Editor: Dave Munch
The Underground Revised Proudly
"It's the Daywalker!"
Such a shout was common in the MeatWare night club. It heralded the arrival of VJ Daywalker, the establishment's top spinner of dance tunes. He always managed to get the crowd moving, creating chaotic beats and vid displays that didn't make much sense, but were catchy anyway.
The swordsman named Chen cared about none of that. He had other fish to fry. The fish in question, a pair of solidly-build tattooed gentlemen, were sprinting through the narrow corridor from the dance area to the restrooms ... and more importantly, to the rear exit. He gave chase, clutching his pair of sheathed katana at his hip as he ran.
They'd bolted as soon as they glimpsed him, and they were not going to get away from him.
The brothers, known to Chen as Clive and Ike Morrissey, shoved their way into an unmarked side door, and Chen swiftly followed. He'd been reasonably sure this place had a hidden access tunnel
somewhere; he just didn't expect his quarry to lead him into it.
The tunnel was even narrower than the hallway corridor, and the brothers were forced to run single file, covering more ground than normal humans should. Chen was gaining on
them, having to clutch the daisho -- the pair of swords at his hip -- even tighter to ensure that they wouldn't scrape against the concrete walls. That he was able to reduce the distance between himself and the brothers spoke volumes about the strength, speed, and endurance modifications he'd undergone upon becoming a bounty hunter.
Finally, the narrower tunnel came to end with an even narrower doorway, and the brothers squeezed themselves through it. Chen noticed that they each went in an opposite direction in the adjacent room. Just before reaching the doorway, he saw the silvery glint of a thin wire stretched across the doorframe at neck-level. Running at full speed and with no time to duck, Chen drew his katana from its scabbard, raising it so the blade sliced through the wire on his way through.
Once in the room -- a conference area, from the looks of it -- Chen stopped running and, sword fully drawn, he turned to face the brothers who were holding pieces of the wire. He raised his katana in a ready position, preparing for the brothers' next move.
Clive bared his teeth and hissed at Chen, revealing the kind of long sharp canines usually in guard dogs or old horrorvids. His eyes took on a blood-red tint, and his tribal-tatted skin now seemed more deathly pale than it had a moment ago. His brother Ike followed suit, and their body language at once appeared more threatening and more relaxed. The physical change was relatively subtle, but they'd seemingly turned from prey to predators. They cackled as they slowly advanced on Chen.
"Your fangs..." Chen whispered, still keeping the threat of his blade between them and himself. "The rumors were true. You are..."
"'Vampires'?" Ike finished, chuckling as he moved in front of the corridor entrance to cut off escape. He was the younger of the two brothers, reputedly by six whole hours. He was distinguished from his twin by a full head of long stringy brown hair, while the more mature Clive was bald. "'Nightwalkers', 'creatures of the night', 'Dracula's children' ... take your pick?" Ike's tone was taunting.
"I was going to say you're dead men, which is good enough for me," Chen replied with a slight smile. "But call yourselves whatever you want."
"Such bravado," another male voice spoke from behind Chen. The voice belonged to Myer Middleton, a short thin man flanked by three accomplices, all in black three-piece suits. His complexion and eye tint matched the Morrissey brothers', and he moved with the same predatory intent. "But the sad fact, Mr. Chen, is that you were led here ... so we 'dead men' can feast on your living flesh."
Chen, who had moved to a sidelong position that allowed him to keep an eye on both the brothers and the club's management, wasn't intimidated at all. "You're welcome to try."
At that, Ike hissed again and leapt at Chen, fangs and fingernails aimed for the jugular. His inhuman speed rendered him a tattooed motion blur, but Chen was a fraction faster, leaping and twisting to the side and beheading the impulsive vampire in a smooth motion. Upon landing, he thrust his katana behind him at the elder Morrissey, puncturing Clive's ribcage and piercing his heart.
Ike's body flumped to the floor at Middleton's feet while his head rolled across the room. Clive's body began to incinerate, turning to ash as if being cremated from the inside out. "Any questions?" Chen asked the club's proprietor.
Middleton pursed his lips as he watched Ike's body combust as well. "Just one: Silver-coated sword, right?"
"I'd decided to listen to the rumors."
Middleton nodded. "I don't suppose you'd like to be on my payroll. I could certainly double whatever Alucard Enterprises is paying you."
One of Middleton's aides chimed in helpfully. "One million credits per day for as long as it takes to wipe us
Somehow, Middleton grew even paler. "Shock ... okay, we could haggle a little more."
Chen just shook his head slowly.
Middleton and his people drew their energy pistols and pointed them at Chen. "Fair enough."
Chen smiled before removing his sword from what was once Clive Morrissey's body and dashing forward, drawing his *wakizashi* -- the smaller sword of the pair -- as well.
