Chapter 2: Inevitable Equilibrium
From Alucard's perspective, the situation was fairly simple. He'd woken up for no immediately obvious reason and found himself in a world that he didn't recognize, with nothing but a sword available for his use. For several days he'd traveled in search of any sign of civilization and had found nothing beyond some rotted ruins and an assortment of vicious monstrous creatures.
When he had first glimpsed D riding towards him, Alucard had been relieved—a man on horseback was a welcome sight. But a few minutes later, relief had turned to doubt as he realized that it was not a normal horse, and that the rider, by all indications, was a vampire. And a few minutes after that, doubt turned to distaste as a closer look at D's features revealed that he wasn't your average human who'd had the misfortune of being turned. On the vampiric family tree, it was safe to say that he wasn't a leaf at the fringe, discarded and regenerated with the changing seasons—he was a little closer to the trunk. His castle was probably somewhere in the vicinity, and perhaps he was riding out to intercept Alucard for trespassing-- although why the vampire would come himself instead of sending a servant, Alucard couldn't fathom.
By the time D had gotten off his horse, Alucard had been expecting a fight. When the strange voice identified them both as half-breeds, Alucard's hopes for a peaceable outcome had risen slightly, only to be dashed moments later when D made his intentions clear.
And so now Alucard was fighting for his life, learning from his would-be executioner's every move and testing the limits of his own abilities. It was a little frustrating knowing that in his own world, he'd be able to use a dozen different tricks to defeat an opponent like D, while in this world what little magic he could manage was immediately counteracted by the round blue gem on D's chest, and changing shape was out of the question. The rules were askew—he even had a completely solid reflection in the mirror under his feet.
The hunter D, meanwhile, was fighting for somewhat darker reasons. This strange dhampir calling himself 'Alucard' was one of two things: a relic, somehow preserved from ancient times, or a more recent creation. In either case, he was now loose in the world, and there was the terrible possibility that there might be more like him. D had nothing against the existence of other dhampirs in the world, as long as they remembered their place and didn't make a habit of eating people. But this dhampir was different, and whether he was well-behaved around humans or not, D was determined to kill him. There was something about him that required immediate destruction, something that made him the second-most dangerous opponent D had ever faced: Lefty had been right about him. He was just like D.
Alucard had asked D what gave him the right to decide that his 'time' was over. The answer, of course, was that D was the son of the Vampire King, and the fate of his father's people had been in his hands for millennia already. Whether the Nobles would thrive or be eradicated was his decision to make, and he had made it long ago. Alone in his quest, he imposed his judgment on one vampire at a time, usually according to which ones were causing the most trouble for humans. He'd never failed to kill his target, for the simple reason that the power he'd inherited made him stronger than every vampire except the one he'd inherited it from.
But now, with each passing moment, D became more convinced that drop for drop, Alucard's blood contained as much raw power as his own. And that was why the strange dhampir had to die—in the business of being on a level above the Nobility, D could stand no rival.
At one point in the ongoing fight, D happened to glance down at his reflection, and that was when he realized why the very name 'Alucard' bothered him so much. Backwards… like in a mirror… suddenly D considered another possibility. Perhaps Alucard wasn't even real—maybe he was only a doppelganger, conjured up as some kind of psychological puzzle for D to solve. If that was the case, D had fallen right into the trap, and surely a dark shadow somewhere was having a good laugh at his expense. D's eyes narrowed, his conviction redoubled. He would win.
Sunrise, at last—the light cutting sharp as a knife across the mirror of the desert floor. The heat followed, rolling in from the horizon in an invisible wave. Blood that been spilt in the night withered away, drying to blackened dust. Before long, they were both quietly panting for breath.
And as the light and the heat intensified, so did the ranting of D's hand.
"…and you're both going to cook out here!" Lefty screamed. "Two strips of bacon wrapped in black cloaks, that's what you'll be. Now will you please call a truce so we can get out of here alive??"
They ignored him. Soon, they were both squinting as the light burned their bloodshot eyes. Even D's broad-brimmed hat was of little use, when the ground all around him was reflecting the sun at him from every angle.
"D. D, you gotta listen to me," Lefty begged. "Ok ok, how about this: you don't want to call a truce. Fine. But I think it's obvious by now that you're the better swordsman, so, let's just call this one a victory and get the hell out of here."
The hunter didn't even bother to answer. His next attack was foiled and he ended up falling to his side, but was instantly back on his feet.
