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Introduction

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Title: Introduction
Category: Anime/Manga » Hellsing
Author: death-in-the-orchard
Published: 07-08-13

 

Chapter: 1

Metal spoons and forks scraped the dishes and bowls clean, tinking and ringing with the deep rumble of male voices - the voices of men, with age and experience. Soldiers. Arguably they were men among men, those who practiced true integrity – to love their family, their people, their country, their species – to die for the great populace that inhabited a land where dark hands groped through the masses to pluck victims from their bulk. The spoons and forks scraped. The cups clapped against the wooden tables.

The food was always good, delicacies never spared. It was probably due to the high mortality rate that kept the men on their toes, that made any meal final, any goodbye the last, legacies ready to be left behind – so integrity and pride were invaluable, morals and prayers at the front of their minds, so that should death catch them unawares, the world of men would mourn and admire them, and God would accept them into His kingdom. Yes. The food in the Hellsing army was good.

There were never more than sixty men who could be called soldiers, who saw combat, on the estate at any given time – though they lived there - trained there, slept, and ate there. There were not many who could manage the job, who had the knowledge and physical strength. Then they continued to die, to die frequently, in battle, or laid down again by their comrades should their corpse rise after it had fallen. Then they would be burned, and their ashes would be sent to their families. Or their bodies would be planted in the graveyard that had been dug by the soldiers themselves, proud to remain beside their comrades and their commander, Sir Hellsing.

The food was always good, and the spoons and forks always scraped, the cups always clapped, and the men enjoyed their meals and one another's company in the dining hall. They were equals, brothers, teachers as well as pupils. Their knowledge and experience was amassed in a communal pool – like scientists gathering as much data as possible to quantify and analyze, to perfect their hypotheses, their tactics and approaches to killing the undead. This work isolated them from those they had pledged to protect, separated by specialized skills that allowed them to survive, hardened and scarred bodies that would not blend in with the masses, memories and explicit knowledge that was not shared with the population, which would not be understood, and which had the potential to harm them.

Roast beef, mashed potatoes, bread spattered with butter and garlic, gravy, asparagus and green beans, with a steaming vegetable soup crowded with potatoes chunks and carrots and squash – the supper at the Hellsing estate was good. And it was eaten. All of it. And the plates were scraped clean.

The living quarters and the dining hall were sacred, a haven – they were home, where the soldiers could rest and enjoy some of the peace they fought to maintain for the rest of their species. The undead could not breach the defenses of the Hellsing estate, there were no vampires to hunt and impale or decapitate. This was their place of refuge.

After the plates had been scraped and the cups drained, the men were called to return their dishes quickly to the designated bins, notified by those who had finished earlier. Sir Hellsing was going to speak to them. As the dishes and utensils, and a majority of the cups, were loaded into the bins which were removed by Hellsing servants, the men noticed the six captains who were the figureheads of the six Hellsing units that organized the soldiers – five groups of eight and one group of nine – forty-nine being the current number of soldiers present.

The captains stood before the wall. They were stiff, in movement and expression, as if their uniforms had been soaked in starch and their faces wore a layer of hardened plaster. They were calm and disciplined as usual, proper leaders who were aware of their ability to infect the men with their moods and behavior. The men began to stiffen as they filled the rows of conjoined tables with wooden benches, facing the wall where the captains stood with their hands clasped behind their backs, rods lodged in their military spines. The men stood in unison with a murmur of movement, not voices, as Sir Hellsing entered with two of the Hellsing scientists – who also wore the uniform of the soldiers, for their work was also dangerous – they extracted all that they could from the monsters the soldiers dragged home. Nine men faced the lines of soldiers who did not take their seats after standing to pay their respects to their commander. Nine hardened and serious faces were scoured by their eyes, and silence erased all memory of the scraping spoons and forks and the clapping of cups against wood. Any remaining cups were forgotten.

The Hellsing organization had been established four and a half years ago. The handful of men who had been with the organization for over two years could not remember seeing Sir Hellsing so stiffened, so tightened, as if prepared to take the full force of an avalanche as it swooped upon him. The man they had spoken with, eaten with, and lived with, was hard to connect with Sir Hellsing's current demeanor. His lips were taut, and his blue eyes observed them, as if waiting for the silence they had already given him.

Not a single body dared make a sound before the esteemed Van Hellsing spoke. His voice was grave, his words – though not sharp – were guarded, somehow. As if his words were a curtain that was slowly being drawn.

Suddenly, some, then all of the men noticed an additional man standing in the doorway. He did not wear the Hellsing uniform – the Hellsing crest was nowhere to be found on his person. He was a stranger. And his attire bespoke of wealth and position.

This was where the men's eyes were when Abraham began to speak.

