa replied authoritatively. "Or to see if there are Greek soldiers inside them." * * * The strange hoofprints persisted to the long day's end, when Lufa said, "It's going to be dark soon. We need to find a place to make camp." "Look there," said Mink, pointing over the crest of a hill to a thin column of smoke. "Somebody has already found a place to camp. Maybe we can share." Rounding a bend that the road sensibly took to avoid the hill, the group saw the source of the smoke: a solitary man sat in a clearing, near a fire that he evidently had just started. Most of his body was wrapped in a long blue cloak; his broad-brimmed traveler's hat, however, didn't quite conceal eyes that gleamed strangely with the fire's reflected light. A cyborg horse grazed near the clearing's edge, its black tail occasionally swishing at flies. "I'm not so sure, Mink," Lufa said warily. "He doesn't look ... quite human." A line formed between Mink's eyebrows as the tip of her tail began to twitch, and Lufa looked embarrassed. "Well," she amended hastily, "we can ask." D (for it was he, of course) looked up as the group approached. "Hello!" Mink exclaimed, waving in greeting. "I'm Mink, and this is Lufa and Pia and Mappy. You've found such a nice place to camp. Do you mind if we share it tonight?" Reacting quickly to danger was second nature to D; if Mink had challenged him with a weapon, he would have been on his feet in less than an eyeblink, his own sword in hand. Responding to a civil query, however, required him to pull himself together in a different way and would have taken him longer even in the best of circumstances. And the fact was, the circumstances for D were not the best. It had been another long day on the road, undistinguished from too many other long, lonely days, and D had been staring into his fire and brooding. D had in fact been feeling sorry for himself. It was not a train of thought conducive to civility, much less hospitality, and it must be admitted that his first thought on seeing the newcomers was to refuse to have any dealings with a woman who had horns and a tail. Then it occurred to him that he was scarcely in a position to point fingers when it came to having non-human characteristics (that was, after all, what he had been brooding about). Besides, the last couple of normal-looking women he'd had close encounters with had turned out to be a vampire and a ghost; his luck could only improve. After an uncomfortably long pause, he at last said simply, "There's plenty of room." "Oh, thank you!" Mink exclaimed, charitably attributing his slowness of speech to shyness. "We've been walking all day," she continued, as she sat down at the fire. "I hope you don't mind if we rest a little before we gather more firewood." Pia had been studying their host (if one could call him that) more closely than the other two. "Look!" she exclaimed, patting his shoulder. "He's wearing armor, like me!" She looked at D very earnestly. "Do your parents worry about you, too?" Mappy had also been studying D from his perch atop Pia's head. He began to growl softly, then leaped down to the ground and expanded himself to Totoro size, foreclaws outspread as he gave his most menacing growl. D, unexpectedly finding himself in his metier after all, sprang to his feet, unsheathing the long sword that he always kept in easy reach, as Mappy growled again. "Mappy!" Pia exclaimed, shocked. She stood protectively in front of her pet -- the effect was of a mole trying to defend a mountain -- and spreading out her arms, she shouted, "Don't hurt Mappy, Mappy's taking care of me!" D wasn't the kind of person to skewer a child's pet mouse, but on the other hand, he didn't want Mappy to "take care of" *him*. Mappy growled yet again -- and this time there was an answering growl from the nearby forest. Mappy's growls when in his expanded size perfectly mimicked the growl of a mutant bear defending its territory. As it happened, the campsite that D had chosen was already part of a mutant bear's territory, and it didn't take kindly to trespassers. Mappy's growling distracted it from the intruder it had treed, and it came roaring out of the woods, every hair on end and foam dripping from its jaws. Even on all fours it was as tall as a man. Its head was oversized, a type of disproportion not uncommon in mutant beasts, and it had a set of teeth that would have sent a great white shark fleeing in terror. Mink, however, was not a great white shark. "RAGING DRAGON PUNCH!" she shouted, charging fist-first at the slavering monster, to D's horror -- surely fear had driven her insane (if having horns and a tail hadn't already). Before he could possibly intervene, however, Mink's fist crashed into the creature's snout. There was a loud crunch, an explosion of blood -- and a shattering noise as every tooth in its head fell to the ground. [SD] The mutant bear, on realizing that it no longer had any teeth, turned very red, covered its mouth with its paws, and immediately died of embarrassment. [/SD] * * * D wasn't sure he had ever eaten mutant bear steaks before, but he wasn't one to complain about food. Mappy was still less than pleased about sharing a campsite with D, but after being amply fussed at by Pia and Lufa, he had subsided to his normal Pia's-head