Vampire Hunter D: The Mysterious Girl from the North
"But the extraordinary skill D had just displayed with his left hand would have been viewed by even the most veteran of Hunters as impossible in all but dreams cast by the Fair Folk" - Vampire Hunter D, p. 26.
The morning light that seeped through the forest trees awoke him, not as delicate kisses across his paraffin skin, but as a hateful reminder that sunlight was unkind to someone like him. Normally he awoke at the first light of dawn, capable of sleeping both during the day and at night, but the grove of great pines he had sheltered beneath offered such impenetrable shade that D slept right through the first rays of light. Not that he minded, a full nights rest was always welcome to him. That is, until the sunlight had managed to sneak through the pines to find him sleeping peacefully.
With this unfriendly reminder, the Hunter stood up and placed the saddle he had been using for a make-shift pillow back onto his horse. It didn't bother him so much, he was use to it. With no place to call home and no pillow to rest his head on, this was the life he was used to. Not just as a Vampire Hunter, but also as a dhampir. After making some small adjustments, the Hunter set out through the forest on horseback.
The shade offered to him was comforting as his cybernetic horse began to etch a new path across the dead pine needles and smaller shrubs. They continued on through the forest until the Sun reached the path in the sky straight above their heads. The light was intense. D began to carefully note his environment as he always did and realized the gradual change in vegetation probably meant there was water close by. Listening closely over the sound of thudding hooves, a sense of hearing far surpassing any human picked up on the sound of rushing water. A river, not too far away. Though his mount was partially robotic and in need of hardly the amount of maintenance as a normal horse, the beast still craved a good deal of fresh water.
He steered his horse in the direction of the sound and sure enough, his ears had not failed him. Breaking through the vegetation, a gently flowing river greeted them. D dismounted and lead his horse to the water before leaning his back against a nearby tree, beneath the shade. As the horse drank, another sound entered his ears. In time, the sound got closer and closer. Before the party could even break through the brush, D had already discerned their noise of hooves, footsteps and wagon wheels far before seeing them. They broke through the clearing at the shoreline, chattering a bit and doing the same thing that D had done earlier. Taking a pit stop and allowing their horses to take advantage of the opportunity of fresh water.
Some of the party members filled their drinking bags up with water before one member spotted the youth drabbed in black leaning against a tree with his arms crossed.
"Hey, you there!" The man shouted with a slight Frontier twang.
The figure in black gave no sign of recognition.
"We haven't seen another traveler for days! You ridin' out here all by yourself? That's crazy to do at night on the Frontier alone! We're headed toward the closest village, maybe you could accompany us. We could always use another guy with a weapon, especially at night. Where 'ya headed?"
"Freemont village? What a coincidence, us too! You can ride with us. Whad'ya say, pal?"
D found himself riding with the party. The man who shouted to him earlier, as he came to learn, was called Lance. This man knew very well any traveler that journeyed across the frontier alone probably didn't need to accompany anyone for survival, and guessed the Hunter for a warrior. He told D if he helped get the party safely to the village he'd throw in a couple of coins.
"I knew from the look of you that you had to be a warrior or a bodyguard for hire or something. Not too many men travel through here alone, unless they're really crazy or really good at their sport. I take it you may be a bit of both. So why are you out here all alone?"
"I'm a Vampire Hunter," the deep but calm voiced deadpanned.
The other people of the party felt a chill creep up their spines. Was this young man brave enough to take on those that called themselves the Nobility?
"Well, that certainly would explain a lot! Considered yourself hired then for a little protection. What shall we call you then, Vampire Hunter?" Lance wore a smile beneath his brown beard. He was sitting atop his gray horse with his hat shielding his eyes as he gazed at the Hunter next to him.
"D…? Just D? Is that short for somethi--"
"Hello, D," a sultry voice called out behind him. D glanced over his shoulder toward the source to see a beautiful, tan woman with long, black hair wearing a deep-red top and skirt. Her golden anklets and necklaces would jingle like chimes with the motion of the wagon she was riding on. She wore a seductive smile on her face. "My name is Mina, nice to meet you."
"Oh yeah," Lance grumbled. "Guess you'll wanna know who the rest of these guys are."
"Yes, Lance. Thank you for being so rude," Mina said, her accent adding to the pleasure of her voice.
