I don't own Vampire Hunter D except for the novels #1-22. If I did actually have D, he would be doing my chores.
Title: Following His Footsteps
Summary: Traveling with the dhampir who may (or may not) be his brother, Dualarc learns that with D actions count for more than words.
I woke up in agony.
Why the fuck was this my life?
I had been moved from the floor to a bench on the side of the jailhouse. My coat and shirt were both gone, and I had about a kilometer of bandages wrapped around my gut. They were stained brown and stank of old blood. Looking at them made my stomach flip-flop and I lowered my head back onto the bench, closing my eyes.
Two heartbeats nearby, besides my own, neither of them D's. Fuck, had he already taken off? I couldn't run after him like normal. Scent said both were men. One was a bit sharp smelling, so probably the alcohol drenched sheriff. The other… who? Seemed familiar, but I couldn't….
"Hello there? Are you awake?"
Footsteps came close to me and then stopped. I knew the voice, but the name escaped me. I opened my eyes a tiny bit. A pale face stared down at me from the dim light of the jailhouse. I knew that face. He was the boy in the cell from the night before. Why couldn't I remember his name?
"Do you feel alright?"
"Been better," I responded. My throat felt like it had been vigorously scratched with sandpaper and I was thirsty. Like, this-is-dangerous thirsty. The sheriff came over to stand next to the boy and I felt saliva beginning to pool in my mouth. Ew. "Can someone give me a hand up?" I asked.
Very gingerly, the sheriff got me to stand. Strangely, most of the pain this caused came from my head. My gut was a bit sore, but didn't do more than give a few pained twinges as I flexed it. I was a little afraid of what that might mean. What I knew about vampire and dhampir biology was pretty limited.
"Where's D?" was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
If they said he had already collected his payment and rode off, I was going to scream.
"Tracking the vampire from last night," familiar boy said. I remembered two enthralled girls, May and June. I remembered their father and dead mother. Why couldn't I remember his name? Who was he? "It managed to get away after making a new hole in the jailhouse wall. I don't know when he'll be back."
Okay, so I wasn't going to have to go on a run with my stomach stapled. Good to know. Second question, "What was your name again?"
He blinked, looking confused. "Um, Rikard. I told you before. Don't you remember?"
"No," I said bluntly. That bothered me. I was pretty good with names and faces, so why didn't I remember? I'd only met him a day before.
"Ah well, don't worry about it. You did get attacked pretty savagely only a while ago. Maybe the shock made you forget a few things."
…That was actually a better explanation than anything I had.
Actually, why did my head hurt so much? It couldn't be just because I bumped it –
"Anyway," Rikard said with forced cheer, "you should probably go back to sleep. The sheriff let me use some medicine on your wound, but you still lost a lot of blood. Don't want to keel over again, right?"
Good idea. It had one problem, though. I didn't think I needed rest.
"Hey, hey, what are you doing?!"
That was Rikard yelling as I pulled at the bandages wrapped around my middle. My stomach didn't hurt and none of the blood I could smell was fresh. It was almost like… well, it sounded insane, but it felt like I wasn't injured. Then I finally got the bandages far enough away from my skin to see for myself. I should have been surprised, but for some reason, I wasn't. I had healed almost completely. Dried blood covered my belly with a dark brown crust, but there was no wound.
I tore the bandages away in one motion and ran my fingers over what should have been an intestine oozing mess. The skin was a bit sensitive and little flashes of pain arced like lightning across my gut, but that was all. I had been almost disemboweled not even a day ago and now it just felt like I'd gotten a belly button infection. How? I mean, I wasn't complaining about it, let's be clear there, but how?!
Wait. Something like this had happened before. Back during the Skethagon affair (what was the name of the town I'd actually been in? I couldn't remember that either…), I had gotten impaled through the chest and woken up the next day without a hitch. I'd been frantic to catch up with D so I hadn't thought much of it at the time, but that was odd. Even for a dhampir, I don't think I should have healed that fast. At the time, I could have chalked it up to getting decent treatment at the hospital, but what if that wasn't it? What if I just naturally healed this fast now?
'If that's true… I never have to pay a doctor's bill again! Sweet!'
Look, I try to stay positive.