size and now confined himself to giving D occasional silent dirty looks. Before the mutant bear had appeared, it had crossed D's mind that the all-female group might want to hire him as a bodyguard; he received such requests from time to time, and he occasionally accepted them. Having seen Mink in action, however, he wondered whether perhaps *he* should hire *them* as bodyguards. It was only an idle thought, and it passed from his mind as he cut off and ate another chunk of bear steak -- well-done, the way he preferred his meat. He really had very little interest in the group, however effective a fighter Miss Horns-and-Tail might be. The danger of the mutant bear was past, as was the need to get provisions, and his thoughts returned to their interrupted course: feeling sorry for himself because he was no more human than the strange bear-fighting girl seemed to be. He was a dhampir, born of a vampire father and a human mother, and his career was that of the dhampirs of old, old lore: he was a vampire hunter. He roamed the frontier, where the vampires (long driven from the cities) still survived to oppress humans with their cruel, murderous, literally bloodthirsty ways. He hunted them. He killed them. He was sick of it. He was sick of being a dhampir, neither vampire nor human, scorned and feared by both. He was sick of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere because that, after all, was where the vampires were. He was sick of being alone, unable to form human attachments for fear that his vampire nature would betray him and lead him to chow down on a date in the unlikely event he ever found one. He was sick of knowing that although he usually could live on normal food, there were times when he had to rely on blood tablets to stay alive. And he was thoroughly sick his chief motive for always wearing brown leather gloves: the symbiotic smartass in the palm of his left hand, a face that could see through his eyes but seldom shared his perspectives, that spoke with a deep voice and sneering intonation. He was so sick of being alone, yet never being *really* alone, that he forgot how many times the symbiot's unusual powers had saved his bacon. Whenever he thought of the thing, he thought of its incessant taunting, its constantly encouraging him to drink live, raw, blood from a woman's throat, its incessant reminders that his vampire half entrapped in his current mode of existence that he was -- his mind returned to that dark motif -- so thoroughly sick of. Ironically, instead of being glad of a distraction from his bitter thoughts, he was more inclined to resent his recently acquired companions. How could he feel properly sorry for himself for being alone if he wasn't alone? Not noticing the irony, he found himself looking forward to the sunrise, when the trio, with their amiable chatter, would just go away. That is, until he overheard Mink talking about her quest. "If Dick Saucer said I was charming even when I had horns and a tail, I know he'll love me after I drink the People Potion and turn into a real human being." Mink smiled wistfully at the thought. "If it turned a Slime into a human being, it will have to work on me -- I'm already half human." D's eyes went wider at this, and for a moment he nearly choked on his bear steak. He was sitting a little apart from the others, finding their camaraderie too much to bear in his present state of mind, but now he moved closer to the group, causing Mappy to edge away, flattening his ears. "Yes, you even kissed him once," Lufa recalled, and all three girls' eyes went dreamy (Mappy's eyes were busy glaring at D). "Just imagine being knocked through a wall and landing on Dick Saucer! Hey -- you never did give me that indirect kiss!" Mink hastily backed away and nearly bumped into D. Before she could apologize, D spoke. "Did you mention," he asked quietly, "turning into ... a real human being?" Lufa made a "hmph" noise and went back to her mutant bear steak. Mink nodded at D, looking glum again. "Yes. I'm a dragon half. My father is human, but my mother is a dragon. Dick Saucer is my hero, but because he's a dragon hunter, he only wants to kill me. So Lufa is leading us west to where we can find the People Potion. If I drink it, I'll become a human being, and I can marry him!" "So someone who isn't human can become human be drinking this ... People Potion?" Lufa nodded. "It even works on Slimes!" An ominous gleam crept into D's eyes. "I'm headed west, myself," he said, having suddenly decided that the direction he had taken by chance would be a good one to take purposefully. "We can travel together. I've never heard of People Potion; I'd be curious to see it." "Of course!" Mink exclaimed. "The more, the merrier." * * * Meanwhile, in the forest: Once he had concluded that the mutant bear was gone for good -- or at least far enough to let him find a more comfortable tree -- Rosario shinnied down from his precarious perch. Being a genius wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Rosario's lord, King Civa, wanted Mink as bait for a trap for her father, Ruth. Ruth had betrayed the king by marrying the dragon that the king had sent him to kill -- a red dragon that could also take the form of a beautiful woman. In fact, she took the form of such