"We serve our Queen Victoria. We rid the world of the dead who refuse to pass on, and do all that we may to dispose of those who prey upon mankind." Abraham Van Hellsing's voice filled the space within the dining hall as if it was an auditorium, reaching every floorboard and touching the farthest wall. "In the name of God, impure souls of the living dead shall be banished into eternal damnation."

"Amen." the men chorused. One of the captains raised a hand, and the men were seated.

Van Hellsing observed them, a man thinking and assessing his audience. He wetted his lips, as one wets a stone to hone his tools. His hand indicated the man in the doorway, who, as if called by name, approached Abraham. As the stranger planted his feet beside him, Abraham spoke as clearly as he had before – but his speech had slowed, each word and phrase was tasted before it was released. "Sir Irons is a member of The Convention of Twelve, and is here today to represent the Convention's verdict on a matter that will be addressed shortly."

The men stood and saluted, which pleased Sir Irons. Their captains motioned for them to be seated.

"A new decree has been issued by Queen Victoria, which has the potential to forever change the Hellsing Organization." Surprise and perhaps some concern showed on the men's faces, though they remained silent. "She has deemed it necessary that we – or perhaps I, since I will be responsible for it – make use of a dangerous and new weapon which has been developed here, with some aid from our specialists. The losses we have suffered since the Organization was established nearly five years ago, has been called to Queen Victoria's attention, and she has found this number to be unacceptable." He paused. "We have lost one hundred and fifty-nine men, a hundred more than are present in this room tonight." Now the silence became grim, and the men's stares deepened with their tightened features. "One hundred and fifty-nine men who gave their lives for our cause, great men, intelligent and fine men like those you sit beside now. And, with the means to limit the growth of that number, it would be wrong to reject this new approach without first testing it. A trial period will begin tomorrow night in order to take care of our current target and the target's fledglings, which escaped us after taking the lives of Roderick Williams and Lloyd Stuart." Lips were pursed and eyes descended.

His speech was pulling at so many different strings of emotions that knots began to form, confusing the men as emotions became tangled, leaving mild confusion. But this was by design.

Hellsing's fiercely blue eyes scanned the men, sweeping over their faces, gauging them and imagining the changes that would soon alter their expressions. "But this new approach will not be easily adjusted to." The men's eyes were on him, Abraham felt the individual stares. "It will, in all ways possible, seem outrageous, strange, perhaps ludicrous to some. And you may reject it, and I will accept that."

The room seemed to both warm and chill, varying from body to body as sweat beaded or skin roughened while hairs bristled. What was this? What was this method, or weapon, or approach that the commander was about to reveal to them? It would cause some of them to abandon their cause? To leave Hellsing? That was unimaginable! There was no weapon made by man that could possibly anger or offend them if the weapon was capable of preserving the lives of their comrades and effectively disposing of their enemies. The men were struck dumb and more than one hand gripped a knee, the edge of a bench, or the side of a table.

"And so we will show you this weapon, because I do not have enough words or enough time to describe it to you. I hope that you will remain with us for this trial period, and continue to work with us should this change become permanent. It will not present any danger to any human being. It is controlled, but I have said it is dangerous because that is undeniable. Should I die, it will still be controlled by men, whoever is selected by either the Convention or Queen Victoria. I am sorry to have alarmed and confused you, but please remain seated now. You will see it in a moment."

Abraham said this as he noticed men towards the back of the hall beginning to stand, shooting up from their seats like sparks of a fire leaping from the collision of stone against flint. Some men sat back down slowly, warily. Abraham's expression darkened as many men failed to sit, and remained frozen in horror – struck by the presence they sensed approaching the door. It was dark, and it was evil, it was loathsome and horrendously familiar – like the ghost of a villain that suddenly appears to haunt his killer.

A soldier at the front of the room was pale, and his face was clammy. "Christ… Oh Christ." He panted with the emotion that welled in his comrades, his eyes fused like theirs to the black shape that stepped through the doorway, escorted by what was undoubtedly all of the Organization's scientists. "What is this?"

And voices murmured to themselves, none daring to discuss with one another what stood beside their commander, what had entered their sanctuary, the only place they had believed they were free from the undead. And it was pure evil. No other creature could breed such nausea with its mere presence. It was as if the food that had been meant to nourish them had been transmuted into poison. Breathing patterns became irregular. The air was rank with fear, fear of the need for doubt, fear of the need to revoke past pledges, terror at the thought that the Hellsing Organization was no longer led by God – for He would cast this abomination into the bowels of Hell without hesitation, where it would probably rise and overthrow the Devil for the right to claim his wretched title.

"Lord have Mercy." Abraham heard these words, but could not find the speaker. He appeared fatigued and solemn, though he stood firmly beside what could be the future of the Hellsing Organization.