Cackling gleefully, I looked for my clothes. I found them draped over the sheriff's chair, torn and bloody. Whatever. I'd clean up later. For now, I had shit to do.
"Wait, you shouldn't be moving so much!" Rikard protested.
"Do you want to die?" The sheriff was a bit blunter.
"I'm fine, honest," I laughed. It was mostly true. My head still ached like I'd tried using it to knock down a house, but that was all. It would probably be worse when I left the dim light of the jailhouse and stepped into actual (if also dim) sunlight, but that was what I had my sunglasses for. "I want to catch up with D before he kills the vampire."
Because a wounded vampire in the daylight was probably my safest option for seeing an actual hunt. I had no idea when or if this chance would come again, and no way was I missing out on it.
"Thanks for helping me goodbye now I'll catch you later," I rattled off as fast as I could. I burst out of the door and into the sunlight. For once I didn't mind that it burned. Almost bleeding to death on a hick jailhouse floor makes a guy appreciate beautiful things, you know?
Following the trail from the jailhouse was not hard. D and the vampire hadn't been trying to be stealthy and all I had to do was go along with the destruction. It painted a line from the town to the forest. Once in the forest, the path of slashed tree trunks, fallen branches, upturned earth and such was just as easy to see. Either the vampire had been fighting like a madman (likely) or D was the one who cut loose (unlikely). My money was on the vampire because, frankly, I would probably lose my shit too if D was chasing me with intent to kill and had already taken one of my arms.
Ah well, it probably hadn't done him any good.
Mind you, if that was the case, where was D? I couldn't imagine killing one injured vampire would take that long. Nor for that matter would catching it. Just how fast was it to have managed to get this far with D after it?
I followed the damage trail for almost a full mile. Apparently the answer to my question was very fast. It stopped at the mouth of a cave, which had a pair of white stone pillars on either side of it. Better, and stranger, D was just standing there in front of it.
"Good morning, Mr. Broody," I hailed. "What are you standing around out here for?"
D glanced at me, blinked and then went back to studying the mouth of the cave. Ah, consistency.
My headache hadn't abated by then. If anything, it was getting worse. D had that effect, it seemed.
I squinted into the darkness of the cave. My eyes were pretty amazing, but even I couldn't see more than fifty or so feet into it before the darkness covered everything. What I could make out was a trail of black blood and messy footprints in the dirt.
"So, he actually got away from you? Wow," I muttered. I mean, I knew Hunters screwed up on the job sometimes, but D? I had kind of thought he was infallible. Well, shows what I knew.
Actually, why wasn't D still pursuing?
I considered asking, but I had a plethora of evidence that that wouldn't get me a decent explanation. So….
Look around, Dualarc. What do you see? One Hunter, top tier in his profession, not chasing his prey into the cave despite knowing it is wounded and tired. One cave, which the vampire apparently knew to get to since the trail was basically a straight line here. And two pillars at the entrance, one on either side, that looked strangely immaculate for being in the dim forest for who knew how long.
I considered all of this, bent down, picked up a rock, and threw it towards the cave entrance.
It exploded as it passed between the pillars, the tiny chunks that remained coming back to pelt me.
Well, that answered that.
I looked over D again. How long had he been trying to figure out a way passed these things? I would have just looked for another way in.
I stepped closer to D, my fingers pulling one of my stakes loose from my bag. I flipped it up and caught it. Maybe I could use this to destroy one of the pillars? Wouldn't know until I tried.
"So, how did it get away from you anyway? I'd have thought you would have killed it there in town."
"Some kind of special-distorting technique," D answered. Strange, but welcome. "I had to – "
My fist, with the stake clutched firmly in my fingers, slammed point first into the back of his heart with every ounce of strength I could muster up using only one arm. He didn't scream, didn't collapse, just grunted and in the same moment slammed his left elbow back into my nose. Anybody else probably would have gone through a tree or five, but I'd already anchored my feet to the ground and just let my upper body take the blow. I bent backwards and reached for his feet. He wasn't there anymore. He was in front of me as I came back up, his sword coming down and -
I woke up and my headache was gone.
This time I very distinctly remembered what had happened and wondered at why that was.
I was lying flat on my back on the forest floor, D crouching over me. His left hand was covering my face, but he drew it off as I opened my eyes. His right hand was still holding his sword. I could smell blood and saw a bloody stake a few feet away, but he didn't seem to be in pain. How?