"Didja get 'em?" a ten-year-old girl asked around a large wad of beef-jerky-flavored chewing gum. Like her father Chen, she was of Chinese descent, and she very much looked the part. Unlike her father, Xu seldom dressed in black and never in multi-mesh armor. Instead she preferred plain-old polycotton in various shades of red. "Didja get the vampies?"
"The vampires?" Chen's voice filtered in over Xu's earpiece. "Yes. I took care of them. I even recorded the entire process on my sunglasses and scooped samples of their ashes into a vial."
Xu grinned broadly. "First-person view of th' mayhem? Jagged! So they really
"They were. You were right, Xu."
"Way too jagged!" Indeed, Xu's Cybernet research on Middleton and the Morrissey brothers had first brought the rumors of their vampirism to Chen's attention.
"You are studying right now, right?" the swordsman asked his daughter, parental concern lacing his voice.
"'Course I'm studyin'! Historical figures, even!" She was fairly sure that surfing through twentieth-century fanfiction files on male superheroes counted as studying historical figures, anyway.
"I'll look over your work as usual when I get home tonight. I'm at the Alucard Industries building now, so I'll let you go. Love you."
"Okay, love you, Daddy!" Xu clicked off her earpiece and continued surfing the fanfiction. "Ooh, who's this?" she asked aloud in the otherwise-quiet apartment as her eyes alighted on one such story file. "I didn't know they had vampie hunters back in the twencen ... though who'd wanna name their kid 'Blade'...?"
"The swords stay with me," Chen asserted to a pair of guards at an Alucard Enterprises security checkpoint.
The guard gulped nervously even though he was a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Chen. "Sir, weapons like that pose a serious security risk, and we can't have--"
"The swords. Stay. With me."
"Let him come through," a man spoke in authoritative voice. Chen
recognized the approaching dark haired, red business suit touting
authoritarian as Claymore Valentine, chief executive officer of Alucard
Inc. Valentine waved the guards off, placing his arm around Chen as if
they had been chums since forever, and not recent business partners. “Please
excuse them, Chen. My people can be ... overzealous at times.” His
unnatural piercing blue eyes and sharp smile unsettled Chen, but all
corporate types reeked of sinister underlying motives.
Chen shallowly nodded, "I have completed my objective." As he walked with Valentine, he pressed a button on his armor's shoulder plating, and a minidisk slid out. "As you'll be able to see on this disk. I couldn't bring back any body parts for proof, since Middleton and his men were incinerated."
Valentine stopped walking and turned to Chen. "'Incinerated'?" Curiosity
percolated his voice. "Really?"
"Turned to ash once they were beheaded or impaled through the heart. I did some research on them, and it turns out your competitors were vampires."
Valentine resumed walking. "Interesting. So you have recorded proof of this?"
"Yes. And ash samples." He produced a small sealed vial. "If you have the payment we agreed upon. I have a growing daughter to support."
One long elevator ride later, they reached one of the company's R&D labs. Chen's disk was run through scanware to determine any evidence of tampering or forgery. His sample vial was also analyzed and revealed to contain DNA traces from Myer Middleton, the Morrissey brothers, and the other members of RedTech Inc. who Chen had slain.
Currently, the hunter-warrior and the CEO watched a replay of Chen's progress on Valentine's mega-screen. The CEO, Chen noticed, had a gleeful time backtracking through the carnage and replaying key moments over and over from different angles. By the time they got to the end -- in which Chen had hacked Middleton's body into tiny pieces with his silver-coated swords -- Valentine was
lying on his back on his plush sofa and cackling hysterically. "This is the best..." he commented when he could breathe, "... best fight sequence I've seen in quite some time. You, my friend, have skills."
"That's why you hired me, correct?" Chen replied, rather bored by this point. "Listen, I was actually not planning to stay this long, so if you've made certain that my verifications are legit..."
Valentine sat back up, regaining his composure. "Oh, yes. Sorry, I just got carried away. When you're my age, it becomes so hard to find good entertainment."
Chen found that to be a strange comment, as the tall CEO looked no older than forty years of age.
"Anyway," Valentine went on, "yes, you will receive all due payment for this, as promised. But listen, while you're here, I wanted to discuss something with you. Since you're obviously so good at what you do, how would you like to delete the freelance work and become a full employee of Al-Ent? You'd be doing the same hunting, hacking, and slashing you've always done, but with full benefits and a top-rate salary. How's that sound?"
Chen pondered this. "I would have to give the matter some thought. The offer is generous and tempting..."
"But you want to weigh your options; I understand." Valentine thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, you mentioned a daughter. School age, I take it? Great. Just to show you how much I'd like you to join our family, I'd be willing to pick up the tab on her education expenses. All of it."
"Are ... are you serious?"
"Yes, but I try not to let it show. Not only would your future be set, you would
set your little girl's."
