After a several months' long dry spell in terms of writing my own material I decided to write a VHD fanfic as an excercise to get my creative juices flowing again. Reviews are greatly appreciated. Also, I've noticed that in two specific places in this chapter, FF keeps cutting a few words out. If the 'creative juices' sentence above looks weird in this upload, that's one of them. Don't hurt me.
Summary: A search and rescue operation from a vampire's castle seems like routine; but when his Noble employer wants to tag along, the vampire hunter is less than thrilled. Rated M for mature language but no adult scenes -- sowwy, different cup of tea here.
Disclaimer: I don't own D. I do own any other named character appearing in the story. If I owned D I'd get rich hiring him out to the fangirls.
* * * *
The patrons fell silent as the stranger entered the smoky taproom. He was nearly seven feet tall, with a large crescent sword strapped to his back and dressed entirely in black. The rowdy farm boys shut up as he walked towards the counter silently; even Molly, who was a friend to all men in more ways than one, fell quiet as he brushed past, the long black cape and wide-brimmed hat obscuring his pale features. When he reached the counter he gave no indication that he noticed the effect he had on the otherwise noisy villagers.
"I require lodging for myself and for my horse." His voice was a quiet tenor, by no means threatening. Everyone listened intently.
Mistress Dot tilted her head to get a better look up under the hat. "I've got beds and I've got a stable, but I ain't got the kind of food your kind sometimes wants," she replied. "Reckon I can get you a steak not too well done, though."
"That'll do." The stranger dropped a few coins and the mistress swept them into the drawer under the counter.
"Molly'll show you upstairs, then." Dot turned and stared hard at the shadow that concealed the stranger's features. "No funny stuff, though. If anything happens - "
"Nothing will happen."
The girl named Molly, somewhat plain in appearance but nonetheless quite popular amongst at least the men of the villagers, sidled over and gestured towards the stairs at the back of the room. "This way, sir."
The silence lingered a moment after the tall stranger and the girl's footfalls ascended up the stairs and took them out of sight. Eventually Mistress Dot turned to eye her patrons. "That's enough gawking, boys. Go back to your drinking."
"Yes, Mistress Dot," the nearest farmer grinned and held out his glass for a refill. The taproom filled with the usual noise and laughter, swirling smoke and the occasional drunken snore, interspersed with occasional speculations; was that really? No kidding? Think there's gonna be trouble?
* * * *
Night fell, blanketing the village in dark velvet pierced by the lights streaming out from windows, sometimes flickering as people moved about inside the dwellings. The occasional blue shimmer of the force fields that surrounded the village and kept it safe from the wilderness outside the perimeter created strange patterns of light that were utterly ignored by the distant stars above. A few voices and the occasional peal of laughter from a child drifted about and a few cattle mooed, voicing displeasure with a farm maid being tardy with the milking pail.
The force fields at the town perimeter flickered again as they closed behind a lone rider on a chestnut horse. A farmer thumbed his hat in acknowledgement as the newcomer steered the horse towards the town square at the inn, gaining a nod in response. The rider dismounted and left his horse standing, not bothering to tie it to the post by the water trough, walking with a confident air as he entered the taproom.
Once again there was silence, and then, grudgingly, nods of acknowledgement from the patrons who were still present. Those who were residents of the village had gone home by now, but those from more outlying farmstead and a few who were just passing through remained. The latter few stared; two of them decided that they preferred the road to the inn after all.
He was tall, if not as tall as the other stranger, the dark one. Nor was he shrouded all in black, instead donning a dove grey silk coat that covered most of his figure yet left his features clearly visible over a white neck tie. His hair fell in loose auburn locks to his shoulders, half-concealing pointed ears, and his otherwise quite handsome eyes were the colour of blood. He appeared unarmed but for a riding crop carried casually in one hand, twirling it as he strode up to the counter.
"Your Lordship," Mistress Dot said cautiously. "How can we be of service?"
The Noble glanced about; the patrons found interesting things to stare at in their glasses and plates. "I have come to see the hunter," he replied. "I do not see him here, though."