"You have believed that Count Dracula was defeated by my efforts, and slain by Jonathan Harker. That piece of fiction buried the Count, and ended, for many, his tale of treachery. Meanwhile the past-Count has been kept beneath the manor for seven years. But this creature is no longer Dracula, the No-Life-King, the father of the vampiric creatures we hunt. This is an object." Voices were heard, unintelligible, so Hellsing's volume increased, with a hint of anger that silenced them. "This thing no longer belongs to its past identity. It has no freedom, no power to practice a will of its own. It is a slave, as a weapon, or a test subject, whatever we might make of it. It can be referred to as the Vampire Alucard, and though no man or being should possess such power, it has been bound to me through a seal that locks away its powers and its freedom. It is an animal without teeth, claws, or any other means to do harm."

Men stared at their leader. Men stared at the creature, wrapped in black straps, similar, in some sense, to an Egyptian Pharaoh who had been stolen away from his tomb. The soldiers could not, at this time, comprehend what they were witnessing, what they were being told. Long black hair, skin like that of a frozen corpse, and eyes like those of Satan's demons, those that burn hotter than the flames that scorch the sinners down below. The temperature in the dining hall was dropping steadily as the demon stood before them.

Abraham let them stare at Alucard, and let them drink in the monumental shift that was taking place before their eyes. There was no outrage, no rejection that was obvious among the men. But they were still shocked by his announcement and their first exposure to his slave. He waited, and was soothed and thankful when some men began to sit down, and others became more pensive than disturbed. A calm was settling. This, Abraham decided, would be their answer. "I will answer any concerns you may have at this time. Please stand when you speak so I can see you. There is no boundary to cross. You have the right to all the information I have available, to every explanation you are due. This is a secret that has been kept beneath your feet – only because it was not ready to be revealed to you."

Most of the men were still standing. All of the captains had their hands raised to motion the men to be seated after Abraham had spoken. They complied after a moment of doubt and hesitation, or a moment prolonged by shock which slowed their minds and the words that entered them. One who had been seated and thoughtful rose, and Abraham's gaze was upon him – as well as the eyes of the others in the room. The man's eyes met, for an unbearable instant, with the vampire's. But then the hellish irises were again scorching the floorboards, as if attempting to burn a portal directly into Hell.

The vampire having caused him to misplace his voice, the man needed a moment to recover. Then he asked a predictable question, "How can you- How can we trust a vampire?"

"I do not trust it." Abraham answered immediately. "I trust the seal that keeps it bound to me."

The man hesitated, dithering before he spoke again. "What is this seal?"

Hellsing's pause caused nerves to begin to wind, but he soon answered the soldier and the others were able to calm. "It is science, as well as alchemy, and what would be referred to as magic. Magic might have seemed like an absurd notion to you before, but having witnessed it firsthand you know it exists. If the powers of the undead are referred to as magic, magic being the supernatural - that is what helps bind this creature to my bloodline. The seal could be carried on by my blood, should I have children and should that be the Queen's decision. But it may be passed on to whoever is chosen, according to what is necessary.

"The vampire cannot disobey me. In that way, I am its master. I have called the vampire my slave, but what it serves is not myself. It serves our Organization and those we serve, as a weapon, as a new approach to our war against the undead. Its standing will be below yours, below any human's. If you give it an order which does not contradict or conflict with an order I have given it, the vampire will obey. Though it is not reduced to a dog that can perform tricks and obey commands. It is cunning and possesses a wealth of knowledge humans have lost over a span of centuries, as well as knowledge of its kind, accumulated as it has spent centuries discovering itself and testing its limitations. What we tend to deal with is a diluted shadow of this creature. With the pure specimen we have learned much about the workings of vampires' physical forms, their ability to reason, among other things. And we have interrogated it to add to our knowledge base what we have yet been unable to support through experimentation. But the data taken from the Vampire Alucard has been the springboard for many of our advances, which have drastically improved our understanding of these creatures."

Abraham muttered a few words and the vampire raised a hand, with the back turned towards the men.

"The seal is visible on the creature's gloves, which aid its ability to kill vampires. This has been demonstrated in the labs – these gloves can scorch the undead similar to the silver tip of a stake. The seal is faultless, for if it was not, I would have disposed of the monster or imprisoned it, in one way or another."

A soldier spoke, so similar in appearance to the first that it seemed like the same man was now standing at the other end of the hall. "How is it going to be fed? How has it been fed up until now?"

Abraham took a breath to prepare for another difficult explanation. "It is given blood that has been donated by those who cannot join us, but who have the same desire and goal that we possess. Veterans who have been crippled – yes, the many that we have employed and housed here, and for whom we have fashioned false limbs to allow them to walk or feel wholesome and balanced again. Some blood is donated by mothers and widows – none from your families. I did not allow them to be given the opportunity to give their blood for our cause, not with their husbands, fathers, brothers already dedicating their lives and shedding too much blood as it is. Then, when donations have been thin, blood was given to us and the givers were compensated. None are harmed, and blood may only be given or donated biannually. And then, my own, if need be."