a beautiful woman that the king wanted to marry her after her husband's upcoming untimely demise. To bait the trap making that demise possible, Mink was needed, dead or alive, and it was Rosario's job to get her. After all that he had been through, he had decided that he preferred to get her dead. Very, very dead. Rosario mentally reviewed his numerous failed efforts. The trap baited with a Dick Saucer concert ticket: Failed. Shooting Mink with three poison darts and taking her (dead, he had thought) to the king: Failed. Tempting her with a poisoned apple: Failed. Offering her a laxative disguised as a quick-energy drink: Mortifyingly failed. Setting her up against the meanest muthas character designer Masahiro Koyama could come up with: Failed. Siccing a poison-stinging bug onto her: Failed. Failed, failed, failed. Soon all the other geniuses would be pointing at him and snickering as he passed. He was already in disgrace with the king, who had told him not to come back to the castle unless it was with Mink in tow. Although he had no wish to risk encountering the mutant bear again, Rosario followed the path it had cleared for itself because it looked as if that would take him out of the forest soonest. After a while, he could see the flicker of flames through the dark trees, and soon he found his mouth watering at the odor of mutant bear steaks roasting on an open fire. Rosario walked a little faster -- until he heard Mink's voice. Hunger forgotten, he ducked behind a large tree (mentally noting that it would make a much more comfortable place to flee from the next mutant bear that came along) just in time to hear her explaining her search for the People Potion to D. "So," Rosario mused, "she's looking for People Potion, is she? Maybe I can provide one ... heh, heh, heh...." * * * The group traveling westward now numbered four -- or six, if you counted Mappy and the cyborg horse. Pia would have liked to ride behind D for a little while -- for the novelty of it, not because she was tired or lazy -- and D would have consented -- he would have consented to nearly anything that would bring him nearer the People Potion. But Mappy fluffed himself so big and shadow-boxed and squeaked so fiercely that Pia sighed and abandoned the project. Lufa still led the way, and now D on his cyborg horse brought up the rear. Their journey was for a time uneventful. Once when they stopped to rest Pia petted the cyborg horse -- it was only D that Mappy objected to -- and was amazed and delighted to learn how soft its nose was, just like a regular biological horse's. Lufa, thinking ahead to lunch, tried bringing a bird down with her lightning staff but managed only to scorch herself, to D's alarm (suppose it had killed her? No one else knew the way). They forded a number of streams -- no problem for D, because the cyborg horse actually took him across them. At one, however, he got another shock when Mink playfully spread her wings (which she usually kept tucked out of sight) and *flew* across. D wondered whether he would rather have wings or be human, if he had the choice. He was still pondering the matter when he saw a bent, cowled figure ahead of them on the road. "People Potion!" the figure called out in an old woman's voice. "Oh, who will buy my People Potion!" "People Potion!" Mink exclaimed, and she ran forward to meet the dark-robed figure. "You're selling People Potion?" The figure nodded. (It was, of course, Rosario in disguise.) "Yes, dearie. This bottle of it comes from the far west, and I must sell it so I can feed my dear little ones. Anyone who drinks the whole bottle will become a human -- even a Slime or a dragon." By this time Lufa, Pia, Mappy (on Pia's head), and D (on horseback) had caught up. "It doesn't look like a bottle of People Potion to me," said Lufa, frowning. "Well, of course this isn't the original bottle," the potion-vendor replied indignantly. "This is to fool people so they won't steal it. But it's really People Potion -- you can't tell a book by its cover, you know." "Is that the only bottle of it you have?" D asked. The potion-vendor nodded sadly. "I'm afraid so. It's rare stuff -- and this young lady did ask about it first. Don't you want to buy it, my dear?" "Yes, of course!" Mink exclaimed, and a little dickering soon resulted in a transfer of ownership. "Now, remember," the potion-vendor said, "it has to be drunk all at once -- you don't want to risk someone turning partway into a human and still being half dra -- ah, half whatever." "Yes, yes!" Mink agreed, and she was about to unstopper the bottle and gulp down the contents. "Wait," said D. He had by this time dismounted, and he laid one brown-gloved hand over the bottle. "Mink, you don't know what it really may be like to become a human. You might need to rest afterward. Just to be safe. You really should wait until we make camp to drink it." Rosario didn't dare linger near the group any longer -- Mink had seen his face before and might recognize him, a chance he couldn't afford to take. So he had to hobble in the other direction until the group had disappeared around a bend in the road before he could reverse course to spy on them at a discreet distance. Rosario's encounter with the mutant bear had convinced him of the advisability