"Do you feel better now?" D asked.
"I should be asking you that," I responded, sitting up gingerly. My hands came up to my head, carefully feeling around my hairline. I definitely remembered the sword coming down and hitting me – not cutting me – right around there. The fact that he hadn't been aiming to kill was strange enough. How had he managed to knock me out without a scratch and fix what was wrong from earlier?
"My headache is gone," I said slowly. My mind was racing a mile a minute, trying to figure out what in the fuck had just happened. I had been thinking about how to get into the cave and then somehow gone to murdering D without a single hitch in my mind or body.
"I was actually trying to kill you," I said (perhaps unwisely, given that D was still well within decapitating range). "Why was I trying to kill you, no, wait, stupid question. I got mind controlled, didn't I?"
"So far as I can tell, yes," D said. "Although you seemed to be resisting it well enough. Do you remember anyone telling you to kill me?"
"What'd you…? D, I didn't resist it! I put one of my stakes through your back," I reminded him.
If that bothered him, he didn't show it. D stood up and sheathed his sword, turning away from me. I guess I wasn't considered a threat again.
"You struck me from behind, aiming for my heart at a moment when I was not on my guard against you," D said in his usual low voice. "If you were not fighting the command subconsciously, why am I alive? You only hit me hard enough to pierce the stake two inches deep. Any further and I would have been in trouble, but it seems your arm stopped in time."
…I had what? I thought I'd hit him as hard as I could. Had I really held back some?
"Moreover, you say you had a headache? With no physical injury that typically means a mental conflict; in your case, defiance against an intruder. How long have you had it?"
"Not long," I murmured, thinking back. "It was in the jailhou – "
Rikard, leaning down at me as I woke up.
Rikard, who had been staring at me when he should have been asleep.
Rikard, who had ripped into my mind before.
The fucking telepathic thrall!
"Oh, I am going to kill that little bastard!" I spat, rage flooding my blood like scalding hot water. My canines were definitely getting longer, I could feel the tips grazing my lower gums, but here was time when I honestly didn't care.
"The O'Hara boy, then?" D asked from somewhere beyond my notice.
I nodded, my anger growing beyond words. That sick little shit had been in my head! He'd forced orders onto me and nearly gotten me killed! Nearly made me kill D!
"He's likely gone by now. Still, we may get lucky," D said.
I didn't wait for him. I took off running through the forest as fast as I could. Trees blurred past me and I ducked underneath their branches where they reached for me. I felt so stupid. Nothing about the jailhouse had been right in hindsight. Where had the girls and the father gone? They had been missing when I woke up, I knew that now. I mean, I had noticed at the time that only Rikard and the sheriff were there with me, but it hadn't mattered. And why had Rikard been out of the cell? The vampire wasn't dead yet, which meant he was still dangerous. And fuck, he'd been the one to put me down last night, hadn't he? I'd been fine… okay, I'd been conscious until I'd noticed him staring at me. Then the migraine that had finished me off came down like the finger of God, probably to keep me from saying anything about it to D while he was there.
Shit, D chasing after the vampire was probably the only reason I was still alive. He'd wanted someone to make sure the Hunter wasn't going to be killing his master and there I was, a dhampir that D had been traveling with. If he'd known how little D actually relied on or liked me, I probably would have died there on the floor when no one was watching.
I came out of the trees at a dash, bounding past a startled dog that tripped over itself trying to follow my movement. The jailhouse was in front of me seconds later. I already knew what I would find before I opened the door – Rikard and the sheriff both gone – but I wanted to get a better look inside the building. Even if I didn't find a clue as to where they had gone, maybe I could find something to explain what had happened to the others O'Haras.
My anger, which had been denied a justifiable release at Rikard's absence, was instead taken out on the furniture. I threw the drawers of the sheriff's desk to the floor, shattering the bottle of whiskey that had indeed been in there. Papers were scattered everywhere. When the desk offered nothing else, I threw it against the wall. The jailhouse cell doors were next. I wrenched off the one that had held the daughters only yesterday and bent it in half before slamming it to the ground. Inside there was nothing, not even a hair left on either bed. Growling deeply, I turned to leave and found D standing in front of the cell opening.
"You need to calm down," he said.