"Besides me and Mina, the one inside her wagon is Piper."
Just then, the perky head of a young teenage girl poked out. She had short, light brown hair and a smile plastered to her face. Her cheeks were flushed like many of the other females that gazed upon D, and she had been stealing peeks at him from inside the wagon.
"Hi!" Piper beamed.
"And those folks over there are brothers Kyle and James."
"Hi," they both said simultaneously. One tipping his hat. Both wore similar vests and rode similar brown horses, yet Kyle was clearly a few years older than James.
"And on the wagon behind you is Granny." The stout, elderly woman didn't bother to wave or say hello.
"And resting in the shade inside there is her granddaughter."
Lance then lowered his voice so only D could hear, "Shame, that. Burn victim. Over ninety percent of her body. Covered from head to toe in bandages. Can't speak a word."
D looked forward, offering no reply to Lance as the party continued to ride on through the forest. They rode for many hours over the dry floor of pine needles and dead leaves. The wind blowing through the tree tops left a beautiful sound in the ears of those who bothered to listen, and the sound of bird calls gave the forest a sweet song. Yet oddly enough, whenever D rode near any of them, various birds would fly away or stop calling. If anyone noticed, no one ever said anything.
As evening approached, Lance could be heard cracking dirty jokes with Kyle and James. Mina and Piper were bickering back and forth as both sat atop the wagon, and Granny would give the occasional grumble to Lance to lead them on a more steady path whenever her wagon jumbled from passing over large rocks. The party seemed to be in high spirits, but as the sky passed from a warm orange hue and surrendered to indigo, everyone's nerves began to tighten.
Lance seemed to be the appointed leader, and said, "Let's make camp here." Some of the other party members seemed welcomed to the idea of rest.
In due time, a fire was roaring as it cooked wild hens on a spit, and the people were gathered around, sitting on logs for chairs. The horses were tethered close by and the wagons were facing the fire. D declined any food they offered which caused Lance to raise an eyebrow. "How do you keep so built if you don't eat anything?"
"I'll eat his share!" Piper replied, climbing down from the wagon and sitting at a log.
The brothers were engrossed in their own conversation and eating. Mina sat across from D and gazed at him through the flames. His long, black hair gleamed midnight even against the light of the fire. Straight and thick, a few select tendrils draped across his shoulders and the rest flowed behind his back. She took in his strong set jaw and firm pressed lips as a sign he had fought many battles and probably won most. She could tell this much from the muscles she discerned even beneath his coat. A faint blush tinted her cheeks and she began to search his face. His wide-brimmed hat was pulled low so she could not make out his eyes. How badly she wanted to look into those eyes.
"Hellooo? Mina?" Mina flushed in embarrassment as Piper waved a hand in front of her. "Want some?" Piper handed Mina her plate of food, and then much to her annoyance, almost pushed her off the log as she sat down right beside her. Piper began to eat like a barbarian before she too fell under the same spell Mina had.
Lance had just came back from grabbing something from his saddle when he beheld the sight of the two females staring at the gorgeous Hunter.
"Awww, come on now, ladies! This isn't dinner and a show! What's wrong with your boy Lance, here?"
Granny lifted her hand to push Lance aside. "Move it, you're blocking my view."
"Awww, not you too, grandma!"
Granny rasped, "Even an old woman enjoys the pleasure of looking at a pretty face every now and then. But I must say, I haven't seen one this handsome in a long time."
Lance grumbled and sat on the log next to D. "I bet you get this kind of attention from women all the time, don't you? I wish I had that problem. I've seen a lot of Hunters before, but hardly none of them were a sight to behold. Battle scars here and there, maybe pieces of an ear missing, sometimes even an eye. But not you. Come to think of it, you don't have a single scratch on you. Now that's odd, especially for a Vampire Hunter."
"Yes, especially for a Vampire Hunter…" Mina echoed. She was studying D now more profusely. "Even the birds are scared to go near you."
"He's a dhampir."
All eyes but D's turned toward Granny. Someone asked, "How did you know that?"
"I didn't, my granddaughter told me."
All eyes then stared back at D. Then, a surprising thing happened; D spoke up. "It's true."
"Well I'll be…" Lance said.
"That explains a lot," said Mina.