of scoping out comfy trees for purposes of fleeing in terror. It also had occurred to him that trees showed considerable promise as surveillance posts. What had not occurred to him was that a tree big enough to make a comfy retreat-cum-surveillance post would also be old enough to have a number of unsound limbs more likely to collapse than to bear the weight of a grown man -- even one dressed as an old woman. That was how it came to pass that within minutes of selling Mink her certain doom, Rosario was lying at the base of an enormous tree, stone cold unconscious and surrounded by the remains of an enormous dry-rotted limb that had collapsed under him. Meanwhile, Mink's head was awhirl with excitement. The People Potion was hers at last! D's head was also awhirl: Was there any way he could get his hands on the stuff? Could Mink be dissuaded from her plans to drink it all at a gulp? They were about to ford a particularly swift and rocky river when Mink announced, "Hey, wait! We don't need to travel any more! I have the People Potion now -- if I drink it and become human, I can go back and marry Dick Saucer *now*. Let's make camp here so I can rest if I need to when I'm a human being!" D didn't mind having one fewer river to cross. This one, being as rapid and deep as it was, made him particularly uneasy, with its sharp, protruding rocks and the cataracts of water rushing white around them. Being half vampire made D vulnerable to moving water in all forms -- even rain. Getting soaked in rain or submerged in flowing water would lower his body temperature and weaken him badly. He suspected that it in fact had the potential to make him very, very dead. Humans, of course, weren't vulnerable in such a way. Mink paced back and forth nervously while D untacked the cyborg horse. D watched her out of the corner of his eye with some apprehension as she held the bottle in one hand, then the other, then both. Being *very* carefully not to startle her, he said, "Mink, that's been in the sun all day -- and it's gotten shaken up with your handling it so much. Besides, it may be fermented -- we don't know how People Potion is made. You don't want it spewing all over when you open it. Perhaps it would be safest if you put it into the water to cool." "In the *water*?!" Mink exclaimed, staring at the whitening maelstrom and clutching the bottle in a way that set D's teeth on edge. "It'll get washed away!" "Not in the middle of everything," D quickly explained. "Like this." He pulled off his glove -- his *right* glove -- and scooped away sand so the water made a small, still pool beside the river, just the right size for the bottle. Mink gently, almost reverently, put it in. She looked anxiously at D. "Are you sure it'll be safe there?" "Of course," he replied, rinsing his hand off in the stream (and shuddering a bit at the contact with running water, for even that little touch felt numbingly cold to him). "Perhaps I should watch it for you." "No, no, I'll watch it myself." Farther up on the strand, Pia had prevailed on Lufa to let her bury her in the sand. "Look, Mink! Look, D! Lufa's all covered up!" "Okay, o-KAY!" said Lufa. "I'm all covered up. You wanna unbury me before I roast alive? This is *hot*!" While Pia obediently unburied Lufa, Mink looked shyly at D. "D ... what's it like ... to be human?" D nearly had to bite his tongue to keep from snapping "How would *I* know?" Instead, he said, "Well, you'd be a lot weaker; you might not be as pretty; you wouldn't be able to fly -- " Mink cocked her head coyly. "You think I'm pretty?" "Uhm -- yes. Your wings lend so much grace to your figure." Mink looked disappointed and hugged her knees. "Oh." "Maybe you should think about it more before you try to become human, Mink. You might decide you don't like it -- and where would you find a Dragon Half Potion to turn you back?" Mink seemed to turn this over in her mind, and D slipped his hand (the right one) behind his back and crossed his fingers. But at last she came to a decision. "No; if I'm not human, Dick Saucer will never care about me. I have to take the chance." D sighed. Lufa was now free of her sand prison and was muttering and trying to brush herself off. Pia ran over to Mink. "Mink, please, can I bury you in the sand now?" Mink smiled as gently as she could. "Not now, Pia. I've got to stay with my People Potion while it cools." "I can watch it," D said. "Lying down would help you relax." "Well...." The prospect of watching People Potion cool *was* about on a par with the prospect of watching paint dry. "I won't let it out of my sight," D said resolutely. "I'll treat it as if it were my own People Potion." Mink, not realizing just how literally he meant that last statement, nodded and even managed to smile as she let Pia lead her farther up on the strand. Lufa, still brushing at the sand on her skin, approached D. "D, I can't stand having sand all over myself like this. I'm going upstream to bathe. Don't look until I tell you it's okay." D absently nodded assent; he had no problem with that. The only sight he cared about was the People Potion. "D!" the symbiot whispered from his left palm. It was beginning to wonder if it would have any lines in this fanfic. "What the *hell* do you think you're doing? You don't know what's in that stuff! It could be poison. It could be anything! It could -- it could -- *D!!