Mistress Dot nodded. "He keeps to his room. Molly, go and tell the hunter he has a visitor."
The girl slunk towards the staircase, clearly hesitant. "Go on," the vampire encouraged her. "I do not have all night, my dear."
Several men left quietly in the silence that followed the girl's disappearance. A few remained, too curious to consider their own safety. Mistress Dot's frown was unmistakeable; clearly the inn owner would preferred for such guests as these to meet somewhere else where she would not have to pay for repairs.
The vampire lord made himself comfortable on a chair in front of the tap room's fireplace, stretching long legs to reveal riding boots that were slightly dusty from the road outside. He brushed a hand over his coat, removing a minuscule speck of dirt, and sheathed the riding crop in one boot, seemingly oblivious to the way the atmosphere of the otherwise cosy room dropped well below freezing as Molly reappeared on the staircase, accompanied by the tall, dark form of the vampire hunter. Silent even as Molly slipped past him to the relative safety of having the counter between both men and herself, the tall stranger did not draw his sword, nor did his hands wander to check the pouches on his belt, and he did not look around to assess the situation and look for possible escape routes. He simply stood.
The Noble offered him an appraising glance, then gestured with one hand towards the chair opposite of his own. "You are the hunter they call D?"
The hunter nodded.
"Dhampir, vampire hunter, solitary, and indeed, the dark and silent type," the vampire mused. "I have heard quite a bit about you. I have looked forwards to meeting you. Do you know who I am?"
The hunter said nothing.
A frown flashed across the Noble's pleasant features. "Ah, yes. It's all so clear to you, isn't it? You're simply waiting for me to attack. Aren't I supposed to make a speech first? Do I get to boast and berate you for turning on your own kind before I die? Shall we have Molly play the damsel in distress or can we make do without for the occasion?" He chuckled. "I've not come to fight you, D. I've come to hire you."
Molly dropped a glass at hearing her own name. The girl's expression was not one of someone who was eager to get closer to either man.
The hunter took a single step forwards. "I'm not interested."
"Might want to hear His Lordship out," Mistress Dot murmured from behind the counter.
The Noble's pale lips twitched into a small smile. "She keeps a crossbow under that counter, each bolt edged with a cross. Just in case." He turned his crimson eyes on the hunter's dark form again. "You're a vampire hunter. You kill vampires and people pay you to do exactly that. Well, I happen to have a vampire I want killed, and the money to pay you, hunter. Are you going to refuse because I am a Noble myself?"
"He's not from these parts," Mistress Dot murmured, falling silent at a reproving, crimson glance.
The vampire drew the riding crop from his boot and tapped it against his palm in a gesture of impatience. "Did you kill Meier Link?"
"But you did dispose of the Bloody Countess." The vampire smiled. "If you can do that, then the task I have in mind is menial. Quite classic. Missing girl, sealed castle, your typical search and rescue operation. The only unusual bit being, of course, that I intend to go with you."
The room temperature dropped another few degrees.
He stood and looked straight at the hunter, casual demeanour fading. "This village is part of my domain, hunter. Take a good look at it. It is peaceful. Well defended. You were not turned out or refused service in spite of your – unusual appearance." He glanced at the few patrons who were still trying to will themselves invisible. "These men are afraid. Not of me, but of you."
The dark figure's cloak rustled slightly as the dhampir looked the men over. Then he nodded.
The Noble dipped into a pocket and produced a topographic map. The name of the region was printed neatly at the top but even without that it was easily recognisable. He tapped it with the tip of the riding crop. "This is Castle Millefleur. In spite of the pretty name it is not very... hospitable. You'll want to avoid the surrounding villages. The villagers are not going to ask before shooting when they catch a glimpse of your dark, silent, and cheerful self." He smiled. "Unless you are not the man your reputation claims you to be you are going to do so anyway. I, however, prefer not being shot at, so I will meet you here," he tapped the map again, "at the river fork. You can keep the map."
The hunter made no reply.