Kyle and James stared at the Hunter. "We've heard of you before." One spoke up. "Guess we should have put it together long ago that you were the first class Hunter. Anyway, it doesn't bother us a bit."
"Not me, either." Came the echo of the other brother.
Mina now held a fascination in her eyes. Piper and Lance seemed a little on edge. It wasn't that dhampir's kept their identities a secret, any clever person could tell what D was if he or she put the pieces together, it's just that this was the first time any of them had been so close to one of them. A creature of darkness. Yet, rumors on the Frontier had given this man a reputation, that no one was a better swordsman than him and that no human had ever become his victim.
"Well, no worries from us, D." Said Lance. "We won't drive you out with torches and pitchforks. We're glad to have you on our side, none of these night demons will stand a chance against someone like you. In the meantime, I'm retiring for the night." The man stood up and tipped his hat. "G'night, folks."
"Me too." Said Granny. She then waddled her stout frame inside her wagon and drew the curtain before blowing out a hanging lantern.
Kyle and James started up a quiet conversation while Piper huddled close to Mina beneath a blanket, shivering somewhat from the night air. Just when Piper was going to ask D something, a terrifying howl off in the distance made all conversation come to a halt. Mina didn't notice that she hugged Piper closer and Piper's shivers suddenly became more violent. "What was that?!"
"Werewolves." D deadpanned.
James spoke up, "They didn't sound too far away."
"I'll keep watch." Came the monotonous deep voice.
And with that, D stood up and walked away from the light of the fire. Mina and Piper followed him with their eyes, and little did the Hunter know that another pair of eyes were following him too. He disappeared into the shadows of the night.
By afternoon the next day, the party had crossed many miles as Lance set a steady pace for the wagons and other horses to follow. They had made it safely through the night, thanks to D. Now, the forest was beginning to surrender its hold, and every now and then the onlookers would be treated to the sight of a grass opening. As the afternoon sun beat down, Piper started to complain from the heat and hunger.
"There's nothing to eat."
"Piper, I gave you some jerky this morning! What'd you do with it?" Mina asked.
"I ate it all, duh! Now I'm hungry again."
"Well stop eating everything!"
Lance interjected, "Come to think of it, I'm hungry too. Why don't I go out and see if I can shoot us s'more of those wild hens, huh? Maybe if I'm lucky I'll even catch a rabbit." He winked at Piper.
"That's a good idea! Mina and I can pick berries! I saw some a while back."
"I am not picking berries."
"James and I are low on rations too," said Kyle. "We'll see if we can shoot something as well."
And so, Lance decided that the party would split up. James and Kyle, Mina and Piper, and D with him. He left the old woman and her granddaughter behind to mind the camp and to keep an eye on the horses too. They needed some rest, so the party set out on foot.
"Come on, Gypsy Dancer!" Piper cried to Mina as she sighed. Mina grumbled in her native tongue and climbed down the wagon.
D and Lance set out up a small hill and disappeared into the forest. Close to an hour later, Lance bemoaned his luck and began to blame D. "Say, you gonna help me at all?"
D was leaning casually against a tree nearby. He said nothing.
"Well if you're just gonna stand there, at least--"
At that moment, the faintest sound of a twig snapping filled D's ears. The Hunter stood upright in his spot and turned in the direction of the sound. Lance immediately sensed the Hunter's alert stance and asked, "What is it, D? Did you hear something? I didn't hear a thing."
"Quiet. It hears us." The mysterious youth in black said without the slightest hint of fear.
Lance froze in place and shifted his eyes about his surroundings. He still couldn't hear a thing, but he eventually settled on the place the Hunter was looking. D had his left hand on his swords hilt, ready to unsheathe his blade at any moment. The man settled his hand on the holster harboring the gun at his belt. What could it be? The man wondered. A coyote? A mountain lion? As if answering his question in a split second, the beast that leapt over the rock took both Lance and D by surprise.
An enormous, black werewolf lunged out from behind a boulder, and in the moment it took Lance to reach for his gun, the beast knocked him to the ground and launched it right out of his hand. Werewolves were clearly nocturnal beast, avoiding the light of day and the heat as much as possible. It was unheard of for such a beast to attack in daylight, yet the creature before them must have been mad from hunger. It was the only thing that could explain its desperation, and yet it must have been the same beast that had been following them from the night before.