* I'm not sure I can survive attached to a human!" D grinned a grin that would have put Totoro himself to shame. * * * Walking and worrying about the People Potion had tired Mink out, and she closed her eyes and actually dozed off as Pia covered her with sand. Pia didn't seem to mind the lack of response to her occasional queries of, "Isn't this *fun*, Mink?" D had been careful to turn his back to the upstream part of the river where Lufa was bathing (with a clear conscience, because in fanfics, unlike anime, shower scenes and other forms of gratuitous nudity are not obligatory). Consequently, he now had very little to look at besides Pia and her willing -- now somnolent -- "victim." She did look very peaceful -- very unobservant. And D realized that the perfect moment had arrived. Pia was preoccupied with Mink; Mink was asleep; Lufa was upstream, de-sanding herself; Mappy was pointedly ignoring him; and the cyborg horse frankly didn't give a damn. D touched the cool bottle. His advice to Mink had of course been mere pretexts, to delay her drinking the potion, but it occurred to him that his speculations might be correct. The stuff might really *need* to cool so it wouldn't spew out. Would it be ready to drink yet? But would he get another chance? Lufa considered D a man of his word -- about not looking, that is -- and consequently hadn't put any of her clothes back on when she had washed all the sand off herself, willing to let the sun dry her while inserting a bit of gratuitous nudity after all. She was only a few feet behind D, strolling with silent steps, when he made his move, lifting the People Potion out of its pool with his right hand even as the symbiot was doing what it could to immobilize the left. D knew he'd find a way to open it whether the symbiot wanted him to or not. If worse came to worse, he'd break the damn neck off. Confident of success, he rose and whirled about with a triumphant flourish of his cape. And nearly collided with a stark naked Lufa. Lufa did what anime girls usually do when caught in dishabille: She screamed and covered her breasts with one hand, and with the other, she gave D's jaw a blow that sent him sailing into the river, People Potion and all. [SD] D hung suspended over the water for a moment, eyes wide with the shock of being unexpectedly superdeformed. Then he fell, and the tremendous splash drowned out the crash of the People Potion bottle shattering on a rock. [/SD] Lufa's scream had of course awakened Mink. She opened her eyes just in time to see D, People Potion in hand, plunge into the water. With a wild yell, she exploded out of the sand, wings spread in flight. "Hey!" Pia shouted. "You're supposed to let *me* unbury you!" "Lufa!" Mink screamed. "What do you think you're *doing*?!" "What do you think *he* was doing! That pastefaced pervert! Thought he could take a look at me naked and get away with it. But I showed him!" =You sure did, if you were walking around like that -- you showed him *everything*,= Mink thought dryly. Aloud she said, "But he had my People Potion in his hand! You shouldn't have hit him until he'd put it down. Oh --! Maybe it floated downstream." She took to the air again and hovered over D's unmoving form. All too quickly she spied the remains of the bottle, neck still gripped in his right hand, fragments of the rest already carried away by the swift current. Mink gave a roar of rage and spat flame. Lufa had pulled her clothes on and picked up her lightning staff. She didn't want to hurt her friend, but when Mink dived at her breathing fire, Lufa decided survival came before friendship and lifted the rod heavenward. "Powers that be, heed my command!" [SD] A bolt of lightning crashed from the cloudless sky, striking Lufa and knocking her senseless, so that her legs collapsed under her just before Mink's flying form would have connected. Mink slammed headfirst into the sand instead, burying herself up to her shoulders. A scorched Lufa sat up at about the same time that Mink, ostrich-like, pulled her head out of the sand with an audible *POP!* Despite the lack of actual physical contact, making the attempt at it had had a cathartic effect on both of them. [/SD] "Gee, I just bathed," Lufa muttered, regarding her blackened skin. Mink bonked one side of her head, then the other, against her open hand to get the sand out of her ears. "D said he'd watch that People Potion like it was his own," she muttered. "Hey -- where *is* that weirdo?" "He's still in the water," Pia said. "Do you suppose it's because he's wearing armor, like me?" Mink and Lufa exchanged worried glances and hurried to the river, where D was indeed still submerged. No words were necessary. They waded into the dangerously swift current as quickly as they dared. Fortunately Lufa's blow hadn't flung him terribly far into the water, and soon each was able to grab one of his arms. "I hope he's still breathing," Mink shouted over the roar of the water. "Dick Saucer is one thing -- but I really don't want to perform mouth-to-mouth on this guy." Lufa nodded her agreement -- D looked less human than ever to her. Through the miracle of continuity convenience, the wide-brimmed hat remained