"Think about it!" Lefty pleaded. "Call the horse and let's get you under some shade, man! It's miles and miles—this guy's on foot; he'll never make it! We'll just leave him here and the sun'll kill him for you, you know it will!"
"He…he's right," Alucard realized suddenly. "I don't see a way out of this." He swayed a little, feeling dizzy from the heat, and shook his head in defeat. "Even if I win, I doubt that I could persuade your… 'horse' to carry me to shelter in time."
D staggered, barely able to stand. "Oh, wonderful," Lefty said. "He finally decides to surrender, and you're going to pass out. Perfect."
D fell to his knees and struggled to look up at his adversary.
"Yup, you've done it now, buddy," Lefty was saying. "Normally at this point I'd be hollering at you to get yourself underground, but, hah! Good luck digging through ten feet of solid glass. Congratulations, you've finally killed us. I hope you're proud of yourself."
"Keh," Alucard coughed, and put his hand to his throat. He felt like he was suffocating. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move. The bright, empty world around him shimmered and swirled as his vision began to fail.
The hunter made one last effort to get to his feet, and collapsed. His body shuddered once, twice, and lay still. "D?" Lefty asked, alarmed. "D!"
Vaguely, Alucard wondered if that meant he had won. And then he too reached his limit and toppled over onto the mirrored ground.
"Damn it, you too?" Lefty cursed. "Crap! You were our last chance out of here!"
Alucard closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Don't be sorry, don't be sorry!" Lefty exclaimed, panic creeping into his tone. "C'mon, c'mon kid! Get up—we'll get that horse, somehow, we'll get—"
"It's over," Alucard said. It was as if he could feel his blood evaporating in his veins. He was too exhausted to feel pain anymore, and instead, he felt calm. Soon, he knew, he'd shrivel into dust and be whisked away by the wind. It was almost a comforting thought, now that it was inevitable.
Lefty had fallen silent. "I've been with him," he said abruptly, his voice rough, "for so long now. Through a million adventures. To think that this was our last…"
Alucard forced his eyes open, regarded the fallen heap of black fabric that was the vampire hunter D. "It was an honor," he rasped, not sure if he was talking to D or just to the strange voice. "It was…a good fight."
"Yeah," Lefty agreed, sniffling. "It was." Then his voice regained its strength. "It was a hell of a good fight. Loved it when you just slapped him. God, he deserved it. Can't tell you how often I've wanted to do that myself. Come to mention it, now that he's out cold, or rather, out hot, considering the circumstances…hempf!"
As Alucard watched, D's left hand flopped over and then raised itself into the air. The fingers straightened themselves out, and in one swift motion, the hand came down across the hunter's ashen cheek. Slap! "That's for killing yourself!" Lefty declared, as the hand lifted itself again. Slap! "And that's for killing the other guy!" For a third time, the hand rose into the air, poised to strike. "And this--" the hand trembled, and then fell to the ground in front of D's face. The fingers curled weakly. "—is for not listening to me. Because goddamn you, I told you this would happen. And did you pay attention? No! Every word I said went right in one of your pointed ears and out the other!"
Suddenly the desert was despairingly quiet. D's heart wasn't beating anymore, and, Lefty realized with renewed distress, neither was Alucard's.
"Damn," Lefty muttered, and then took a deep breath.
And in one long uninterrupted spiel, he cursed D and dhampirs in general from hell to high water. "…and now once again, it's up to me to save you!" he concluded, having finally run out of cusswords and derogatory terms. "…only this time, I have no idea how I'm going to do it. I'm completely starving, I've got no energy stored up. Probably won't do me any good praying for a miraculous solar eclipse or something. But, if there is still a God in heaven--"
Lefty shut up, for at that exact moment, a shadow fell across D's left hand. Looking up in shock, Lefty was greeted by a concerned nicker.
"Horse!" Lefty sputtered. "You clever little—how'd you sneak up on me like that?"
The horse snuffled in reply, and stepped over D to stick its nose in the other dhampir's sunburned face. It paused there for a moment, smelling, evaluating, and then it nuzzled Alucard's hand.
"Good horse, good horse!" Lefty encouraged it. The horse's shadow was partially draped over both of the collapsed bodies. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. "Stay where you are now… don't move, ok?"
But the horse picked its head up, its eyes locking onto something in the distance. It whinnied, ears pricked forward.