The vampire lord smirked, then inclined his head to Mistress Dot. "Do have a pleasant evening, dear."
"You too, my lord," the inn keeper mumbled as the Noble strode out without waiting for a reply from the silent hunter, and with seemingly no concern about possibly having a seven foot crescent sword run through him from behind.
* * * *
The ethereal, cold beauty of the vampire hunter often drew women to desire him and men to curse the fact that they were not women. Like moths to a flame there would always be one or two who felt brave enough, or suicidal enough, to test his resolve, turning up when he was alone to try to strike up a conversation or make a proposition. The hunter showed no sign of surprise when Molly slipped into the stable in the early hour before dawn as he was securing the saddle straps on his cybernetic horse.
"Sir?" she asked.
She edged a few steps closer but made no move to open her bodice or try to suggestively run her fingers through her hair, at least. "Are you going to meet the viscount as he said?"
"Please don't kill him," Molly begged. "He's really quite nice."
The hunter took the reins in his hand and swung himself gracefully into the saddle. The girl kept looking at him. "Think about it, please."
He said nothing. At the pressure of his booted heels against its flanks the horse sprang into motion. Soon, the vampire hunter was a rapidly disappearing speck of blackness on the road leading out of the village.
Molly sighed and headed back towards the tap room.
* * * *
The hunter reined in his horse atop the hill crest. He dipped into his cloak and took out the map that the Noble had left for him and studied it momentarily. Below him, the river rushed along, snaking its way through rapids and gorges. The road followed its general direction, winding around nature's obstacles, towards a valley where the river spread out to become wide and shallow before meeting with a cousin coming down from another part of the mountains. Several villages were marked on the map, situated in a semi-circle around what would be Castle Millefleur. The road wound its way through the villages before passing the castle. On the map it was marked as a wide road but in reality it had shown less signs of regular traffic the closer to the valley he rode.
The valley was breathtakingly beautiful in the late afternoon sun, the river a silver ribbon that curled and wound between fields and meadows. A skylark frolicked in the air, its musical trills lending a carefree mood to the scene in an attempt to smooth out the sombreness of the gallows next to the road and the reek of decaying flesh that wafted from the corpse dangling at the end of the rope.
The hunter studied it. A man's body, neck broken by the fall before he could suffocate from the strangulation. It was too far gone in decomposition to have much left in terms of features but to judge from its form and clothing, it had once been a farmer or cattle herder in his middle age. A sign hung around its neck, a rough plank of wood upon which were scrawled in charcoal, "LIAR".
"Cute," the hunter's left hand observed. "D, you really know how to pick a scenic location. Could we possibly be not downwind from that thing?"
The horse moved forward in a relaxed trot, the kind that ate miles, bringing its rider down towards the valley, towards the first village marked on the map.
"You realise we could just go the other way, right? It's not like anyone has actually offered you real money for this gig yet. And that vampire viscount? I don't like it."
The hunter ignored the complaints of the small wrinkled face in his left palm. "Glamour," he offered by means of explanation.
"Don't be an idiot," the symbiont retorted. "We've both seen enough Noble glamour to know it for what it is and I'm telling you, that girl wasn't under some vampire spell and neither was that innkeeper woman. Are you even paying attention, D? Those people weren't scared of their local Noble, they were scared you'd run that big knife of yours through him."
The hunter nodded.
"And that doesn't strike you as a little odd? How many benevolent, well loved Nobles have you happened across lately? Pillar of the community, gives to charity, goes to church on Sundays, probably runs an orphanage too? It's a trap, duh."
The road turned, allowing a clearer view of the village that was coming into view as the great, cybernetic horse trotted ahead at a steady pace that was nonetheless faster than that of its unmodified counterparts. "Well, that looks like crap," D's hand said.
It did. It really did. The houses were worn down hovels that seemed to be standing mostly because they had not gotten around to the effort of collapsing yet. There were fences to keep out various – things – from the wilderness but most were merely barbed wire, not even electrical. In some places, even the barbed wire was gone. The fields were well tended but the tidiness stopped at the village edge, took one look around, and left for better living elsewhere.