Silent outrage boiled and then simmered, finally settling into the floorboards like embers receding into charcoal, to pulse and wait to be stirred and for fuel to be added. They disapproved, most of all, of their commander's blood being consumed by a monster. No such creature was worthy of the sacrifice, of a single droplet of this man's life. They bit their lips, their tongues, their cheeks, or ground their teeth to keep silent.

Another man raised his arm as he stood. "I may speak for only myself, or I might speak for many of us, but how should we work beside one of the creatures we loathe to the extent that we are willing to die to destroy them? I will serve you as long as my heart beats and my body does not fail me. But how should we bear this? -for I will try my hardest to fulfill what you and the Queen have envisioned, what our scientists have worked hard to enable - for what you have done to make this nightmare, this fantasy, or whatever it may be called, possible. Sir."

"The Vampire Alucard is a tool." Van Hellsing entered the questioner's gaze, and then sought the rest of his soldiers. "Think of the creature as a weapon, not as one of the demons it will exterminate. But do not waste our resources by trying to kill it. Bullets and bayonets will not work. Stakes, tipped with silver, will not work. Shred all of the flesh from its bones, and still the vampire will not die.

"I know of the feelings you struggle with – I contain those same feelings, yet I have given this creature my blood, though it once drained the life and soul of one I had known. But now it is a weapon. It cannot harm you. It cannot harm any human being. And, as its thirst for bloodshed still remains a part of its nature, it will willingly and efficiently kill targeted vampires."

Hellsing paused and then continued on his own, when, to his surprise, no one stood to ask him another question. The men needed to sleep on this, to mull it over, to put their thoughts in order. "I do not want any of our silver to be wasted on trying to kill or harm the Vampire Alucard. And I am willing to demonstrate that none of your efforts would be enough to kill it. Decapitation does not work. Impalement does not work. Removing the heart and burning it, drowning it, melting it, even, in acid – none of these have worked. The demon is not deathless; the means of killing it have not been developed. It must be killed tens of thousands of times before it will die. And it will be of more use to us undead, than fully dead. Hell can wait until we are done with it."

Hellsing stood quietly before them, and the men understood what he was waiting for. Many nodded. They believed their commander because they trusted him. A demonstration would serve to allow them to comprehend how such a thing was possible.

The captains and men standing towards the door moved to Abraham's left, and stood behind him as he drew out a pistol and stepped back to align himself with the vampire. Alucard, as the creature was now called, did not respond to any of these changes, and remained as it was burning a portal into the floorboards with the flames that danced in its irises. "Straighten and look forward." The master's voice was heard, and the slave straightened its posture and closed its eyes, opening them again when they would see only the far empty wall and the cream-colored paint layered over it. For the first time it also saw that there was a large, stretching window, and Alucard saw that there was mist creeping around the trunks of the trees out-

The gun fired. The undead skull swallowed the bullet, the fang that lit the demon's mind on fire, so all of its consciousness became white and agonizing nothingness, and it fell to the floor in the hushed hall without feeling the boards it had attempted to burn. All of its branching veins became known to the vampire, writhing as they fought to rip through its undead flesh to leap away from the fire that coursed through nerves and invaded the rest of the demon's body.

The soldiers watched as seconds were counted in stilled lungs. And then the blood that had spilled began to creep back into the demon, and darkness like animated shadows crawled over the bullet wound, hair moving without a breeze. And the vampire lifted itself off of the floor, so that the soldiers were able to watch as the blood that had drenched the side of the pale face traced back into Alucard's head. And then a distinct and defining tink against the floorboards was heard - marking the moment that revered silver had failed their commander. The bullet that had fallen from Alucard's head rolled and wobbled to a stop on the floor, misshapen by its impact with the vampire's skull.

Abraham stepped forward and picked up the bullet, and held it pinched before the staring men so that they might see it. "Please do not waste our silver."

*~*~::..+..::~*~*

The next day it rained, and it rained through the night. Running water is a bane to the undead - even these falling droplets bore enough power to be a discomfort for vampires. The creatures hide from the rain when it is heavy. They become sluggish – if newly turned – and are fatigued, as if the dawn had arrived. The men in the chosen unit were grim as they watched the vampire who stood in the midst of the rain. They, and many of the other soldiers, stood inside the dining hall or under the ledge of the roof. The vampire stood in the rain, with white flesh drinking in the faintest indication of light as its dark clothes wrapped around it like fingers, as if the hand of darkness had claimed the vampire, holding onto the demon that stood in the rain as if it were immune to all its banes and death itself. The soldiers could not help but feel disturbed and aggravated by this passive taunting and the vampire's intimacy with the darkness; it felt quite at home within the boundaries of the men's haven – and this was hard to bear. For the creature was taunting them – its body was laughing at them – this they read, or imagined they read, as they watched the Vampire Alucard. Water slipped and dribbled over ivory skin that was dead but preserved by sheer evil – and the men watched.