firmly in place -- albeit soaked through -- but the shadow that it cast didn't conceal the fact that his eyes were closed and his face nearly as pale as the whitewater rushing about the three. Working in concert, Mink and Lufa pulled D -- wet as a washrag, and nearly as limp -- well up onto the beach, to the remnants of the mound where Mink had been buried. His right hand was still clamped around the neck of the People Potion bottle. His left was also clenched in a fist. The symbiot was quite conscious, of course; running water had no particular effect on *it*. But it was still feeling miffed and had decided that D had gotten himself into this situation, and he could get himself out of it. "D!" Mink exclaimed. "What were you *doing* with my People Potion? On being pulled out of the water -- that terrible, chilling water -- D had regained consciousness. Barely. But his teeth were chattering so hard he couldn't have spoken even had he wanted to. "He's freezing," said Lufa. "I'll start a fire with my staff." [SD] She lifted the staff heavenward -- with the same result as before. At least this time she was scorched already. [/SD] D had managed to unclench his right hand from the bottle's neck and was scratching feebly at the sand. "Look!" exclaimed Pia. "D wants me to bury him, too! Hurray!" Mink remembered how warm the sand had been when she was buried in it. "Of course -- it's like a blanket. It'll be warm all around him. Lufa -- stop playing with that silly stick and help us get these wet clothes off D before he catches pneumonia!" Lufa sat up, muttered something to the effect that turn about is fair play, and began tugging at D's clothes. SOME TIME LATER D's clothing was spread on various sorts of vegetation over a wide area so it would dry in the sun. D himself, buried in a mound of warm sand, had finally stopped shivering and was beginning to feel human again. In the broadest sense of the term, of course. Lufa had bathed *again* to get herself unscorched. Pia had refrained from unburying D, on Mink's advice. Mink had gone again and again through a cycle of rage, puzzlement, and despair. As soon as D seemed to be capable of talking, she was going to get some answers out of him -- preferably after he got out of the sand and before his clothes dried, because while he was a little too weird to be kissable, he wasn't bad-looking, either. Especially without all that armor. To pass the time, Mink and the twice-bathed Lufa had gathered firewood and laid a fire near D, although they hadn't yet lit it. Lufa was unwilling to let Pia use her lightning staff as a toy (even though it might have been safer in Pia's hands, Lufa's aim being what it was), so Pia had commandeered a long piece of firewood to play with. Her latest game was mountain climber, and of course the sand on top of D was a perfect setting. D was lying on his back with his eyes closed and thinking that perhaps it *was* time he got up when he heard Pia's triumphant shout of "I claim this mountain in the name of Queen Pia the First!" He opened his eyes just in time to see a wooden stake plummeting toward his chest. [SD] "YAAAAH!" yelled D. With strength that he had no idea he'd recovered, he bucked out of the mound. Pia went flying through the air and landed square on Mink. "OOF!" said Mink, with feeling. "You're supposed to let me unbury you!" Pia exclaimed, waving her mountain-climbing-staff-cum-flagpole in protest. [/SD] D stood and began brushing sand off himself. Being in a fanfic rather than an anime, D didn't need to worry about being modest, and his writer didn't have to worry about camera angles. Lufa, watching him, muttered something about not having gotten equal value. Once she was out from under Pia, Mink observed, "Well, I see you're feeling better." She was, she realized, still a little too angry with D to indulge in rational conversation with him. Partly to be useful, and partly to let off steam, she blew a fiery breath into the sticks and set them aflame. D went very pale and sat down rather quickly. "I *wish* you wouldn't do that," he said. At Mink's sideward glare, he hastily added, "It reminds me of someone." And he shuddered. "An old flame?" Mink asked, but D only shuddered again. "Are you still cold, D?" Pia asked sympathetically. "I'm ... I'm recovering," he told her. "There's some medicine I need to mix with hot water. It's in my combat belt -- that thing I wear across my chest," he elaborated, at Pia's puzzled look. "And there's a metal cup for the water in one of my saddlebags." "I'll get it!" said Pia, eager to be useful. She soon returned with D's combat belt looped around her, half-carrying, half-dragging his saddlebags. D took them with unsteady hands and draped them loosely over one leg in a way that somewhat preserved modesty, to Mink's chagrin. From one of the saddlebags he extracted a metal cup and spoon. Mink, seeing how weak he really was, wordlessly took the cup and filled it at the river, then set it at the edge of the fire to heat the water. Without his armor and the cape and hat, D looked a good bit smaller and less intimidating -- not to say less good-looking. Mink was wondering what the likelihood was of this fanfic running to a shower scene when D said, "It's probably hot enough." He reached for the cup, but