Lance reached desperately for his gun. This she-wolf must have been tipping close to eight-hundred pounds and was roughly the size of a bear. She opened her mouth and snarled viscously at the two men, rows of teeth gleaming and drool dripping from the corners of her maw. Surely she was starving. Yet even thin from starvation, she was still impressive in size and power.
"D!" Lance shouted. "If you run, she'll follow by instinct - that'll give me plenty of time to load my gun with silver bullets!" The man already held the silver bullets that he grabbed from his pocket in his hand. His hand was shaking terribly. A couple of the bullets fell to the ground.
The she-wolf seemed to have her eyes set on Lance, not at all looking at the man in black and eyeing Lance like the weaker animal as he fumbled to get up on his feet.
"She won't buy it." D spat nonchalantly. "I'll need you to move out of the way."
Lance dodged an enormous, black paw with four inch claws that swiped at his chest, barely snagging and ripping the edge of his vest.
The man let out a startled cry, "Easier said than done!"
It was all taking place so fast, all Lance could see was a blur of movement. He was trying as quickly as he could to configure himself in such a way that D could get a clean swipe, yet trying not run too far as to where the beast would give chase. He knew he wasn't as fast as a dhampir like D, and he certainly wasn't fast enough to outrun a werewolf. The swift flashes of black continued to come at him. Lance was having a hard time before he realized that despite the fact that this creature was starving, this she-beast was merely toying with him. It would only take her one strike to truly rip him in half, and he knew that moment was coming. That's what he was afraid of.
"Keep away from her head." D said calmly.
"That's kind of the part that wants to eat me!" The man shouted, and made a bold sprint with a burst of fresh energy. Too late. The werewolf showed no interest in D as he moved around to her side, almost as if his ghastly aura told her what he truly was. She anticipated the thrill of the chase, and just as Lance had made a bolt, he felt a hot, searing pain clamp down on his right foot. She snarled wildly, and just then, a sound reached Lance's ears. It was the sound of metal striking bone.
D made a clean swipe right through the beast's neck, severing her head from her body. He returned his sword to its sheath and walked over to the injured man. Lance was staring behind him in disbelief, almost forgetting about the pain in his foot. Before him, a magnificent head lay with a trail of blood flowing behind it. The eyes were unresponsive, but the she-wolf's jaws still made snapping motions, even in death. It was an eerie sight to behold to the man who had never seen a dead werewolf before.
"We should go back now."
Lance looked up at D. Surely the man before him was no ordinary dhampir. In a way, he seemed like a dark savior, with an aura of blackness surrounding him.
"I can't thank you enough for that, pal!" The man was still catching his breath from surprise. "I'm gratefully in your debt!"
And with that, D extended his hand and helped the injured man up. Lance leaned on D for support as he limped his way back to camp.
Farther down the hillside, the two men broke through the forest and into the clearing that held camp. They beheld a truly devastating sight. The wind carried the scent of blood to the dhampir's nose and both men looked around to see that the camp was completely destroyed. The two wooden wagons were torn apart, the ropes that tethered the horses were snapped in half. No doubt that some of the horses broke free from fear, yet it was clear by the amount of blood on the ground that some of them had met their doom. D's horse was the only one that remained. It was cybernetic, not exactly a meal worthy of a werewolf.
"Oh God…" Was all Lance could say surveying the destruction. "What the hell do you think happened here?"
The Hunter looked closely at some of the black fur that had snagged on a nearby lonely tree. He felt the fur twist between his fingertips. "There must have been two of them…probably the male of the pair."
Lance took off his hat and held it over his heart, shaking his head. Suddenly, as if remembering something, he ran to the wreckage that was once one of the wagons and started to toss aside some of the rubble.
"Granny?!" He shouted. "Granny?! Where the hell are you?"
As if an answer to his plea, off in the distance gunfire rang out. "James and Kyle!"
D took off in the direction of the gun shots, leaving Lance behind.
"Hey!" the man shouted, but knew it was no use. He was injured and couldn't run. Besides, he had a gun loaded with silver bullets just in case, so he was ready for trouble.