Van Hellsing had been present and then was called away. Now his boots sloshed through the mud and slush, brown paste plastering his boots, as a black umbrella kept his head dry. Walking with the captain who was set to depart, his head turned towards the vampire as he noticed it was standing in the rain. His mouth squirmed and then frowned, and his eyes narrowed before he looked to the responses he expected to see among the gathered soldiers. Abraham entered the shelter of the open doorway into the dining hall, and lowered his umbrella, keeping his eyes on it as if it demanded his full attention. He shook it gently. "The vampire's cell is not cleaned regularly, and at present I have removed its coffin – which will be earned back by good behavior and the vampire's performance tonight. …This" he indicated Alucard with a slight movement of the umbrella, "-is part of its more individual character - the Vampire Alucard prefers to be physically clean. What you see is most likely meant to remove some of the grime. This vampire still does not favor water – the cold is unpleasant and may give the undead aches – or that is what has been observed to be the case so far."

The men were appeased, and slightly bemused by this. A snort was heard near Hellsing and he glanced at a man who was armed, but who wore no pack over his thick coat – unlike others who waited under the ledge. This distinguished him from the other soldiers as being part of tonight's hunting party that would go out on patrol. When they were not called to directly exterminate a target, they sent out patrols to areas that were at risk – labeled by colors on a map that was some space away from the doorway Hellsing filled.

Tonight, one unit would go to the target, one would be on patrol – leaving four units to guard the estate. Van Hellsing went with the soldiers rarely – only when a unit failed to kill a vampire without his aid. The men noticed that he would be accompanying the unit tonight. He would be there to keep the vampire in check – or so they assumed with some certainty. A couple of men departed to spread the news so that the soldiers could gather and see their commander off. This wasn't required, but they would do it on their own initiative. The great Van Hellsing could die tonight, as any of these men could die. It would be disrespectful not to bid him farewell.

"In the name of God, impure souls of the living dead shall be banished into eternal damnation." The men chorused, as Abraham Van Hellsing watched them, pleased in a reserved and nearly solemn way.

"Amen," Abraham said and nodded to the men.

And then the soldiers were off. The patrol left shortly after them, and the gate to the Hellsing estate clanged shut.

*~*~::..+..::~*~*

The rain dampened the air and did not allow smell to carry. This would have been helpful on most occasions, but tonight this effect was irrelevant. Only the fatigue the rain brought to the undead was of any value here. Water streamed down the necks of the men, cold water, water that made their bones shiver, washing over their faces as they stood in the shadow of the church, watching the entrance into the crypt before they trudged forward to follow its descent beneath the church. It was not certain whether the targets would be taking shelter here, but it was the most likely location and Sir Hellsing had chosen this spot specifically. So the men entered with the certainty that their targets would be exterminated beneath the derelict church, among the forgotten bones of the long dead.

The men were put off, slightly, when before making the descent Van Hellsing had placed the vampire at their front. This would make it difficult for the men to determine where the targets would be before them - the Vampire Alucard's presence interfered by completely masking any other undead presence with its own overwhelming aura, so strong it was like the stench of a bog, poisoned and putrid with a stew of rotting corpses – picking out the stench of individual corpses amidst the stew was impossible. The other vampires merely dissolved into the No-Life-King's existence. But Hellsing asserted that the Vampire Alucard would pin point the targets much more accurately than they could have. And so the men stepped through the arched corridors, tasting the air that was musky with the dust of ancient decay and stale with the absence of wind. It filled their throats and lungs with its unpleasant dry taste, but the men shouldered the discomfort without acknowledging it. Arched rooms and two corridors branched from their current path that ended against a stone wall far from them. The main corridor was as long as the church was wide. Someone – more likely something that had once been 'someone' - had lit torches, so it was not dark. In the rooms, coffins rested on a bed of planks or upon the stone floor, most in poor condition though they had remained dry. Even loose bones rested in disturbed or what appeared to be more careless positions – a few scattered and broken, others had been gnawed on by some slinking creature. Some of the remains were untouched, but looters or blasphemers had been through to disturb the dead at some time, and the debris that they left behind, because it had absolutely no value in the world where people were alive and were not reduced to dust and bones in a wooden box, was sobering. The men passed the worthless, nameless bones – less human without skulls resting at the front of a familiar arrangement of pieces that fit together, to create the frame of something that had once been whole, but which had died and lost its individualizing essence. Or it had lost its individualizing essence and then died, when it was forgotten beneath the church it had likely attended when it was alive.