"What? What is it? What's out there? Nngh!" Lefty strained to raise himself as high as he could, pulling D's arm straight up into the air. Scouring the horizon, staring, smelling, listening as hard as he could, Lefty finally zeroed in on what had gotten the horse's attention. "A wagon! I don't believe it. We're saved!" He turned back and forth a little, looking down at the unconscious, graying faces of both D and Alucard. "Just hang in there a little longer, guys," he muttered.
And when the wagon drew closer, he began to call for help.
Sure enough, the wagon stopped. And an ancient, hunchbacked woman climbed out of it, and hobbled across the glass to see what she had found. She was dressed in what looked like multi-colored rags sewn together, and her head was covered by a voluminous hood—beneath which her bright eyes shone like little lights.
"Howdy," Lefty said, as she peered down at him. He gave her his best, friendliest smile. "What brings you out into this desolate place?"
"Business," the old woman answered, in an age-graveled voice. The sagging wrinkles of her face couldn't hide the amusement in her smile. "What's yer name, hand?"
"Ladies first," Lefty said.
"Ain't got a name," the woman said. It sounded more like a realization than a statement, and Lefty suddenly felt like he'd been x-rayed. The woman gave D's shoulder a little kick, and changed the subject. "Got a couple dhampirs here," she said, her tone brisk despite its raggedness.
Before Lefty could answer, the old woman squatted down beside Alucard, took his chin in her hand, turned it slightly this way and that. Ran her thumb over his eyelashes. "Not bad looking," she deemed, standing up again. "Killed each other?"
"Sun got 'em," Lefty answered.
"Shame," replied the woman.
"Actually, since they haven't turned to dust yet, I'm hoping I can bring them back to life," Lefty confessed. He pointed at D. "This one's got some money. If you could—hey!"
Suddenly the old woman's eyes caught a flash of sapphire, and she pounced on D like a starving jackal on a carcass. She rolled him onto his back, and her hands clutched at the blue gem on the pendant around his neck. "How long has he had this?" she demanded, bringing the gem within inches of her gleaming eyes.
"What, that?" Lefty moved D's hand into an 'I dunno' gesture that might've accompanied a shrug. "Probably forever. Look, if you wouldn't mind—hey!"
Without further ado, the woman produced a dagger from somewhere in her ragged patchwork of clothing, and cut the pendant free. "Whoa! Lady!" Lefty sputtered. "Look, look-- I know what you're thinking. Clean out their pockets and leave 'em to rot, right? But you aren't seeing the big picture! Don't you realize what you've got here? This is an opportunity! These guys aren't your run-of-the-mill half-breeds. You save their lives now, and I swear you won't regret it."
The old woman seemed to be ignoring him, and was indeed going through the rest of D's pockets. Once she'd gotten every last penny, she moved on to Alucard. Lefty was about to lose hope when suddenly, the old woman picked up Alucard's sword, and dropped it again as if it were a deadly viper. She put her hands on her hips and stood utterly still, staring down at Alucard's pale, perfect face. Then she muttered something to herself that Lefty didn't quite catch, and she turned to look at D again. Crouching down, she used her thumb and forefinger to peel open one of D's lifeless eyes. "Blue," she said, and pulled out the pendant she'd taken from him. She stared at it for a long, silent moment.
And then she grinned, and focused her keen, shining eyes on Lefty's worried face. "Sell 'em to me."
Lefty blinked. "Uh, excuse me?"
"These two mutts. The pair of 'em. Sell 'em to me, and I'll let you bring 'em back to life like you want."
"We'll need shelter from the sun," Lefty said carefully. The woman nodded. "And transport to the other side of the Glass." She nodded again, and Lefty bit his bottom lip. "And, as soon as possible, I'll need earth and water."
"'course you will," the old woman said. "Got it in the wagon. Crate o' one and barrel o' th'other. You can help yerself. We got a deal?" She smiled, and very deliberately stretched out her left hand.
With two rapidly dying dhampirs to worry about, Lefty didn't see how he had much of a choice. He guided D's hand to hers, and shook it.
...to be continued!...
Author's note: Oh my gosh I am so excited! During my long absence from ff.n, some of my favorite VHD authors have posted new chapters! I can't wait to read them! But first things first: let me get this chapter posted. I know it's been a long time coming. Believe it or not, this whole story has been written for months... on paper. I am the slowest person in the world when it comes to getting things from the page to the screen. But I do like this story, and I WILL finish posting it!