The hunter halted the horse, remaining shielded from view by the trees that offered shade on the road. His gaze roamed the village exterior, scanning for life. There was not much that could qualify as such, and what little there was looked, well, like crap. A few thin cows, a woman fetching water from the village well, wearing a ragged shift and trailed by two children with big eyes and too thin limbs. A small graveyard lay on the outskirts of the village, as dilapidated as the rest, but with entirely too many fresh graves.
"Plague?" the symbiont speculated. "Hey, bucko, get me down to the ground and let me have a taste."
The hunter dismounted and knelt down to place his left palm against the soil at the side of the road. Little crunching, no, munching sounds ensued, interspersed with muffled observations. "This is some good clay, oh yeah, nothing wrong with the dirt around here, this isn't some mutant plague or sickness, D, top soil's perfectly healthy, pristine even, hang on." The wrinkly little face in the hunter's left palm wrinkled even more as its brow furrowed. "The dirt's fine, D. It's too fine. It's virginal. Perfect."
The hunter stood and looked at the ground. Various dandelions, bindweeds, and other wild flowers failed utterly to react to his inspection. He prodded a tuft of grass with one boot, noticing others like it forming vaguely linear patterns across the soil. "This land was tilled once."
"Yeah, that's what I'm saying, D. Not like you're gonna find somewhere that's flat that's never ever been ploughed or burned or whatever people like to do to good, solid farmland. It's not natural, my pretty boy." The symbiont's tongue lashed out as if it was tasting the air. "Wouldn't mind another bite, though, could you put me back down? It's delicious."
* * * *
Moonlight draped itself in silvery, shimmering tendrils around the dark figure approaching on the dark horse. This was the kind of scenery that could make an artist rip his own eyeballs out in order never to again see anything that might dilute that perfect vision from his inner eye. The vampire lord sitting atop his own chestnut horse under an ancient oak tree admired the view before coaxing the mare into a trot towards the other rider.
He let the horse fall into an easy gait alongside. "I assume you took the time to study the village?"
The hunter gave an almost imperceptible nod.
The Noble chuckled. "All right, then. Let's dispense with the pleasantries and cut to the chase, shall we? My name is Aldan Thorne and I am the viscount of that pleasant valley you left behind this morning. You may address me as Aldan, I am not really a stickler for formalities and besides, we're family of a sorts."
The hunter's head turned just a bit, enough that the Noble had no doubt that he was being glowered at. He chuckled again, a soft, musical sound. "Don't give me that look, hunter. What do I call you? Just D? There are quite a few stories about you, some of which offer some interesting theories about your parentage, but I'd rather not leap to conclusions."
"D it is," Aldan replied goodnaturedly. "I'm positive you're absolutely bursting with curiosity about me and my agenda, of course. Please don't hesitate to make inquiries or by any other means break that ridiculous silent treatment you've got going. Or if you prefer, do keep quiet and I'll do the talking. I'm quite good at that as it happens to be, you'd be surprised to discover how long I can keep prattling without having anything in particular to prattle about. Would you like to find out?"
"No." And then, after a moment, "What do you want?"
"I want several things. I want rid of an inconvenient neighbour, obviously. But most of all I want you." The vampire flashed the hunter a grin that, while containing sharp fangs, was disarming in nature. "Not in that way, obviously. You're very pretty but my fancies don't swing that way. I want your mind. I want to know how you think. Oh, and I also want to save a girl from an evil, murderous, blood sucking, rapist villain, something that I'm sure is all up your alley. We'll want to turn off the road here, by the way."
The dhampir hunter reined in his black horse to follow the other rider off the road that was becoming little more than a mud track. The vampire directed his chestnut horse into the forest, leaving the more or less imaginary safety of the illuminating moonlight. Many brave men would hesitate to ride through the wild forest at night, never knowing what would lie in wait; a Noble had less reason to fear the dark, being one of those things and on top of the food chain as well.