Crossbows were the weapons of choice, with the close stone walls pressing in on the men. The corridor was only wide enough to allow two soldiers to walk side by side. Guns would scare off the vampires and alert the locals in most situations, so they were avoided on a general basis. This particular setting would have amplified the gunfire, harming and disorienting the men and giving the vampires cover for an escape, as well as inflicting more damage upon the crypt than was acceptable. This had occurred once in the past, and had never again been repeated. Guns were a last resort. Crossbows, bayonets, and personalized weapons, sometimes daggers or axes – tools that fit well in the hands of a particular soldier - were more often used. Stakes and mallets were carried to finish off the undead. But their aim was not to damage the targets so much that their corpses and remains would be less valuable to the Hellsing laboratory. Kill and retrieve. Take what opportunity presents to you.

Tonight the men planned on using their crossbows – with ten drawn and ready, there would hopefully be no need for the men to reload, which took time that the men did not always have. There should only be four targets.

A pair of men were left to stand guard at the first branching corridor as the vampire passed it, a precaution that might prevent another escape. At the next corridor the vampire turned and the party followed. Molten irises scorched the end of the corridor, never turning to the arched rooms of the deceased as the demon's senses determined they were empty. Then the demon stopped, and the men halted, again jolted by their need to heed the vampire's movements and agitated by their impaired senses. Van Hellsing stepped beside the Vampire Alucard, having remained a space behind the demon until now. Blue eyes caught the clear expression, and Hellsing raised his crossbow, this causing the men to mimic his movements and tighten their jaws. They blocked the only way out, the far end of the corridor cutting off at another stone wall, like the main corridor. Alucard moved forward, but Hellsing stayed, so the men remained where they were, watching the back of the figure with trailing black hair that was slightly matted – the appearance of which had been worsened by the rain. There was a tightened arch in the demon's spine, which disturbed the men.

Movement was heard, giving the soldiers their first indication of the targets' positions. The fledglings must have chosen their own arched rooms, because the sounds of their stirring bodies came from many sources. With a heart-piercing screech that came without warning, a fledgling flung itself at Alucard, the intruder it had perceived. It pronounced two syllables that resembled "Master!" as it reached Alucard. The past-Count had not reacted to the assault, but when the fledgling was upon it, the vampire's left arm shot through the creature, puncturing ribs, the heart, and bursting through the back of the fledgling before it was flung away where it landed on the stones and ceased to move, as one would fling blood or gore from a sword.

The corpse lay in a pool of stolen blood as the Vampire Alucard continued, strolling now, with the tense anticipation of a predator no longer visible in its back. This had become shockingly casual - no battle, no challenge, no sense of combat at all – it became a menial chore as a second fledgling was impaled and flung aside with little effort. The remaining fledgling, which stumbled from one of the arched rooms, screamed in fear – a young woman terrified by a monster, which made the undead creature appear distressingly human. The men behind Hellsing were breathless, eyes wide, backs arched with crossbows ready and aimed – avoiding the instinct to shoot down the Vampire Alucard as it casually followed the scrambling retreat of the woman fledgling, who took refuge behind the back of her sire who had burst from a coffin in one of the arched rooms and now was pressing her back as he (male in appearance) retreated from the advancing No-Life-King.

The presence of the Hellsing soldiers, whom the targets recognized, confounded the sire and fledgling, but the sire had no other means of dodging a hopeless confrontation with Alucard, so he pleaded – an act that was rare among sires, but only slightly more common among fledglings. "You can have it. It is yours, the crypt is yours - take it. We will leave. You can have everything here."

The woman fledgling let out a sharp shriek as her back touched the wall that ended her retreat. Her master noticed and lowered his head with his face contorting, flickering between despair and rage as he tried to use anger to overwhelm his fear. It was only enough to give him the strength to dive towards the lidless and emptied body of a coffin and then swing it up as he lunged forward with a roar. The left arm that had impaled two of the sire's fledglings raised to shield Alucard, and the coffin splintered and broke in half, leaving a deformed end in the sire's hands while shards of woods and the sections of the other half of the coffin that had held crashed to the floor or tumbled some ways down the corridor towards the aimed crossbows. The sire hurled what remained in his hands, but Alucard passed the projectile and caught up with the sire as he tried to leap back towards the wall and his screaming fledgling.

The end of the coffin flew into the ceiling and bounced down and continued to clatter and skip over the stones towards Hellsing and his men. "Move right!" The command ended after the men had shoved themselves to the side, two entering one of the arched rooms of bones as the mutilated end of the coffin rocketed past them. It broke completely against a wall in the corridor that led to the exit, startling the men who stood guard – one of which shot a bolt into the wooden debris as a reflex.