I knew that in my head, but my gut had other ideas. I still burned with the need to wring Rikard's scrawny little neck for what he'd done to me. Abusing the town's property wasn't the most ethical outlet, but it was better than going on a screaming rampage through the streets, right?
"I'll calm down when I snap that bastard's neck!" I shouted. "He almost got me killed and you too, in case you've forgotten!"
"I haven't," D replied. His voice was as level as ever. "But you are causing a scene. There is nothing more to be gained here and I don't think you have the money or skill to repair all of this, do you?"
Well, he had me there. 'You break it, you fix it' was a pretty good deterrent when you had no idea how to fix it.
'Okay, just treat it like a breathing exercise,' I thought.
One in, long, hold it, then out slow.
And I was somewhat sane again.
"Okay," I gritted out between my definitely-too-big teeth. "What do you suggest?"
D gave me A Look, letting me know with a glance just how stupid me asking him for advice was.
Then he defied all expectations and actually gave me a decent answer.
"How about you start with what happened when I left the jail in pursuit of the vampire last night?"
So, I told him. I left out the part about me crawling pathetically across the floor, my guts one little jostle away from escaping my skin. I told him about how the girls had refrained from even trying to go after me and how Rikard, though not his father, had been awake and staring at me. About how he had psychically attacked me the moment he realized the jig was up.
It went into theory after that. I was fairly certain he had kept me alive and let my wounds heal so he could brainwash me into backstabbing D like I had, but I didn't know if he had implemented other commands. My headache had disappeared after following the 'kill D' order and he had been trying to get me to go back to sleep, so I was fairly certain that was the only thing he had had time to get into me. I wasn't sure, however. I had been alone with him for several hours, after all.
"So, that's my story," I finished. "What happened with you?"
D had driven the vampire to charging straight through the wall and into the night. Pursuing it, he had gone into the woods and harassed the beleaguered monster through the trees, creating that oh-so-easily-followable trail I had found. Then the cave had opened up in front of them. The vampire went running through, D only a tiny bit behind him. The force field came to life just in the nick of time, melting the tip off D's blade just before it could skewer the vampire from behind. Then, from apparently out of nowhere, a whole contingent of security drones had appeared. Like, from thin air. There was my old friend space warping technology again. They could somehow mess with the area between them and D, ensuring none of his strikes could reach them. Something similar had stopped most of D's strikes on the vampire earlier. He'd had to retreat to find a way to deal with them, then doubled back to find a way into the cave. That had been right around the time I'd shown up.
I'd been paying rapt attention to his story, I swear, but I'd also been trying to think of where the missing O'Hara family and the sheriff could have gone. It was daylight, someone should have seen something.
Why, then, was there no hue and cry as to the escaped prisoners walking down the street?
"Do you have any idea how they got away?" I asked. They couldn't have just walked out, not if no one was running to find the Hunter and tell him the thrall was going thatta way. I couldn't smell much beyond the old scent of my own blood and the sharp scent of alcohol that had settled into the floor and walls.
"Some," D admitted. I couldn't believe he was still talking to me. This was a new record for conversations with him. "You should leave town, though."
Oh fuck, I'd jinxed it.
"We've had this talk a few times now," I snapped. "I'm not leaving you until you agree to teach me."
"Your irritating habit of shadowing me aside, I meant it for another reason," D responded coolly. "You were nearly killed for the second time last night and suffered a mental attack on top of that. I sincerely doubt you are at what passes for one hundred percent with you. The danger is only going to get worse at this point and the next fight you get into may well be the one that finishes you."
All good points.
"No," I said.
"Your decision," D murmured, finally standing up from the wall he had been leaning against. He headed outside without another word.
"Like I'm leaving, jackass, should know he's not gonna fool me like that, he thinks I'm dumb, I'll show em," I muttered continuously as I followed after him. He could almost certainly hear every word of it and I didn't care.
Back out in the overcast sunlight, I jogged up to D's side and started pestering him with questions. If he was in a talky mood, it was better to get as much out of it as I still could.
"Why do you think the fighting's going to get worse? You've already come close to killing the vampire once. Tomorrow night should see it through to the end, yeah?"
Without any kind of warning or preamble, "Exactly how many people have you seen in direct sunlight since coming to this town?"