Chen raised an eyebrow. He wasn't stupid. "Mr. Valentine ... the contracts involved with corporations...."
"They're complicated. I hear you. Tell you what, I'll have my people give you some documents to take home and look over, and you can take a day, two days, a week to make a decision. You know how to contact me." Valentine held out his hand for the hunter-warrior to shake.
Chen reached for his hand, but something on the wall gave him pause. It was the logo for Alucard Industries. The swordsman studied the first word, realizing something he hadn't noticed before. "Alucard ... looks like 'Dracula' spelled backward."
"Oh, really?" Amusement glinted in Valentine's eyes.
"Yes. Just an observation. But if I remember correctly, wasn't Dracula the name of a vampire?"
"The most famous vampire. The most infamous. The deadliest and most powerful."
Chen stepped back and studied Valentine, not liking the tone of the CEO's voice. "Then the company's name choice is not accidental."
Valentine grinned. The amused glint in his eyes turned red with malevolence. His skin turned chalk white and his fangs lengthened. "Not accidental at all. Middleton and the rest at RedTech? They were a rival clan, not just a rival corporation. Though really, there isn't much of a distinction between clan and corp these days."
Chen's hands gripped his swords, ready to unsheathe them. "Now you want me to join you. Does that mean I am to become a vampire as well?"
"Well, I suppose I could just use you as food and forget about you, but you're a warrior, Chen. A warrior to the bone. Alucard Enterprises needs warriors like you." He shrugged and walked to his collection of vintage swords. "Now, I can see you're having serious misgivings about this, so let me appeal to your warrior's code. You defeat me in a duel, and you can walk out the door and leave this building a free man." He drew an ornate katana similar to Chen's own. "But if I win, pal? You. Are. Mine."
Chen's answer was simple. "I decline." He loosened his grip on his weapons.
Valentine's eyes widened. "You decline? You decline a warrior's challenge? Where's your sense of honor?"
"Right where it always was. You have none."
"So you're just going to let me turn you without a fight."
Chen held the vampiric CEO's gaze. "I didn't say that."
In a flash of movement and rage, Valentine raised his katana and brought it downward in an arc, cleaving a path through the air toward Chen's head. The movement was inhuman in its speed, but so was Chen's. The swordsman -- who had not fully released his grip on his
daisho -- had raised his katana to block Valentine's down stroke. With his other hand, he had drawn his wakizashi and plunged it into Valentine's chest.
From start to finish, their katana duel had taken a split-second to complete.
For several long moments, they held their stances, neither budging an inch. Valentine's grip on his sword loosened, and Chen swept it out of the way with a flick of his own blade, sending it flying across the room to bury itself in the wall near Valentine's display case of weapons.
The silver coating of Chen's shortsword blade caused Valentine's flesh and internal organs to sizzle. The vampire's biochemical reaction to silver was beginning to take effect. But not fast enough. Claymore Valentine was laughing.
Chen was perplexed. "Why are you not...?"
"'Dead'? Valentine asked. "Is that the word you're looking for? I'm already dead. The question is, why am I not destroyed?" He stepped back, allowing Chen's blade to slide free from the gaping hole in the charred chest. "Answer: You didn't pierce my heart." Indeed, the puncture wound revealed that the chest had been penetrated just to the side of the vampire's dark heart. "Superhuman speed comes in handy in a sword fight."
Horrified and desperate, Chen sliced horizontally at Valentine's neck to decapitate him, and he plunged forward with his wakizashi to stab at the heart again.
Valentine swiftly ducked the first blade, then sidestepped the second. "See what I mean?" he gloated as he swung a clenched fist against Chen's jaw. The crack of impact was sickening, and Chen was sent flying across the room.
The swordsman slammed into the wall and sunk to the floor, but he quickly regained his senses and formed a low crouch, glaring at Valentine with murderous intent.
"See, that would've broken any normal human's neck," Valentine commented about the blow he landed on his opponent as he slowly walked toward Chen. "But not you. You're
much stronger, much more resilient than that. Imagine ... just imagine ... what you'd be like as one of us."
Chen's hand subtly moved to his belt. "I will kill you, vampire...."
Valentine stopped walking and chuckled. "You're going for a hidden dagger, aren't you? A silver one? I can smell it from here. You're wasting your time. But hey, if you want to try your luck, go for it." His face, his coloration, his entire body shifted from a humanoid form to a shape resembling that of a giant demonic bat. He became seven feet of grizzled fur, deadly fangs, leathery wings, and raw sadism. "I dare you."
Overcome by such a sight, Chen dropped his dagger and gaped. The bat-like
creature overpowered him then, sinking his canines into the swordsman and lapping heartily at the hot rush of blood.
Chen's eyes were open wide but they saw nothing. His vision faded quickly, swimming from sharp coherence into a sea of dark red. His other senses followed suit until there was only oblivion for Chen.