Alucard had caught the sire, gloved fingers snatching the retreating body by piercing and curling around the sire's collarbone. It was wrenched free as the squealing form struggled to break away, a snap that ended with a short howl. It was apparent that the Vampire Alucard could rend the sire in half with no effort, as easily as it would have split a peeled orange – sucking the juices from gloved fingers afterward.

The sire stumbled and fell, a hand covering the gaping wound. Alucard followed the motion of the body, and a gloved hand shot into the chest and ripped out a gushing, yet still, organ the vampire held for a moment, finding the huddling fledgling against the wall with crimson eyes. Alucard lifted the heart to a daggered mouth, eyes burning into the woman fledgling. A sharp tongue tasted the blood of her sire before Alucard's fist closed, crushing the heart with a spurt of blood that filled the Vampire Alucard's mouth and peppered its pale face with red and the vulnerable pinkness of tissue. The squelching flesh hit the stones as the fledgling gave her final pleading screams that melded together and rose in the narrow corridor, filling the crypt with her anguish – until it ended when the Vampire Alucard gripped her head and pulled it free from her body with a sharp tearing and crackling pop. Her body was thrown forward by the violent decapitation, and when it slumped onto the stones the stolen blood that had animated her body poured freely from the fleshy cavern the men could faintly distinguish from their position.

Then it was silent. The Vampire Alucard stood still, which puzzled the men, and they wondered what the purpose of this pause could be, for their commander was also still – as though more was to come. Then, singly, they noticed the snaking rivers of crimson that followed the crevice maze between the stones, flowing from the bodies to reach the monster, whose black hair and back were all that could be seen of the demon. The flow ended much more quickly than the men had anticipated, if they had been able to consider time as they watched – horrified in a dumb, numb sort of way that left them with the otherworldly feeling most experience while caught up in a nightmare they have realized is not reality, the same feeling that had overwhelmed them during their first encounter with the undead.

The vampires they fought were only shadows. This was true darkness. This was the substance that cast their forms. The men stared at Alucard.

The vampire turned, freezing the men momentarily as its blazing eyes were tamed by its deadened expression. And the monster approached. Hellsing grumbled faintly when a man, excited by what he had seen and younger in years, jolted and jerked his crossbow too close to Van Hellsing's face for comfort, in order to take aim at Alucard. Abraham gently pushed it aside, and turned to distract his men from Alucard, saying a word to the captain before the men followed the corridor and reunited with their wary guards at the exit, the Vampire Alucard seemingly stalking their rigid backs all the while. Abraham stayed beside his slave, as the only means of comforting his men in the slightest.

They left the crypt and again entered the rain, finding it colder and harsher than before. They were drained as much as usual, though they had not fought the targets themselves. As always, they returned to their equipment – waterproofed boxes and jars that had been left inside or beside packs of other items that were now retrieved – sets of surgical equipment that lay beside bandages and useful disinfectants that were unnecessary tonight. While some men rested and kept watch outside in the partial cover of the trees, the others returned to the crypt to take samples from the dead fledglings, and to collect the rotted bones of the sire. Since Abraham had returned to the crypt, the Vampire Alucard followed – hopefully, to be masked by Hellsing's shadow.

The men busied themselves and tried to forget the demon's presence, succeeding for snippets of moments here and there, but a chill caused them to shudder when they caught an unexpected glimpse of the demon. Abraham had Alucard stand back, out of the way, and this let the men forget the demon more easily. But they became disturbed when they realized the vampire had vanished entirely from their senses – they could not find Alucard, even as they stopped and looked for the vampire.

"Sir?" A voice alerted Hellsing, in the slight chance the commander had not noticed.

"The Vampire Alucard is still here. It was a distraction – I told it to make itself less distracting. …Don't be bothered. I know exactly where it is." Abraham spoke as he carefully laid the skull of the sire into a box. The tiny bones of the hands and feet were being retrieved and placed into a small sack by the captain. It was usually the duty of the captain, and his second in command, to collect the remains of the sire vampire – given that they had more experience and had been trained by Hellsing and his scientists. Handling the shriveled organs and removing them with as little damage as possible, took skill. The retrieval of the fledgling's remains was less ceremonial, because it did not matter if the retrieval was a little clumsy. They were cut open, the heart removed (or whatever remained), along with the head (or whatever remained), and these samples were placed in a jar or the designated box. If enough containers had not been brought, just the heart was retrieved, with a few fingers to add variety to the sample. Rarely was a whole corpse brought back to the labs.