Mink said, "No, let me -- you just put them in and stir, right?" D nodded and handed her a few brown tablets. She dropped these into the cup (which was still sitting in the coals) and carefully stirred the frothing mixture with a clean stick. D, poor soul, was getting fairly shaky with anticipation and blood-hunger and found Mink's thoroughness (which really was well-intended, however much she might owe him for destruction of her People Potion) wearisome. His eyes took on a slight blue glow as, unable to help himself, he growled softly, shoved Mink aside, and grabbed the cup. D had forgotten that he was not wearing gloves. The metal cup had been sitting on the fire for quite a while and was *very* hot. [SD] D gave a yelp of pain so loud that it startled Rosario into falling out of the rather smaller tree he had just perched in to observe the group. As if synchronized, Rosario hit the ground, and the cup's contents splashed across the sand, immediately soaking in and leaving a long red streak. [/SD] Mink had seen plenty of blood splashes in her time (from her encounters with mutant bears and such) and absolutely could not believe that *that* was what was arcing out of the cup before hitting the sand and soaking in. She hadn't paid that much attention to the liquid when it was in the cup, but once out, her knee-jerk reaction to it was, "Yeeps! That's *blood*!" It was, and D, overcome with blood-hunger, was scooping up single handfuls of reddened sand and sucking desperately at them. Even the symbiot was disgusted. "D, cut that out and let *me* handle this." [SD] When D just pushed his face in deeper, the symbiot made a fist of his left hand and gave D's head a good thwack. Taking advantage of the whirling stars that momentarily filled D's vision, the symbiot plunged itself into the bloodied sand, grabbing handfuls and munching them while D simply blinked, looking stunned. [/SD] Mink, of course, was about to have hysterics, if not kittens. A man who drank blood? A hand with pica? The symbiot was a very efficient eater and soon had salvaged all the blood, as well as a good bit of nice, yummy sand. It gave a quiet belch of satisfaction. "You're disgusting," D muttered, notwithstanding that he felt a lot better because of the symbiot's efforts. "*I'm* true to my nature," the symbiot retorted. "If you were content to be the way you are, you wouldn't have gotten yourself into this fix. Hey, are those gloves dry yet? I could use some shut-eye." "They're leather; they'll take all night to dry," D replied unsympathetically. "But the rest of my clothes...." Were for the most part in sight, and enough of them were dry to permit decency. D arose and noticed that Mink was staring at him in something like horror. "Well?" he asked. Embarrassment made him a little snappish. "Can't a man have a private conversation without being gawked at?" "What is -- ? Why do you -- ?" "It's no more unusual than horns and a tail," D observed quietly. Mink fell silent at this. D continued, "I'm going to put some clothes on. You ladies have had enough of a free show." "That's telling 'em, D," the symbiot muttered drowsily. * * * The heavier articles of D's clothing -- the hat and cape, as well as his boots and gloves -- were still too wet for comfort, but his bodysuit (animators and their damned bright ideas; Hideyuki Kikuchi hadn't written him wearing such a thing) was dry enough to wear comfortably. Now he sat near the fire, decent but preoccupied. He had unsheathed his great sword -- which had also gotten a thorough drenching -- and was carefully oiling it, occasionally resheathing it and then drawing it again to be sure the sheath kept its proper shape as it dried. He didn't even want to think about what would be involved in reblocking his hat. Mink had watched him thoughtfully for some time. She finally decided that conciliation was the best approach and said, "D, I'm sorry I let you stay in the water so long. It's a wonder you only got chilled and not drowned. I was just so angry because the People Potion was gone...." Suddenly realization dawned. "You aren't human, either, are you? You wanted the People Potion for yourself!" D nodded silently, eyes downcast. "What *are* you?" Mink demanded. "I'm ... a dhampir. Or, I suppose you would say, a vampire half." After a pause, he added, "And a vampire hunter." Mink gasped. "Is that why you drink blood?" D nodded. "And why -- and why -- your hand -- ?" "That's a little more complicated," D replied, careful not to elaborate, since the fanfic author has no idea why he has a symbiotic smartass in his left palm. "But that *is* why the running water affected me the way it did." He shivered a little at the memory. "It's also why I needed to be buried in the sand. Dhampirs are creatures of earth." He nodded toward the group's youngest member. "Thank you, Pia." Pia beamed proudly, feeling somewhat compensated for not having been allowed to unbury Mink *or* D. "Poor D," said Mink, with genuine sympathy. D winced inwardly; he might occasionally wallow in self-pity on his own account, but he wasn't used to other people's feeling sorry for him, and he didn't particularly like it. "You mean you *have* to drink blood?" "Not often," D replied, a little gruffly. "Is it hard, being a vampire hunter?" Pia