By the time D got to the scene, it was too late for James. The sight told the tale. The two brothers must have unintentionally met up with Mina and Piper some time later after their berry picking. The berries stained the ground. The woman and the girl were holding each other, huddled against a bolder in tears. Piper was sobbing miserably. They appeared relatively okay, besides scratches and bruises, but the man at their feet had met his end. No doubt trying to protect them, James suffered a terrible blow from the alpha-wolf that snapped his spine. His brother, Kyle, was on the scene and made a fuss with the big male before firing three silver bullets into its head and chest. The now dead werewolf lay sprawled on the ground, completely stained with crimson.
Kyle turned his sad eyes to the man in black as he appeared. "I heard the old woman and them screaming, and I…" He looked down sadly at his bloodstained hands. "It was too late for my brother…"
The girl and the woman ran to D from behind the rock, each taking hold of his arm. D looked down at them calmly before saying, "Go back to camp, Lance should be there. Don't worry, his gun is loaded." Piper began to protest by crying louder, but Mina bravely took the girl and both began to make their descent down the mountain.
D looked back at Kyle. "Where is Granny?"
"She…" his hand finished his sentence as he pointed to a thicket. D could already smell the blood.
"Go back to camp with the girls."
The Hunter in black pushed aside the branches to large bushes and found the tree that Granny was slumped against for support. She was twisted at a funny angle, and no doubt she was breathing her last breaths. D knelt down beside the old woman, and it took her a moment to register through her pain that he was there. She looked up into his eyes and the sight she beheld almost made her forget her pain. It was as if the eyes of this man of Darkness held a hint of compassion.
"Oh…It's you…Thank the Lord…"
Puzzled, D didn't show it. No one was ever thankful for his presence. He was usually as unwanted as Death in Spring-time. The woman's eyes began to flutter, as if any moment she would lose consciousness and be at Death's door. She spoke to D with closed eyes, "I tried my best to protect her. I must tell you before I die, I must tell someone…She's no granddaughter of mine. But I've failed her just the same, and I feel terrible for it…Please, D, I beg you…Heed an old woman's dying wish and take care of her, won't you?"
D said nothing.
"She isn't scarred or disfigured, that's all a lie. I wrapped her in bandages because I wasn't sure if the spell I had put on her had worn off or not, and I didn't want to test it by her making those men go mad." She was referring to the men in their party. "Man no longer knows what he's looking at…they see an ordinary girl but sometimes the littlest of children can see through it. I've taken her to every know-it-all I can and they can't figure her out, she's completely human and nothing more. The moment I saw her I just had to know who she is…that's why we were out here, on this journey…I was hoping we could eventually make our way to the Capitol…"
"Does she have any relatives I could take her to?"
The old woman let out a deep rumble that must have been a laugh. It pained her. "No one knows who she is. I found her up in some Northern village. The people there were raving she walked right out of the Northern Portal. They almost killed her - they're so superstitious. One look at her and I knew I'd love her like my own grandchild regardless. Just as you make women wild with lust with your unworldly beauty, she does the same to men, and she's just an ordinary human girl…It makes no sense. Please don't let anyone hurt her…"
The old woman looked up into D's eyes. Her vision was fading. The face before her made her weep in her final moments. He was so serene, so… "Beautiful…As much as your beauty comes from the world of Darkness I think hers must come from some other world too…maybe the world of Light…I'm not sure, it just makes no sense since she's a human being, not a dhampir like you." By now D was holding the woman's hand. She had reached out to stroke his face as if she would be allowed one final moment of happiness, but the Hunter grasped her hand instead. Now, her hand went limp and slipped out of his. "It just makes no sense…"
And then her eyes closed. Death had come.
D rested Granny's hands on her lap and stood up after a moment. Taking a few steps around the other side of the tree, he found her. A tragic figure lay on the ground face-down and lifeless. Granny had told the girl to climb up a tree during the terrifying attack, and when the werewolf had thrown the old woman against its trunk, it sent the girl tumbling right out of the its branches. Now the girl, with no voice that was able to cry for help, was left unconscious. Some of the bandages around her wrists and ankles had come loose.
A hoarse voice from D's left hand spoke up with an air of understanding, "I know you try to play good guy and respect people's dying wishes and all, but we can't take this one. We can't possibly take this kid with us. What are you going to do, D?"
D said nothing.