* * * *
The moon was nearing the end of its nightly journey across the heavens when the two men and their mounts reached the edge of the forest and paused to look down on neatly tilled meadows and fields bathed in the silvery mist of night.
"It is beautiful, isn't it?" Aldan's voice was soft with appreciation as he looked down on the bountiful, fertile land. "Everything here is so very beautiful except the villages. They pay such a high price."
The dhampir raised one eyebrow. His face shadowed by his wide-brimmed hat there was no way that even the excellent night vision of a pure blooded vampire could see that small gesture but Aldan guessed it. He looked back over his shoulder at his companion. "Count Landon enjoys beauty. In fact he is quite obsessed with it in all its forms. Everything you see here is his creation. He has other quirks of course. He rather despises deception, one might even say he is a little, ah, obsessive about the truth. Anyhow, we shall reach the castle tomorrow night – for now we'll have to seek shelter from the sun in a cave nearby." He paused. "Well, I shall. I suppose you don't need to."
The hunter shrugged his indifference but when the viscount spurred his horse back into the woods he caused his own to follow.
The cave was concealed from view by hanging vines and shrubs. In a time long past it had seen use as a shepherd's shelter, evident in various bits of tools and old crockery still lying scattered around a small fireplace situated under a small opening in the rock that would let out the smoke without rendering the air inside difficult to had been so long ago, though, that even the wool of an abandoned blanket had turned into moldy dust.
"No one alive today knows about this place but you and me," Aldan said as they lead their horses inside and reinstated the greenery to conceal the entrance. "If you kill me in my sleep, well, then you'll be the only one."
The dhampir rummaged in his saddlebag, ignoring the Noble's observation, before taking a long draught off a leather-encased bottle and putting it back inside.
Aldan looked around, crimson gaze sweeping the cave with perfect night vision. "It's hardly first class accomodation but it will do. The dirt is looser in the back if you need to bury yourself. Do you bury yourself?"
The hunter scowled at him and he shrugged. "I really know very little about dhampirs, D. You're the first one I've really spoken with. Or to, I should say, given that I seem to be the one doing the talking. I know you can endure the sunlight and that you can subsist on human food, at least for a while, and that is pretty much all I know about you. I know the legends, obviously, dhampirs being born destined to slay vampires and all that but from what I have been told, most spend a relatively short lifetime fawning and sucking up to the true Nobles. Except you."
The Noble pulled the saddle off his horse and saw to its legs and hooves before releasing it to graze or rest as it pleased. He pulled a blanket out of the saddlebag and proceeded to make himself comfortable, breaking the seal on a glowstick and setting it on the ground on the derelect fireplace. The blue glow spread around them, providing far too little light for human comfort and a bit of warmth. He stretched out on the blanket and rested his head against the saddle. "Not a word, eh?"
"I have nothing I need to say." The hunter copied the viscount's movements in making himself a bedplace, sitting cross-legged, face towards the cave mouth.
"You're not even the slightest curious about me? Shouldn't you at least be mocking my overconfidence?"
"I did not ask you to come," D replied.
Aldan yawned, displaying his sharp teeth. "Suit yourself, then. The sun is coming up and I intend to sleep soundly and safely in the comforting knowledge that I am watched and watched over by a living legend. Undead legend. Whatever you prefer."
When at last the sun broke through the layer of mist the vampire was immobile and for all intents and purposes appeared to be dead. He lay unbreathing, head rested against his saddle, the blanket pulled up to about his waist and looked quite peaceful, resembling far more a marble effigy than a murderous predator, however beautiful.
"That is one messed up fangboy," the hunter's hand commented. "Has he got a deathwish or something?"
D nodded. "Something."
"I guess you're not going to do the smart thing and stake sleeping beauty while he's out cold, then? Drag him outside to catch a few rays of sunshine, maybe cut his head off and kick it around a bit?"
The dhampir removed his hat and laid it carefully on the saddlehorn before sliding down to rest against the saddle. "Not yet."
* * * *