Abraham scraped off the dried and shriveled prune-like remains of the sire's heart from the stones - frowning to himself as he viewed the obvious damage. Removing the heart while it was still full, not when it had shriveled after the sire's death, had never before been possible. The heart would have been in pristine condition. But the Vampire Alucard had crushed it.

The captain looked at Abraham as he muttered to himself. Abraham noticed the captain, and continued working. "I would have liked to have a whole heart."

The captain agreed, also disappointed by the waste.

"Only one good heart, from all this." Abraham scowled when he looked at the slumped woman fledgling who was nearly beside him. She had been turned over and cut open, and a man was currently sawing away at her sternum. "And the damage to the neck." The severed head had already been boxed up, and now that box was pushed against the wall.

"Can the Vampire Alucard be told to do less damage to the bodies when he kills the targets?" The captain asked. Abraham noticed the use of the pronoun 'he' that gave Alucard a gender – which made the demon less of an object. But Abraham said nothing. It didn't matter so long as the men were comfortable with the vampire – for it was undeniably effective.

"Yes. And he has been told. But now I see that I need to give it stricter instructions. Ripping off the head…was not addressed. I had said to avoid damaging the heart completely, unless necessary. Since the vampire has not been fed recently, these orders were compromised."

"Compromised-?" The captain began quietly, but Abraham interrupted to clarify.

"Orders can be interpreted, so they are not crippling in a time of dire circumstances. But there are some limitations that cannot be interpreted – such as not harming humans or killing unless given permission. These smaller orders that add details are not as binding. Because they are details. But-" Abraham's tone changed, adding a hint of annoyance that drew the captain's eyes from his busy hands. "Crushing the heart is close enough to defying my order – the vampire will not be getting its coffin. I have decided." A sudden outburst followed as Abraham uttered these words.

"La dracu '!"

The men started and froze at the curse that came from too many echoed directions, in a voice that was deep and foreign. Abraham responded immediately in a tone that contained a similar amount of outrage.

"Halt den Mund! Dummkopf!"

"Cur!"

Van Hellsing hissed, but before he could give his response, the echoing voice returned, quieter now.

"Bitte entschuldigen Sie mich. Meister. Ich war wütend und ich konnte mich nicht aufhören." The tone was calmed, hasty and servile. The men didn't need to understand the language, though the captain was German by birth and had clearly followed Abraham's half of the exchange so far. The way the vampire spoke made its apology clear (they had realized where the voice had come from after their commander had responded to the curse).

Abraham growled down at his work as he returned to collecting bones, communicating to the men through his actions so that they went back to work. Then Hellsing continued speaking to the captain, aware that he had understood part of what had been said. "The Vampire Alucard is stupid - too stupid to maintain its privileges for very long. If it is upset, it only has itself to blame." He growled again. "Dummkopf." If you cannot control your anger, you do not deserve your coffin - and I refuse to let this pass. Feh. Apologies and excuses will do nothing for you now. It is too late. Fool.

"Ich war wütend, weil Sie mir gesagt, dass heute Abend meinen Sarg zurückgekehrt wäre. Es ist nicht richtig, dass mich ohne meinen Sarg schlaf und jeden Abend hunger."

Ha. He asks for humane treatment? Those are all privileges you must earn. "It will do you some good. Maybe then you will not be so stupid." Abraham ended the exchange, and the befuddled men went on with their work, not sure what they should think of this shift from anger to subservience. The captain worked, moving his hands to avoid reading into the vampire's complaints of Van Hellsing going back on his word to return the coffin tonight, and the complaint of not being fed. He himself had just witnessed the vampire eat its own kind – and this sort of cannibalism had been unknown to the captain before tonight. The great Dracula was powerless and at the commander's mercy… And, it appeared, that the commander was not treating him with a merciful hand.

The captain thought he had heard a hiss while he was working, which he imagined had come from the vampire. Perhaps a mutter at some point that "Ich bin nicht-" something, perhaps denying the accusation of stupidity. And where was the creature? The former-Count could not be located, even with the skills the captain had accumulated and sharpened with years of training and discipline. This disturbed him, but also explained why some vampires – older ones – were harder to track and locate, and could escape them by hiding. They had some means of hiding their presence which he did not comprehend. Despite himself, the captain was intrigued. And this intrigue softened his disturbance.

The men had finished and carried their samples and supplies out into the rain before they returned to drag out the fledgling's corpses and burn them in one of the arched rooms, which they had found to be mostly empty – they cleared it of a few unkept bones. It was too wet to burn the corpses outside.

When this was done, the men set off on their journey home, the vampire following in the thinning darkness. When they arrived at the Hellsing gate, the sky was just beginning to lighten, and Alucard slipped away into the labs, into a grimy, lightless cell, unseen. Alone, the slave sat on the floor with its back against the stone walls, filling a corner it scrubbed religiously every dawn with a stolen rag, and slept.