asked. "Sometimes," D admitted, grateful for the change of subject. "It can be very dangerous. But being a dhampir gives me extra abilities that make it a little less dangerous for me than it would be for a human." "But you wanted to be human!" Mink exclaimed. D nodded. "Yes. Even though it would mean losing some of my powers. Just as it would for you, Mink. But you were willing to take the risk." "I still am," Mink said firmly. "We'll just have to keep traveling west after all." She hugged her knees to her chin. "I should have asked that woman to tell us more about where she got it." Just then, the same old woman conveniently hobbled into view. As may be imagined, the hobbling was now rather more realistic. "What!" she exclaimed -- at seeing Mink's horns and tail, as Mink thought, although of course "her" displeasure was really at seeing Mink still alive. "You haven't drunk the p -- the People Potion yet?" "Oh, I'm sorry!" Mink cried, jumping up. "We were cooling it in the water, and the bottle got broken. It's all gone. Please, can you tell us more about where you found it?" "Hmph," Rosario sniffed. "It's not so easy to find -- I have to keep my sources secret. But if -- " At this point Pia, wanting to help her friends, said, "Please, tell us how to find People Potion for Mink and D!" And to emphasize her earnestness, she gave the "old woman's" robe a yank. At which the whole disguise slipped to the ground, revealing -- "You!" Mink exclaimed, remembering the man who had offered her a poisoned apple in King Civa's castle. D still felt rather ashamed of his attempted larceny and overreacted to learning that the potion-vendor was not what s/he had appeared. Before Rosario knew it, the point of D's sword was against his rib cage. "Yipes!" Rosario exclaimed, backpedalling a few steps from his fallen disguise before taking a pratfall. D followed with inhuman speed. "Who are you?" he demanded, his sword making a gentle indentation in Rosario's chest. "And what were you *really* selling?" "Er -- uhm -- look -- how about a refund?" Rosario stammered, going through his pockets and sleeves so fast (despite D's sword) that he seemed to have six hands, and finally coming up with a pouch containing the gamels Mink had paid him. Pia, entering into the spirit of inquisitiveness, was exploring the recesses of Rosario's involuntarily abandoned disguise. "Look!" she called out, waving her find in the air. "It's a bottle with Captain Harlock's flag!" D and Mink stared aghast at the skull and crossbones on the label. D turned back to the supine and sweating Rosario and jabbed the point of his sword just deep enough to draw a little blood (invisible against Rosario's black clothing). "Yowch!" Rosario exclaimed. Something like a growl rose from D's throat. "You tried to poison that girl! Can you give me one good reason I shouldn't kill you on the spot?" [SD] "You can't kill me!" Rosario exclaimed. "I'm needed for sequels!" [/SD] Since Rosario was superdeformed, D knew it was the truth and backed away, scowling. Rosario giggled behind a wide and totally artificial grin, dropped the bag of gamels, grabbed his disguise, and fled at a very rapid hobble. Mink stared after him, then gasped as realization hit her. "D! You kept me from drinking poison! You saved my life!" D had wiped the blood off the point of his sword and resheathed it. He only had time to blink before Mink began jumping up and down, shouting, "Wai! D da yo! Hurray, hurray*!" She spread her wings and took off in a joyous victory flight. D reflected that it looked as if he had been forgiven for breaking the bottle of "People Potion." And he reflected further that if he'd been human, Mink would have drunk it herself and been rendered very, very dead. If he'd saved someone because of just *being* a dhampir, not even having to draw his sword, maybe becoming human wasn't such a great idea after all. Lufa glanced back and forth between D and the shrinking, hobbling black dot that was Rosario. Frowning thoughtfully, she asked, "Is it my imagination, or did his voice sound like yours?" "He sounded like just another guy from a salt marsh," the symbiot muttered, a comment unintelligible without a touch of metafiction.** "Well," Lufa observed, once Mink had come to earth again, "I guess this means we're still headed west to find the People Potion after all." She looked warily at D. "I don't know how much we'll find even if we get there." D shook his head. "No. I'm abandoning this quest. I need all the powers I have so I can keep hunting vampires -- and -- doing other things. It was short-sighted of me to try to be human." "I'm not going to give up," Mink declared firmly. "If I could be human, I could marry Dick Saucer and realize my dream of having --" her eyes went starry "-- a wonderful husband, a cute pet, and a sweet home!" [SD] Lufa pulled a hammer out of hammerspace and bashed Mink over the head with it. "Baka! That's the wrong series!" [/SD] END Endnotes *Because "Hue, hue!" -- which she shouts in Japanese -- just doesn't look right in English. **Added here. The kanji forming the name of Kaneto Shiozawa, the voice actor for D in VHD1985 and Rosario in Dragon Half, literally mean "ordinary person [from a] salt marsh." Rest in peace, Mr. Shiozawa. Comments welcome.