An oblivion that was only beginning.
A week had passed in the cold darkness. He could feel it in his marrow.
While Chen had always had a fairly dependable internal clock in his life as a freelance hunter-warrior, now he was somehow able to track the passage of daylight and nightfall even deep underground beneath the Alucard building, removed from sunlight. That he could keep such efficient tabs on the movement of the sun while remaining shackled in isolation by strength-dampening manacles was one very strong clue that he had indeed been turned into a vampire.
The lengthening of his canine teeth and the strengthening of his jaw muscles were also indications, as was his
drastically-increased night vision. He could see more details of the pitch-black dungeon each day, but he preferred to keep his eyes closed, as there really wasn't much to see anyway.
However, the most overpowering evidence that he'd been turned into a member of Valentine's sinister race was a thirst that lanced through his gut like a sword and left his body weaker than it already was. He was thirsty for human blood, and he'd been purposely denied the substance for a full week. His thoughts continually devolved until he no longer thought of his old life before his battle with Valentine; all he cared about now was replenishing his body with lifeblood stolen from the living.
He felt like a drug addict who'd hit absolute rock-bottom in his single-minded desperation for his next fix, and it scared him more than any other aspect of the change.
He heard the ancient clatter of the heavy dungeon door being opened, as loud to him as an explosion, and he shut his eyes even tighter to withstand the assault of direct light against his eyelids. He instinctively knew that the light in question was artificial light, not sunlight, but its sudden intensity to a creature of darkness was no less painful. He whimpered, his voice
foreign to his own ears.
"I'm sorry ... did I disturb you?" Valentine's charismatic voice whispered cheerfully, and Chen flinched from that sound most of all. "Hey ... calm down, calm down ... it's okay. It is. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just checking up on you. What do you think of the hospitality suite so far? Okay, I admit the furnishings could use some work, but sadly ... my company's in the midst of of some budget restructuring and cutbacks. It happens."
Chen growled, not impressed with Valentine's conversational nature.
"Okay, I can see you're holding grudge. I guess I can understand that. But really, you should thank me. All those genetic enhancements you underwent just to be a superhuman? That was a step in the right direction away from fragile humanity. I just brought you to the final step. You're one of us."
"Ffforgive me..." Chen slurred, "if I don't share your enth ... enthusiasssssm...."
"It's an adjustment process. I went through the same thing, too, back in the day. So I can understand, and I do forgive you for being reluctant to embrace ... well, being Embraced." Chen didn't have to open his eyes to tell Valentine was grinning at his own sick joke.
"Anyway," the CEO went on, "as proof that I bear you no hard feelings for stabbing me in the chest, I brought you a gift. A functional one, I might add, that I'm sure you'll appreciate." Chen heard at least three other occupants enter the dungeon, but all but one of them swiftly left the room. "Enjoy, and let me know what you think of the gift," Valentine called out as he turned on his heel and departed. "I admit, I've always had the hardest time deciding on presents to to give people."
Chen barely heard this last part, because he became acutely aware that the figure left in the dungeon -- his "gift" -- was human. A living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human, reeking of fear and roaring with a pulse that indicated a young, strong heart. After a week without any sustenance, Chen was ravenous.
The heavy stone door slammed shut with a loud click. Chen's manacles opened with a much softer click.
The swordsman immediately pounced at the human, slamming her against the cold stone wall and pinning her against it so he could feed. His fangs pierced her skin and jugular, and he set about draining every last drop of blood from her body. He had no interest in turning his victim into a vampire like him, though he'd found himself with the instinctive knowledge of how do do that. She was just food to him. Her pleading and whimpering meant nothing.
He finally removed his teeth from her neck, leaving deep puncture welts in the cold, bloodstained skin. He felt her shiver and convulse before her heartbeat stilled, and Chen felt satisfied and refreshed. But ... now that his head was clearing, a reinvigorated Chen took a moment to study his prey. Young and rather pretty, dressed in varying shades of red. She looked to be of Asian descent, just as Chen was. In fact ... she was all of a sudden incredibly familiar to him. The shape of her youthful face and her hairstyle, for instance, were features he remembered seeing every day for several years of his human life.
Then he realized who she was. "Oh, no.... no ... Xu...." It was his daughter.
Valentine had just fed him his own daughter, knowing that a week in confinement would leave him too blinded by his thirst to realize who his victim was. The sickening realization hit him like a battering ram, causing Chen to roar with anger and sorrow as he held Xu's limp body.
"Daughter ... I am sorry." He set her down and stood up, clenching his fists and glaring at the locked vault door. "Valentine ... I will have my revenge."
THE ORIGIN OF BLADE 2099 CONTINUES IN A FUTURE ISSUE OF 2099 UNLIMITED.